There’s still a lot of hand-wringing about the Hudson population dropping over the past decade, as if this were some sort of catastrophe for the life of the town. Official census figures show the number of residents dropping about 11% between 2000 and 2010, from 7,524 to 6,713—about a third of that drop attributable to changes in how prisoners in the Hudson Correctional Facility are counted.
Whether such figures actually speak to the health and fortunes of this “small city” is debatable at best, verging on dubious. Hudson’s population was never higher than in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when residence rose well over 12,000 people. Does anyone want to go back to the mid-1930s, just to be able to say that the population has risen again?
Still, ever since this writer moved here full-time in the dank February of 1998, it’s always been fashionable to predict imminent doom for Hudson. Yet things have kept steadily improving, despite the efforts of certain officials and entrenched interests to impede progress. Then-City Attorney Giff Whitbeck once was heard to declare that the merchants of Warren Street were shell businesses on the verge of collapse—mere façades. That was in the late 1990s. Today, there are probably five times as many occupied storefronts on Hudson’s main street.
Indeed, closer look at voter rolls maintained by the Columbia County Board of Elections tells a somewhat different story about what’s occurred in the past decade or so. Despite the Census showing nearly 800 fewer people in town over the past decade, the number of voters on record in 1999 in comparison with today has dropped by only 56 people.
The percentage of Hudsonians registered to vote thus has actually increased, from 49% to 54%. As a basic measure of civic engagement, one could argue from these numbers that while there are fewer people in Hudson now, there are more interested in its future. To some extent, this reflects the number of concerted voter registration pushes in the years of 2000-2005, when there was a series of hotly-contested City races in the individual five wards as well as Citywide.
Now, turnout in the 2011 Hudson election was notably dismal, possibly because of the lack of contested alderman and supervisor races in the City; the upcoming Presidential, Senatorial, Congressional, Assembly and Legislature contests may be a better test of how engaged these voters really are.
More telling is the average age of registered voters, which has dropped from 54 years old to just 50 over that same period (1999-2012). In other words, the Hudson electorate is getting younger—an improvement, many would say, as a frequent concern in the 1990s was that Hudson’s population was not merely dropping, but also aging. That measurable shift demonstrates with hard figures the anecdotal sense that Hudson is indeed getting younger.
One sees the benefits of this shift economically when venues like Basilica Hudson can routinely bring out 600-800 young people on random weekday nights for bands like Grimes and Godspeed You Black Emperor. (Obviously, many of those attendees were young people from around the region, from Bard to RPI to SUNY to as far away as the Five College area of Northhampton, Mass. But the attendance was also boosted by local residents.
The answers as to why Hudson might be getting younger are not hard to imagine. There is a growing music scene, with multiple venues on both a grand and small scale, from Basilica to Spotty Dog—few of which existed until the last five years or so, let alone in the late ’90s. There are far more options of places to hang out in both day and nighttime, and more places for young people to work. Countless businesses which many newere residents take for granted (from retail and restaurants on Warren Street, to service and manufacturing off it) just weren’t here a decade ago, such as Etsy and Digifab. There’s just a lot more to do now.
Thus when it comes to population, it may many less how many people live in a place, than who. Better to have three people who pay attention to what’s going on, work in town, spend their income locally, support local civic institutions, and get involved with their community, than four who are apathetic and disengaged. Hudson still has a long way to go, but the increased youth of those who have stayed or moved here is a hopeful sign.