Thursday, May 5, 2011

Census Data

I thought Michael Wright’s article in the Southampton Press on April 14th, analyzing recent census data, was really interesting and completely related to our built environment, which is obviously a main interest of mine.

I did think the title of the article was crumby though (“Census Confirms Building Boom”) but that wasn’t necessarily Mike’s fault. Editors often change titles, and anything to do with getting people to think – right or wrong – that the real estate market is on the upswing, may catch the attention of many, making it a predictable editor move.

But this article was not just about the building boom, or current lack thereof, or vice versa. To me, this article highlighted the fact that less and less people live here year round, and more and more houses are considered vacant. Michael explained that “vacant homes can be seasonal residences, those on the market and currently unoccupied, or rental properties without tenants.” Apparently, in Southampton,
it’s about 50/50, which is a 10% drop from 10 years ago, and especially evident
within the incorporated villages. “In Southampton Village a 23% drop in the number of occupied homes left more than 61% of the village’s 3,300 homes vacant or seasonal, compared to just 43 percent during the 2,000 Census.”

To me this all points to it just being plain too expensive for a middle class to exist here. It means that the trouble in finding people to serve in local government and as firefighters, etc. will become even more difficult. Already many government and not-for-profit board positions are being held by part-timers. It also means that there are less children depriving irreplaceable vitality from communities and that many businesses will start becoming seasonal as well.

But the article did touch on how many houses were built in the last 10 years: 5,923 in Southampton, almost 1,000 of which were built in Bridgehampton alone! “Indeed, many residents lamented the rapid loss of community character…” Exactly! This is yet another huge indicator that the creation of historic districts protecting what’s left of Southampton’s architectural heritage couldn’t be a more critically urgent need.

In East Hampton the increases in homes built and ‘vacant’ homes were much more modest leading me to wonder what that says about Southampton and whether or not it’s being driven in a healthy direction. I know it sounds like I’m suddenly catastrophizing everything, when honestly I’m normally a “glass half full” kind of person, but it’s pretty hard to choose the “ignorance is bliss” approach, as the writing seems loudly and legibly on the billboard into town.

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