New Haven gained the most residents over the last decade of any Connecticut municipality, according to this month's release of US Census redistricting data gathered during the 2010 census. The release provides data on the number of residents and their ethnicity and age as well as the number of vacant or occupied housing units by towns, census tracts, and smaller census geographies. Interactive maps prepared by RPA provide multiple perspectives on the changes that have occurred over the last decade. The maps show changes in population, total housing units, and vacant units by town, and tell a different story from the one usually reported in the press. Most newspapers have touted the high rate of population growth in some of Connecticut's smallest towns as heralds of continuing suburban sprawl. A closer look at the numbers, however, shows that many cities across Connecticut have reversed their decline and are adding more new residents and housing than exurban towns.
Connecticut's numbers suggest that the long pattern of urban sprawl may be reversing, or at least slowing its pace. Population gains in all of Connecticut's cities have come after decades of decline. Hartford, which grew 2.6%, has posted positive growth in only one other census since 1960, and lost 13% of its residents between 1990 and 2000. Bridgeport's 3.4% increase was the first gain that city has seen since 1950. In all, Connecticut's five largest cities with more than 100,000 residents gained 22,705 residents, about 13% of the state's growth. Population gains are just a part of the changes reflected by the 2010 census figures. Housing growth has also concentrated in Connecticut's larger cities and towns. Four of Connecticut's five largest cities lost housing units between 1990 and 2000, but the five cities collectively added 10,269 housing units over the last decade, about 10% of the state's total housing growth. Smaller cities and towns between 50,000 and 100,000 residents added 14,471 new homes. Stamford added the most new homes of any city or town in the state, adding 3,256 units since 2000. Cities and towns with active train stations (Amtrak or commuter rail) produced 34% of the state's overall population growth, and 33% of the state's new housing, about twice their growth share in 2000. Built-up towns such as Milford, Meriden, and Greenwich each added more than 1,000 housing units over the last decade. Other census trends: Continued Decline in Children The number of children dropped in 70% of Connecticut's cities and towns- a not-unexpected effect of the aging of baby-boomer households whose children have grown up and moved on and a recent decline in birth rates among younger households. Sharon led the way (percentage-wise) with a 30% drop in children, while Hartford and Bridgeport lost the most kids overall (-4,351 and -3,625, respectively, or -12% and -9% of their previous totals). Connecticut's children now comprise about 23% of the total population, down from 25% ten years ago, and slightly lower than the share nationwide (about 24%). Key to the state's growth strategy will be attracting younger households and workers to replace retirees. Once additional census data is made available later this year, we'll look more closely at what kinds of places in the region are most successful at attracting young households. Household Sizes Shrinking Although the US Census redistricting data does not directly report average household sizes, we can get a rough estimate of household size by dividing population by the number of occupied housing units. The calculation shows a clear trend: 80% of Connecticut towns show a decline in the number of people within a household. The fact that household sizes are declining in the majority of Connecticut towns is a direct effect of the above-noted loss in children, as well as declining birth rates among most ethnic groups. West Hartford is an interesting example. Located adjacent to the largest jobs center in central Connecticut (Hartford), West Hartford is thought of by many as the "it" town for young families moving to the area, attracted by its school system and established neighborhoods. Despite its reputation, West Hartford actually shrank by .5% over the past decade, losing 321 residents even while adding 682 households (as measured by occupied housing units), 720 children under age 18, and 1,064 housing units (occupied and vacant). View the Interactive Maps