“How a time-use expert uses her time”

An interesting look at how sociologists who study time use go about their days:

As a sociologist and director of the University of Maryland’s Time Use Laboratory, Sayer explores the ways that gender and social class guide the ways that people use their time. She looks for patterns and consequences of time use and the ways that these actions influence people’s daily lives.

When she’s not in her office, Sayer lives with her mother, who depends on Sayer’s care, as well as her husband and their three cats. And her recent trip to Texas was not for pleasure but instead to visit her sick older brother and take care of family business…

For many people, this blur of activity is a symptomatic of a condition that Sayer’s colleague, University of Maryland sociologist and time-use researcher John Robinson, calls “hurry sickness.”…

She’ll cram the leftover office work somewhere in between tidying up the house, feeding the cats, making dinner, eating (usually around 8), chatting with her mom and husband, cleaning, reading the newspaper and getting to bed by 11:30.

Don’t forget the impact of the invention of clocks on the modern era. And, for a variety of reasons, Americans seem particularly caught up with the clock – even if they aren’t particularly productive all the time. Workplace productivity has increased but that extra leisure time tends to go to things like television and not necessarily towards civic life. I imagine many sociologists have ideas about what would be best for people to do with their time but it is difficult to do many of these things – such as building and maintaining social relationships – within a social system which has additional aims such as making money or pushing mass media.


Beijing nearly doubles in population, environmental impact increases 4x

Rapid population growth in Beijing has led to a much larger environmental impact:

Researchers from NASA and Stanford University recently estimated that the area directly affected by Beijing’s urbanization has quadrupled in size from 2000 to 2009. So while the area we call Beijing has remained roughly the same size, its environmental influence has grown far larger. These findings, published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, draw on new computer models and data from NASA’s QuikScat satellite.

From 2000 to 2014, Beijing’s population grew from around 11 million to 21 million—today packing as many people into one city as there are in all of Australia (or North Korea or Syria). Strangely, the study didn’t measure the effect of more greenhouse gas emissions released by these additional residents and their vehicles. Instead, it only measured the growth of physical infrastructure—for instance, new roads and buildings.

The changes in the city’s physical infrastructure had massive, compounding effects on its weather and climate. New roads, for instance, reduce the ground’s albedo, its ability to reflect light and heat away from the city, and buildings prevented air from circulating freely. Those effects have resulted in higher temperatures and lower wind speeds. Researchers found that winter temperatures had increased in the city by 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, while wind speeds were reduced by about 2 to 7 miles per hour, making the city air even more stagnant, according to the American Geophysical Union.

Some have argued that larger cities may be better for the environment in the long run because they use less land (and Beijing did not increase in land mass during this period) and there are economies of scale. Yet, this may primarily apply to (a) cities in the wealthiest countries and/or (b) cities with slower rates of growth. Simply adding ten million people in 14 years probably isn’t good for the environment as even the most advanced cities of today would have a difficult time absorbing that many people in housing, let alone dealing with the environmental impact. For a comparison, see the major infrastructure efforts in the Chicago region to mitigate flooding: the region has grown but this happened over a century and the Chicago region still has 10+ million fewer people than Beijing. And still it is very difficult to get a handle on stormwater and flooding during major storms, let alone in a city adding 10 million people in 14 years.

Chicago Epic marketing cut due to state budget

Chicago rolled out an “Epic” campaign this spring to attract tourists but it is now no more due to a lack of state funding:

Chicago’s latest tourism campaign, Epic, is about to end two months early thanks to epic budget cuts at the state level.

Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism program, is losing 40 percent of its operating budget in the latest set of state budget cuts, according to Crain’s. That means Epic, the (perhaps unimaginative) summer tourism campaign launched in April with a TV ad encouraging viewers to “be part of something epic,” would end July 1 rather than run through the summer. Unless they are talking about an epically rainy June, the campaign ending this early wouldn’t leave much sizzle in the summer tourism industry.

Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh said in statement that the program will lose most of its funding, from the state hotel tax, unless there is a last-minute approval of the state’s 2016 fiscal budget—increasingly unlikely as the week progresses…

The loss of Epic could deal a blow to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vow to boost tourism to 55 million visitors by 2020. Crain’s says Rauner, who was once the chairman of Choose Chicago, believes tourism is a boon to the local economy.

Two quick thoughts:

1. If you go with a catch term like “epic,” it is bound to be used sarcastically if something goes wrong (like the campaign ends early). Not exactly epic…

2. How do we – the public – know that such marketing campaigns work? Even though the Epic campaign is ending early, did it have any influence? Did the slogan catch on? What does this mean for future Chicago marketing campaigns? Just because a big campaign was out there doesn’t mean that it did much in this media and advertising saturated world.

Seeing American home trends from the 1900s to the 2020s

This scrolling exhibit highlights some of the changes to American homes in the last 110 years. Here is what it predicts for homes in 2020:

Houses are nearly three times the size of homes from 1900.

Two master bedrooms (one upstairs, one downstairs) is a growing trend.

Water and energy conservation systems are becoming mainstream.

Extra bedrooms are being replaced by specialized storage (i.e. bigger pantries and closets).

Home automation tech (remotely controlling locks, lights, HVAC, and appliances) is booming.

There are some major changes over time this period including increasing size (with decreasing household sizes), more of an emphasis on cars, and changes in interior design and layout that take advantage of new technology and different social arrangements but are also subject to aesthetic whims (floating staircases in the 1970s, floral wallpaper in the 1980s, etc.).

Also noted: the 2000s are said to be the decade where “McMansionism continues.”

Avoiding McMansion sized furniture

With new American homes increasing in size over time, it may be hard to find smaller new furniture:

I need help finding a sofa/sleeper that is not “McMansion sized”…

Have added a TV room on my house & would like to put a sofa/sleeper there so it can be used as overflow guest bedroom space. The stores all seem to sell HUGE sofas. Where do I find a (hopefully full size) sofa/sleeper that will not become “The Elephant In The Room”?

In addition to the larger new homes in the United States, might the larger furniture also be due to the growing size of Americans and the increase in obesity rates?

There must be some room in the market for smaller furniture, particularly if tiny houses or micro apartments are gaining in popularity. I know Macy’s has a small furniture line because we purchased a  bed in this line a few years ago – though the furniture isn’t really small but rather simply isn’t oversized. Here is how Macy’s describes this line:

If you’re desperate for more room around your bed, check out small spaces furniture for bedrooms. The Tahoe set has a headboard that’s full of storage space, or opt for a Hawthorne bed with matching leather storage at the foot of the bed. There’s every style from luxury leather to contemporary wooden and padded beds, ready to be dressed up with a striking duvet set.

Transform your space with a great selection of small spaces furniture at Macy’s.

If Americans must fill their larger spaces, they can go with larger furniture or more furniture. Either could fulfill the consumerist ethos…

A more holistic view of health with sociology, psychology on the MCAT

The new MCAT has sections on sociology and psychology and this has led to new patterns of study:

The test has been thoroughly revamped and is now three hours longer. It takes 7 1/2 hours to complete, including breaks, and covers four new subjects, including a combined section on psychology and sociology that account for a quarter of the overall score.

Test takers will now have to define terms like “institutional racism” and “social constructionism,” and answer applied questions about how race and class affect health…

“Whether or not someone becomes ill has a lot to do with the society in which they live,” says Catherine Lucey, vice dean of education at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and a member of the committee that will assess the new MCAT…

How those conditions are treated has also evolved. Doctors know how to treat acute infection now. But managing chronic disease has become a much bigger part of medical care, and doctors need to develop different skills and a different kind of relationship with the patient. Doctors need to build trust, Lucey says, to understand how patients think and make decisions, in order to convince them to exercise more and change their diet.

For those in the comments who think that this is injecting liberal and untrue social science into the practice of medicine, there is plenty of evidence from a variety of fields that medical conditions are not solely dependent on physical traits or conditions. If you want to treat the whole patient, you need some knowledge of the patient’s social and mental well-being.

All that said, it will still be interesting to see whether this affects future doctors. Taking one class in sociology and psychology or looking at study materials on this subject doesn’t necessarily mean the principles will stick if med school programs don’t say much about these topics or knowledge in other areas is more incentivized.

Explaining why four Chicago neighborhoods haven’t had a murder in 3.5 years

Given Chicago’s reputation for violence, why have four Chicago neighborhoods – Mount Greenwood, Edison Park, Forest Glen, and North Park – not had a murder in recent years?

According to census data, 15,228 “law enforcement workers” live in Chicago, including about 12,100 police officers. Mount Greenwood, Edison Park and Forest Glen have some of the highest percentages of residents in the city working in law enforcement.

Crime in general is also low in these communities. For instance, between 2012 and 2014, not a single person was shot in Edison Park, which also reported only one criminal sexual assault. Forest Glen reported two sexual assaults. North Park had just 13 burglaries — which police Supt. Garry McCarthy calls a bellwether crime.

The city’s safest communities also have a high percentage of home ownership…

Another factor that stands out about some of the safest communities is wealth…

People in low-income neighborhoods tend to have a strong sense of community — with families living there for generations and looking out for one another, Papachristos says. But many young men have gravitated over the years toward gangs in those same neighborhoods, he says.

This article reads like a list of reasons for why crime happens in the first place (though at least broken windows theory is not invoked) and social scientists have found a range of reasons that might work in some situations and not others. However, we would suspect that areas that are wealthier have less crime as more people are living comfortably in the formal economy. This doesn’t mean these neighborhoods have no crime; there may be less violent crime but there are still some property crimes and likely crimes that are not caught including drug offenses and white collar crime (these might be even harder to uncover in wealthier areas).

If we follow the logic of this article, we would want to move high-crime areas toward the experiences of wealthier, higher quality of life neighborhoods that do exist in Chicago. Who is willing to take the steps to help this happen?

Whites are the ones who want to live away from blacks, not the other way around

Here is a reminder of how whites and blacks view diversity in their neighborhoods differently:

This notion is a popular one: that people like to live among their own. But it’s highly misleading, because research has shown that it is far more true for white Americans than for black Americans. Here’s what a 2009 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist Maria Krysan and other scholars, published in the American Journal of Sociology, found: Given a choice of all-white, 60 percent white and 40 percent black, or all-black, “whites said the all-white neighborhoods were most desirable. The independent effect of racial composition was smaller among blacks and blacks identified the racially mixed neighborhood as most desirable,”along with all-black neighborhoods.

And it isn’t so much that whites want to live among “people who are similar to them,” Krysan and her co-authors write, but rather that “anti-black feelings [are] driving whites’ residential preferences.”

Other studies, the authors note, have found that whites are not comfortable with more than 20 percent of their neighbors being black, while blacks prefer a 50-50 split and don’t particularly prefer either all-white or all-black neighborhoods. Importantly, black people’s aversion to all-white neighborhoods is rooted not in a desire to live exclusively among blacks, but rather derives from the fear of discrimination in all-white neighborhoods.

“It is misleading, I think, to use the word ‘voluntary choices’ given what underlies the preferences of African Americans in particular to not be the ‘pioneer’ or one of just a few blacks in a neighborhood/community,” emails Krysan. “A number of different studies (my own and others)… demonstrate that the desire for more diverse neighborhoods is driven importantly by concerns about discrimination in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly white. I would not call that a truly ‘voluntary’ choice, given that it is inextricably tied up with past and present circumstances of racial violence and discrimination towards blacks who move into neighborhoods that are all or very predominately white.”

So much for free choice in where people can live; the system still includes discrimination (whether perceived or real doesn’t really matter) as well as economic barriers (many white neighborhoods have higher price points). White Americans would tend to claim that it isn’t about race or ethnicity at all and that it is about economics and quality of life (a shift that took place starting in the 1960s as race-based arguments became illegal and less accepted in public) yet we still have persistent residential segregation.

Opponent of teardown McMansions switches sides

One owner of an older suburban home says she can see the benefits of a teardown McMansion:

I would have taken Huetinck’s explanation personally several months ago, when I used to sigh as I walked by these construction sites that were seemingly engulfing us. But now that our kids are getting older and our space feels tighter, I can see the benefits of these “shiny and new” homes.

Although my husband and I like taking our two toddlers on walks to the farmers market at Bethesda Elementary School on the weekends and for strolls to the playground around the corner, I’ve found myself growing increasingly frustrated trying to navigate our living room without stepping on a toy, cramming clothes into closets that seem to grow smaller by the day, and making do with no garage. As much as I hate to say it, I’m starting to lose my allegiance to these older homes.

That’s not because I want to see our neighborhood turn into a cookie-cutter development, but it’s because I see the ease that something as simple as a mudroom can provide, especially with kids and a dog…

But the allure of a mammoth open kitchen, a two-car garage and a walk-in closet in the master bedroom is hard to ignore.

These sterile, user-friendly McMansions are looking better to me every day. Unlike our friend and neighbor Marjorie, I think we could come up with a price.

I would be interested to hear about what kind of interactions this writer/resident has with her neighbors after writing this piece in the Washington Post. It sounds like the neighbors have taken sides, pitting those who have lived a long time in the neighborhood and what to see it preserved or stay the same versus those who either want or need to sell and like the higher prices they can now get or those who can see the usefulness of a newer home.

Could a teardown McMansion may more defensible if the owner has a larger family? Although more American households than ever are single members, families with children might want more space to spread out. Yet, I imagine at least a few of those opposed to McMansions might also be opposed to overpopulation…

Finally, are there any teardown owners who stay in the same neighborhood? Or, is the act of buying a teardown so disruptive that one can’t remain a neighbor in good standing if they are the one bringing the disruption?


AP gives five solutions to nation’s growing traffic problems

The Associated Press discusses five ways to reduce traffic in America. Here are the quick summaries of each:






Perhaps we will have a situation where each of these options will be tried out in different places. For example, some cities will pursue mass transit – which can be quite expensive in already expensive areas – while others will simply add tolls to existing highways.

But, if I had to guess which options will prevail, I would guess numbers three through five which do not require people to give up their cars or the distance they commute to work and other places. (Some will voluntarily go for denser housing in more urbanized areas but others will interpret this as the government trying to force people out of suburban or rural living.) The first two require a lot of political will, either to spend the money for mass transit or to get people to pay new money for things they didn’t pay for before. Of course, the new technology won’t come cheap – it will be built into car costs in the future – but still appears to give the individual owners more options. Plus, American society tends to have quite a bit of faith in science and progress to solve problems.