Apple talk

pigeon-HZTThe Big Apple’s government is considering a $50-million investment to bring a steady supply of local apples to Gothamites. The New York Times recently sent reporter Paul Post to the Stone Ridge Orchard in Marbletown, which according to the story he wrote, provides apples to the Gramercy Tavern, the Whitney Museum, and various schools and farmers’ markets across the city, “part of a rapidly expanding pipeline that carries fruits and vegetables from farms across New York State to consumers clamoring for fresh ingredients grown in soil not far away.”

“The risk to farmland is a risk to healthy food for New York City residents,” city councilman Daniel R. Garodnick, Democrat of Manhattan, is quoted as saying. Post reported in his June 1 article that Garodnick, troubled that many city farmers’ markets were in neighborhoods that had few stores, if any, that sold high-quality produce, has proposed that New York City spend $50 million for a conservation easement program to pay Hudson Valley farmers the development value of their land and include a deed restriction to permanently protect their land from development. Garodnick and other lawmakers had teamed up with Scenic Hudson to create a plan to preserve the region’s existing food system. The lawmakers are seeking for the first time to set aside money in the New York City municipal budget due at the end of this month for the preservation of farmland in the Hudson Valley.

New York City government and Scenic Hudson are not alone in these efforts. This year’s state budget allocated $20 million to protect 5600 acres on 28 Hudson Valley farms through purchases of development rights. The American Farmland Trust and a variety of environmentally active not-for-profits are involved in efforts like these.

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The complex economic connection between downstate and upstate has been part of New York history ever since fur traders from New Amsterdam ventured northward almost 400 years ago. If anything, that connection is becoming stronger. The same 2017 budget in which Garodnick wants to include conservation easements outside the city will contain $350 million for “upstate water supply,” a big chunk of the projected $1.42 billion in spending by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. If Gotham is willing to pay that much for pure water, why not invest also in open space to ensure a nearby food supply? The idea isn’t illogical. DEP has been buying open space through its watershed land purchases and easements, anyway.

What will the relationship between the Hudson Valley and New York City be like 25 years from now? Hudson Valley-centered people view the coming changes from a different perspective than do Gothamites. But our regions are next-door neighbors. We share the same geographic and economic universe. We’re looking at the same data.

Let’s focus here only on the geographical distribution of two basic demographic variables, people and jobs.

The Regional Plan Association, a New York City planning institution, has been working on its Fourth Regional Plan since April 2013. Researchers, task forces and committees by the dozens have been crunching numbers, exchanging views and now coming to conclusions. RPA expects to publish the Fourth Regional Plan next year. The third plan came out in 1996.

At its recent mid-May annual assembly, the organization provided a first taste of the direction of its findings. The data suggests continued population and employment expansion. According to RPA estimates based on census data, New York City’s population in 2015 was 8.55 million. The Hudson Valley had 2.34 million people. Northern New Jersey had 7.12 million, Long Island 2.87 million, and southwestern Connecticut two million. Closing in on 23 million residents, the metropolitan area and its immediate surrounds is by far the most populous in the nation.

Futurist Richard Florida wrote three years ago about the strength of New York City’s economic recovery from the deep recession. “In 2009, I predicted that New York would in fact prove to be one of the country’s most resilient places,” Florida wrote in The Atlantic. “Even so, the speed and strength of its rebound surprised me — its explosive growth as a startup center especially so.”

Mostly because of housing limitations, RPA figures, more than three-quarters of the region’s population growth will occur outside New York City. If current trends continue until the year 2040, New York City’s population is projected to increase by 390,000 to 8.94 million, the highest number ever. The Hudson Valley’s population, meanwhile, is expected to increase by 280,000 to 2.62 million. Northern New Jersey will add 660,000, Long Island 270,000 and southwestern Connecticut 200,000.

It should be pointed out that the pattern of these population projections is not what’s happening now. All five boroughs of New York City have been steadily increasing in population. There’s been slower population growth in the inner ring of counties, and actual losses in the exurban areas. (Ulster County lost 2049 people between 2010 and 2014.)

The RPA projections expect this pattern to change. And indeed for the organization’s projections to prove accurate, something will have to change. In the meantime, however, New York City is becoming even more dense, even more crowded.

Since RPA expects the economy to grow, it figures that the population will grow, too. But where? Another set of numbers, called “RPA vision 2040,” projects an additional 810,000 residents in New York City and a population projection of 9,750,000 in 2040. The Hudson Valley’s population, 2.34 million in 2015, will increase under the vision-2040 scenario not to the “current-trends” number of 2.62 million but up another 110,000 to 2.73 million. Northern New Jersey would absorb another 650,000 people over its current-trends number, Long Island 190,000 and southwestern Connecticut 130,000.

Present total multi-metro population is 22.88 million. Current-trends 2040 total population would be 24.68 million. RPA Vision 2040 population would be 26.57 million. Can that level of population be achieved without the region being choked by its infrastructure woes?

New York City hosted a little more than three million private-sector jobs when the last regional plan came out in 1996. Now such employment is touching the four-million mark, having enjoyed several record years of job growth. During the same period as New York City employment increased about 30 percent, Hudson Valley jobs increased by about 13 percent.

RPA is projecting that New York City’s job total will grow by 2040 by another 450,000 jobs under the current-trends scenario and 810,000 under the vision-2040 scenario.

Here are RPA’s projections in its vision for the next 25 years: “In this future, 44 percent of the region’s new jobs would be in the urban core, where the region’s robust transit network connects to the lion’s share of the metropolitan area’s workers. But downtowns and centers outside of the core would grow more rapidly, expanding by 26 percent, or 2.3 times the rate of the recent past. Jobs would return to small cities and suburbs that have stagnated in the last decade and a half, but in more transit-accessible locations.”

Not in the Hudson Valley, though. RPA’s own projections are for a loss of 30,000 jobs in 25 years in the Hudson Valley under the current-trends scenario and a gain of 50,000 under the vision-2040 scenario. An average increase of only 2000 new jobs annually for a region with 1,091,000 jobs as of this April constitutes a rather bleak forecast — especially considering the vision-2040 annual projected population increase of 15,000 persons in the Hudson Valley during that same period. If that scenario proves correct, there’ll be a lot more Hudson Valley residents commuting to jobs elsewhere than the large number presently doing so.

My personal conclusion is that there’s something wrong with the RPA jobs numbers.

Oft evanescent as quicksilver, the complex two-way pipeline between the Hudson Valley and New York City will continue to evolve. The demand for “fresh ingredients grown in soil not far away,” though very real, can easily be overrated. It’s not the only thing going on.

Richard Florida points to the “incredibly high concentrations of management, media, design and creative occupations” and the tech startups of New York City. Pockets of concentrations of these folks are settling in places like Kingston, New Paltz, Saugerties and Woodstock as well as in the more notorious exurban centers of Beacon and Hudson. The rich combination of small-town culture and young knowledge workers will, I predict, in the next few years produce an alchemy of job opportunities in the Hudson Valley which appears thus far to have evaded RPA’s vision.

A breakfast meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Wednesday, June 22 at the SUB on the SUNY New Paltz campus, after which Paul Harrington, an expert on labor-market issues, will give the keynote address.

 

This weekly column reports regularly on economic trends in the mid-Hudson region. To read past columns, go to Ulster Publishing’s hudsonvalleybusinessreview.com.

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