STAMFORD – A city, according to the U.S. Census, is large if it has at least 100,000 people.
By that definition, only five of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities are considered large by the federal government.
Bridgeport is the biggest, followed by Stamford, then New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury.
As large cities go, the Connecticut five are on the small side, with population totals just north of the 100,000 threshold.
Bridgeport, for example, has about 148,500 people. Stamford has 137,600 people, followed closely by New Haven with 137,300. Hartford’s population is 119,800 and Waterbury’s is 113,100.
The CTData Collaborative and its partner, AdvanceCT, have just released their 2023 Connecticut Town Profiles, which report information about population, employers, education, finances, labor force, housing, and more.
The town profiles are its most-read reports, says the collaborative, founded in 2008 to make it easier for the public to consume multiple sources of federal and state data.
The latest profiles show that four of Connecticut’s five large cities have many key characteristics in common:
- Median household incomes hover around $50,000 or just below.
- Poverty rates are in the double digits.
- Black and Hispanic residents are not the minority; they comprise 50 percent to 75 percent of the population.
- A third of the populace did not attend college.
- Median rents are roughly $1,100 to $1,200 a month.
- Median home values range from $140,000 to $210,000.
- Unemployment rates exceed the state average.
- Property values are relatively low, so mill rates, used to calculate taxes, are high at about 45.
But one of the five large cities bucks the trend.
Stamford, set so deep in the southwestern corner of the state that it’s a suburb of New York, has drastically different numbers, according to CTData:
- The median household income is $99,800, twice what it is in the other cities.
- The poverty rate is 9 percent, less than half the other cities.
- Black and Hispanic residents also are not the minority, but they comprise a smaller portion of the population, 40 percent.
- Nearly half the population holds bachelor’s or master’s degrees or higher.
- The median rent is roughly $2,000 a month, nearly twice what it is in the other cities.
- The median home value is $550,000, significantly more than double the value in the other cities.
- The unemployment rate is 4 percent, exactly the state average and lower than the other four cities.
- Property values are exceedingly high, so the mill rate is 27, roughly half what it is in the other cities.
The data illustrates some of the reasons Stamford is called Connecticut’s “economic engine.”
It has a Grand List – the tally of all taxable property in a city – of $33 billion. The next-highest Grand List among the five big cities is about one-third that amount, New Haven’s $11.8 billion.
Waterbury has the lowest property value tally, $7.2 billion.
Stamford has a significantly larger number of active businesses, about 20,500, according to CTData. Bridgeport is next with 14,800 businesses.
Hartford has 13,800 businesses, and New Haven slightly fewer. Waterbury has significantly fewer businesses, 9,100.
Stamford’s place as an outlier among Connecticut’s cities is rooted in geography, said University of Connecticut Professor Fred Carstensen, director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis.
That’s for two reasons, Carstensen said. First, Stamford has a far larger land area than its sister cities, and second, it’s just 34 miles from New York.
Stamford is a city that’s had room to grow, fed by a world metropolis, Carstensen said.
“In the 1970s, Stamford was rebuilt with corporate headquarters,” he said. “No other city in Connecticut had a similar renewal.”
It happened again in the 1990s, with an influx of financial service companies, many of them seeking campus-like settings in the shadow of New York. Stamford had space for corporate campuses.
“Other Connecticut cities did not have the same dynamic transformation,” Carstensen said.
CTData shows that Stamford’s land area is 38 square miles. Compare that to New Haven, which is significantly smaller at 19 square miles.
“New Haven has Yale, but New Haven is so geographically small that a lot of people live in the surrounding towns,” Carstensen said. “Yale has generated a lot of companies, and Yale has been expanding, investing in the immediate neighborhood. But it hasn’t changed the city.”
Hartford is geographically tiny, at 17 square miles.
“Except for a small neighborhood near West Hartford, there is no decent housing stock in Hartford. You have to go into the suburbs,” Carstensen said. “Hartford has been in long-term decline.”
And Bridgeport, which has the largest population of Connecticut’s five big cities, has the smallest land area, 16 square miles. CTData shows that, in Bridgeport, population density is high – 9,248 people per square mile.
It’s high, too, in New Haven, which has 7,173 people per square mile. Stamford’s density, even though it has a larger population than New Haven, is 3,584 people per square mile, about half New Haven’s number.
It means people have more space to live in Stamford, likely making it more attractive to prospective residents.
“In Stamford they knock down old stuff and build new because high-income people are coming from New York,” Carstensen said. “There’s no incentive for anything like that in the other cities.”
Michelle Riordan-Nold, executive director of the CTData Collaborative, said the town profiles draw lots of eyeballs.
“Realtors are a huge user,” Riordan-Nold said. “They print out the profiles and put them in homes so people who are looking to buy can understand the town.”
She’s not surprised by the picture the data paints of Stamford, she said.
“There’s the proximity to New York City, the easy access to public transit – if I were in my 20s, it would be an appealing place to live,” Riordan-Nold said. “It has a nice downtown and it’s really diverse, which is good.”