Sunday, December 6, 2015


Every few months, we receive a friendly reminder about the critical level of poverty in the city of Rochester.  Obviously, the issue warrants significant concern, though a recalibrated perspective never hurts.  As previously shown, redrawing the boundaries of the city such that it includes 45.8% of the metro area (as is the case in many parts of the country) would suddenly turn one of the poorest cities in the country into a relatively "wealthy" city.

Unfortunately, the probability of enlarging the land area of the city is exceedingly low.  As such, the only hope for a geographically restricted entity such as Rochester is to either (a) hope that excessively harping on poverty makes it disappear, or (b) repopulate the city with residents who are above the poverty level.

The city of Rochester had its highest rate of population loss between 1970 and 1980.  In 1970, the population was 296,233, and in 1980 it had declined to 241,741 (a loss of 18.4%.)  What if Rochester's population moved from its current 210,000 back up to the levels seen between 1970 and 1980?

  • Adding 72,857 residents above the poverty level would move Rochester's population to 282,857 and drop the poverty rate from about 33% to 24.5%, i.e. the same as Dallas.
  • Adding 56,538 residents above the poverty level would move Rochester's population to 266,538 and drop the poverty rate from about 33% to 26%, i.e. the same as Philadelphia.
Obviously such repopulation might seem like a pipe dream.  On the other hand, Boise, Idaho, has added 90,544 residents over the past 24 years.


  1. I wonder what kind of impact the city's recent auction of hundreds of tax delinquent properties could have on the population.

    Also, in order for people above the poverty level to continue moving to the city, the dreaded gentrification of city neighborhoods must continue. The southeastern portion of the city is nearing capacity, and it will be interesting to see if the "nice" areas continue to push in a circle around the city. It already seems like this wave is moving across Main Street from NOTA into Beechwood, although that neighborhood is definitely still a work in progress.

  2. For unknown reasons, gentrification has a negative connotation. I've always had trouble finding the downside to an influx of educated people with money. While displacement is often raised as a concern, it is often unfounded. In fact, uplifting of preexisting residents is the norm. In Rochester's case, if concentrated poverty is to be addressed, gentrification is the only realistic option. Here is an interesting take on the process:

    1. While I understand the case of renters not being able to afford rising rents and being forced to move, people getting up in arms over rising property values has never made sense to me. Maybe I'm just ignorant, but the rise in taxes for a homeowner seems pretty negligible to me compared to the amount of benefit said owner is getting from increased value on their house. Like you said, people should use gentrification as a way to lift themselves up instead of painting a negative picture of the situation. I think in general, no one wants to force people out of an area, and there is no reason why areas can't become "nice" for everyone to enjoy as long as they're willing to get on board.

  3. Mr. Shrikhande:

    Are you willing to move your above-the-poverty-line family from Pittsford to Rochester proper?

    Such a move might, one could argue, re-characterize the repopulation from that of a "pipe dream" to one of hope.

    I enjoy reading your blog about such a wonderful town,

    James Samuelson

    1. That is a great question! My wife and I definitely plan to repopulate the city, though not for another 13 years. In the meantime, we have made the perhaps mundane but hopefully understandable decision to educate the kids in Pittsford.

      To deal with our cognitive dissonance, we do our best to spend most of our leisure money within city limits.

      As an aside, the concept of moving to the suburbs for education is not a Rochester concept but rather an American concept. Many young families leave Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, etc. for their respective suburbs.