Punxsutawney Phil is worse than a coin flip in predicting the weather

How well does Punxsutawney Phil predict the duration of winter? Not so well according to one source:

Photo by Oleg Mikhailenko on Pexels.com

Phil’s track record is not perfect. “On average, Phil has gotten it right 40% of the time over the past 10 years,” according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages “one of the largest archives of atmospheric, coastal, geophysical, and oceanic research in the world.”

The three-month temperature outlook for February through April 2023 calls for above normal temperatures across the eastern and southern US and below normal temperatures for the northwestern US, according to the Climate Prediction Center…

Despite his mixed record when it comes to actually forecasting the weather, there’s no doubt Phil’s fans still hold him in high regard.

After all, his full title is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.

In other words, Phil is worse than a coin flip in predicting the coming weather. This is not good; any expert would hopefully be better than that.

However, there is some evidence that many expert predictions about the future are not great. How well can people predict the future performance of the stock market or natural disasters or geopolitical change? Not so well. And it is not just that it is difficult to predict the future; we think we can predict the future so it can be even more damaging when projections are wrong.

I suspect very few people care if Punxsutawney Phil is right or wrong. They like the tradition, the ritual, a festive gathering in the middle of winter. Still, Phil offers a window into our own abilities and confidence about knowing the future…and it is a cloudy window at best.

Max Weber, American capitalism, and betting on weather

In having a class recently read several chapters of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, I was struck by one of the conclusions:

In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.

According to Weber, by the early 1900s the practice of capitalism in the United States was taking on “the character of sport.”

How much more might this be true today? I then read a story about betting on the weather is taking off:

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on Pexels.com

Weather betting emerged and gained popularity during the pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit and sports shut down in March, most people will remember the NCAA tournament was canceled and within a day virtually everything shut down. There was nothing to bet on. The sports world naturally shut down and sports books were looking for something to attract customers. One of the popular things that emerged was betting on Russian table tennis and another was betting on the weather,” says Holden…

“There will be a proposition like, ‘Will there be rain on this day?’ and then individuals can select yes or no. Much like in over under betting for sports, the bookmaker sets a line where the total points can either go over or under and the better selects which will occur.”

Betting laws are strict in the U.S. and at the moment, weather betting is not regulated. However, it is allowed in places like Canada where sportsbooks are taking bets on the weather.

Some might say that betting on the weather is just another opportunity for gamblers to try to make money and for those in the gambling industry to make money. Following the quote from Weber above, perhaps it is just another outworking of capitalism in the United States. Why not make it like a sport? Why not try to generate money off the weather?

McMansions and SUVs arose together; SUVs won

When I set out to study McMansions, I found regular reference to McMansions alongside SUVs. In the time period I examined, the New York Times put these two phenomena together 33 times. Both the homes and vehicles emerged in a similar time period, the end of the twentieth century, and embodied a consumption economy with a bigger is better mentality.

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Looking from the vantage point of 2023, SUVs far exceeded McMansions. Even accounting for the differences in price and resources needed, can we declare the SUV the more successful cousin? This particular statistic helped me come to this conclusion:

Today 4 in 5 new American cars are SUVs or trucks, up from less than 1 in 2 in 2000.

That adds up to a lot of SUVs in a country that prioritizes driving.

The best counter-argument I can imagine would go like this: do bigger vehicles and more driving enable McMansions or does a love of single-family homes fuel driving SUVs? Americans like big houses and this encouraged more big vehicles to travel to and from these hours.

However, the sheer number of SUVs is hard to overcome. Millions upon millions. How many McMansions are there? Plenty, but they are clustered in particular places. The SUVs are everywhere and not fading anytime soon.

A suburban hospital creating a medical and commercial district

Northwestern Medicine is developing and opening multiple properties around its hospital in the small suburb of Winfield, Illinois:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The once-blighted corner now boasts a $38.8 million medical office building designed to anchor the redevelopment of Winfield’s Town Center…

The health system also has built a parking garage and amenities in Riverwalk Park since forming an agreement with the village to inject new life into Winfield’s small-town downtown. Northwestern has set aside commercial and restaurant space on the ground floor of both the parking deck and the medical office building…

Winfield Station, a five-story apartment complex, is almost fully leased, Sorgatz said.

The site that once housed John’s Tavern is available for development directly west of the medical office building. The restaurant owner closed the business in 2017 after deciding to retire. Northwestern purchased the property.

The hospital and the town have not always seen eye to eye.

This story highlights the potential for a hospital to drive redevelopment. The hospital has money, nearby property is available. The new projects can theoretically benefit everyone: the hospital needs space, the village has property that would benefit from new buildings, the municipality can get more tax revenues, community members could hold jobs.

Bigger question: should hospitals drive development and redevelopment? There is a lot of money in health care, they provide employment, and they are often a long-term presence. Numerous communities in the United States have long-standing facilities that drive activity and local status. How many communities, cities, suburbs, or more small towns can happily connect in public-private partnerships involving hospitals?

Are there wealthy American residents in favor of denser housing near their home?

If basketball stars and billionaires are opposed to denser housing near them in Atherton, California, where are there wealthy residents of the United States willing to have denser housing near them?

Photo by jd garrett on Pexels.com

Atherton is a small suburb – under 7,000 residents – with a median household income of over $250,000. In question is a California effort to increase affordable housing.

Are there any or many communities in the United States where the wealthy do not pursue NIMBY policies?

Could it be different in places where wealthier residents can escape by living high up in the air? I am thinking of residences like the pencil skyscrapers just south of Central Park or the new condos south of downtown LA.

Or, could it be different in places that are more rural? According to Wikipedia, Atherton “has very restrictive zoning, only permitting one single-family home per acre and no sidewalks. This policy that prohibits homes from being on less than an acre.” But, imagine a place with even bigger lots and more room. Would denser housing in part of the community be perceived as less problematic by neighbors?

I am open to hearing about wealthy communities where affordable housing is desired and pursued.

Monterey Park, California: the first American community with over 50% residents with Asian ancestry

Scholars who study ethnoburbs note the importance of Monterey Park, California. Here is one reason why:

Monterey Park, about seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles, has a population of about 60,000 people, about 65 percent of whom are Asian American and 27 percent are Hispanic or Latino, according to government data. In the 1990s, it claimed to have become the first city in the continental United States to have a majority of residents with Asian ancestry.

More communities near Monterey Park have joined this group and there are additional communities throughout the United States that are majority-minority suburbs. As the suburbs continue to become more diverse, more communities will become ethnoburbs though which racial and ethnic groups are present can differ.

Median age of housing by state and county

Using Census data, HouseMethod looked at the median age of homes across different geographies in the United States:

Age may just be a number, but when it comes to the age of a home, it can be an indicator of its style, features, or condition. It can even help tell a story about where it’s located. Home construction, especially in modern building, comes in waves in areas with new developments springing up as a city grows…

New York came in as the state with the oldest median home age in the U.S. at 63 years. Rhode Island was a few years younger at 60, followed closely by Massachusetts (59), Pennsylvania (57), and Connecticut (55). No surprise that the five states with the oldest median home age are all located in the northeast as they had some of the largest growth in early America. 

At the other end of the spectrum, the five states with the youngest median home age are Nevada (26), Arizona (30), Utah (31), Georgia (31), and North Carolina and South Carolina tied at 32 years old. Nevada has been the fastest-growing state for roughly five decades so it follows that the homes would be the newest. Likewise, the other ‘youngest’ states have seen large population increases and the housing being built to satisfy the demand…

The county with the oldest median home age in the U.S. is Clay County, Kansas. The county’s median year of structure build is 1941, bringing the county’s median home age to 79 years. The Sunshine State of Florida holds the ‘youngest’ county in the country, with Sumter County, Florida having a median home age of 17 years.

The median is helpful here: half of the homes were constructed before, half after. I do not know if the Census reports this data but it would also be interesting to know the 25th and 75th percentiles or other points along the data distribution. Are there also places that have more compressed or longer ranges of development?

Is it surprising that there a good number of older county medians in the center of country, roughly running from Texas to the Dakotas?

This reminds me of Dolores Hayden’s book Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. She details waves of suburban development, dependent on factors like transportation technologies and ideas about what suburbs should be and include.

What happens to the housing in the locations with older housing overall? What percent ends up fixed up and restored or designated as part of a historic district? In contrast, what percent is undesirable and not brought into a more modern era?

Starter home prices up, luxury home prices down

Here is some data on prices on different ends of the housing market:

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

Indeed, a Realtor.com report found that while starter homes — which it defines as all two-bedroom listings — seem unaffected by the current correction in the housing market, luxury homes have been feeling the full effects…

The price trajectory for luxury homes — which Realtor.com defines as the most expensive 10% of homes in any given market — however, went the opposite way.

Their prices “skyrocketed as the stock market surged and buyers sought more living space” during the pandemic: in the middle of 2021, there was a  40% year-over-year price increase for luxury homes but by the end of the year, the luxury market receded as recession fears increased. And in 2022, luxury homes have seen modest-to-stagnant price growth, around 2.5%, ending the year close to flat…

“If you think of luxury home purchases as discretionary, starter home purchases are almost the opposite,” Hale said in the report. “It’s more about timing and strategy.”

If starter homes are now more expensive due to demand and limited supply, does that make them more attractive to communities and developers to consider approving and building? One concern some communities have is that cheaper homes might devalue other homes in the community and/or bring different residents to a community. When they envision more affordable housing, they may have particular sets of people in mind.

This also reminds me of an earlier post about the number of larger homes that older Americans might bequeath to younger adults. Could an older McMansion be the starter home of the future?

How might a prediction of a crash in housing prices in specific cities affect behavior?

Goldman Sachs is predicting a big drop in housing values in four American cities:

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

In a note to clients earlier this month, Goldman Sachs forecasted that four American cities in particular should gear up for a seismic decline compared to that of the 2008 housing crash.

San Jose, California; Austin, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and San Diego, California will likely see boom and bust declines of more than 25%.

Such declines would rival those seen around 15 years ago during the Great Recession. Home prices across the United States fell around 27%, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index…

In 2023, the investment bank expects home prices to barely fall in cities like New York (-0.3%) and Chicago (-1.8%) while predicting higher prices in Baltimore (+0.5%) and Miami (+0.8%).

It make sense that a company interested in investments and finance would want to make such a prediction. Will it change people’s behavior? A few ways this might matter:

-Local homeowners try to sell now before the big decline or prepare to stay put longer so they can see an increase in values. Either way, the supply of homes for sale is affected.

-Builders and developers reduce their construction and plans. They wait to see how long such a decline lasts. They hope to weather this and have higher profit margins later.

-Local governments steel for the impacts to tax revenues and population growth.

-People who might consider moving to or investing in the area reconsider. Would lower housing values make the area more attractive? (This might conflict with fewer homes for sale.)

Does such a prediction become a self-fulfilling prophecy to some degree as people wait for the drop in home prices?

Add purple trim to cement a home’s McMansion status

How much does adding purple trim contribute to making a large home a McMansion? Residents in Auckland, New Zealand weigh in:

The house, which is still under construction, is now sporting a bright purple trim right around the multiple eaves, and from what we understand, the owner (who also owns the neighbouring section) is perfectly entitled to do this…

But not everyone is opposed to the colour. “Brings diversity and a spot of colour to the neighbourhood,” one wrote, while another suggested the owners must be Melbourne Storm rugby league supporters.

Negative comments about the design and colour (“Barbie McMansion”) are also slammed by other residents, who think homeowners should be free to do their own thing: “It’s not my cup of tea, but each to their own. They own the land and they build to their specifications, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”…

“Those colours should be illegal,” writes another local. “With all the compliance you need to go through to build anything I can’t believe this got through council. Go them if they like the colours and can navigate their way through the criteria.”

The discussion, as described here, seems to involve the property rights of the owners and whether such color and design are in good taste. There do not appear to be restrictions on the color. This would be true in many places in the United States that are not governed by homeowners associations or preservation guidelines. At the same time, official guidelines on colors are different than what people expect to see on homes. Purple is not a color that would be viewed favorably in many American neighborhoods. While it could fit in some locations where the color palette is different for exterior parts of houses, it would be viewed as inappropriate in many settings.

Mix these two discussion points regarding McMansions, homes that often involve property rights – can people build a giant house wherever they want or right next to homes of different sizes? – and aesthetic judgments – are McMansions out of proportion, built poorly, and badly designed? – and the simple choice of a trim color mixes with numerous emotions. It is hard to be neutral with such a negative term for a house.

In the long run, could the purple-trimmed McMansion end up becoming a kind of local oddity? Some might not want to live near such a home but others might find it interesting to view when out for a drive or as part of a varied local landscape.