Things have changed in New York City since that million-person-growth projection

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New York City from above. (Apollo13Ma via Flickr)
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New York City's top demographer says that actually, the city might not gain a million people by 2030, as originally expected.

"Conditions have changed since we did that projection in ‘05 and ‘06," responded Joseph Salvo, the 58-year-old director of City Planning's population division, when, during a sit-down interview at his office, I asked him about the much-hyped prediction.

"There’ll be a new set of projections, which probably will be a notch lower, based on what I’m telling you," said Salvo.

In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that planners expected New York City’s population, then 8.2 million, to grow by 1 million people in the ensuing 25 years.

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The estimate has been used to undergird countless city initiatives, including PlanYC, the city’s blueprint for how to deal with that expected growth.

The city is still projected by the administration to experience significant population growth. But, in part because of the recession, that growth is unlikely to be quite as dramatic as originally envisioned.

"I don’t know how much lower it’s going to be," said Salvo, adding, "The circumstances are inherently impossible to predict. I can’t tell you what the conditions are gonna be like. All I can tell you is what they’re like now, what they’ve been like in the past and then what we think might happen based upon the constraints that effectively stop population growth."

Among those constraints: housing.

"The rate of housing creation in the last decade was a lot higher than it is right now, so we have to pull back," said Salvo.

"New York City will achieve 9 million people, the question is when," said Salvo. "It may not be as early as we thought it would be, but it will be at some point, we think, because we think that that's getting to the upper limit of its carrying capacity, based on current conditions."

Population estimates are fundamentally uncertain, the number of factors informing them as variegated as the populations they measure: global economies and domestic ones; national immigration policy; industrial diversification, economic opportunity, and so on and so forth.

The week before last, Bloomberg announced that the city's population had hit a record high of 8.4 million and that, the first time in more than a half century, New York City was losing fewer people than it was taking in, thanks in good part to the relatively constant stream of immigrants searching for opportunity here, but also to a reduction in the number of native New Yorkers leaving town.

"You can imagine why," Salvo said. "Usually, people who leave need housing alternatives. The housing alternatives in a big chunk of the receiving states, those that took in New Yorkers—Arizona, southern California, Nevada, Florida—those housing markets collapsed. ... Here, our picture is much more stable than it is in other places."

"And the other thing is jobs," he said. "With the recession, some of these people are not retiring. They’re looking for jobs. There are fewer job opportunities in other places, so they stay put."

Even better, he said, "The people who are coming in are disproportionately young and highly educated."

"There they are," he said, pulling up what was basically a map of the gentrification of New York City. "This is where you live [in Williamsburg], this is Bushwick, North Bushwick, South Bedford, Prospect Heights ... Stuyvesant Heights, as we call it, Crown Heights North, Crown Heights South, Prospect Park, look at all of that. Look at the increases. It's where a lot of these people are going. Central Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights, lower Manhattan, the West Side."

The origins of the immigrants moving to New York City has also shifted.

The Dominican Republic remains a huge contributor, but immigration from there is waning, as is immigration from the Caribbean. Chinese immigration, however, is increasing.

"Every decade we study it, it just continues to grow," said Salvo.

"The absence of economic opportunity from where they’re coming from—even though we talk about China blossoming or whatever—compared to New York, it’s no contest," said Salvo.

Mexico continues to send a lot of immigrants, and the Bangladeshi community is booming, and "getting bigger every year."

Also growing: Ecuador, which is now in the top ten list of sources of immigrants to New York City.

Overall, about 3 million people of New York City’s 8.4 million people are foreign-born. Forty-six percent of the city's workforce is foreign-born.

"And it's high in every industry," said Salvo.

The city’s racial make-up continues to shift accordingly.

The last time the city’s population was majority non-Hispanic white was in 1980. In 1990, whites made up 43 percent of New York City. Today, whites make up a bit more than 30 percent of the city's population.