Address crime and violence in cities by “addressing extreme segregation by race, ethnicity, and income”

Sociologist Patrick Sharkey suggests taking a long view of crime and violence in American cities:

Photo by Sasha Prasastika on Pexels.com

To answer this question requires thinking less in terms of months and years, and more in terms of decades. It requires thinking less about specific neighborhoods and cities where violence is common, and more about larger metropolitan areas where inequality is extreme and the affluent live separated from the poor. And it requires thinking less about individual criminals and victims, and more about bigger social forces, including demographic shifts, changes in urban labor markets, and social policies implemented by states and the federal government. All told, nearly six decades of data on violence in Chicago’s neighborhoods point to an unmistakable conclusion: Producing a sustained reduction in violence may not be possible without addressing extreme, persistent segregation by race, ethnicity, and income…

But we must also expand outward in time and space, and consider why American neighborhoods are vulnerable to violence. Zooming out can help reveal the truth about violence in our cities: This is a whole-society problem, not one isolated in the neighborhoods where it roars. Addressing it requires our whole society’s concern, investment, and attention, and that attention must be sustained well beyond the periods when gun violence is surging.

This is a good example of a sociological approach. Look at deeper, underlying issues. Consider patterns and relationships across contexts and time. Analyze evidence across decades. Think about institutions, structures, and networks at multiple levels (neighborhood, city, nation). Examine multiple causal factors and how they interact with each other.

Whether such a perspective is welcomed or utilized is another story. For many social issues in the United States, it is easier for the public to look for the one factor that many believe will address the concern. Or, it can be difficult to wrestle with longer histories and patterns that involve many. Some might ask if this is just academics making something more complex than it needs to be or they might want proof that a sociological perspective is helpful.

I hope to explain something similar when teaching sociology, whether in Introduction to Sociology to Statistics to Urban Sociology. As Americans consider society, what does a sociological approach look like and bring to the table? At the least, it can help broaden perspectives beyond individualistic mindsets or ones that only highlight a few individual and social forces. At its best, it can be a lens that sheds light on how a large-scale society actually operates with institutions, structures, networks, and relationships shaping contexts and lives.

Casinos in the Chicago suburbs did little to improve downtowns

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board suggests casinos that opened several decades ago in multiple suburban downtowns did not help revive the areas:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Remarkably, Aurora was on board, with city officials calling the new plan “one of the most significant developments in the history of Aurora,” which is exactly what they said when the riverboats came to downtown and were compared by the then-mayor to the coming of the railroads. Penn Entertainment also announced a similar plan for the casino in downtown Joliet, which it also owns.

Better, it said, for the casinos to be near the expressway for easier access. But what about the promises made to downtown Aurora and Joliet?…

Illinois casinos, it seems, have become like NFL franchises, supremely skilled at lobbying and dangling the promise of revenue to cash-strapped cities but on their own ever-changing terms.

Was the Hollywood Casino good for downtown Aurora? It’s debatable. The charming riverwalk got finished and area landscaping improved. The Paramount Theatre came back to life, but on its own merits. And on a recent Sunday night, those new restaurants in downtown Aurora were either closed or mostly empty. The action, it felt, had shifted elsewhere.

Numerous suburban downtowns have struggled for decades as activity moved outward to new neighborhoods and communities plus shopping malls and strip malls. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself, like a casino, many communities would be interested. A new attraction or business or development could help attract visitors, residents, and firms while bringing in new revenues.

Except building thriving downtowns in the suburbs is complicated. The suburban communities highlighted in this editorial are unique industrial suburbs outside of Chicago. Firms and jobs left. Suburban sprawl continued. The riverfront is still there. Other suburban downtowns thrived like Naperville or Arlington Heights, both of which are different kinds of suburbs.

While this is a tale about specific developments, it sounds like a generic development pattern: developer and/or company comes in with grand plans, community agrees to help make it happen, the developed property enriches the property owners, and if another location emerges where more money can be made, the development might move.

As the casino moves from downtown Aurora, what plans does the large suburb have to grow its downtown? What is the new attraction or set of steps to keep the downtown going?

The steps to moving a house

Need to move a house? Here is one description of the process:

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

First, engineers must assess if the house is structurally sound to move. Once that’s determined, Mr. Davis said, “then physically we come in and typically excavate around the house and clean the perimeter of the house.”

Following the excavation, the next step is to “jackhammer or cut holes in the foundation and slip a grid of steel under the house,” he added. “I have to design the length and weight of the steel to hold the structure without failure. I need to work out weight of structure before I start to position the jacking and lifting points and give my best estimation of what’s necessary to hold the house safely when it’s under my control.”

If the home isn’t undergoing renovations, it can be lifted or moved with household goods, including furniture in place, because that weight is a small fraction of the total weight, which can be many tons. (The furniture does not have to be secured, Mr. Davis said, but he does suggest taking pictures and mirrors down, along with other fragile items.)…

The home must also be disconnected from utilities before the relocation has begun; gas and sewer lines must be cut and capped as well. Once it’s in its new position, they are reconnected.

I have wondered how many houses have been moved in such a way as it would be very difficult to tell after the fact if a home had been moved to the spot.

Many people who have moved might love to hear that this method does not require moving household goods. You can just move your house instead! But, I imagine the cost plus the process – needing to find land, obtaining permits, etc. – make this an unrealistic way to avoid packing.

If the cost of house moving could be reduced, it would be interesting to consider mixing more houses in different locations. In the United States, many residential neighborhoods contain homes roughly constructed at the same time. But, if houses could be more easily moved, there could be more styles and sizes interspersed through residential areas.

That time I almost had to ride my bike forcefully through a flock of wild turkeys

For a season in college, I rode regularly on the Prairie Path through a more rural area. One day, I made my way down the quiet path at a fairly rapid pace. Up ahead, I spotted something obstructing the roughly six foot wide path. I could not make out what it was.

As I got closer, I could see the obstruction was moving. It was not one obstruction; it was a group of something. I had occasionally seen wildlife along the edges of the path. I had seen plenty of people. Do all the dogs walked along the path count? This was something different.

Photo by Vlad Ioan on Pexels.com

It was a flock of turkeys and they were blocking the path. Would they move? They did not seem to take much notice of my approach. Could I ride through?

I do not recall exactly what happened next. I slowed down a bit. I may have made some noise. The turkeys moved a little. Just enough so that I could ride through at a few miles per hour. They look at me, I looked at them. And then I was back on a quiet path with a few more miles to go before reaching my destination.

Even though I have ridden that part of the Prairie Path dozens of times, I have only encountered a group of turkeys once. And we both lived to tell the tale.

Turning a busy road into a “smart corridor”

The Illinois Department of Transportation has plans to create two new “smart corridors” along major suburban roads:

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

The improvements include: traffic signal upgrades to modernize the corridors, synchronizing signals, dynamic message signs in strategic spots, and accommodations for pedestrians, officials said.

The Route 64 revamp stretches between Smith/Kautz Road and Route 50 (Cicero Avenue); the Route 56 redo runs from Route 59 to York Street.

For walkers and transit users, upgrades to sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian signals are coming, plus new, strategically located bus stops that expedite traffic flow.

“The long-range idea is to get those corridors working as efficiently as possible and to help support transit and buses,” IDOT District 1 Program Development Engineer John Baszek said.

These are busy roads – tens of thousands of vehicles each day – with high rates of speed. The project seems to have two goals: (1) improve traffic flow and (2) facilitate use beyond cars and trucks. Can both be done at the same time?

Not only have I driven these roads, I have biked along both roads. There is a lot that would have to be done to make this feel like a safe and pleasant experience for bicyclists and pedestrians. Having more cars flowing more efficiently does not seem like it necessarily fits with this.

As a driver, synchronized lights seem to make a lot of sense. On some of the regular routes I drive, I am pretty sure the lights are intentionally not in my favor; i.e., I turn left at the green arrow from one major road to the next and am immediately met with a red light. Keeping traffic flowing would seem to be good for congestion and the environment (through avoiding idling and stopping and starting).

The difficulty in getting a number on how many housing units needed in the United States

One journalist set out to find out how many housing units the United States needs. The answer was complicated:

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Pexels.com
  • Looking at the number of American households and the number of vacant housing units, Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored purchaser of mortgage-backed securities, estimates a current supply shortage of 3.8 million units, driven by a 40-year collapse in the construction of homes smaller than 1,400 square feet.
  • The group Up for Growth also arrived at an estimate of 3.8 million, using data on the total demand for housing and the overall supply of habitable, available units.
  • The National Association of Realtors compared the issuance of housing permits with the number of jobs created in 174 different metro areas. It found that only 38 metro regions are permitting enough new homes to keep up with job growth; in more than a dozen areas, including New York, the Bay Area, Boston, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Miami, and Chicago, just one new home is getting built for every 20-plus jobs created. The NAR estimates an “underbuilding gap” of as many as 7 million units.

These numbers draw on data such as vacancy rates, household-formation trends, and building trends. But none of the estimates capture what I’ve come to think of as the affordability gap: the difference between the housing we have and the housing we would need in order to ensure that working-class people could once again live in our big coastal cities for a reasonable cost. Freddie Mac does not purport that building 3.8 million units would make New York accessible to big middle-class families and end homelessess in San Francisco. The National Association of Realtors is not contemplating whether janitors can walk to work in Boston…

To come up with that estimate, the two economists built a complicated model that assumed Americans could move wherever their wages allowed and the housing supply would adjust as it would in a place with typical permitting standards. In such a world, they estimated in some associated work, 53 percent of Americans would not live where they are currently living. San Francisco would have an employed population 510 percent bigger than it does today—implying an overall population of something like 4 million, rather than 815,000, with 2 million housing units instead of 400,000. The Bay Area as a whole would be five times its current size, the economists estimated. The average city would lose 80 percent of its population. And New York would be a startling eight times bigger. Some back-of-the-envelope math (mine, not theirs) suggests that the United States would have—deep breath here—perhaps 75 million more housing units in its productive cities than it currently has.

Considering such big numbers can be both helpful and daunting. The sheer size of these figures – multiple millions to tens of millions – highlights the scope of the problem. Housing is not a small issue; it is a large issue that needs addressing. Big numbers can help convince people this is an important social issue to address. On the other hand, these figures are daunting. That is a lot of housing units to consider. How can small efforts contribute to such a big need? Who can address this?

Even if the various methods and experts above do not agree on the same numbers, together they suggest much needs to be done. Can we get a commitment from states or cities to approve more units proportionate to their populations? I could imagine some kind of pledge drive and counting system to see the progress toward a sizable goal. Or, how about a long-term plan on the scale of a Manhattan Project or a space race to get units built? Of course, addressing housing at the federal level is difficult.

Does predicting bad Thanksgiving traffic and airport congestion change people’s behavior?

Each year, INRIX releases a report regarding Thanksgiving congestion. Here are predictions for the Chicago area:

Photo by Miguel Barrera on Pexels.com

Along with Chicago, highways in Atlanta, New York City and Los Angeles will be the busiest, according to data analytics firm INRIX. To avoid the worst congestion, INRIX recommends traveling early Wednesday, or before 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day…

The report predicts almost double the typical traffic along a westbound stretch of Interstate 290 from Chicago’s Near West Side to suburban Hillside, peaking between 3 and 5 p.m. Wednesday. Significant additional congestion is expected Wednesday along the same stretch of eastbound I-290, with an anticipated 84% spike in traffic…

The outlook isn’t much brighter for travelers flying out of the city. Chicago-based United Airlines expects O’Hare to be its busiest airport, with more than 650,000 customers anticipated for the holiday. It reports Sunday, Nov. 27, will be its busiest travel day since before the pandemic, with 460,000 travelers taking to the skies. Nationwide, the airline awaits more than 5.5 million travelers during the Thanksgiving travel period, up 12% from last year and nearly twice as many as in a typical November week…

“Regardless of the transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination,” Twidale said. Travelers with flexible schedules should consider off-peak travel times to avoid the biggest rush.

The last paragraph quoted above might be key: given the predicted congestion, will people choose different times and days to travel? And, if enough people do this, will the model be wrong?

Transportation systems can only handle so many travelers. Highways attempt to accommodate rush hour peaks. Airports try to handle the busier days. Yet, the systems can become overwhelmed in unusual circumstances. Accidents. Pandemics. Holiday weekends where lots of people want to go certain places.

If enough people hear of this predicted model, will they change their plans? They may or may not be able to, given work hours, school hours, family plans, pricing, and more. These are the busiest times because they are convenient for a lot of people. If all or most workplaces and schools closed for the whole week, then road and air traffic might be distributed differently.

I would be interested in hearing how many people need to change their behavior to change these models. If more people decide they will leave earlier or later Wednesday, does that mean the bad traffic is spread out all day Wednesday or the predicted doomsday traffic does not happen? How many fliers need to change their flights to Saturday or Monday to make a difference?

If people do change their behavior, perhaps this report is really more of a public service announcement.

Divided fan loyalties: QB1 is on my team, my opponent’s team, and my home team

In recent weeks, I have run into a situation unique to Chicago Bears fans: do I always cheer for our quarterback who is scoring points at a prodigious rate? Here is where loyalties can be divided:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  1. In one fantasy football league, I drafted Justin Fields at the beginning of Round 5. This put him after all of the established quarterbacks and somewhere in the middle with a number of other unproven players. (Trevor Lawrence went next, I drafted Tua Tagovailoa at the beginning of Round 7, etc.)
  2. In other fantasy leagues, I have now played Justin Fields as the opposing QB in multiple weeks. He is scoring a lot of points recently – but now against me.
  3. As a fan of the Chicago Bears, I almost never draft Bears players because for decades the Bears have not scored consistently. Even with an exciting young quarterback, the Bears are still not winning. Should they lose more for a higher draft pick? Should they do more for their young QB?

Fantasy sports and gambling has introduced this conundrum for years: do I enjoy watching sports or do I reduce my teams and the players to individual components that I can profit from?

If I had to decide, I go with my lifelong fandom with the Chicago Bears. I want them to do well. Even as I have played fantasy football for almost two decades and Madden football for three decades, I enjoy being a sports fan, even of an unsuccessful team.

It is less clear whether others sports fans agree with this. It is much easier to follow particular players or certain teams as they become famous and successful. Why stick with the Bears when you can enjoy the play and exploits of others? Why not turn it into a matter of my own success?

Perhaps sports fandom will look very different in the coming decades. Sports will continue and I suspect the push toward individualizing the fan experience, particularly prioritizing those teams and players who are successful, will as well.

Do not dream of McMansions; picture really large houses and properties

Architectural Digest features images of 12 “extra-large properties.” Here is the introduction:

Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

There are few fantasies more persuasive or alluring than that of the expansive estate. When you think of big houses, your mind may immediately jump to the McMansions of yore, those garish homes you’d expect to see on an episode of MTV Cribs. The ones we can’t stop daydreaming about more closely resemble graceful, though still boldly luxurious, homes like the central property of Downton Abbey or the setting of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies before the horror film took a dark turn. Below we highlight 12 properties featured in AD that contain enviable amenities, from indoor tennis courts and home spas to guest houses and verdant gardens. 

Three features of this that struck me:

  1. Dreaming of McMansions exhibits poor taste. Dream bigger, more refined. Do not settle for the garish cookie-cutter version of a big house.
  2. The scale of these homes goes beyond the McMansion in numerous key ways. They are often far beyond the 3,000-5,000 square feet of a suburban McMansion. Some have much more square footage, others have numerous buildings. The properties are often much larger than the typical city or suburban lot. And the amenities are more plentiful and higher-end. Think special pools, gardens, and gathering spaces.
  3. The McMansion is much more attainable for people than the extra-large property. Does the McMansion offer enough of a taste of the high-end property?

“Suburbs are now the most diverse areas in America”

Increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the suburbs can lead to tension:

Photo by Daniel Ellis on Pexels.com

For a long time, the phrase suburban voter has been code for white voter. But suburbs are now among the most diverse spaces in American life, and tension is growing over who belongs in suburbia as NPR’s Sandhya Dirks reports.

The primary arena for conflict in this report involves politics:

DIRKS: Last year, white parents and some white folks who weren’t parents screamed at local school board meetings over teaching kids about racism or having diversity and inclusion programs. Most of the places where those fights flared were suburbs, and they were suburbs that are changing, suburbs that have grown more diverse. In some cases, like in Gwinnett County, they are also suburbs where Black people have started to get elected to local seats, like school boards.

KERNODLE: The difference between now and then is that we have power too.

DIRKS: Because as suburbs change, so does the power of the suburban vote.

This tension extends to numerous other areas including neighborhoods, housing, jobs, and schooling.

More broadly, this part of the process of “complex suburbia” where suburbs are changing. Some communities are changing faster than others, with these rates likely tied to social factors and patterns of resources and influence.