Honey, they’ve done it again. They’ve gone out and shrunk the city. This time it’s the Census Bureau. According to its latest calculations, New York City has shrunk by more than two square miles, or the equivalent of Central and Prospect Parks combined.
In 2008, the Department of City Planning recalculated the city’s land area at 304.8 square miles, 17 square miles smaller than the figure stated definitively for decades in, among other places, the city’s official directory. Now, employing the most sophisticated mapping techniques available, the Census Bureau says the city actually measures 302.643 square miles. Brooklyn and Queens appear to have borne the brunt of the shrinkage.
Census and city geographers agree that official estimates can convey a false precision. They can be subject to any number of variables, including whether measurements are taken at high or low tide and even the pitch and yaw of planes taking aerial photographs.
“In measuring a large city with so much shoreline and so many different geographic features, it stands to reason that two entities may not arrive at precisely the same result because they may not necessarily use the same assumptions about the area that is measured,” said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning.
“Indeed,” Ms. Raynoff said, “the measuring sticks used by the Census Bureau and the city produced slightly different results. The difference, relative to the total area of the city, is minimal and does not affect delivery of services.”
According to the census’s — this is a mouthful — Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing database, the city’s land area measured 303.311 square miles in 2000, grew slightly to 303.373 in 2009 and then shriveled to 302.643 last year. The water area within New York City, meanwhile, ebbed and flowed, respectively, from 165.6 square miles to 165.1 and 165.8.
“We have made our digital data more accurate and more complete, and that has impacted the area figures in many areas,” said Katy Rossiter, a geographer for the Census Bureau. “In some cases — annexations, for example — cities have gained land through legal action. In other cases, just our digital representation of what the boundary is and what area is land versus water within the boundary may have changed. This is not to say that these areas have really lost or gained land, but our digital representation has changed, therefore the numbers have changed.”
The City Planning Department estimates that more than half the city’s usable land area is divided almost equally between open space (41,000 acres, including parks, beaches and cemeteries) and one- and two-family houses (42,000 acres). Another 2,058 acres, an area more than twice the size of Central Park, is devoted to parking lots and garages.
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau also spit out another interesting if, not necessarily, useful piece of information — New York State’s center of population. The bureau arrived at that by calculating what the pivot point would be if every resident in the state weighed exactly the same.
The result was that the state’s population center is around the community of Florida, in Orange County, father east than in more than a century and farther south than at any time since 1940. The shift reflects population losses upstate and gains in New York City and its suburbs.