Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Census 2010 Offers Portrait of America in Transition

I promised some people I’d come back and update my Census findings after all the states were released. Well that’s done so here I am. I previously posted this on New Geography the day after the last of the results came in, and the piece has gone sort of ballistic.

If there’s one simple example that shows the power of my Telestrian platform, it’s this: the maps I created from it landed on the front page of Yahoo:

I’m not sure how many hundreds of thousands or millions of page views that generated, but it was a lot. (The piece was also featured on Gawker, the Daily Mail, etc). I could have slaved away forever on this stuff and never gotten any exposure like that without compelling visuals. There was nothing magical about my charts – anyone could have made them with the tool. Who knows, maybe you’ll use to land on the front pages of tier one internet sites on day too.

In any case, I also put together a complete list of census results for all metropolitan areas. As the Census Bureau hasn’t put this out yet, these should be considered preliminary and unofficial. Here’s the NG piece:

The Census Bureau just finished releasing all of the state redistricting file information from the 2010 Census, giving us a now complete portrait of population change for the entire country. Population growth continued to be heavily concentrated in suburban metropolitan counties while many rural areas, particularly in the Great Plains, continue to shrink.


Percentage change in population, 2000-2010. Counties that grew in population in blue, decliners in red.

Dividing counties by those growing faster or slower than the US average paints the picture even more starkly:


Percentage change in population, 2000-2010. Counties growing faster than the US average in blue, slower than the US average in red.

The release of all county data means it is also possible to take an unofficial, preliminary look at metropolitan area growth. The biggest gainers were Sunbelt cities in the South, Texas, and the Midwest, while the Midwest and Northeast continued to lag, particularly the old heavy manufacturing axis stretching from Detroit to Pittsburgh. But this picture was not monolithic. Many Southern cities with Rust Belt profiles like Birmingham failed to grow much compared to neighbors, nor did coastal California with its development restrictions.


Percentage change in population, 2000-2010. MSAs that grew in population in blue, decliners in red.


Percentage change in population, 2000-2010. Counties growing faster than the US average in blue, slower than the US average in red.

A full table of population change for large metro areas (greater than one million people) is available at the bottom of this post.

Basic race information is also available in this data release, since it is used to ensure redistricting complies with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Here’s a map showing the concentration of Hispanic population the US:


Population of Hispanic Origin, as a percentage of total population.

Hispanic population remains heavily concentrated in the Southwest, but the interior, and especially parts of the South one would not expect, such as Alabama, posted significant gains in Hispanic population share.


Hispanic population as change in percentage of total population, 2000-2010.

As the highest concentrations of Hispanics remain in the Southwest, similarly the Black population is at its heaviest concentrations in the South:


Black Alone population as a percentage of total population, 2010.

A lot has been written about the so-called reverse Great Migration of blacks from the North to the South. These results show something of that effect, but less of a general than a specific migration. Some cities both North and South are becoming magnets for Blacks, while other traditional Black hubs like Chicago are no longer favored. Note that some northern cities that showed a larger increase in concentration started off on a low base, like Minneapolis-St. Paul:


Black Alone population as change in percentage of total population, 2000-2010.

As noted above, here are all US metro areas with a population greater than one million people in 2010, ranked by percentage change in population:

2000-2010 Population Growth, MSAs of 1 Million or More
Rank Metropolitan Area 2000 2010 Total Change Pct Change
1 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 1,375,765 1,951,269 575,504 41.8%
2 Raleigh-Cary, NC 797,071 1,130,490 333,419 41.8%
3 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 1,249,763 1,716,289 466,526 37.3%
4 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 1,330,448 1,758,038 427,590 32.1%
5 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 3,254,821 4,224,851 970,030 29.8%
6 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 1,644,561 2,134,411 489,850 29.8%
7 Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 3,251,876 4,192,887 941,011 28.9%
8 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 4,715,407 5,946,800 1,231,393 26.1%
9 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 1,711,703 2,142,508 430,805 25.2%
10 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 4,247,981 5,268,860 1,020,879 24.0%
11 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 5,161,544 6,371,773 1,210,229 23.4%
12 Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 1,311,789 1,589,934 278,145 21.2%
13 Jacksonville, FL 1,122,750 1,345,596 222,846 19.8%
14 Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville, CA 1,796,857 2,149,127 352,270 19.6%
15 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 2,179,240 2,543,482 364,242 16.7%
16 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 4,796,183 5,582,170 785,987 16.4%
17 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 2,395,997 2,783,243 387,246 16.2%
18 Salt Lake City, UT 968,858 1,124,197 155,339 16.0%
19 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 1,927,881 2,226,009 298,128 15.5%
20 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 1,525,104 1,756,241 231,137 15.2%
21 Richmond, VA 1,096,957 1,258,251 161,294 14.7%
22 Oklahoma City, OK 1,095,421 1,252,987 157,566 14.4%
23 Columbus, OH 1,612,694 1,836,536 223,842 13.9%
24 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,043,878 3,439,809 395,931 13.0%
25 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 5,007,564 5,564,635 557,071 11.1%
26 Kansas City, MO-KS 1,836,038 2,035,334 199,296 10.9%
27 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 2,968,806 3,279,833 311,027 10.5%
28 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 1,161,975 1,283,566 121,591 10.5%
29 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 2,813,833 3,095,313 281,480 10.0%
30 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 1,205,204 1,316,100 110,896 9.2%
31 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 1,052,238 1,128,047 75,809 7.2%
32 Baltimore-Towson, MD 2,552,994 2,710,489 157,495 6.2%
33 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 1,576,370 1,671,683 95,313 6.0%
34 Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 2,009,632 2,130,151 120,519 6.0%
35 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,735,819 1,836,911 101,092 5.8%
36 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 1,148,618 1,212,381 63,763 5.6%
37 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 4,123,740 4,335,391 211,651 5.1%
38 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 5,687,147 5,965,343 278,196 4.9%
39 St. Louis, MO-IL 2,698,687 2,812,896 114,209 4.2%
40 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 9,098,316 9,461,105 362,789 4.0%
41 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 12,365,627 12,828,837 463,210 3.7%
42 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 1,500,741 1,555,908 55,167 3.7%
43 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 4,391,344 4,552,402 161,058 3.7%
44 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 18,323,002 18,897,109 574,107 3.1%
45 Rochester, NY 1,037,831 1,054,323 16,492 1.6%
46 Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 1,582,997 1,600,852 17,855 1.1%
47 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 1,170,111 1,135,509 -34,602 -3.0%
48 Pittsburgh, PA 2,431,087 2,356,285 -74,802 -3.1%
49 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 2,148,143 2,077,240 -70,903 -3.3%
50 Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 4,452,557 4,296,250 -156,307 -3.5%
51 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 1,316,510 1,167,764 -148,746 -11.3%

Note: The original post data was calculated using rollups the day the final county results were released. This data has been updated for Denver with the official Census reported value for 2000 due to the creation of Broomfield County in 2001.

This post originally appeared at New Geography.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Conscious Urbanism: The Heidelberg Project by Brendan Crain

[ I’m extremely delighted to be able to begin sharing today a series of posts that previously appeared in the Where blog. This blog, which ran from 2007 to 2010, was one of the single most inspiring urbanist sites on the web. Originally a project of Brendan Crain, it grew into a very popular group site before going the way of all blogs. I’ve previously shared some material from Where contributor Drew Austin, and I’m stoked that Brendan himself has allowed me to re-post some of his pieces as well. They certainly deserve to be read far and wide. Brendan himself is not blogging at the moment that I’m aware of, but some of his old Where contributors are still going over at Polis, which is definitely worth checking out for an international take on cities. Thanks so much to Brendan and I hope you all enjoy these posts that will appear in the coming weeks and months. – Aaron ]

As the city that has fallen on the hardest times (in America, at least), Detroit has the most potential as a proving ground for new solutions. The city is a massive laboratory for urban theorists, developers, and boosters alike. How, many wonder, can Detroit be saved? Or can it be saved at all? Certainly one of the more interesting answers to these questions has come from Tyree Guyton, the man behind the Heidelberg Project, which has appropriated several blocks of the city’s near east side into a spectacularly off-the-wall community art project/revitalization effort.

It’s certainly not what you’d traditionally refer to as “revitalization,” but that’s kind of the point. On its website, the Heidelberg Project explains its vision thusly: “The Heidelberg Project envisions neighborhood residents using art to come together to rebuild the structure and fabric of under-resourced communities and to create a way of living that is economically viable, enriches lives, and welcomes all people.” What this translates to in the physical environment of Heidelberg Street is a collection of abandoned houses — and their surroundings — covered in murals, knick-knacks, mannequins, coins, pie tins, pieces of repurposed trash, stuffed animals, and (literally) just about anything else you could think up. It’s like the Watts Towers, but even more organic.

The Heidelberg Project teaches people who live and have grown up in desolate surroundings how they can change the public spaces that make up their neighborhood and how this change can affect them. It serves as an inspiration and a source of hope. So, of course, the city government has tried to kill the project several times. It has demolished a number of homes that were a part of the project on several different occasions, even though Heidelberg Street is an internationally-recognized project that attracts 275,000 visitors each year. As the project’s Executive Director, Jenenne Whitman, observes, the fact that the city tried so hard to “squash the project … shows how powerful art can be.” Indeed.

In contemporary society, public places themselves are not often thought of as art; actually, they are more often viewed as containers for art. The design of high-end contemporary places is sometimes considered artistically merited, it’s true. But the more interesting and subtle artistic expression in the public realm is community usage. The creation of great places, after all, absolutely requires heavy human interaction. This is usually considered a confirmation of the artistic integrity of the place’s design, but is it not an art form in and of itself? After all, don’t communities transform unplanned spaces into vibrant public places as frequently if not moreso than they do planned places?

The bustle of urban streets and other public spaces in the city is sometimes refered to, quite poetically, as a great pedestrian ballet. And if this is true, it can be logically assumed that, while policy and planning choreograph parts of this ballet, each individual person moving through the city takes part in its choreography by making their own independent choices. People go to parks and plazas and promenades for so many reasons: to eat, to play, to run, to chat, to meet, to dance, to stroll. And by doing so, each person becomes an artist, taking part in the endless urban ballet. Simply to use the city, to exist within it, is a work of art. It’s a lovely idea, no?

The Heidelberg Project is a very concrete visual manifestation of this ballet. It teaches the disenfranchised and the isolated how to shape the world around them into something beautiful. In a way, it is the most public kind of public place: the kind where the planned social infrastructure failed, and the people moved in, did what they do, and created something really useful.

Links:
The Heidelberg Project
Heidelberg Turns 21 (Model D) (Photo credit)

This post originally appeared in The Where Blog on August 27, 2007.

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Why Is Government in This Business Again?

Pretty much every level of government is broke is about right now. So hard questions are being asked about what services are essential for government to provide, whether anyone wants to be asking them or not.

One thing that needs to be looked at is different ways of structuring the way the government does things in order to leverage the capabilities that the market can bring to bear today in ways that would not have been possible before, particularly in the realm of technology, where the time is ripe for this.

Thinking about the city as platform concept, the model is that rather than having the government directly provide the entire service stack, it only provides the platform on which private enterprise delivers a lot of the value.

Think about CTA bus tracker for example. This is a very cool app that lets you find out when the next bus is coming in Chicago. It’s more or less a necessity now in an era of service reductions.

After the CTA put out this application, someone reverse engineered the protocol to determine the API that would allow third party applications to tap into the bus tracker data. At that point the CTA opened things up and published an official API.

I think this sequence illustrates an important point at about the traditional way of thinking, which is that the government provides the integrated service stack top to bottom. The ability of others to tap in at any layer other than the top was added later. But imagine if the CTA had designed bus tracker as a platform up front? If it had done that, it may never have needed to design the end user application in the first place. Others may have built the app for them. That could have saved the CTA some money.

This is sort of the type of model I’d like to see start evolving. Get the government out of the service layer, where it isn’t very good anyway. While bus tracker isn’t bad, most government web sites suck out loud. The Cook County Treasurer site where you pay your property taxes doesn’t even work with Firefox, for example. The Illinois Department of Employment Security notoriously only works with Internet Explorer. The private sector is much better at deploying technology, and certainly much better at finding the types of applications that will actually generate value to users and delivering that in an intelligent way.

A great example of this in my view is the IRS. They probably do still have their own e-file site, but they’ve also got a system other providers can tap into. This lets people like Intuit with their Turbo Tax product deliver a superior interface and make it easier and better for taxpayers to comply with their obligations.

The CTA’s open fare media project is a great step in this direction. They asked themselves what they were doing in the proprietary payments business, and came up with the answer that they shouldn’t be. They are looking to leverage all the same payment technologies used by everybody else and simply get out of that business.

Maybe government agencies will always need some sort of an official web site for various things, but to the extent that more and more technology (and potential other matters as well) can simply be devolved to the private sector, which is better at it anyway, money can be saved while delivering a superior citizen experience.

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Replay: The Logic of Failure by Dietrich Dörner

It is far from clear whether ‘good intentions plus stupidity’ or ‘evil intentions plus intelligence’ have wrought more harm in the world. People with good intentions usually have few qualms about pursuing their goals. As a result, incompetence that would otherwise have remained harmless often becomes dangerous…Failure does not strike like a bolt from the blue; it develops gradually according to its own logic. As we watch individuals attempt to solve problems, we will see that complicated situations seem to elicit habits of thought that set failure in motion from the beginning…We can learn, however. People court failure in predictable ways.

Because planning involves only imagining our actions, we are essentially free from the irksome conditions of reality, and nothing prevents us from simply ignoring the conditions necessary to carry out an operation. Since we human being tend to think in the abstract anyway, ignoring those conditions comes quite easily.

‘Catastrophes’ seem to hit suddenly, but in reality the way has been prepared for them. Unperceived forces gradually eat away at the supports necessary for favorable development until the system is finally unable to resist any longer and collapses.”

- Dietrich Dörner, The Logic of Failure

With the impending demolition of Columbus, Ohio’s failed downtown mall, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on all of the urban planning failures of the past, and all of the things that, while they were successful in a sense, had serious unintended consequences: urban renewal, pedestrian malls, highway mania, single use zoning, federal housing subsidies, etc. It seems to me that almost every urban planning approach du jour ends up, over time, either not accomplishing the things it was touted as delivering, or brought serious negative side effects. Why is this?

The answer is easily supplied by German cognitive psychologist Dietrich Dörner’s seminal work, The Logic of Failure, which is an absolute must-read for anyone in any field. The answer, simply, is that humans are extremely poor at decision making in “complex” environments, and fall prey to a series of well-understood decision making traps.

The human brain is a marvel. It excels at all manner of tasks. For example, the human brain seems to be extremely good at solving problems involving simple linear cause and effect type relationships. That is, problem of the “if A, then B” variety, or what Jane Jacobs would have called a “two factor” problem. This is easily extensible to multiple variables if they behave in well defined ways. Thus humans are extremely good at things like shooting a basketball through a hoop, designing bridges, determining the orbits of planetary objects, shooting pool, programming computers, balancing a checkbook, following an algorithm, process, or instruction set, or even putting a man on the moon.

We also seem to be great at problems that involve pattern matching or processing and analyzing large amounts of sensory input into a sort of gestalt state. Thus we clearly recognize and understand shapes that are incomplete or which are rotated in space, scaled up or down, or deformed. We can also do extremely demanding things like drive a car or fly and airplane with relative ease once we learn a task. Pretty amazing if you think about it.

But what we seem to have an incredible difficult time doing is solving complex problems, and unfortunately cities are a complex problem. What is a complex problem? Complex problems have attributes like the following:

  • A large number of interdependent variables that affect each other, potentially leading to long chains of inter-related events.
  • Evolution over time, not just a simple one-step and done situation
  • Effects act with lags, so the results of an action are not always immediately apparent.
  • Variables that act dynamically, in response to external or internal stimuli, even if we take no action at all.
  • Unclear, conflicting, or tacit goals and objectives about what is really to be achieved
  • Intransparence – we do not always know all the variables, their values, and how they relate to each other.
  • “Chaotic” behavior, where very small changes in the initial state or seemingly tiny actions can have dramatic consequences downstream.

Clearly, problems of this nature are extremely difficult to solve. It should come as no surprise that we don’t do a very good job at them. Still, it seems many proposed urban policies fall prey to the types of problems Dörner outlines. Some of these are:

Failure to properly deal with lags. I’ll put this one first since it is arguably no one’s fault. Just look at Washington, DC today. People are debating a stimulus package. Everyone knows that a stimulus acts with a lag. The question is, how much stimulus do you apply and when will you know if it worked or if you need to do something else again? Hard to say. Nevertheless, in a system with lags, we are extremely prone to “oversteer”. We make decisions based on the present situation, without regard to the fact that our previous actions will have the intended effect in a future period.

The employment of “methodism” in response to uncertainly. This means that people have a tendency to try strategies that were successful at dealing with something in the past. This can have its uses, but it has a tendency to decay into formula and ritual. Like most of us, planners have an attachment to the tried and true. But that might not be the right strategy.

De-contextualization of solutions. I consider this an extension of methodism and one of the most serious problems I see in practice. That is, solutions are proposed or implemented without concern to the context in which they are to be applied. You see this all the time in “school solutions” that people with a particular policy preference are pushing. Deregulation was a good thing in the past, therefore continuous deregulation of the financial services industry was a good thing. Uh, sorry. The classic example is light rail. Light rail was successful in Portland, so light rail advocates propose it in almost every city they come to. But the vast bulk of cities are not Portland. It’s not so much that rail is per se the wrong idea (though sometimes it is). But the simplistic arguments in favor of it rarely have anything to do with the actual city in question. It’s dogma – the recitation of cant. Let’s ask the right questions: what are the facts on the ground in my city? What would a city that had a successful transit system look and function like? What type of solution would be needed to make that happen? What other things would need to be in place? What would we have to do to make it a reality? Is the change we would have to make as a city worth it?

This is where government policy can actually have an unintended negative effect. President Obama clearly understands the importance of cities and plans to establish an office on urban policy. It is the nature of government to promote uniform laws and policies – which is a good thing in many contexts. But it would be a disastrous thing from an urban policy perspective because our cities are so diverse. They don’t all need the same thing. They need different things. Even in the Midwest, consider just Chicago, Detroit, and Columbus. What do these cities have in common? Well, some things, but they are radically different places with very different challenges, opportunities, and needs. There can certainly be a role for federal policy and money, but the key is to get it right. This means looking at where common policies and programs are necessary, but also understanding where it is important to devolve decision making and policy setting to the local level. It also means staying engaged with “the field” to understand what things are working or not, and why.

Over-emphasis on the present conditions and extrapolating them into the future. Again, we see this all the time. A current trend or fashion arises, and people suddenly assume that is the future. We saw it with the dot com bubble. We saw it with structured finance. One area we see it in spades is globalization. I happen to think globalization is real, is here, and isn’t going away. But, it is going to evolve over time. Almost all responses to globalization assume that the way it is shaping the economy and cities today is the way it is going to do so tomorrow. That may be true, but it may not be. That’s why I advocate that even cities like Chicago which are doing well should be thinking seriously about what the future might hold and what they need to do to get ready for an uncertain future, not just rest on their present success. It’s about where the hockey puck is going.

Reductivism. This model of thought attempts to deal with complexity by simplifying the causal mechanisms to one variable. Again, we see this all the time. For example, things like transportation, energy, or climate are often posited as a primal force shaping a city or driving behavior. These are influential and important to be sure, but are they the only things?

Repair service behavior. People have a tendency to fix what is broken. That’s also what politics generally demands. But often the serious, catastrophic problems were long present in the system, but no one noticed them until it was too late. “Management by exception” is a valid philosophy, but you’ve also got to pro-actively be probing, questioning, and thinking about where tomorrow’s problems might be before it is too late to do anything about them. We spend all of our focus on the problems of now without considering the future. It’s a about what’s important, not just what is urgent.

Solving problems in isolation. When we do see a problems, we tend to view them in isolation and develop problem-specific policies. But most problems are linked in a complex system. It’s like squeezing a balloon. Fixing one problem may exacerbate another. Things like brain gain, immigration, economic development, land use, and transportation aren’t separate problems to be solved separately. Approaches to them have to be part of a holistic approach to the city.

Forgetting about what’s right in the world. Again, by nature we focus on what is wrong and what we want to change. We often forget about what we want to keep. I think in general most of us tend to under-value the environment we live in and the way that it actually functions well. To a great extent, well functioning urban systems are invisible. This is where unintended consequences can come and bite you big time. We once saw a problem with crowding and such in the city and wanted people to be able to own a single family home with plenty of space. So we subsidized the heck out of that. But we forgot about the values of the city, and that there was a lot in the city we actually liked. Unfortunately, in the mad rush of suburbanization, we destroyed a lot of that in most places.

This should give you a flavor. What are the lessons we can draw from this? I think there are a few.

The first is simply to approach urban policy and urban planning with humility and rich understanding of the limits of what we can accomplish. This I think is desperately needed. There are so many policies out there that are promoted with almost messianic zeal by their advocates. It never ceases to amaze me that after all the failures of the past, all the unintended consequences, people are still ready to attempt to radically remake our cities on the basis of fairly simplistic policy approaches. By all means let’s try things, but let’s be cautious too.

Along with this I think we need to be very skeptical of dogma and silver bullet solutions. I’m all in favor of looking for the best ideas out there, and think we ought to be looking at places to find out what worked elsewhere. But we also need to have a rich understanding of our own city and our own circumstances to evaluate what is appropriate here, and what we need to do to achieve true and lasting success without all the unintended side effects. A great city, like a great wine, has to express its terroir. How should we cultivate our own unique soil to bring forth that full flowering and unique character?

Diversification. Cities can’t put all their eggs in one basket. It is just too risky. We need to cast a wide net and be willing to try lots of things, knowing some will fail. Dörner talks about efficiency diversity, or having many different possibilities for actions that have a high probability of success. This is exactly what we need.

We need to constantly be looking for feedback about how we are doing. Again, let’s try things. But then let’s see if they are working. This is very hard because practically speaking most policies are promoted by people in the context of a political process. This means the leader who promoted it is personally invested in the program and his or her enemies will pounce in the event there is a change of direction or, horror of horrors, an admitting of a mistake. This is where great leadership in a city comes into play. The reality is, a lot of what we do runs the risk of failure, or at least will need tweaking. That’s ok. Most business ideas fail. But without an entrepreneurial culture, our economy eventually will stagnate and die. Failure isn’t necessarily bad, particularly if we are able to fail quickly and cheaply. The best cities are willing to try things, knowing that some won’t work out. But occassionally there will be a home run.

And we need to think about the goals we have. The real goals. When our policy is successful, what will the city look like? What is that shared vision of the holistic end state? It’s not about the solution, it’s about the results.

This one bears repeating: states and the federal government need to recognize the diverse needs of our cities, and not promote or require one size fits all solutions. This can be hard to do. When you give cities home rule power and money to spend at their discretion, it is inevitable that there are going to be blow-ups. But if we over-compensate by putting our cities in a straitjacket, we do more harm than good in the long run.

Lastly, we need to be clearly aware of the fact that with urban policy, we are dealing with a complex, dynamic system. Since people fall into predictable thinking traps, forewarned is forearmed. I believe we can rise above our own human limitations to make dramatic improvements in the quality of our decision making and achieve, if not perfection, at least a reasonable chance at true long term success.

This post originally ran on February 7, 2009.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

It’s 2011, Do You Understand Your Human Capital Networks Yet?

This is another post in which I want to highlight some of what you can do with my Telestrian data terminal system. Today I want to look at migration data. Please note that while Telestrian is free to try, free accounts don’t have access to this data.

Study after study, expert after expert touts the importance of human capital to the 21st century knowledge economy. Virtually every city and state is spending gigantic sums of money – often aggregating to hundreds of millions per state – on “brain drain” initiatives and other attempt to retain or attract people. Yet shockingly few places have ever taken the time to even attempt to research their human capital networks. That is, where do people who move to a place come from? Where do ones who leave go to? How much money do they take with them? How are these flows changing over time? How do my migration rates compare with other places? Is my net migration low because people are leaving or nobody is coming?

These strike me as very basic questions. One of the things that led me to build Telestrian is that answering them was difficult. The Census Bureau only reports overall net migration, and nothing about origins and destinations. The other best source of data is the IRS, which publishes place to place migration based on where people file tax returns. This isn’t totally comprehensive, but it’s a huge data set. The problem is that it is ridiculously cumbersome to use. Professional demographers with mad SAS skillz have done it, but little of this analysis has penetrated the public consciousness, and it it has been hard for mortal man to do anything with the data for a few reasons.

One is the way the IRS organizes the data. First, they partition it by geography type, flow direction, state, and year. This results in over 200 files being issued per year. Only a handful of recent years have consolidated files. Plus, the format is Excel. Add it up and you’ve got to process over 3,000 spreadsheets just to get the data.

Plus, each of these thousands of files contains a very large number of records types and data elements, so you have to figure out which ones you want. You can just slurp the whole thing.

Additionally, the data is only supplied at the county-county and state-state level. But with metro areas being the drivers of the modern economy, a metro area view of the data is what is really needed. That isn’t supplied. And only in and out migration is available, and other potentially useful metrics aren’t calculated.

I found it impossible to work with manually myself, so decided to bite the bullet and process all those files into a database, creating all the elements I wanted on it, and putting the query and analysis functions I needed on top of it.

The result is to the best of my knowledge the first system anywhere that gives non-specialists a way to work with this data effectively. Some of what I have includes:

  • A full matrix of in, out, gross, and net migration for households (tax returns), people (exceptions), income (AGI), household size (exemptions/return), and household income (AGI/return)
  • Aggregated flows at the metro-metro and metro-state level in addition to state-state and state-county
  • Other summary data, such as total in-migrant returns and dozens of others, partitioned by data element, so they can easily be queried across states, years, etc
  • Additional derived data such as intra-metro migration (e.g., core to suburb) and migration rates.

Let’s take a look at what some of this lets us do. And by the way, as we go through these, remember that it look less than a minute to do them.

Mapping Regional Migration Networks

One of the things I was interested in was migration between large Midwestern cities. I decided to take a look at gross migration (in+out) because I was interested in human capital circulation. Net migration doesn’t always tell you that since 10-5=5 and 10005-10000 also =5. Here’s a look at migration between Chicago metro an my other Midwest cities:

Clearly there’s a gravity model at work (size/distance relationship). I find it interesting the big gap between the top five and the rest. You can look at the evolution in the year by year view:

Interesting to see the similar patterns. I notice the significant increase in migration with Indianapolis. One could dig into the county level data to see what’s going on (is it legitimately Chicago migration, or is it some type of state thing with Northwest Indiana, which is part of Chicago metro?) in more detail. But perhaps that’s indicative of something interesting perking.

Sources of In-Migration

I’ve long noted that Indianapolis is the Midwest net in-migration champ. But does that mean it’s really a talent magnet, or it is just a mini-version of the Chicago effect, with Indy sucking in mostly people from within the state? Let’s take a look. In addition to metro-metro, we have metro-state flows, so what does that tell us? Here are the top ten net migration sources for Indianapolis from 2000-2008:


Rank State 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Total
1 Indiana 5,714 6,049 4,682 5,525 4,919 6,004 4,903 5,312 43,108
2 Illinois 629 762 1,075 950 813 677 635 585 6,126
3 Michigan 274 375 233 463 434 423 724 827 3,753
4 Ohio 511 388 239 208 561 469 618 469 3,463
5 California 280 355 214 205 573 645 618 410 3,300
6 New York 173 178 129 146 318 230 229 234 1,637
7 Wisconsin 73 25 44 85 167 160 149 80 783
8 New Jersey 62 56 76 33 32 336 134 49 778
9 Missouri 47 66 115 142 -109 74 21 -12 344
10 Kentucky 298 50 -99 5 -2 61 -80 16 249

You can see that overwhelmingly the net in-migration to metro Indianapolis comes from elsewhere in Indiana. The values plunge off a cliff quickly. In fact, if you look at the full state result list and exclude Indiana, over that entire time frame Indy only attracted a bit over 8,000 people net from out of state. 84% of total net migration came from within Indiana itself. That would tend to undermine the story of Indy as a bigtime magnet.

Migration Sheds

I showed a migration shed map for Franklin County, Ohio (Columbus) before. The state of Ohio was clearly visible, with some hard migration boundaries at the state line. Some might suggest a university reason for this, so let’s do a similar one for Marion County, Indiana (Indianapolis). In a variant, let’s highlight net inflows in blue and net outflows in red.

That map speaks for itself.

Migration Rates

I recently observed that Michigan had America’s lowest in-migration rate for all states. Here’s the list of bottom ten states for in-migration rates (per 1000 persons) in 2008:

Even if you don’t like my calculations of variables like this and prefer a different method, I make extracting the underlying data so easy, it’s a snap to roll your own analysis.

Intra-MSA Migration

I also calculate movements within MSA, including suburb to core, core to suburb, and suburb to suburb. There doesn’t seem to be a good definition of “core” county on a standardized basis. The OMB definition of central vs. outlying doesn’t seem to work. And of course the geographic structure of metro areas varies such that you have to keep many caveats in mind when comparing across them. Nevertheless, I developed a bespoke definition of core I think works well, which is fully documented on the site. (Some places like NYC are defined as multi-core, so there is also an intra-core migration element).

Here’s a breakdown of the percentage of migration in a few sample MSAs shown in comparison:

Looking at Money

As I said, you don’t have to look just a people, you can also look at money. Here’s a map I ran before of top destinations for AGI leaving Atlanta:

Wrapping It Up

This only scratches the surface of what you can do with this data. I have extracted or generated over 100 different data elements from the IRS data sets. All of which require no specialist skills to query, merely a knowledge of how to surf the web. Of course, you have to know something about the data, what you are looking to find, and what the results mean, but at least you don’t have to spend your time groveling through thousands of spreadsheets.

The type of analysis and applications of this from a human capital perspective are incredible. Louisville showed one great example. Some researchers there did a study that found out where people who left Louisville went, then they did a road show of “Louisville Reunion” tours with the mayor and others reconnecting with the diaspora, dishing out Makers Mark, and touting the good things going on back in the ‘Ville. Want to recruit back boomerangers? Wouldn’t it be nice to know where to find them?

I hope you’ll find out the answer to this and many other questions over at www.telestrian.com.

By the way, if you are a more serious researcher who is interested in getting a full copy of this data set so that you can run arbitrary queries, join to your own data sets, etc., shoot me an email. I’m open to licensing full feeds of the data in an easy to use database form as well.

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Beyond Brain Drain

[ I wrote this for a newspaper in Indianapolis, but it’s applicable everywhere. – Aaron]

Much of the anxiety around human capital in places like Indiana revolves around the so-called “brain drain,” or loss of educated young people after they leave school. But while many would-be brain drain plugs are without question valuable, especially those focused on boosting education, the problem is actually much more complex than that simple idea suggests.

Firstly, a lot of the regions and states that have bled population don’t have especially high out-migration rates. My research based on IRS tax return data shows that Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and yes, Indiana rank among the bottom ten states in America for out-migration rates. The problem is that many of these states perform even worse at in-migration, such as dead last Michigan. Indiana isn’t doing that much better, though metro Indy is a bright spot.

The real problem is less a matter of too many people leaving than too few people coming. People are constantly leaving Manhattan, but it remains full because there’s a constant stream of newcomers rolling in behind them. That human capital circulation is what’s missing in the Midwest. Without that healthy churn, the talent pool stagnates, with predictable results.

Brain drain also almost implies that the only people who would want to live in Indianapolis are those who were born there or went to school there. But Indy needs to be more bold in believing that even people with no connection might want to live there. Don’t sell the city short, and don’t be afraid to go out and compete in the marketplace. Indy is no longer a sleepy, backwater state capital. While it certainly has a way to go in some departments, it is at the point where it can compete at a much higher level than many think. Indy has a lot to offer in the here and now, and is only going to get better over time.

And think about this: there are only 1.7 million people in the region to retain, but there are six billion people out there in the world to attract. What pond would you rather be fishing in? Silicon Valley didn’t get to be the high tech capital of the world by retaining the graduates of Palo Alto High School. It got there by hoovering up everybody else’s talent.

If people leave Indiana because they can’t find a job or because they don’t believe there’s a place for them there, that’s a tragedy. But not everyone who grew up in Indiana wants to stay. Some people want to see the world or live in different environments. Some will come back and others won’t. As long as it is what they want and not because they felt they had to leave, there’s nothing wrong with that.

If they come back, possibly with new recruits in the form of the new families they bring with them, Indiana is enriched by the experiences they had in other places. Even if they go, all is not lost. Rather than thinking of them as the ones that got away, better to see them as Indiana’s field sales force, spreading the good news about the Hoosier state.

In a globalized economy where networks are more important than ever, seeding other places with expatriates isn’t such a bad strategy. Ask India and China how it is working out for them, for example. A lot of their growth is fueled by connections to their diaspora communities.

The internet technology community has long valued sharing of information and resources, knowing that this adds to what both sides have. In the new economy, hoarding of information is counter productive. Similarly, trying to hoard talent because you are afraid to lose it is like the person from the parable of the talents who literally buried his talent in the ground for the same reason. We all know what happened to him.

Cast your bread upon the water, and after many days you will find it again. Give, and it shall be given unto you – pressed down, shaken together, running over.

This column originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Urbanoscope

The cost of government has to go down. It can’t keep growing. It has to someway level off…I don’t think the taxpayers at the present and in the future can afford the costs of government. I don’t believe they can, because the cost of government is going up faster than the cost that you can bear in your own pocketbook. I firmly believe that. It cannot go up so significantly each year for the cost of government. And that’s why you have to look at the value of various government services to taxpayers. – Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

For those of you in Chicago, I will be giving a lecture on the past, present, and future of the transportation infrastructure and quality of space in downtown Chicago. It’s part of the Friends of Downtown Chicago monthly lecture series on Thursday April 7th at Noon at the Chicago Cultural Center at Washington St. and Michigan Ave. Admission is free so come on down – and please say Hi if we haven’t met.

This will be my last Urbanscope post. While my news roundups are popular, they are also among the most time consuming I produce – and obviously I’ve already read all the articles. If you are interested in seeing a variety of curated links from me, you can follow me on Twitter. Also effective immediately I’m reducing my regular posting schedule from four to three times per week.

One of the ideas coming out the Livability Summit CEOs for Cities held in Indianapolis was holding a design competition to rethink Monument Circle. Well, Indy just did. You can check out the competition web site if you are interested.

Top Stories

1. Stephen Goldsmith: Progressive government is obsolete – “For cities to survive, we need a post-progressive approach in which the efficient creation of the common good is the shared goal of labor, management and citizens alike. This means rethinking the rules of the early 20th century in light of the realities of the 21st century. A system that hires without discretion, promotes without considering performance, and lays off teachers without regard to merit cannot truly serve its citizens.”

2. WSJ: Bruised Feelings and Skinned Knees Litter Suburban Sidewalk Politics – This is an article about controversy over installing sidewalks in suburbs. I think it’s a perfect illustration of my previous post about the need for generational turnover for change to really happen in our cities. Note the ages of the people who are opposing sidewalks. This isn’t about a back to the movement. It’s about something as basic as whether kids will have a safe way to get to school.

Government, Government Everywhere

The indispensable Chris Briem has an amazing infographic of a word cloud showing every single unit of state and local government in America scaled by number of employees – all 90,000 of them. This is incredible to behold. Here’s a preview image:

You can see the full version by downloading this 50MB PDF file – if your computer can handle it.

Mapping Place Marks

Floating Sheep put together this interesting cartogram of Google place marks by county/state:

Ring Roads

Via the Transportationist, here is a neat graphic of ring roads of the world:

Details Matter

Livability and quality of experience are often driven by the smallest details. Copenhagenize has tirelessly shown us these in that city. Here’s one example I recently noted in Chicago. At the new Grand and State L station, the new design has a ramp along the edge of the stairway so you can roll your bicycle to the subway:

Unfortunately, this only seems to go from the street to the mezzanine, and not from the mezzanine to the platform. Nevertheless, this shows how a little thought can go a long way. Very nice.

World and National Roundup

NYT: How flaws undid Obama’s hope for high-speed rail in Florida

This Big City: Is High Speed Rail the Future of Cities?

Transport Politic: Financing the nation’s infrastructure in an era of cutbacks

Wheels.CA: The science behind traffic jams – This contains a cool infographic that is unfortunately too big to fit here.

BLDGBLOG: Aerotropolis: An Interview With Greg Lindsay

Copenhagenize: Bicycle freedom in Japan and beyond

NYT: Green Development? Not in My (Liberal) Back Yard

WSJ: How Washington ruined your washing machine

Kaid Benfield: Is there a downside to intelligent or smart cities?

Jason Tinkey: Youth Explosion

The Economist: Bogotá’s rise and fall – Can Enrique Peñalosa restore a tarnished municipal model?

NYT: For City’s Transportation Chief, Kudos and Criticism – The manufactured media tempest around bike lanes just goes to show what a few influential NIMBY’s can accomplish. The Guardian bike blog picks up on the Park Slope bike lane dispute in a piece called “How one New York bike lane could affect the future of cycling worldwide.”

The Economist: Rust Belt Recovery

Global Midwest: A master plan for higher education in the Midwest

Charlie LeDuff: My Detroit Story

St. Louis Energized: What does new thinking for the future of St. Louis mean?

Indianapolis Business Journal: Angie’s List lands $53 million investment – I’ll doubtless get dinged for boosterism on this one, but Indy’s downtown has quite a burgeoning tech scene going on. Angie’s List employs 400 on the Near East Side and Exact Target 500 downtown, with several other startups around too. It’s starting to represent some serious private sector investment and jobs in a downtown that needs it.

Forbes: America’s Second Largest High School Gym Is Just About a Goner – Coverage of the pending closure of the legendary Anderson, Indiana “Wigwam.” While certainly not entirely or even primarily to blame for this, I can’t help but once again note the terrible decision by the IHSAA to go to class basketball.

Indy Star: Why Indy can learn from two cities that created great neighborhoods – Some great props for Columbus, Ohio in here. (Chicago is also mentioned, but already has the cred).

nextStl: Census 2010 and the state of St. Louis

Vote With Your Feet: Walking Chicago’s Pulaski Road

UrbanCincy: Cincinnati Expatriate Neil Clingerman

Sagrada Familia

Domus is running an article on Sagrada Familia, the still under construction church in Barcelona designed by Antoni Gaudí. It includes some simply stunning photographs that are by themselves worth a visit, in addition to the delightful article.

Quality of Space in Chicago

The Chicago-Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and its associated business improvement district put out an interesting proposal this week for a landscaped trail running underneath the L from Paulina to Southport, along with other possibilities:

While there are potential issues like noise, which is excruciating under the L, I think overall these sorts of ideas are exactly what Chicago ought to be looking at.

Lee Bey agrees, and talked about how this could be a model for other neighborhoods in a segment on Fox Chicago (h/t Ashvin Lad).

Building Better Blocks

Here’s a great video out of Dallas about something called the “Better Block Project.” Frustrated by a lack of complete streets in Dallas, a group of people took it upon themselves to do a demonstration project themselves on a single block in Dallas to show what could be done. It’s a temporary installation, but they spent less than $1000 total, which shows that you don’t have to spend big money to achieve great results. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Metro/County Census Results So Far (Plus a Brief Look at Jobs)

The state redistricting files continue to roll-out, and we’re getting a better picture on total population and some of the racial characteristics of states and localities.

Since I generally focus on large metros (greater than one million in population), I wanted to share the Census results so far for large metro areas. So here they are, sorted by percentage change over the last decade:


Rank Metro 2000 2010 Total Change Pct Change
1 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 1,375,765 1,951,269 575,504 41.83%
2 Raleigh-Cary, NC 797,071 1,130,490 333,419 41.83%
3 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 1,249,763 1,716,289 466,526 37.33%
4 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 3,254,821 4,224,851 970,030 29.80%
5 Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 3,251,876 4,192,887 941,011 28.94%
6 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 4,715,407 5,946,800 1,231,393 26.11%
7 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 1,711,703 2,142,508 430,805 25.17%
8 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 5,161,544 6,371,773 1,210,229 23.45%
9 Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 1,311,789 1,589,934 278,145 21.20%
10 Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville, CA 1,796,857 2,149,127 352,270 19.60%
11 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 2,157,756 2,543,482 385,726 17.88%
12 Salt Lake City, UT 968,858 1,124,197 155,339 16.03%
13 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 1,927,881 2,226,009 298,128 15.46%
14 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 1,525,104 1,756,241 231,137 15.16%
15 Richmond, VA 1,096,957 1,258,251 161,294 14.70%
16 Oklahoma City, OK 1,095,421 1,252,987 157,566 14.38%
17 Columbus, OH 1,612,694 1,836,536 223,842 13.88%
18 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,043,878 3,439,809 395,931 13.01%
19 Kansas City, MO-KS 1,836,038 2,035,334 199,296 10.85%
20 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 2,968,806 3,279,833 311,027 10.48%
21 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 2,813,833 3,095,313 281,480 10.00%
22 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 1,205,204 1,316,100 110,896 9.20%
23 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 1,052,238 1,128,047 75,809 7.20%
24 Baltimore-Towson, MD 2,552,994 2,710,489 157,495 6.17%
25 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 1,576,370 1,671,683 95,313 6.05%
26 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,735,819 1,836,911 101,092 5.82%
27 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 1,148,618 1,212,381 63,763 5.55%
28 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 4,123,740 4,335,391 211,651 5.13%
29 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 5,687,147 5,965,343 278,196 4.89%
30 St. Louis, MO-IL 2,698,687 2,812,896 114,209 4.23%
31 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 9,098,316 9,461,105 362,789 3.99%
32 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 12,365,627 12,828,837 463,210 3.75%
33 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 1,500,741 1,555,908 55,167 3.68%
34 Pittsburgh, PA 2,431,087 2,356,285 -74,802 -3.08%
35 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 2,148,143 2,077,240 -70,903 -3.30%
36 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 1,316,510 1,167,764 -148,746 -11.30%

Also, here’s updated US county map showing positive growth in blue, negative growth in red:


Percentage change in population 2000-2010 (Decennial Census). Growth in blue, decline in red.

Here’s a different view, showing counties growing faster than the US average (blue) vs. those declining (red). Note that this is on a percentage change basis. Interesting to see the concentration of growth.


Percentage change in population 2000-2001 (Decennial Census). Greater than US average in blue, below US average in red

2010 Job Growth

Last week’s metro area job release had the average employment for 2010, so we can look at the change over the last year. Here’s a look at percentage growth in total jobs (or sadly total decline in most places) in large metros last year (data in thousands of jobs):


Rank Metro 2009 2010 Total Change Pct Change
1 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 759.1 766.5 7.4 0.97%
2 Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 726.0 732.9 6.9 0.95%
3 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 836.3 841.4 5.1 0.61%
4 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 2952.8 2964.1 11.3 0.38%
5 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH – Metro 2416.8 2425.9 9.1 0.38%
6 Pittsburgh, PA 1120.7 1123.7 3.0 0.27%
7 Rochester, NY 502.6 503.2 0.6 0.12%
8 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 2863.4 2862.4 -1.0 -0.03%
9 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 538.1 537.8 -0.3 -0.06%
10 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 2532.9 2529.2 -3.7 -0.15%
11 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 8314.5 8298.8 -15.7 -0.19%
12 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 520.4 519.4 -1.0 -0.19%
13 Columbus, OH 906.0 904.0 -2.0 -0.22%
14 Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA – Metro 542.0 540.7 -1.3 -0.24%
15 Baltimore-Towson, MD 1275.5 1272.1 -3.4 -0.27%
16 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 872.9 870.0 -2.9 -0.33%
17 Salt Lake City, UT 609.6 607.2 -2.4 -0.39%
18 Raleigh-Cary, NC 498.3 496.3 -2.0 -0.40%
19 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 856.4 852.4 -4.0 -0.47%
20 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 1006.4 1001.6 -4.8 -0.48%
21 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 2711.4 2697.5 -13.9 -0.51%
22 St. Louis, MO-IL 1296.8 1290.1 -6.7 -0.52%
23 Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 1741.4 1732.1 -9.3 -0.53%
24 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 812.3 807.9 -4.4 -0.54%
25 Oklahoma City, OK 559.8 556.3 -3.5 -0.63%
26 Richmond, VA 605.5 601.3 -4.2 -0.69%
27 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 1199.8 1191.2 -8.6 -0.72%
28 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 595.3 590.9 -4.4 -0.74%
29 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 973.8 965.5 -8.3 -0.85%
30 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 1231.4 1220.2 -11.2 -0.91%
31 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 1000.8 991.3 -9.5 -0.95%
32 Jacksonville, FL 586.5 580.8 -5.7 -0.97%
33 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 1705.7 1689.0 -16.7 -0.98%
34 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 740.8 733.5 -7.3 -0.99%
35 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 4291.4 4248.1 -43.3 -1.01%
36 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 2206.0 2183.3 -22.7 -1.03%
37 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 809.4 800.8 -8.6 -1.06%
38 Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 992.3 981.6 -10.7 -1.08%
39 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 2289.8 2258.3 -31.5 -1.38%
40 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT – Metro 539.9 532.3 -7.6 -1.41%
41 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 5196.2 5120.6 -75.6 -1.45%
42 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 1132.9 1116.0 -16.9 -1.49%
43 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 1913.3 1883.6 -29.7 -1.55%
44 Kansas City, MO-KS 979.5 963.9 -15.6 -1.59%
45 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 497.7 489.5 -8.2 -1.65%
46 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 1666.6 1636.0 -30.6 -1.84%
47 Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 1722.2 1686.8 -35.4 -2.06%
48 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 1134.8 1111.2 -23.6 -2.08%
49 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 601.1 587.7 -13.4 -2.23%
50 Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville, CA 831.5 807.9 -23.6 -2.84%
51 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 826.9 801.4 -25.5 -3.08%

Data, tables, and maps in this post generated via Telestrian.

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Pushing the Racial Dialogue in Cincinnati by Tifanei Moyer

When I think about my experiences in Cincinnati in the context of the dark hue of my skin and kinkiness of my hair, a reel of uneasy experiences plays through my mind:

“You should have a better sense of humor,” my boss told me once after making a joke about people that are black.

“I’m glad I’m not black, because I like my good hair.” My roommate once informs me while she watches me struggle in the mirror with my locks.

“My brother has never dated a black girl, but he has dated trailer trash.” A coworker laughs. She only gets uncomfortable and confused when I ask her about equating the two.

“You’re a shoe-in. They need more black people to represent them on the other side of town.”

“The University of Cincinnati doesn’t graduate one out of three of their incoming freshman of African descent.” A counselor urged black freshman to use tutors to even the alleged graduation gap.

“She calls black people nigger all the time, Tifanei. Like it’s nothing! I don’t know what to do.” A friend (not from Cincinnati) told me about a native Cincinnatian that she roomed with.

“Tifanei, the GM is racist, everyone knows it. There is no way he’s going to let them hire you unless you want to be a ‘busboy’ or a bouncer.” A friend whispers to me at the door at a popular establishment downtown. “He wouldn’t even serve the UC football players until I promised him they were athletes.”

“During the riots my friend was just walking downtown and black people beat him up; he was just minding his own business!” A friend tried to explain the stemming of racial tensions to me.

“Why would you date a white man? Are you tired of black men? Did someone do something to you?” A black colleague confronts me after I introduce him to a boyfriend of the time.

I can’t say I’m a native to Cincinnati. I lived there for four years (18-22) and it’s honestly the longest I have lived in any one city. But while I lived there I never met anyone who denied Cincinnati’s pride and just the same, not a single person denied the segregationist structure that many prideful(!) Cincinnati communities embody.

Even with the substantial African-American Cincinnati history, it’s in my humblest opinion that the segregated communities noticeably affect the consciousness of race related issues and identity.

People will tell me that the “racism” I experienced was just ignorance and not in any way a representation of Cincinnati. But that’s just not true. When you grow up in a community where integrating with people who don’t look like you is not valued, then it affects how you identify and interact with others as an adult.

For a long time I felt that Cincinnati didn’t want to be “burdened” by any anecdote of race. But I started to realize, as I engaged more conversation, many people in Cincinnati don’t feel like they have a safe place to discuss race among a diverse group of people.

As I started to learn more about black history in America, it became my nature to probe people around me for their opinions. I had probing conversations with a lot of Cincinnatians who identified as being white. They would tell me they never discuss race to address social problems or economic-barriers because it wasn’t an obvious reality to them. It was a trend for people to tell me that they felt manipulated by the ‘race card’.

I met a lot of people who identified as black, that only wanted to cross racial community lines when they needed a job or wanted to start a career. I witnessed many of same people, myself including, silently struggling with their identity, because they were trying to understand the difference between “success and failure” versus “suburbs and urban areas” versus “white and ‘other’”. These are not easy conclusions to come to when homogeneous communities with clear socio-economic distinctions are what’s accepted. Cincinnati is where I began to understand how the notion of beauty is affected by having so much pride in a homogenous community, especially when one community is considered more successful and educated than the other.

I know I’m mostly a nomad at heart, but I fell in love with Cincinnati for many reasons – those reasons had nothing to do with race. The heartbreaking lack of racial-consciousness in Cincinnati will change, it has to, but it will take more than just hope. In my opinion it’s going to need a shift in values towards heterogeneous community building and a collective effort to address an individual responsibility that defies race. All hues of human color have to accept responsibility for the reality that we maintain by just “going about our business”.

It’s very, very hard to sum up a large and somewhat ambiguous topic, like being black. But, if I have to, I want to end by saying two things: 1)These are my very personal experiences, I am not Cincinnati, but my experiences are real. I don’t blame people I met for anyone’s struggle with beauty or success. I don’t think that one neighborhood is right or wrong about their interpretation of race and what it really means for someone’s livelihood. 2) I have lived in a lot of different cities around world. Cincinnati’s segregation is unique in a lot of ways, but it’s not unexpected in the framework of the U.S. There are many cities that claim to be successful, but are disturbingly segregated at the expense of their youth and social growth. I know all of the powerful minds behind UrbanCincy are influencing the changes of that.

This article originally appeared in UrbanCincy. Reprinted with permission.

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Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Civic Iconography Done Right – Chicago’s City Flag

I’ve written on a number of occasions on why cities should look to strengthen their visual identity and distinctive character using civic icons or images that can provide a powerful graphical or design representation of the city. For example, I wrote about I wrote about how London’s use of its civic icons – it’s red buses, black cabs, bobby uniforms, phone booths, and tube logo – had assumed an almost totemistic stature there.

In the United States, I’d have to rate Chicago far and away #1 in the use of official civic symbols (maybe the best in the world for all I know), and also note the overall high level of design quality of these objects. Today I want to focus on one particular aspect of this, the city flag and its uses.

The city flag is pictured at the top. I included a border on the image because of the white field. This was rated as the #2 city flag in America by the North American Vexillological Association after Washington, DC. I actually like Chicago’s better, because the aggressive asymmetry of DC’s flag is a bit off-putting to me.

The Chicago flag is also highly symbolic. The two blue stripes symbolize the cities waterways – the top Lake Michigan and the North Branch of the Chicago River, the bottom the South Branch and the I&M Canal – while the three resulting white stripes represent the North, West, and South Sides of the city. The stars also symbolize various things. There were originally only two stars, with the others added later, and there are periodic calls to add a fifth star, though four seems about right to me.

If you come to Chicago you’ll notice that the city flag is ubiquitous. In fact, the first place you notice it is when you arrive at O’Hare, where you see a large row of huge alternating US and Chicago flags at the roadway leading into the terminal. You’ll notice that the Illinois flag is missing. Illinois has, like most states, a lousy flag. While you see it at government buildings and around downtown, it is much more rare than Chicago’s own flag, giving what I think is a powerful sense of how the city likes to think of itself as a standalone entity in its state and region. (The contrast with Indianapolis is an interesting one. Indy also has a fabulous city flag, but one much more rarely used. And despite Indiana also having a somewhat dubious state flag, it is much more common to see in Indy than the city’s own flag. Of course, it is the state capital as well, but I don’t think that is the full explanation).

Here’s a picture of the bridge over Michigan Ave, featuring bold use of flags:

One thing that sets Chicago apart is not just the city’s own use of the flag, but its widespread adoption by others. Here’s one flying over the entrance to Marshall Fields on State St.

An office building Michigan Ave. This will mark our last appearance of the Illinois state flag, so let’s wave goodbye to it.

This extends far beyond downtown, however. Here’s a bank in West Lakeview:

Even this Irish bar on Southport couldn’t resist getting into the act:

But what really puts Chicago into a class by itself is the way that the city and its citizens have embraced the flag imagery to infuse into the design of other objects, and even sometimes themselves.

First the city. Here’s Chicago’s police car livery, which is based on the city flag. It’s also one of the finest police car liveries in the world. I’m not sure how far back this dates, but it’s as least as far the Blues Brothers movie. I don’t recognize the font (though I’m sure someone will post it about 5 seconds), but I love its aggressive blockiness that is perfect for the City of Big Shoulders:

There’s an actual city flag in gold trim near the rear of the blue stripe if you look. When you contrast more current designs with this classic, you can see that in Chicago, as in any number of cities, quality of public design has actually declined in some regards.

Here’s someone who did their bicycle up in city flag style:

Both the Sun-Times and the Red Eye (a free daily distributed by the Tribune) used the city flag for their election day issues:

Local bookmark sharing site the Windy Citizen uses the city flag as the basis for its site design:

If you’ll note the social media sharing icons at the bottom of this post, the one that enables submitting to Windy Citizen is a star from the city flag.

You can even buy Chicago flag soap:

Sorry, I don’t have a link to where you can buy this, but again, I’m sure one will be forthcoming from a commenter.

Here’s one even I think it a little crazy. People are starting to tattoo themselves with the city flag. Here’s a picture of local mixologist Charles Joly I found via the 312 Dining Diva.

I’ve personally seen multiple people in my neighborhood with city flag tattoos on their arms. Talk about pride and loyalty. But I guess that level of fanaticism is what Chicago has managed to inspire.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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