Abraham Unger, Ph.D., assistant professor of government and politics and director of urban programs at Wagner College, provided expert insight into the changing demographics of Staten Island for a series produced by New York 1 reporter Amanda Farinacci.
Staten Island Week 2014: Demographics of Borough Continue to Shift (May 11, 2014)
At one time the fastest-growing county in the entire state, 2010 Census figures show Staten Island's exploding population has finally slowed down, but what hasn't slowed down is the number of new immigrants who now call Staten Island home and the number of new reasons to attract them there. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report to kick off Staten Island Week.
Staten Island is a changing borough. With roughly 4,000 new residents since the 2010 census, the island is the most diverse it has ever been.
"Our population's increased a little bit by a few thousand, and in all other areas, we're basically much like the rest of New York City," said Abe Unger of Wagner College.
Even though the island is still overwhelmingly white, there are already increases in the numbers of Asians, Hispanics and blacks. In addition, new immigrants like Sri Lankans, Liberians and Russians have settled all over the borough, and they're opening businesses.
Government figures show that the island is second only to Manhattan in the number of immigrant-owned businesses.
"People of various backgrounds are moving here to take advantage of that quality of life," said Staten Island Borough President James Oddo. "They want to be in the cleanest, greenest, safest borough of the city."
As Staten Island demographics are changing, so, too, is its landscape. The island isn't just for homeowners anymore. Plans for residential and commercial development along the north shore waterfront are aimed at giving working professionals an affordable rental alternative to moving off the island. The New York Wheel and the Empire Outlet Mall hope to draw tourists off the ferry and onto island streets.
Plans to redevelop the old navy homeport were announced back in 2008, and construction is in full swing. Local leaders point to this project as the push that was needed to breathe new life into the waterfront and finally revitalize the north shore.
"The residual effects, the associated benefits of those projects to Staten Island overall mean that on balance, these are great things for this borough," Oddo said.
That translates into job creation for the island's newest residents and housing options for the 15,000 newcomers expected in the coming years.
Staten Island Week 2014: Hispanic Communities Popping Up All Over Borough (May 12, 2014)
There are now more Hispanics living on Staten Island than ever before, and contrary to popular belief, Hispanic communities are popping up all over the island. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
Nearly 1,400. That's how many more Hispanics or Latinos now call Staten Island home, just three years after 2010 census figures identified them as the largest minority group in the borough.
Back then, the population totaled a little more than 78,000. Now, it's hovering at around 80,000.
"I feel like there's still more in Port Richmond, though, but you see, there's Mexicans everywhere," said one person in the neighborhood.
For years, Port Richmond has attracted Mexican immigrants, the most of any borough in the city. Streets are lined with eateries and stores geared at Spanish speakers. The new Latino immigrants to Staten Island aren't just Mexican, however.
"We forget there are Guatemalans and others coming in. So it's not just Mexicans coming in," said Abe Unger of Wagner College. "And even among those Mexicans, you're ranging from cosmopolitan Mexicans to rural Mexicans who don't speak Spanish, but rather native Indian dialects, and so it's a much more diverse Hispanic population that we can really imagine."
Gonzalo Mercado is the the executive director of El Centro de Inmigrante. The immigrant advocacy center provides a space for day laborers to congregate. Mercado said the influx of new immigrants to the borough drives the need to train day laborers on worker safety and provide them better protections.
"Having workers on the street doesn't work for the workers because they are victims of abuse by employers," Mercado said. "But it also doesn't work in many cases for employers who want a qualified worker and they don't know who to get."
Organizers at El Centro said they've already started looking for a second location from which to dispatch day laborers. They said it won't necessarily be on the island's north shore.
It could, perhaps wind up on the island's east shore, where many Latino immigrants have settled in communities like South Beach and Midland Beach. A day laborer center here could make it easier to find jobs when the city's Build It Back program begins work to repair Hurricane Sandy-damaged homes in the area.