Friday, December 3, 2010

Small Is Beautiful

Rural Intelligence began its recent article about Winter Walk with this statement: "For a city of barely more than 2 square miles, the seat of a county whose population is the same today as it was in 1900 (65,000 or so), Hudson is unreasonably glamorous." This rather backhanded compliment suggests that Columbia County's small population is not something to be celebrated. Gossips thinks otherwise. Only 65,000 people means that Columbia County has acres and acres of farmland and open space instead of acres and acres of tract housing and big-box shopping malls. Pretty amazing for a place only two hours from New York City.       


  1. Chuck Hallenbeck submitted this comment:

    65,000 people, and only 12 last names.

  2. Sorry, Carole, I can't agree.

    Columbia County's population has declined from 63,094 to 61,618 (-2.3%) from 2000 to 2009 (Source: US Census).

    A declining population means a higher tax burden and a declining standard of living for Columbia County residents.

    The County has a large infrastructure (roads, bridges, waterfront, etc.) and an old population. 17.5% of the CC population is 65+ years old vs 13.4% for the State as a whole. (Source: US Census)

    Old populations by definition require more public services (health services etc.). The declining population will have declining total income and CC's median household income is already 8.0% lower than the State as a whole ($51,515 vs $55,980). (Source: US Census)

    Property values are likely to stagnate and already you see many buildings across the County that are abandoned or for sale for years at a time with no buyers.

    So, a smaller group of taxpayers will be required to bear the cost of ever greater public services -- voila -- EVER HIGHER TAXES.

    It would be much better to have a growing population going forward. My fear is that like so much of upstate New York, Columbia County will continue to decline.

  3. Samuel,

    I think you've grossly misread the situation. Columbia County is not in decline. It is in transition. Property values are not stagnating, in fact, there is real concern that affordable housing has become a diminished resource here. I urge you to look at real estate value over time. Andrew Roe at Cornell has done some interesting research demonstrating the fragmentation of landscape as a result of the pressure of rising real estate values. This is one among many indicators that real estate values are rising all over the county.

    It is obvious the population is aging, demographics will show you that, beyond the geography of place. But you should see the higher figures specific to Columbia Country as a sign of health, not decline. Columbia County is a coveted destination for baby boomers, taking retirement to the Country, rather than the sunbelt. That's why Columbia Memorial Hospital is right to make massive capital investments, health care will be a very lucrative industry for Columbia County.

    Population is also in decline because industry and agriculture, both of which are labor intensive, have been in decline for decades. While its lamentable we're losing our Agricultural base, we need to look to our habits of food rather than some innate problem with farming in the 21st century in Columbia County. A wholesale change in how we grow, distribute, and eat our food will take more than an organized and enlightened county in the Hudson Valley. But being that we're 120 miles from a sprawling metro region of 20 million people means we're well suited to rediscover our proximity. And that Is slowly happening, bit by bit.

    Heritage Tourism will continue to grow in our county as our location and landscape are incomparable. Columbia County is very slowly realizing itself as valuable to those who don't live here, just as it was 150 years ago, when "tour-ism" became a pastime for those with disposable income. Tourists are never counted as residents, you'd be well informed to seek those figures, instead of year over year resident figures.

    Whatever your impression of this change, good or bad, it is the new reality.

    Fresh Cul-De-Sacs, Smokestacks, and the like are not measures of Progress. Growth, in the way you've described it, is not enviable or desirable. It is the very landscape that so many of us have chosen Columbia County as an escape from. There is lots of "Growth" in the Sunbelt, and you can see just how Lovely a place that's become. Growth, as the end all be all indicator of economic health, is a 20th Century Ideal that is no longer sustainable or desirable. Small is beautiful.