Thursday, November 11, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (11/11/04)


"Westchester's getting too crowded!" Who hasn't heard that complaint recently? Continuing our study of Westchester's statistics, let's see what the situation really is in terms of population growth and density. With its 450.5 square miles, Westchester is among the larger counties in the United States. And its population is larger than eight of the 50 states. At the turn of the last century, it was home to 184,257 persons. A hundred years later, its population had grown to 923,459 residents, an increase of 410%. Most of the growth was in the southern part of the county, especially in the early decades. The cities of Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers, fourth largest in the state, more than doubled their populations by the end of the First World War. In the twentieth century, Peekskill's population grew from 10,358 to 22,441 (117%), most of its growth having taken place by 1960.

The fastest growing Westchester town or village in the previous century was Scarsdale. Its 1900 population of 885 increased twentyfold to 17,823. Had the entire county grown at that rate, Westchester population of under a million in 2000 would have been 3.7 million. In the same hundred years, the town of Cortlandt's population of 8,345 (outside the village of Croton-on-Hudson; Buchanan wasn't incorporated until 1927) grew to 28,672 persons, or 410%; in the period, Croton's population swelled from 1,533 to 7,606, an astonishing 396%--but much of this was accomplished before 1960, including its accession of the hamlets of Harmon and Mt. Airy in 1932. In the twentieth century, the town of Ossining's population of 2,956 (not including the villages of Ossining and Briarcliff Manor, which did not exist in 1900) grew by 87% to 5,514. Ossining village's population increased from 7,939 to 24,010, or 202%. Briarcliff Manor, which made its first appearance in a Census in 1910, grew from 950 residents to 7,696.

A close study of Croton's statistics reveals its recent population patterns. In the 1940 Census, its population stood at 3,843. It grew by 77% to 6,812 in the 1960 Census. In the next 30 years, however, Croton's population increased by only 206 persons. Between 1990 and 2000, 588 new Crotonites were added, more than twice the number added in the previous 30 years, thanks to a spate of building. But in the 40 years between 1960 and 2000, Croton grew by only 794 persons (12%), or about 20 persons a year. Croton has now virtually run out of available building lots.

Population changes are not always in the plus column. Communities tend to go through cycles that can be described as youth--characterized by growth, middle age--a period of retrenchment, and old age, a time when housing stocks become older and need restoration or replacement, traffic patterns change, and neighborhoods decline. Between 1960 and 2000, the cities of Mt. Vernon and New Rochelle both lost population, a decline attributed to so-called "white flight." Seven Westchester villages--Bronxville, Hastings-on-Hudson, Mamaroneck, Pelham Manor, Scarsdale, Tarrytown and Tuckahoe--also lost population in the same period.

Of Westchester's 288,200 acres, 46% are given over to residential use; 13% to nonresidential use; 19% to open space, including parks, water supply lands, nature preserves and cemeteries. Eighteen percent of its acreage remains undeveloped, and 4% is classified as interior bodies of water. An analysis of open space yields some interesting facts. Croton-on-Hudson has every right to be proud: Among all Westchester villages, it devotes the most acreage, 1,113 acres, to open space--36.5% of its area. Buchanan (3.5%) and Port Chester (4.4%) are at the bottom of the list of the 43 Westchester cities, town and villages in percentage of open space. Even tiny Pelham, only eight-tenths of a square mile in area, devotes a higher percentage of its area and more acreage to open space than does Buchanan, almost twice its size at 1.5 square miles.

Population density is derived by dividing population by square mileage. The most densely populated municipality in Westchester is Mount Vernon, with 15,541 persons per square mile, followed by Yonkers, Tuckahoe, Pelham, Ossining, New Rochelle, Bronxville, Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Eastchester. Least densely populated is the town of Pound Ridge (only 291 persons a square mile), followed by North Castle, Lewisboro, Bedford, Somers, New Castle, Cortlandt and Yorktown.

If you need proof that women live longer than men, consider the following statistic: In the 2,000 Census, among children five years and under in Westchester, males slightly outnumbered females. Among Westchester's 17,659 oldsters 85 and over, however, females outnumbered males by a ratio of 72% to 28%.

The print media, once fierce bastions of independence and investigative reporting, now fail to paint a true picture of conditions under a foolish self-imposed censorship. A case in point is the lack of coverage of the disastrous effect our ill-advised Iraq adventure is having on the morale of stretched-thin troops, particularly in Reserve and National Guard components. Over this past Labor Day weekend, trouble broke out at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where the 1st Battalion of the 178th Field Artillery Regiment of the South Carolina National Guard was in training for duty in Iraq. Thirteen members of the unit went AWOL, primarily to see their families in South Carolina again before shipping out. An angry confrontation erupted between members of Alpha and Charlie batteries (the term used in artillery units instead of "companies"). Base MP's had to intervene and break it up. During a barracks inspection, alcohol was found, and troops were restricted to barracks.

Because the Pentagon failed to foresee and plan for an extended occupation of Iraq, the Army still lacks enough military police units. The South Carolina artillerymen were being hastily retrained as MP's to escort supply convoys in Iraq. Under the accelerated schedule, the unit's soldiers had received only about 36 hours' leave in two months. Hours were long, and soldiers were restricted to the post and not allowed to wear civilian clothes when off duty. In order to bring the unit to full strength, new soldiers had been transferred from other Guard units. Unfamiliar faces understandably tend to make for low unit morale. To make matters worse, Fort Dix is also home to a federal prison. Many in the 178th felt that the incarcerated prisoners had more rights than the soldiers.

Situations like this are the result of the Pentagon's decision not to increase the size of the forces in Iraq. Forty percent of the 140,000 troops there now are Reserve and National Guard members. Military experts predict a big drop in new enlistments and unwillingness to "re-up" (re-enlist) by those now serving when terms of service expire. The Pentagon's self-created manpower problems will only be exacerbated, making the draft even more likely.


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