Collective efficacy and the number of sidewalks cleared of snow, Part Three

Given the issues of clearing snow on sidewalks, why not conduct a multi-site investigation of snow clearance and collective efficacy? I could imagine two different kinds of research proposals:

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-A lot of researchers across the United States commit to walking their neighborhoods for a week after major snow storms in the United States to see if the sidewalks are clear. They do a visual check and take some pictures to document conditions. This is all uploaded to a single site where patterns can be compared, mapped, and discussed.

-Scholars use more indirect observation, whether it is from Google Street View images of places after a snowstorm or camera feeds that are publicly available or even observations from above. Again, they could compare across locations and write up results.

With this data, researchers could look at how different characteristics of neighborhoods affect snow removal including all sorts of demographic data available through the Census, housing type and stock, and local regulations regarding snow removal.

But, perhaps what is most interesting is this question of whether snow removal on sidewalks indicates something about the collective efficacy of neighborhoods and communities. Do people help others clear sidewalks? I think of the example in Chicago of the dibs system where individuals clear out street spaces and then claim them. This system is touted as one where residents overcome the weather odds – and their neighbors – to secure their own parking. This is not a story of communities coming together to help each other. Or, I think of some of the unshoveled sidewalks I have observed around schools in my community. If property owners will not clear snow for kids, when would they?

Across three posts, this is the question that could be answers: what are the kinds of communities that collectively come together to clear snow from the sidewalks?

Collective efficacy and the number of sidewalks cleared of snow, Part Two

Continuing to think of sidewalks cleared of snow (or not), why are sidewalks often viewed as the responsibility of a property owner? Are sidewalks a collective phenomena that benefit all or are there they parts of private property that individual property owners are responsible for? The latter response makes it easier to blame individual property owners for not clearing the snow. But, it is hard to imagine walking only the sidewalk in front of one property; the sidewalks connect to many other sidewalks.

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Several factors contribute to less interest in a collective responsibility for sidewalks:

  1. Laws and regulations can differ by municipality regarding sidewalks. Are property owners responsible for repairing and maintaining sidewalks? Are they asked to clear their own sidewalks?
  2. As noted yesterday, fewer people are outside. Some people use sidewalks a lot but many people use them rarely. Snow and cold also reduce use.
  3. The suburbs are individualistic, people may not know their neighbors well, and property values are only partly dependent on the neighborhood. People want to act self sufficient.
  4. There is little interest in or experience of the kind of thriving sidewalk life Jane Jacobs described in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In the picture Jacobs provides, people are constantly using sidewalks in a variety of ways. There are always people out and about, helping to create social norms and providing numerous opportunities for social interactions. Sidewalks in many suburban neighborhoods are more like empty tableaus where an occasional person and sometimes dog passes by. People would often prefer to live in quiet neighborhoods.
  5. Help is often associated with payment. Yes, a neighbor could clear snow as a favor but kids occasionally look to make money by shoveling, people pay to have their driveways cleared, and HOAs take care of this in many neighborhoods.

Put these all together and a good number of sidewalks contain snow and ice. This could suggest that collective efficacy is low in these neighborhoods; I will explore a possible multi-site research design tomorrow.

Collective efficacy and the number of sidewalks cleared of snow, Part One

Judging by conversations on Nextdoor and my own observations of nearby streets, there are a good number of property owners who do not shovel their sidewalks to remove snow. What levels of shoveling indicate the neighborhood takes collective ownership of the sidewalks? 50%? 67%? Over 75%? What fewer shoveled walkways might mean about a neighborhood and neighborliness:

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  1. People do not walk outside much. If so, they would shovel more. Not shoveling makes it more difficult for pedestrians to get by. When the snow starts melting a bit and is trampled down, it becomes icy. I have observed numerous houses where the driveway is clear but not the sidewalks.
  2. There might be several socially acceptable reasons for not shoveling: illness, old age, and being away from home. Even then, it would be possible to arrange with others to have the sidewalks shoveled.
  3. Dog walkers might be the most interested people in shoveling (this could be tested): they are regularly walking and their dogs too could benefit from cleared sidewalks.
  4. Neighbors do not help neighbors shovel. This might require a lot of effort or not. On sidewalks near me, clearing out a one shovel wide width down multiple sidewalks would not take long (if the snow was not too deep). Or, I hear stories of people with snowblowers clearing a long stretch of sidewalks quickly.
  5. The best cleared sidewalks I see are the ones in neighborhoods with homeowners associations. Residents pay for the cleared snow, among other things.

Put these all together and there is a patchwork of cleared sidewalks mixed with uncleared sidewalks. Tomorrow, I will explore a related question: are the sidewalks a collective responsibility or the responsibility only of individual property owners?

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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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?

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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?