If the Census is the key to political control, then you can expect parties to put more energy into gaming the census. Arguably, you’re already seeing this: Republicans are now making their second attempt to defund the American Community Survey, which uses sampling to generate data between censuses. The American Community Survey is not used for districting, but it is used for all manner of other policy purposes.
As the political fault lines harden in Congress, the battlegrounds are moving back to more hidden levers of policymaking. There are the courts, of course: we’re now in the third decade of a mostly undeclared war to gain control of the Supreme Court and do some unelected legislating. Data gathering and research funding are coming under fierce scrutiny. And on the national security front, secrecy and executive orders seem to be the order of the day for whoever is in the White House.
Before you say it, no, this isn’t just Republicans. But it’s not good on either side. As the legislature has ceased being able to legislate, both parties almost have to resort to more undemocratic methods to achieve their goals. The casualties, like judicial impartiality and good data for policymaking, are vastly more important than the causes for which this war is allegedly being fought.
To see more details of the recent Republican defunding attempt, see here.
Data is rarely impartial: the processes of by which it is collected, interpreted, and then used in policy can be quite political. That doesn’t mean that is has to be. Much of the grounding for social science is the idea that data can be more objectively collected and analyzed. Yet, within the realms of politics where data is often a means to victory, having a good handle on data can go a long way, as we saw in the 2012 presidential election or currently in debates among Republicans about how to handle voter data.
In the end, it will be fascinating to see how big data, from the Census to Facebook, does or does not become political. There are a couple of fault lines in this debate. First, there are people who will argue that having such data is in itself political and dangerous while the opposite side will argue that having such data is necessary to have more efficient and business government and business. This could be a debate between libertarians and others: should there even be big data in the first place? Second, there is a good number of people who like the idea of collecting and using big data but debate who should be able to benefit from the data. Can the data be used for political ends? If government should have its hands on big data, perhaps it is okay for businesses? Should individual consumers have more power or control over their contributions and participation in big data?
One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago…
The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.
And why is this happening?
It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school…
High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.
In other words, it appears social reproduction is occurring through the schooling system. Sounds like the ideas of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who argued social class differences are reinforced by education systems, as well as sociologist Annette Lareau who suggests different classes have different parenting approaches. In the end, those who already have resources can put them to use in getting the best out of the system while those with fewer resources can’t keep pace.
It may seem unusual, but these non-traditional arrangements are more common than you think. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 1.7 million married couples in the U.S choose to live apart, and experts say that number is on the rise.
Marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer said the looming 50 percent divorce rate has couples worrying about the future before they even say “I do.” She said living apart allows them to avoid all the daily little conflicts that can lead to big problems down the road…
Ultimately, Haisha said, they avoid all the business of being married and they can just enjoy the marriage…
“We want to be the wind beneath each other’s wings, not clip each other’s wings,” Haisha said.
Judging from the comments made in this article, it sounds like these couples want to maintain the perceived strengths of living alone, which means you can escape from other people and don’t have to get too involved in daily life which might lead to conflict, while still enjoying their marriages. In other words, the ideals of autonomy and individualism are preserved while still committing to marriage. But, doesn’t this redefine marriage to some degree as another relationship that can be had at the time of one’s choosing?
Who should be really happy about this trend? People in real estate as it suggests more couples need two place to own or rent.
I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today’s millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don’t do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they “settle” into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands.” For too many millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about…
In the 1970s and 1980s, the children and older grandchildren of the builder generation (born between 1901 and 1920) sorted themselves and headed to the suburbs to raise their children in safety, comfort, and material ease. And now millennials (born between 1977 and 1995), taking a cue from their baby boomer parents (born between 1946 and 1964) to despise the contexts that provided them advantages, have a disdain for America’s suburbs. This despising of suburban life has been inadvertently encouraged by well-intentioned religious leaders inviting people to move to neglected cities to make a difference, because, after all, the Apostle Paul did his work primarily in cities, cities are important, and cities are the final destination of the Kingdom of God. They were told that God loves cities and they should, too. The unfortunate message became that you cannot live a meaningful Christian life in the suburbs.
There are many churches that are committed to being what is called missional. This term is used to describe a church community where people see themselves as missionaries in local communities. A missional church has been defined, as “a theologically formed, Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, united community of believers who seek to faithfully incarnate the purposes of Christ for the glory of God,” says Scott Thomas of the Acts 29 Network. The problem is that this push for local missionaries coincided with the narcissism epidemic we are facing in America, especially with the millennial generation. As a result, living out one’s faith became narrowly celebratory only when done in a unique and special way, a “missional” way. Getting married and having children early, getting a job, saving and investing, being a good citizen, loving one’s neighbor, and the like, no longer qualify as virtuous. One has to be involved in arts and social justice activities—even if justice is pursued without sound economics or social teaching. I actually know of a couple who were being so “missional” they decided to not procreate for the sake of taking care of orphans.
To make matters worse, some religious leaders have added a new category to Christianity called “radical Christianity” in an effort to trade-off suburban Christianity for mission. This movement is based on a book by David Platt and is fashioned around “an idea that we were created for far more than a nice, comfortable Christian spin on the American dream. An idea that we were created to follow One who demands radical risk and promises radical reward.” Again, this was a well-intentioned attempt to address lukewarm Christians in the suburbs, but because it is primarily reactionary and does not provide a positive construction for the good life from God’s perspective, it misses “radical” ideas in Jesus’ own teachings like “love.”
As a suburban scholar, I’d like to point out there are a number of interesting things going on in this argument.
First, it makes some sweeping generalizations. Is this true of all “missional” or “radical” Christians? If I remember correctly, Platt argued that Christians don’t necessarily have to leave their suburban settings though they should change their focus. Similarly, making broad claims about generations is a difficult task. On the whole, a majority of Americans live in the suburbs (and they didn’t necessarily choose it – there was a whole lot of public policy that helped pushed them there) though there are rumblings that millennials and younger adults are interested in more urban spaces, whether they are in denser suburbs or cities.
Second, the argument makes some interesting claims about narcissism and what is really the good/virtuous life. The charge of narcissism among millennials and emerging adults in America today is a common one. There may be some truth to this. (However, I wonder if there is also some golden age mythologizing going on here – are those in the builder generations the paragons of virtue here?) But, is narcissism completely limited by geography? How are participating in the arts and pursuing social justice necessarily narcissistic activities? What qualifies as a non-narcissistic action? Critics of the suburbs have argued for decades that the suburbs are built to be all about the individual: suburbs promote private spaces to the neglect of public spaces, individualism over community life. Are these values, “Getting married and having children early, getting a job, saving and investing, being a good citizen, loving one’s neighbor, and the like, no longer qualify as virtuous,” necessarily Christian values? They may be general suburban or traditional American ideals but they don’t necessarily match up with Christian lives throughout the centuries or around the world.
Third, I think there is merit to the idea that suburbs can be home to Christians just as much as cities. However, this radical approach might be linked to cities because evangelicals do have a long history of anti-urban bias. This is due to multiple factors including thinking that cities are more evil, corrupting, and dangerous (this dates back to Christians like William Wilberforce in the late 1700s wanting to escape a changing London – see Robert Fishman’s Bourgeois, viewing cities as less friendly toward families (a primary conservative Christian focus), and a history of racialized actions and prejudice which is tied to white flight from the cities after World War II and residentially segregated suburbs today. Thus, the suburbs can often be a safe, comfortable space for evangelicals and people challenging this can make a pointed and needed contrast to cities. Christians could argue that the faithful need to be in both places without saying it is an either/or proposition and that living the easy life in a suburb or city is the way to go.
Fourth, there is a difference between feeling shamed and being confronted with helpful or unpleasant truths. I wonder if this is similar to the feelings of shame some white evangelicals express when confronted with the problem of race in the United States today. I don’t think authors like Platt or Chan are suggesting people should be shamed; they are more likely to suggest relatively well-off suburbanites acknowledge their blessings and advantages and then go to work in following and obeying God. It is not about feeling guilty but rather living a life that properly acknowledges and utilizes one’s relative privilege and status.
On the whole, this argument demonstrates how the categories, ideas, and values of American, suburban, and conservative/evangelical Christian can become intertwined. They are not easy to sort out and it is not as simple as suggesting cities are inherently good or evil or arguing the same about suburbs.
In Chicagoland, executive producers Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn team with Brick City filmmakers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin in an eight-part series about “a city generating change and innovation in social policy, education, and public safety – to meet national and local challenges.”
According to CNN’s release, Chicagoland will capture “the riveting, real-life drama of a city looking to unite at this critical moment in the city’s history. In the aftermath of a countrywide economic collapse, Chicago faces the challenges of improving its public education system, and neighborhood and youth safety. Can the city’s leaders, communities, and residents come together in ways that expand opportunities and allow aspirations to be realized?”
In a statement, Redford praised Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel: “The vibrant culture and opportunities inherent in this 21st century, world-class city run alongside profound daily challenges. Much of it falls on the shoulders of its tough, visionary mayor, his team and people doing heroic work in neighborhoods throughout the city. Chicago has always had a rhythm all its own. It’s a city that wears its heart on its sleeve and I am honored to be a part of telling this story.”
“Chicago is the quintessential American city and where it goes tells us a lot about where our country is going,” added series producer Levin.
Some quick thoughts:
1. Generally, the term “Chicagoland” is used to refer to the entire metropolitan region of over 9 million people, not just the city of Chicago. But, it sounds like the series is primarily about the city. It would be interesting if there was some focus on the region as a whole…
2. The last quote from the producer fits with a common image of Chicago: Chicago is a truly American city with the possible strengths and weaknesses that come as being part of the United States as well as being located more in the center of the country. Chicago has had this image for at least a century now and it sounds like the documentary will continue this idea.
3. I wonder how laudatory or critical the documentary will be. How much criticism or praise will local politicians receive? How much of the documentary will talk about positive aspects of the city/region versus the present challenges?
4. Connected to #3, will the documentary be more like the recent biting book review in the New York Times or sounds more like Chicago boosters?
The “vice president of policy at the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago and vice chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority” gives five reasons for why mass transit needs to be expanded in the Chicago area:
Why expand transit? Why now? Five reasons: increased efficiency, improved individual and regional economies, and jobs, jobs, jobs.
Cook County’s current transit system allows hundreds of thousands of residents to get to and from their destinations in a safe, efficient and affordable way every day. Unfortunately, four out of five of the region’s biggest job centers outside of downtown Chicago are underserved by transit. People traveling to work or school in these suburbs have no choice but to drive. The resulting traffic leads to wasted time and wasted money. Expanding and improving the region’s transit system will increase commuter choice, decrease congestion, connect businesses to transit locations and reduce the number of individuals without vehicles who are, in effect, excluded from the job pool.
But it can be more than that. Transit expansion, from my perspective — which includes decades of experience in transportation and community development issues, as well as service to the Chicago Transit Authority board — must be part of a wider strategy around transit-oriented development. That is, transit expansion should be accompanied by development that integrates residential, office, retail and other amenities into walkable neighborhoods within a half-mile of quality public transportation.
This type of development tends to be more economically resilient than others, as evidenced by the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s study for the American Public Transit Association and the National Association of Realtors. Between 2006 and 2011, the report found, average sales prices for residential properties within walking distance of a transit station outperformed the region by an average of 42 percent. In Chicago, home values in transit-served areas performed 30 percent better than the region. That’s real money for local tax bases, not to mention homeowners’ wallets.
Add to this a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution that makes a clear case for transportation infrastructure investment as an economic development strategy. It’s a popular, and smart, play these days. Other countries, both developing and developed, are doubling down on investments to build and upgrade their transportation infrastructure. They see it as the path to long-term sustainable growth. We need to see, and do, the same.
One big problem the Chicago area faces in this regard is the general orientation of transit toward Chicago. If you are out in the suburbs, transit lines tend to run into Chicago. This is good for accessing jobs and other amenities in Chicago but with more jobs and residents in the suburbs, it is quite difficult to travel by transit from suburb to suburb. If the population growth is in places like Aurora, Plainfield, McHenry County, and Kendall County, how are those residents to use mass transit to get to suburban job centers like Naperville, Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Northbrook, etc.? Local bus service tends to run between train stations and local amenities and despite several decades worth of experimentation, there is not high sustained levels of transit between suburbs. Some things could probably be done fairly quickly, like finding the substantial funding to implement the STAR Line that would connect Joliet to O’Hare through the western suburbs on the EJ&E tracks, but on the whole, this probably requires long-term money and planning.
The money question is just that: where is the money for this going to come from? Lots of people agree with investing in infrastructure, particularly for improving quality of life issues like traffic and congestion, but are they willing to pay for it or give up other priorities?
Those adjustments, if the Common Core vision is realized, could transform dual enrollment programs, placement tests, and remediation. They could force colleges within state systems, and even across states, to agree on what it means to be “college ready,” and to work alongside K-12 to help students who are unprepared for college before they graduate from high school. In the long run, it could force changes in credit-bearing courses too, to better align with what students are supposed to have mastered by high school graduation. While the effects will be most obvious at public institutions of higher education, private colleges, particularly those with broad access missions, will feel the effects as well.
Still, although a few states have seized the standards to develop “P-20″ systems — stretching from pre-kindergarten through graduate school — progress has been slow in many others. In 2010, as the standards were being developed, policy makers touted the effect they could have in bringing together K-12 and higher education. And they pointed out that the ultimate success of the standards, particularly beyond K-12, will depend on whether colleges are willing to change placement and remediation criteria and work together to determine what “readiness” really means.
In some cases, that’s coming to pass. Three years later, proponents for the standards are arguing that they have already changed the way K-12 and postsecondary education interact — at least by putting the leaders of each system in the same room together and forcing states to collaborate.
And there is a little bit of a disconnect between what high school teachers say they are doing and what college educators perceive:
ACT’s most recent survey, released last week, looked at the gap between high school and college expectations for students. It found that only 26 percent of college faculty thought that students entered their classrooms prepared for college-level work. High school teachers gave themselves much higher marks. Nearly all — 89 percent — said they had prepared their students well for college.
There is going to be a lot more discussion about this in the years ahead.
The novel The Great Gatsby is an American classic but here is an argument that a number of people have misinterpreted the point:
Gatsby parties are common, but this one stands out for its extravagance—the expected outlay was $20,000—and the particular irony of its locale. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby after dropping out of Princeton, once called the school “the pleasantest country club in America,” which is one of those great insults that sounds like a compliment to those being held out for criticism.
So it is with Gatsby parties, as well. It spoils neither the book nor the new film adaptation, which opens in US theaters on May 10, to say The Great Gatsby is a critique of the American dream. It peels back a gilded veneer of success to reveal the hollow, rotting underbelly of class and capital in the early 1920s. Jay Gatsby’s weekend-long parties are lavish indictments of the whole, hard-charging scene that propelled him to sudden, extraordinary, unscrupulous wealth—”a new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about,” as Fitzgerald writes toward the end.
Yet so many people seem enchanted enough by the decadence described in Fitzgerald’s book to ignore its fairly obvious message of condemnation. Gatsby parties can be found all over town. They are staples of spring on many Ivy League campuses and a frequent theme of galas in Manhattan. Just the other day, vacation rental startup Airbnb sent out invitations to a “Gatsby-inspired soiree” at a multi-million-dollar home on Long Island, seemingly oblivious to the novel’s undertones.
It’s like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party.
Perhaps all of this suggests Americans haven’t changed all that much since the 1920s: many still desire to move up and have the ability to spend money in lavish ways. This argument makes me think of Veblen’s concept of “conspicuous consumption,” the behavior of spending money in such a way to show others that you can afford to waste that money. Isn’t that what the Gatsby parties are about? Having a good time doesn’t necessarily require much beyond the people involved but having a lavish and memorable experience, particularly one that is noticed by others, requires more resources.
Public-private partnerships for infrastructure (often called PPPs or P3s) have been on the rise in recent years, and many experts believe the trend has yet to peak. If the activity of the past several weeks is any indication, they may be right. A billion-dollar PPP for the East End Crossing, in Indiana, was announced in late March. News of a $1.5 billion PPP overhaul of the Goethals Bridge, in New York City, came in April. The Pennsylvania D.O.T. placed an open call to private firms for PPP projects just last week.
PPPs provide a valuable public service while shifting the financial risk to private wallets. Advocates also mention efficiency: private developers, driven by an urgent push for profits, can keep costs lowers and complete work faster than the public sector. Supporters believe that in exchange for this revenue share they provide the public with the broader economic advantages of improved metro area mobility. Besides, states just don’t have the money right now to do these projects on their own…
The first “major” public-private road partnership of this new era was the E-470 tollway in Denver in 1989, says William Reinhardt, editor of Public Works Finance. That $323 million project, organized by a highway authority distinct from the state DOT, didn’t rely on public funding. In doing so it sent the country down a new road for new roads.
Since then the growth of private partnerships has been steady if not overwhelming. Twenty-four states plus Washington, D.C., have engaged in 96 public-private road partnerships worth about $54.3 billion. In 2011, PPPs accounted for roughly 11 percent of capital investment in highways, according to Reinhardt, and that’s with about 20 state legislatures yet to permit these types of deals. In a brief history of PPPs for a road builders association in 2011 [PDF], Reinhardt concluded that PPPs “will likely be the primary model for building new highway capacity in heavily congested urban areas in the decades ahead” — particularly for mega projects valued in the billions…
Still, as an urban scholar, Sclar is more frustrated that public-private partnerships tend to interfere with comprehensive approaches to city planning. He uses the example of State Highway 130 near Austin, Texas, a public-private toll road that made traffic worse because truckers chose to take the free I-35 through the city rather than pay the toll. The point is that seeing roads as individual profitable projects distracts from their role as part of the greater public network — capable of influencing everything from transport equity to urban density to environmental sustainability.
As I read through this overview, I’m struck by one thing: the biggest issue seems to be the lack of money available to governments to build roads. If they had such money, they likely wouldn’t choose privatization. But, in an era of growing infrastructure costs, privatization offers some up-front cash and moves the costs off the books for a while. This seems to be a matter of convenience rather than the preferred option for most governments.
Additionally, I don’t see much here about whether this helps or harms drivers. Again, governments are worried about their bottom lines and these certainly impact constituents and taxpayers. Roads aren’t really free. But, private firms want to make more money than perhaps governments might try to generate through roads. Do consumers come out ahead financially or in their experiences on these private roads?
The 2012 community survey was Naperville’s first in four years, netting 1,581 responses that will be used to create a strategic plan this summer…
The survey found 91 percent of respondents were satisfied with the overall quality of life in Naperville. Looking at city services, 92 percent were satisfied with fire and emergency medical services, 85 percent gave good marks to garbage and recycling services and 84 percent were satisfied with police services. Overall city service satisfaction levels were consistent no matter which part of town the resident lived in…
Traffic flow fared the worst with only 40 percent of residents saying they are satisfied, which is a 10 percent increase from the previous survey…
Compared to the rest of the country the city scored at or above the national average in 36 of 44 areas like overall quality of city services, city streets, sidewalks and infrastructure and overall image of the community. Residents’ satisfaction with overall quality of city services rated 32 percent above national average.
The city scored below the national average in eight areas including traffic flow, public transportation and household hazardous waste disposal service.
The national comparisons are pretty interesting here. The article goes on to suggest this is due, at least in part, to effective planning and responses from the city. This is likely true to some degree; Naperville sees itself as a leader for providing efficient and effective local services. On the other hand, I wonder how much of this is due to the relative wealth of Naperville. Considering its size, Naperville is unusually wealthy with plenty of good jobs which can then lead to good schools and more money for quality of life concerns like parks, libraries, parks, and lots of retailers.
The traffic issue is a tough one to solve in Naperville. Of course, much of the suburb is made up of auto-dependent neighborhoods. Couple this with Naperville’s wealth of jobs and attractive downtown and there is plenty of driving around. The city has three highways on its edges, I-88 on the north, I-355 on the east, and I-55 on the south, but the local main streets are quite clogged. This is an issue particularly going north-south as Route 59, Washington Street, and Naper Boulevard are quite crowded. Mass transit is available to Chicago, and Naperville has two of the busiest stops in the entire Metra commuter system, but transit is limited within the city outside of some shuttles to and from the train stations. I think the real question is whether the traffic in Naperville is bad enough for residents and business to not locate or stay in the community. If a number of the other indicators are so high, I would think not but bad traffic, particularly in auto-dependent places like big suburbs, can be quite irritating.