Large cities’ population comeback could influence redistricting

Connecticut’s largest cities–Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport–have lost residents for decades, but 2010 Census data shows a slight turnaround in these urban populations and it could influence the ongoing redistricting process.

Since the 2000 Census, Bridgeport grew by 3.4 percent, Hartford by 2.6 percent and New Haven by 5 percent. The state’s population overall increased by 4.9 percent.

Connecticut’s urban areas have long lost population to suburban and rural communities. Hartford lost 13 percent of its residents from 1990 to 2000 and hadn’t reported any significant positive growth since 1960. Bridgeport saw its first increase this year since 1950. New Haven lost 5 percent of its population from 1990 to 2000.

Jim Finley, executive director and CEO for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the urban population growth stems from a number of factors and a new appreciation for Connecticut’s urban centers.

“Each of these cities has a unique dynamic,” he said. “New Haven has attracted more empty-nesters and home buyers. There’s been a considerable effort in increasing housing there and it’s really paid off. Hartford is a similar story. People have been attracted to the new condo developments, the arts, the culture and the hospitals close by.”

He said Bridgeport makes for a slightly different case.

“Bridgeport is interesting because they have some of the most stable urban neighborhoods in the state, especially in the Black Rock neighborhood of the city. More and more young people have been attracted to the area.”

The new Census figures will be the basis of redrawing state House and Senate and Congressional district lines by a Reapportionment Committee currently working toward a Sept. 15 deadline. The committee’s plan must be approved by two thirds of the House and Senate; otherwise the job goes to a panel of judges.

In the past, population decline cost the cities some representation in the General Assembly, as suburban areas were added to urban districts to make up for lost residents. In 1980, Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport each had two residents in the state Senate; now Hartford and Bridgeport each have just one. Similarly, Hartford and Bridgeport had eight residents in the House of Representatives, while New Haven had seven; now each city has six.

State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, serves as a member of the Reapportionment Committee. He said the urban growth will most likely preserve representation in Connecticut’s cities, but redistricting often proves an unpredictable process.

“The relative gains in urban population are a positive sign,” he said. “But there’s a domino effect so you really can’t say what’s going to happen. The population in one place can change and have a domino effect of change in another area.”

Connecticut grew by about 1.4 million people over the past 10 years and as a result, the ideal population of each state House and Senate district increased. The Reapportionment Committee will need to redraw the General Assembly lines so that each district’s population falls within 5 percent of 99,280 people in each state Senate district and 23,669 people in each state House district.

Looney said the current population shifts, compared with the shifts ten years ago, prove less dramatic, making any necessary changes less significant. The 2nd Congressional District stands out as the district with the largest population of 729,771, but each district will need redrawing to meet an ideal average population of 714,819. On the General Assembly side, many of the state Senate districts fall close to the ideal population range.

“Looking at maps of state Senate districts, there aren’t any that stand out as need dramatic change,” he said.

Democratic state Sen. Toni Harp also represents part of New Haven, a city that grew at the same rate as the state over the past 10 years.

“This has been extraordinary growth for New Haven,” she said. “I found this to be really surprising. I used to not pay much attention to the Census data and at first I didn’t know what to make of it.”

She agrees that the state Senate districts may not change greatly, but the state House districts present greater disparities.

“The Senate probably won’t be affected, but the House may be a different matter,” she said.

Although Hartford and New Haven experienced population hikes, the growth in each city wasn’t evenly distributed. Four state House districts in Hartford and two state House districts in New Haven are still among the ten state House districts with the lowest populations.

For example, New Haven saw a net growth of 5 percent, but the eastern half of New Haven grew at a little over 7 percent and the western half grew at a little under 3 percent.

“The growth is most likely due to new housing growth and immigration into the eastern half of the city, in addition to economic expansion with Yale and people attending the university,” Looney said. “It will affect how the lines are drawn.”

Both Looney and Harp agree that, in addition to new housing developments, increases in urban population can partially be attributed to better, more accurate counting methods.