What is the economic benefit of O’Hare Airport to the Chicago region?

Noise complaints may be up but local officials say O’Hare Airport has a big economic impact:

Chicago estimates O’Hare contributes more than $38 billion to the economy of the six counties and sustains about 450,000 jobs directly and indirectly. Airport expansion could generate an extra $18 billion and create 195,000 new jobs, the city projects.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a speech to the City Club in June, attributed recent economic successes to O’Hare and Midway International Airport. “Out of the 10 major metropolitan areas (in the U.S.) last year, Chicagoland had 12,000 businesses created,” Emanuel said. “That’s No. 2 in the United States.”

I’m guessing these statistics won’t quiet the critics of the new noise patterns yet it should remind the region’s residents how an airport might indirectly help them all beyond providing easier and cheaper access to points around the globe.

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Increasing number of abandoned homes in Tokyo

As the population declines, Tokyo has more abandoned homes:

Despite a deeply rooted national aversion to waste, discarded homes are spreading across Japan like a blight in a garden. Long-term vacancy rates have climbed significantly higher than in the United States or Europe, and some eight million dwellings are now unoccupied, according to a government count. Nearly half of them have been forsaken completely – neither for sale nor for rent, they simply sit there, in varying states of disrepair.

These ghost homes are the most visible sign of human retreat in a country where the population peaked a half-decade ago and is forecast to fall by a third over the next 50 years. The demographic pressure has weighed on the Japanese economy, as a smaller workforce struggles to support a growing proportion of the old, and has prompted intense debate over long-term proposals to boost immigration or encourage women to have more children.

For now, though, after decades during which it struggled with overcrowding, Japan is confronting the opposite problem: When a society shrinks, what should be done with the buildings it no longer needs?…

Tokyo could end up being surrounded by Detroits,” said Tomohiko Makino, a real estate expert who has studied the vacant-house phenomenon. Once limited mostly to remote rural communities, it is now spreading through regional cities and the suburbs of major metropolises. Even in the bustling capital, the ratio of unoccupied houses is rising.

The population loss in Detroit and Tokyo are driven by different factors yet the Motor City could help other cities around the world think about what to do when the population decreases.

This particular article doesn’t talk much about negative consequences of having a lot of abandoned homes. Any problems with squatters? People tearing apart the buildings for scraps? Animals? Neighbors unhappy about the lack of upkeep? Bloated infrastructure costs that need to be reined in? Perhaps the consequences of abandoned homes are quite different across national contexts.

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Gentrification as violating UN Human Rights

Some opponents of gentrification argue the process is a human rights violation:

It is the resulting displacement of people who can’t afford increased rents that, in the eyes of these activists, amounts to a human-rights violation. (Homeowners, at least economically, stand to gain from the changes, since their property values often rise as a result.) Drawing on Le droit à la ville, a 1968 work by the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre whose title translates to “The Right to the City,” the organization argues that all people, including the disenfranchised, have the right to remain in their apartments and homes and shape the political and cultural landscapes of their communities. The UN Declaration of Human Rights already asserts that everyone has the right to be protected against “interference with his… home.” Lenina Nadal, the communications director for Right to the City, says the group hopes to build on this idea. “It is an ideal time to  expand the idea that inhabitants not only have a right to their home, a decent, sustainable home,” she said, “but also to the community they created in their city.”

This is an interesting argument that suggests people are being moved from their homes and communities against their will. Americans generally don’t like the idea of others dictating where they can live; see the emphasis on local control, property rights, and opposition to eminent domain. Yet, social factors push and pull people to leave their homes and communities all the time as well as limit people from leaving their communities.

How exactly would this work out in a court of law or as an argument at the United Nations? I suspect there could be a lot of argument about what exactly the right to a home and community is. Could a suburbanite who doesn’t like that a big box store is being built nearby make a similar argument? What about residents who are moved through eminent domain or urban renewal?

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Houston as world’s fourth most popular refugee resettlement country

While most immigration policy debates take place at the national level, large cities are also involved:

Out of every 1,000 resettled U.N. refugees, more than 700 come to America. Though all 50 states accept some refugees, 75 of those 700 find their way to Texas, according to U.S. State Department numbers. And more of those will come to the Houston area than to anywhere else in Texas: The state health services department reports that nearly 40 percent of Texas’ refugees land in Harris County.

This means that Harris County alone welcomes about 30 of every 1,000 refugees that the U.N. resettles anywhere in the world — more than any other American city, and more than most other nations. If Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement…

In fact, Al Sudani said, some cold American cities host enormous groups of warm-region natives. Nearly 45,000 Iraqis live in Detroit and other parts of Michigan — more than in any other state, according to Census Bureau data assembled by the Migration Policy Institute. More East Africans live in Minnesota than in Texas; Minneapolis-St. Paul has a massive Somali population. “People, they adjust really quickly to their environment,” Al Sudani said…

The single most important factor in Houston’s ability to absorb all of the new refugee arrivals appears to be its vibrant, growing economy. “The focus of refugee resettlement in the United States is early employment,” said Sara Kauffman, Houston area director for Refugee Services of Texas. “We have a pretty fast economy, a lot of jobs available. People can get started working pretty quickly.” One of her clients found himself a job at a car dealership within two weeks of arriving.

Houston doesn’t often draw much discussion as a global city but this would suggest it is an important player in the 21st century world. Indeed, it might be the quintessential American city today.

Tracking the transformation of Houston’s population in recent years would make for a fascinating long-term study: oil capital transforms into cosmopolitan center. There is already some good sociological work on this and it is worth tracking. It may be out there but I haven’t yet seen work on how Houston residents are adjusting to these changes. Perhaps as long as the economy keeps growing, there aren’t many issues…

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LA may be the only US city that wants the Olympics

The Los Angeles City Council just voted to go forward with a 2024 Summer Olympics bid:

Los Angeles, which will be competing against Paris, Rome, Hamburg and Budapest among other potential cities, got the formal USOC endorsement after city council members voted 15-0 to support the bid.

The move comes after the USOC’s calamitous initial selection of Boston as its 2024 bid city, which resulted in massive public opposition and ultimately a reversal of the decision.

The potential for cost overruns that would have had to be covered by the city, in line with an agreement that the International Olympic Committee forces host cities to sign, was one of the principal concerns for Boston 2024 opponents. According to the Los Angeles Times, the new bid city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, has promised to sign such a contract.

Recently, numerous cities have turned down opportunities to bid for the Olympics as the costs don’t seem to justify being a host. Yet, LA may have some unique advantages including a number of stadiums and venues, some mass transit, and a sprawling region that would spread out the events and locations. Could its other amenities – location in southern California with warm weather, the ocean, and nearby attractions (ranging from the desert to Las Vegas) along with being the home to Hollywood – also boost the city’s chances of being selected?

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Farmers markets nearly dead in 1971; exploding in number today

A study looking at what motivates shopping at a farmers market includes figures on the number of farmers markets over time:

Farming is back, long after Jane Pyle, in true Population Bomb thinking of 1971, said farmers markets were “doomed by a changing society” in an editorial for The Geographical Review. At the time, there were about 340 farmers markets left in the United States and many were “populated by resellers, not farmers, and were on the verge of collapse,” Pyle wrote.

Yet like Ehrlich’s Population Bomb, Pyle could not have been more wrong…The number of farmers markets listed in the USDA National Farmers Markets increased from 3,706 in 2004 to 8,268 in 2014.

That is quite an increase. What is behind it?

“A growing number of communities have attempted to gain control of their own economies by encouraging civic engagement that supports investing in locally owned businesses instead of outside companies,” states the study.

But that requires wealthy elites. Local food markets (i.e., farmers markets, food co-ops, etc.) are far more likely to be located in cities and counties with higher income levels.

Here is my interpretation of the findings: as farming has become an industry with large corporations and selling food products has become dominated by big box stores (Walmart now has about 25% market share among grocery stores), the farmers market gives those with the resources an opportunity to retain control of where their money goes. Americans tend to like local control and this gives grocery buyers the ability to see more directly where their money goes (directly to producers, closer to where the purchasers actually like).

Wealthier communities are also likely to see farmers markets as desirable economic contributors. The markets don’t require that much space – they can even put underutilized parking lots to use – and don’t create trouble in terms of pollution or noise. The markets can attract higher-income residents who will then associate the nicer shopping option with a higher quality community as well as possibly spend more money elsewhere in the community. As an illustration of this, look where the 150+ farmers markets in the Chicago region are located.

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More Americans living on $2 a day

A sociologist finds more Americans suffering extreme poverty:

The number of U.S. residents who are struggling to survive on just $2 a day has more than doubled since 1996, placing 1.5 million households and 3 million children in this desperate economic situation. That’s according to “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” a book from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that will be released on Sept. 1…

“Most of us would say we would have trouble understanding how families in the county as rich as ours could live on so little,” said author Kathryn Edin, who spoke on a conference call to discuss the book, which she wrote with Luke Shaefer. Edin is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. “These families, contrary to what many would expect, are workers, and their slide into poverty is a failure of the labor market and our safety net, as well as their own personal circumstances.”…

“Time and time again, we would constantly see people’s hours cut from week to week,” said Shaefer, associate professor of social work at University of Michigan. “Someone might have 30 hours one week, down to 15 the next and down to 5 after that. We saw people who would remain employed but were down to zero hours. This was incredibly common in this population.”…

Many of the families Edin and Shaefer interviewed saw themselves as workers, the researchers noted. Rather than the negative stereotype of the “welfare queen” created by President Ronald Reagan, the families that are suffering with less than $2 a day want to work and are using self-reliance to get by. That hasn’t stopped the stereotype from proliferating, even though Edin and Shaefer note that extreme poverty in America is an equal-opportunity affliction: It hurts single parents, married couples, white, blacks and Hispanics, as well as rural and urban families.

While this is a small percent of the American population (less than 2% based on the figures cited in this story), Edin is likely right: few Americans could imagine this level of poverty that they would tend to associate with developing countries. And these are often people willing to work but job opportunities are limited.

It will be interesting to see reactions to this. Because of the relatively small numbers as well as the relative powerlessness of poor groups, this could be easy to sweep under the rug. Yet, I would guess many Americans would want something to be done for the poorest members of society even if they vehemently disagree on the means by which to do this. (This article suggests not much is being done in any sector, from government to charities.) I hope I’m not overestimating the compassion of the American people…

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Maybe the American lawn is dead

Get through the history of the lawn and recent reactions to drought in California (see here, here, and here) and read one conclusion about the fate of the American lawn:

Maybe we really are in a new era. Maybe it will signal the end of our love affair with lawns. Maybe the new national landscape—a shared vision that inspires and enforces collective responsibility for a shared world—will take on a new kind of wildness. Maybe, as the billboards dotting California’s highways cheerily insist, “Brown Is the New Green.” Maybe the yard of the future will feature wildflowers and native grasses and succulent greenery, all jumbled together in assuring asymmetry. Maybe we will come to find all that chaos beautiful. Maybe we will come to shape our little slices of land, if we’re lucky enough to have them, in a way that pays tribute to the America that once was, rather than the one we once willed.

Here are four reasons why I think this will take some time – if indeed a majority of Americans do get rid of their lawns in the next few decades:

  1. What California has experienced hasn’t hit many other states. For much of the country, this drought is still an abstraction.
  2. Americans associate their green lawn with their single-family home with kids and all the success that the lawn and home symbolize. This is a simplification with some validity: the green lawn = the American Dream. This is why so many neighborhoods and communities fuss about and fine lawns that don’t look good.
  3. The lawn industry will fight back. Yes, the lawn industry has a lot invested in this and could develop varieties of lawn that need less water as well as champion alternatives that they can sell.
  4. A return to “nature” in our yards isn’t exactly real nature. It is another human modified version. Some replacements for lawn could take less work than the perfect grass lawn – but others will still require a good amount of maintenance. And I’m not sure how many homeowners really want truly untended yards.
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Chicago suburbs fight over new downtown development

New developments in suburban downtowns can bring praise and dissent as leaders and residents pursue different goals:

From northwest suburban Barrington to Clarendon Hills in DuPage County, a recent mini-boom in post-recession construction projects has sparked bitter battles over historic preservation and building heights and, in one case, a lawsuit by residents who claim a condominium project was illegally approved and would destroy their hometown’s quiet charms.

The stakes can be so high for community leaders that, in north suburban Highwood, officials have offered a local bocce club the chance to move into a new, $4 million facility in order to make way for a proposed five-story development. Yet where local leaders sometimes see a chance to revitalize aging commercial districts and bring in more tax revenue, existing residents and businesses often worry about what such changes will bring.

“It’s all a balancing act. How do you maintain the vibrancy of a downtown business district for the segment of the community that is clamoring for that, without destroying its history and everything that makes it a quaint village,” said Jason Lohmeyer, a recently elected Barrington village trustee…

Rachel Weber, an urban planning and policy associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the conflicts that frequently erupt between pro- and anti-development factions pit residents fearful of any dramatic changes to their hometown against those who view new development as essential to a healthy local economy.

I have found similar stories in my own research on suburbs. Community leaders often want a vibrant downtown: it can bring in more tax revenue (increased sales taxes, more money through property taxes if the land is improved) and avoid a languishing or sleepy downtown (a black mark) while replacing it with a lively place that draws in visitors and boosts the community’s image. Improving the downtown might become particularly important as a suburb grows in size or if it runs out of open space. Residents may want some of these things as well (lower taxes are good, lively shopping entertainment and cultural options nearby might be desirable) but can often resist development that is out of scale or challenges the quaint look of the downtown. Some of this is hyperbole – one resident in this story claims a three-story condo building is a “skyscraper” – yet residents worry that the suburb that moved into won’t be the same suburb later.

There are several ways to summarize this process and I’ll conclude with my own take as a sociologist studying suburbs:

  1. This is just NIMBY behavior from suburban residents. Some residents act as if they would like to freeze a community in time right when they move in. (There is some truth to this.)
  2. Suburban leaders are determined to grow, even if the residents don’t desire it and their community can’t handle much growth. This would lean toward a growth machines explanation where leaders want to benefit from local deals and make their mark. (There is some truth to this.)
  3. A more comprehensive view: situations like this demonstrate the negotiated aspect of a community’s character. Although large or consequential discussions between residents and leaders are relatively infrequent, some of these discussions over important areas – like downtowns where many people feel they have a stake – can have long-term effects. Because suburbs privilege local control and residents often have some measure of social status (income, education, homeownership), these discussions are bound to happen at some point. Some suburbs will veer toward a quainter character, some will aggressively court new growth and transform their downtown, and others will try to pursue a middle path of growth that matches the community’s character. Yet, these discussions are important to track and analyze if we want to understand how suburban development happens and how it matters for later outcomes.
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Crime down in US but more mass shootings

What explains why violent crimes are down in the United States but public shootings are up?

The FBI attempted to narrow the definition in a 2014 report that focused on “active shooter” situations, defined as shootings in which an individual tried to kill people in a public place, and excluding gang- or drug-related violence. The agency found that 160 active-shooter incidents had occurred between 2000 and 2013, and that the number of events was rising. In the first seven years of the period, the average number of active-shooter incidents per year was 6.4. In the final seven years, the annual average rose to 16.4.

In these 160 shootings, 486 people were killed and 557 were wounded, not including the shooters.

The rise in active-shooter events bucks the general trend toward less violent crime in the United States: Overall violent crime dropped 14.5 percent between 2004 and 2013, according to the FBI…

Meanwhile, a just-released study finds that although the United States has just about 5 percent of the world’s population, the country has 31 percent of the world’s mass shooters. The reasons for these numbers are complex, researchers say, but the data suggest that the availability of guns, and perhaps the American obsession with fame, may be to blame.

The mass shootings are interesting in themselves but this is tied to a larger question about the levels of violence in the United States that has intrigued social scientists for decades. For example, in graduate school I spent some time working on research regarding the number of assassinations across countries. The United States was an outlier within industrialized nations. Or, if you look at the literature on the urban riots that took place in many American cities during the 1960s, you find similar questions about how this could occur in the United States while being more rare in other developed nations. In both sets of literature, social scientists debated the role of a frontier mentality, the availability of guns, levels of political conflict and inequality, among other reasons.

On a different note, given the amount of attention these mass shootings receive in the media, it isn’t a surprise that many Americans aren’t aware that crime rates have dropped or that the vast majority of public spaces are safe.

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