Report on Chicago manufacturing: “punching below its weight”

Chicago’s rise was aided by manufacturing but a new report says manufacturing in the region is lagging:

While the 14-county tri-state area was the fourth-largest exporter among the 100 top metro areas nationwide in 2012, it fell to the middle of the pack on gross domestic product growth, export growth and exports as a share of economic activity, according to “Revival in the Heartland: Manufacturing and Trade in Chicago,” a report to be released Wednesday by HSBC Bank and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

“Manufacturing in Chicago is an old heavyweight slugger, punching below its weight,” the study stated, noting that it remains the second-largest economic driver in the region after government and social services…

Study authors and individual manufacturers cite a range of historical factors that have contributed to the weak performance:

•A lack of civic and government attention to the sector because of a perception that it was dying.

•An absence of intraregional cooperation on economic issues.

•Freight rail gridlock.

•Lingering wariness about expanding business within the state, given its fiscal problems.

The article notes the ongoing loss of manufacturing jobs in recent decades, even on top of the decline of such jobs in the 1960s and 1970s. The initial drop significantly impacted social conditions, as noted by William Julius Wilson in his writings. Even as Chicago has avoided the decline narrative associated with numerous other Rust Belt cities (Detroit as a common example but also including places like Cleveland, Buffalo, Youngstown, and numerous other cities), a steady decrease in manufacturing continues to present challenges.

The “McMansion Queen Bedroom Set”

Thought McMansion owners couldn’t afford any furniture for their new large house? If they have the money, they may need this bedroom set from The Great Western Furniture Company:

McMansion Queen Bedroom Set

$795.00

Product Description

A version of our most popular bedroom (the Mansion) with less bulk and all the same beauty! Still solid wood and hand-crafted, this set comes at a great value and features the Queen headboard, footboard, side rails, slats and center support, dresser, mirror, and 1 night stand. The Chest is also available for an additional $265 if you have the room for it!http://www.greatwesternfurniturecompany.com/product/mcmansion-queen-bedroom-set/

Three quick thoughts:

1. This furniture set doesn’t look particularly special. But, attaching the name McMansion gives it certain meanings and many of these meanings are not good.

2. That this is a variant of the Mansion set makes sense but seems funny. Is there a smaller split-level set?

3. Is this the sort of furniture McMansion owners across America want?

The United States added nearly 17 million people from 2007 to 2014

In the middle of a story regarding the rising price of electricity, I found this surprising fact:

According to the Census Bureau, however, the resident population of the United States increased from 300,888,674 in April 2007 to 317,787,997 in April 2014.

Several quick thoughts:

1. I had a conversation earlier in the day with several colleagues about population stagnation in a number of industrialized countries around the world. The United States is unusual compared to Western Europe which has lower birth rates and lower rates of immigration.

2. It is hard to imagine 17 million people. In other terms, the United States added more than the metropolitan population of London.

3. I’ve had the thought lately that perhaps part of the political morass in the United States these days is due to a political system that is simply difficult to maintain with 317 million residents. Providing for all of these people adds to the difficulties of maintaining bureaucracies (and you need quite a few with the population). A two party system makes it very difficult to represent all of the competing concerns and interests. Reaching consensus can be difficult within a country that prizes individualism.

The workouts of the upper class aim to avoid “excessive displays of strength”

Workout goals and expectations about the ideal fit body type may just be related to social class:

Soon, however, I suffered a creeping insecurity. Looking into the eyes of a banker with soft hands, I imagined him thinking, You deluded moron, what does muscle have to do with anything?

One day, a skinny triathlete jogged past our house: visor, fancy sunglasses, GPS watch. I caught a look of yearning in my wife’s eyes. That night, we fought and she confessed: She couldn’t help it, she liked me better slender…

Sociologists, it turns out, have studied these covert athletic biases. Carl Stempel, for example, writing in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, argues that upper middle class Americans avoid “excessive displays of strength,” viewing the bodybuilder look as vulgar overcompensation for wounded manhood. The so-called dominant classes, Stempel writes—especially those like my friends and myself, richer in fancy degrees than in actual dollars—tend to express dominance through strenuous aerobic sports that display moral character, self-control, and self-development, rather than physical dominance. By chasing pure strength, in other words, packing on all that muscle, I had violated the unspoken prejudices—and dearly held self-definitions—of my social group.

I’ve never encountered this literature. But, I wonder how this might be related to historical social patterns, particularly the shift away from and the growing bifurcation between manual labor/unskilled jobs and the growing white-collar job force who often sit in offices all day. While the wealthy classes of the past may not have had to show any physical abilities, now the expectation is fitness across a wider range of classes. With less manual labor on the job, people today have more choices about exercise ranging from whether to do it at all, how much money to spend on what can become a very expensive activity, and what kind of path to pursue from older patterns to the latest trends.

h/t Instapundit

Predicting the ongoing rapid urbanization of the South

The American South is known for its sprawling cities and one new model suggests this will continue in force in coming decades:

New predictions map the future spread of urban sprawl in Dixie, and it is immense. Basing their model on past growth patterns and locations of existing road networks, researchers at North Carolina State University projected the region’s expansion decades into the future. According to their forecast, the Southern urban footprint is expected to grow 101 percent to 192 percent.

The projected map in 2060:

Read the full paper here. As the discussion section notes, the model doesn’t really account for future decisions in opposition to current patterns. In other words, such a model is not deterministic: it is based on past data but communities could make decisions that continue down this path (and even intensify urban growth beyond the predictions here) or pursue different patterns of urban growth (say if New Urbanism catches on in a big way and exurban growth slows quite a bit).

Put another way, is it possible to imagine an American South that in 50 or 100 years wouldn’t be noted for its sprawl?

Common narrative: bucolic suburbs surprised by deviance

A recent revelation in the Baltimore suburbs is a common story across media platforms: idyllic suburban communities are shocked by hidden deviance and crime that is suddenly exposed.

The hills in Clarks Glen are gently rolling, the homes McMansions. And the lawns are mowed to the near-perfection a country club groundskeeper might envy.

It’s the very model of affluent suburbia, hardly a place where anyone thinks the man next door would be stopped by customs agents on his way to China with the makings of missile detectors in his bags.

But appearances can be deceiving.

Zhenchun “Ted” Huang, a longtime resident of the Clarksville subdivision in Howard County, pleaded guilty this month to federal charges that he tried tofraudulently obtain electronic devices that can be used in fabricating missile detectors and other high-grade military equipment…

In Clarks Glen, the development where he lived for at least eight years, former neighbors were astonished to hear the news. They saw Huang, an electrical engineer, as anything but the cloak-and-dagger type.

Instead, they said, he was a taciturn man who mowed his lawn once a week, whether it was needed or not, and rarely socialized.

On one hand, people in the suburbs are genuinely shocked by such stories. They often move to nice suburbs to escape such issues like crime and international espionage. Nobody wants to think that a sex offender is lurking down the street where they let their kids play. These sorts of things are problems more often associated with cities or less affluent locales.

On the other hand, reactions like this sound like a TV show. Oh wait, is this an episode of The Americans or a Hollywood movie or a John Keats novel about the hidden problems of suburbia? One shouldn’t be completely naive about what can be lurking in any community, let alone suburbs. I’m not advocating for paranoia or hypervigilance – this isn’t the best way to promote social ties or community life – but people everywhere are capable of dastardly deeds. The reactions of neighbors like those quoted above might say more about how well suburban neighbors know each other (often not very well) than the overall actions of suburbanites.

Perhaps the issue here is the overselling of suburban life over the decades. If suburbs were and are often marketed as escapes from social problems (there is a long history of suburban developers suggesting such things as well as suburban residents and leaders), places that are perfect for children and offer private space, the American Dream, then any actions in contrast to that are viewed quite negatively.

Selling smaller yet posh apartments plus an urban lifestyle to younger renters in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay real estate market may have picked up again but it includes some new options: stylish, small, urban apartments for millennials.

So last month, the 28-year-old dietitian moved into a stylish flat in downtown’s newest apartment tower, Modera Prime 235. The trade-off? It cost $1,330, double her last rent, for a one-bedroom matchbox spanning 700 square feet.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be in a McMansion. . . . but it’s definitely enough space for me,” she said. “That price was a lot, like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to watch my budget.’ But I’ve enjoyed every penny I’ve paid for it so far.”

Developers are racing to build more than 8,000 new apartments across Tampa Bay, sparking one of the biggest building surges since the housing bust. But to win big rents from millennials, the biggest generation in American history, they’re building in a way that looks nothing like the suburban booms of years past.

The emerging apartment complexes are more closely connected to city centers and packed with metropolitan perks, but they’re also surprisingly pricey and getting smaller. While the median new American home swelled last year to a record-breaking 2,384 square feet, Census data show, the nation’s median new rentals have narrowed to 1,043 square feet, the smallest since 2002.

“The younger generation, under 35, they don’t want to own homes. They don’t want a yard. … They watched what happened (during the recession), watched their parents lose their houses,” said John Stone, a managing director of multifamily housing for Colliers International, a real estate brokerage. “They have a different taste, a different value system. . . . These kids are more than happy to pay $1,200 in rent to walk out their door and immediately go to their favorite bar, their favorite restaurant.”

This has been a trend predicted for a while now by a number of people ranging from Richard Florida to James Howard Kunstler. Because of a variety of pressures from the increase in gas prices, the limited possibilities and decentralization of suburban sprawl, a changed job market, and new technologies, younger Americans may just want desire more exciting urban neighborhoods (though these don’t necessarily have to be in the city center or even in large cities) and smaller homes and private spaces. This is happening many metro areas throughout the United States but it is unclear how big the phenomenon might grow or how much other groups of Americans want to join millennials/the Creative Class.

Yet, as the article notes, this is all tending to lead to a segmented housing market with large suburban McMansions (or something like them), trendy yet small urban apartments for those who can afford them, and the lower end of the housing market that is still struggling.

Marriage among education equals most common but more women marrying down educationally than men

A new sociological study highlights a large social shift regarding marriage and education over recent decades:

The study, in the August issue of the American Sociological Review, looks at marriages formed between 1950 and 2004. It finds that marriages between educational equals have remained most common, but that when there is a difference, women are increasingly likely to have the educational edge.

In about half of marriages begun in the early 2000s, spouses had roughly equal educations. In nearly 30%, the wife had more and in about 20%, the husband had more — a reversal of the pattern seen in the 1950s through at least the late 1970s.

In those earlier eras, marriages in which wives were more educated were less likely to last. Researchers have theorized that was partly because less-educated men felt threatened by their wives’ successes. It’s also possible that those couples were especially non-traditional types more prone to divorce for all sorts of reasons.

But such couples married since the 1990s have had no higher divorce rates than other couples, the new study shows. They may even be less likely to divorce than couples in which men are more educated. The data is not clear on that point, researchers say.

Still a clear preference for equal education levels but a shift from men marrying down to women marrying down. From a supply and demand standpoint, this makes sense given the gains of women in education in recent decades.

While the numbers tell us something, it would also be interesting to see people’s perceptions about this. If women have more education than marrying, does this still come with more social pressures or expectations compared to the reverse?

Experts: cars in the near future won’t have mirrors, pedals, steering wheels…

A survey of over 200 experts suggests driverless cars of the next few decades will be missing some now-common features:

By 2030, most new cars will be made without rearview mirrors, horns, or emergency brakes. By 2035, they won’t have steering wheels or acceleration and brake pedals. They won’t need any of these things because they will be driving themselves…

The shift to cars without steering wheels and pedals will be revolutionary. It’s one thing to get a driver to let go of the wheel on long highway drives or a boring commute. It’s quite another to put him in a car that he can never drive, even if he wants to.

The change is inevitable, says Alberto Broggi, a professor of computing engineering at the University of Parma and an IEEE fellow. Cars that don’t need human drivers anymore will shed parts made for human control. “There’s nothing you can do about that.” The change will free auto design from the rules that have constrained it for a century. (Only Google has publicly addressed the idea, with a prototype it plans to start testing on public roads this fall.)

This all makes sense if the cars drive themselves but it could be quite a change. Will it really free up designers to create something different than what we have now or will the basic shape remain the same with an altered interior? There is a lot of potential here to create something that doesn’t look like a car as we know it.

Plans for a temperature controlled, 48 million square foot indoors “city” in Dubai

The building boom in Dubai continues with plans to build a massive indoor city:

united arab emirates’ vice president and prime minister, sheikh mohammed bin rashid has announced the world’s first temperature controlled city to be constructed in dubai. the vast 48 million square foot project, entitled ‘mall of the world’, will contain the planet’s largest shopping mall and an indoor theme park covered by a retractable glass dome that opens during winter months…

envisioned as an integrated pedestrian city, seven kilometer promenades connect the design, bringing together a wide variety of leisure, retail and hospitality options under one roof. a cultural district forms the hub of the site, with a dedicated theater quarter comprising a host of venues. the ‘celebration walk’ modeled on barcelona’s las ramblas will connect the district with the surrounding mall containing a range of conference, wedding and celebration halls.

The pictures are quite interesting. The scope of the project raises several questions:

1. At what point does an indoor space transition from being a mall to being a city? Others have proposed towns or cities within buildings (even immortalized in arcologies in SimCity). But, this development is clearly within Dubai and the comments from officials indicate it is closely tied to tourism. So, it doesn’t quite sound like a city unless you want to make it sound more impressive.

2. With the emphasis on tourism, just how authentic will this space really be? If this is just for tourists, that is a lot of space to maintain and make exciting. If it is more mixed-use and include residential units, then some genuine street life could develop. Put differently, is this a Dubai version of the Las Vegas strip or something different?

Regardless, if this all is completed, it would be a sight to behold.