Being a better neighbor linked to better heart health

Be nice to your neighbors because it may just help keep your heart healthier:

For the latest research, the University of Michigan team used data from 5,276 people over 50 with no history of heart problems, who were participants in an ongoing Health and Retirement Study in the United States…

At the start of the project, the respondents were asked to award points out of seven to reflect the extent to which they felt part of their neighbourhood, could rely on their neighbours in a pinch, could trust their neighbours, and found their neighbours to be friendly.

When they crunched the numbers at the end of the study, the team found that for every point they had awarded out of seven, an individual had a reduced heart attack risk over the four-year study period.

People who gave a full score of seven out of seven had a 67 percent reduced heart attack risk compared to people who gave a score of one, study co-author Eric Kim told AFP, and described the difference as “significant”.

This was “approximately comparable to the reduced heart attack risk of a smoker vs a non-smoker,” he said.

“This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect,” the statement underlined.

While this research doesn’t establish direct effects, it introduces additional reasons for being a better neighbor. Would conclusive findings that this would help people’s health be more convincing to Americans than civic or moral arguments? Focusing on health could have a more individualistic emphasis – “I’d like to live longer” – though health could also be viewed on a community-wide scale – fewer heart problems mean less community money spent on healthcare.

It is also interesting that this relies on self-reported accounts of neighborliness. Is this fairly accurate? This could be measured in a variety of ways: number of conversations or visits with numbers, participation in local groups, and reports from neighbors about the neighborliness of others. Of course, it could be that perceptions of being a good neighbor matter even more than actual actions. Yet, I wonder how this lines up with the typical shocked accounts suburbanites present when one of their neighbors is accused of a crime.

Rapidly growing suburban poverty illustrated in Ferguson, Missouri

Communities like Ferguson, Missouri illustrate growing rates of poverty in many American suburbs:

In Ferguson, Missouri, a community of 21,000 where the poverty rate doubled since 2000, the dynamic has bred animosity over racial segregation and economic inequality. Protests over the police killing of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9 have drawn international attention to the St. Louis suburb’s growing underclass…

Such challenges aren’t unique to Ferguson, according to a Brookings Institution report July 31 that found the poor population growing twice as fast in U.S. suburbs as in city centers. From Miami to Denver, resurgent downtowns have blossomed even as their recession-weary outskirts struggle with soaring poverty in what amounts to a paradigm shift…

Ferguson, once a majority white community that’s now about two-thirds black, highlights that dynamic. Coinciding with the decline in white population is a rapid rise in poverty since 2000, a period that includes the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009…

“Looking at the neighborhood poverty rates, it’s striking how much has changed over a decade,” Kneebone said. “In Ferguson in 2000, none of the neighborhoods had hit that 20 percent poverty rate. By the end of the 2000s, almost every census tract met or exceeded that poverty rate. That’s a really rapid change in a really short time.”

As the Brookings Institution has pointed out and nicely summarized, there are now more people in poverty in suburbs than cities. Of course, just as in cities, the poor in suburbs aren’t evenly distributed across neighborhoods or communities. The demographic shift in Ferguson is common: a community adjacent to or close to the big city – an inner-ring suburb – that offers more low-skill jobs or cheaper housing experiences an influx of non-white residents. In response, whites in the community leave, just as they tended to do in urban neighborhoods during “white flight” in the decades after World War II. The transition period can be tough: these suburban communities aren’t prepared to provide public services, whites remain in powerful local positions even as they represent a smaller percent of the residents, and less wealthy residents can contribute to a declining tax base. All the while, wealthy suburban communities can isolate themselves through zoning, restricting bike lanes, limiting affordable housing, and other means.

In other words, police violence is still limited in most suburbs but the growing issues of class and race are only going to continue to grow in many suburban communities.

Bike lanes in Barrington Hills could unravel the whole fabric of the community?

Feuds between bicyclists and drivers are not uncommon but the recent conversation in Barrington Hills about bike lanes seems like rampant NIMBYism:

Residents say their roads are being clogged by unlawful, unsafe riders of the “professional biking community, clad in spandex.” Bicyclists, they say, flout the rules of the road, block vehicles from passing and, in some cases, have been caught urinating in yards.

Cyclists say Barrington Hills residents have driven them off the road, harassed them and even pelted them with objects as they ride by.

The long-simmering feud came to a head this summer amid talk of adding bike lanes along a village thoroughfare, a proposal quickly shot down by town leaders and upset homeowners.

If there is one thing the two sides have in common, it is an appreciation for the scenery of Barrington Hills. The affluent community of about 4,200 residents features thousands of acres of open space filled with forest preserves, horse farms, riding trails and rolling hills. Homes are built on lots no smaller than 5 acres, and village leaders have fiercely defended the town’s borders against encroachment by development that doesn’t meet their standards…

“We have no obligation to a professional biking community, clad in spandex, who are regularly abusive to our residents and drivers, and urinate on our property,” the website reads. “We have no obligation to out-of-town traffic speeding through our community. It is time we stood up and said NO MORE TRAFFIC!”

This is just an outside perspective but if Barrington Hills residents are so threatened by bicyclists, there are larger issues at work here. Bicyclists could be annoying on relatively low-volume roads. Yet, their level of traffic is minimal compared to vehicular traffic. It sounds more like the residents want to close off their roads to any outsiders.

See a story from a few years ago about arguments in Barrington Hills about how much outdoor lighting residents could have in order to limit light pollution. If lights and bicycles can rip the fabric of your community, I would guess the community is one in which people generally want to be left alone. This is one of the paradoxes of suburban community as pointed out by M. P. Baumgartner in The Moral Order of a Suburb: community is built by leaving your fellow suburbanite alone.

Stat of the day: cable companies now actually have more Internet customers

New figures show cable companies now have more Internet customers than TV customers:

For the first time, the number of broadband subscribers with the major U.S. cable companies exceeded the number of cable subscribers, the Leichtman Research Group reported today. Among other things, these figures suggest the industry is now misnamed. Evidently these are broadband companies that offer cable on the side.

To be sure, the difference is minimal: 49,915,000 broadband subscribers versus 49,910,000 cable subscribers. But even assuming a huge overlap in those numbers from customers who have both, the primacy of broadband demonstrates a shift in consumer priorities. Nearly all the major cable companies added broadband subscribers over the past quarter, for a total of nearly 380,000 new signups. Cable subscribers don’t have to worry about TV as they know it going away any time soon. But cable is on its way to becoming secondary, the “nice to have” compared to the necessity of having broadband access…

The better margins boil down to the fact that broadband is purely about access, while cable is about content. The crux of the cable side of the cable business is hatching deals with the makers of sports, news, and entertainment so there’s something to send through the box. And the costs can be steep. ESPN, the most pricey by far, tops $5 per subscriber per month.

The temptation with these numbers is to see a decline in television but I don’t think this is necessarily the case. TV has had remarkable staying power over the decades (it doesn’t hurt that the technology keeps getting better with better picture and sound as well as lots more channels) and Americans continue to watch a lot of it, on average. The Internet offers different possibilities compared to TV: access to more specific information, interactions with other Internet users, and a less passive overall experience. They also can be consumed together, presenting intriguing potential for interactions between the two.

Perhaps the bigger story here are the larger profit margins with the Internet…

The Chicago Tribune’s Instagram feed of their vintage photos

The Chicago Tribune has an Instagram account featuring vintage photos of the city. See highlights here.

One quick thought: the downtown looks remarkably different today including a very different kind of development along the East Branch of the Chicago River, the rise of gleaming skyscrapers in the Loop and elsewhere (the International Style), and a generally cleaner look (though perhaps the consistent black and white portrayal makes a big difference).

The world’s first nuclear reactor – buried in a Chicago suburb

A photographer describes going to the suburbs to find the world’s first nuclear reactor:

“I was working at Fermilab, and that research led me to this space. It’s in a forest preserve near Palos Heights, in an area called Red Gate Woods, and in those woods is Site A, where the first nuclear reactor ever created was buried in 1955. There’s also a site called Plot M, where all the waste from that experiment was buried while it was actually happening. Six stones designate where the waste is buried. The stones in the photo mark that area…

Note: According to information from the U.S. Department of Energy provided by Cook County, “the area surrounding Site A and Plot M continues to undergo annual monitoring and remains safe by all measurements.” The DOE did not respond to inquiries by presstime.

Read more about the site here. It’s interesting that this combines two key markers of post-World War II American life: the Atomic Age and suburban sprawl.

McMansions show disconnect between “worker[s] and automated tool[s]“

A new book suggests McMansions are the result of automated home design:

The author of the new Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age is well-qualified to criticize. He’s a nationally recognized authority on historic design, and architecturally correct moldings and millwork. From 1991-93, he attended North Bennett Street School in Boston, the nation’s oldest trade school – one that’s evolved into jewelry making, bookbinding and museum-quality historic preservation…

“If you look at the Pyramids, you understand the Egyptians by what they were building,” he says. “McMansions are not really what we want to say about ourselves.”

They are the products of a mechanized disconnect between worker and automated tool, even between architect and computer. “Most architects draw by hand and then enter the drawing into AutoCAD, and there’s a separation between the hand and the head,” he says. “It’s the same thing with craftsmen looking at their computer while a router cuts the wood.”

What’s lost is the classical sense of scale and proportion – and a cultural heritage.

“There’s a separation that’s taking place that’s not good for us – we’re falsely assuming that were improving as we go to AutoCAD,” he says. “The beauty is in the human quality of the hand-cut piece, but a machine puts an impersonal imprint on that.”

It sounds like this is less about McMansions and more of a critique of automation and mass production. McMansions may be the symptom of mass produced homes but they weren’t the first. Similar complaints were leveled against the Levittowns and early mass suburbs which were viewed as too uniform. Those early mass homes were partly the result of changing technology: earlier American homes were built with beams, requiring heavier pieces of wood, and constructed mostly by small-scale builders or the homeowners themselves. The balloon-frame home opened things up to mass production since it relies on uniform pieces of wood.

At the same time, balloon-frame homes don’t necessarily have to be built to look like or to be the size of McMansions…

Mismatches in sociology grad student interests, job openings – 2013 edition

The ASA reports more job openings in sociology in recent years but the interests of sociology PhD graduates and the specializations of the new jobs don’t always line up. Here is part of the full table from the report (page six):

 

ASAJobAreas2013

There is some overlap here with most categories represented on both sides. However, other areas have some bigger differences:

1. Methodology – research methodology with 50 jobs and quantitative methods with 47 jobs and only 5 students with an interest in quantitative methodology. 23 jobs with statistics and 5 students. The figures for jobs in qualitative methods or ethnography better match the number of jobs available.

2. Another area of difference is criminology or criminal justice: 89 jobs in crime/delinquency and 70 in criminal justice with 66 students in criminology.

3. Sex and gender is particularly popular among students (108 interests) while only 31 jobs. (Granted, certain topics – like race, class, and gender – can easily cut across other subfields.)

4. Education has 83 students and 9 jobs.

This isn’t a complete analysis and these are the areas that struck me. Looking at methodology, it is a reminder that being interested in methods goes a long way on the job market as departments need people who can teach these skills and work with students in these areas.

Architecture students also required to take sociology

If pre-med students have to take a sociology course, why not architecture students?

FOA principal Jagbir Singh told TOI that the need for study of sociology was felt to inculcate sensitivity among students to better understand needs of the society.

“Students should not merely understand the needs of the client but also be sensitive towards the latter. The psychological aspect should also be covered while talking to the client,” said Singh.

The 50-mark paper is divided into two equal parts comprising session and main examination. The course will carry two credits. The objective is to familiarise students with basic concepts, theories and issues of sociology and its relevance to architecture. The course curriculum will have six modules covering the basic concepts and teaching students about the social aspects.

Architecture is more than just creating a beautiful space or a functional design. Real people use buildings and spaces so considering their beliefs and behaviors a bit more could lead to designs that work better for people’s lives.

It would be interesting to then see how architecture students use the sociological information in their architecture studies and in their careers. What exactly do they retain and put into practice? It would also be interesting to compare buildings and spaces constructed with explicitly sociological ideas versus those motivated by different ideas.

“The Suburbs Made [Americans] Fat”

A new study suggests the design of streets in suburbia contributed to heavier residents and other adverse health outcomes:

In prior research, Marshall told me, they found that in the most extreme cases “older, denser, connected cities were killing three times fewer people than sparser, tree-like cities on an annual basis.” Of course, people walk and bike more in dense cities, but the research on actual ties to health outcomes is scant. So Garrick and Marshall took on and have just completed a large study of how street networks might influence our health.

They looked at the three fundamental measures of street networks—density, connectivity, and configuration—in 24 California cities, and compared them with various maladies. In the current Journal of Transport and Health, Garrick and Marshall report that cities with more compact street networks—specifically, increased intersection density—have lower levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The more intersections, the healthier the humans…

Garrick and Marshall have also previously found that people who live in more sparse, tree-like communities spend about 18 percent more time driving than do people who live in dense grids. And they die more readily—despite old research that implied otherwise. Studies from the 1950s looked at safety in cul-de-sacs and found, as Marshall put it, “You’ll have fewer crashes in the cul-de-sacs. Sure, you’re safer if you never leave the cul-de-sac. If you take into account the entire city, your city might be killing more people.”…

They also found that wide streets with many lanes are associated with high rates of obesity and diabetes. That’s most likely indicative of, as Garrick and Marshall put it, “an inferior pedestrian environment.” Similarly, so-called “big box” stores in a neighborhood indicate poor walkability and are associated with 24.9 percent higher rates of diabetes and 13.7 percent higher rates of obesity.

Dense cities promote walking and biking, so the push for healthier cities fits with the vogue push for active lifestyles—as opposed to gym routines smattered across an indolent existence. Physical activity is not just concerted exercise time and deliberate recreation. It’s about ways of life. For some people, that’s best accomplished by making things inevitably more difficult on themselves in everyday life.

This seems to make some intuitive sense though there are lots of factors likely involved. I’m thinking of Putnam’s Bowling Alone which highlighted a whole range of factors that contributed to decreased civic engagement including sprawl and the rise of television.

But, if such research holds up – and even if it takes some time to confirm things and reach a consensus – such findings could lead to a new/forgotten dimension of selling places and new developments. Part of the appeal of emerging suburbs in the mid-1800s was getting away from the dirty city, a place that was increasingly seen as physically and morally corrupt. Developers sold the suburbs as getting back to cleaner settings that were closer to nature. This research would flip this idea: cities and more urban places promote more movement and better overall health. I imagine anti-sprawl advocates like the New Urbanists would want to jump all over this and add it to their lists of reasons why American sprawl should be halted.