New York City, Los Angeles on different COVID-19 trajectories

To this point, COVID-19 has had different effects in the two most populous cities in the United States:

Public health officials are keeping a wary eye and warning that LA could end up being as hard hit as New York in coming weeks, in part because a planned increase in testing may uncover a dramatic surge in cases. Testing in Los Angeles County is expected to increase from 500 per day to 5,000 by the end of the week…

In both cities, schools have been canceled, many businesses shuttered and employees who can have been ordered to work from home. New York City, with roughly 8.5 million residents, had nearly 45,000 cases and at least 366 deaths as of Friday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Los Angeles County, which contains its namesake city of 4 million people plus an additional 6 million residents, had nearly 1,500 cases and 26 deaths.

Health experts don’t know why there is such a big difference in the number of cases, but believe several things could be at play, such as urban density, differences in the use of mass transportation and slightly earlier moves by authorities to enact social distancing policies. A difference in the speed and amount of tests could also be factors, as officials warn that many people who get COVID-19 don’t necessarily have symptoms…

While a shortage of tests in California during the early weeks of the crisis is one reason for a much lower number of cases, it doesn’t alone explain the difference. New York has tested about three times as many patients, but it has 10 times as many cases as all of California.

There are a lot of possible moving parts (and combinations of these) that could explain the differences. I’m guessing there will be a lot of interesting research that comes out eventually that examines the interaction between place (and all the factors associated with that) and both the spread and consequences of COVID-19. The virus may spread to all areas eventually but the early stages suggest some differences across places.

Let’s say future research finds some differences between locations not just related to policies but to fundamental features of physical space such as density, mass transit use, and levels of social interaction. Will places be willing to change their behavior for the potential of a pandemic? In a world where locations brand themselves and look to attract residents and businesses (recent example), could traits that mean less exposure to infectious diseases represent a selling point?

One factor that I do not see mentioned in this article is the rate of travel in and out of each of these cities. Both are very important places located on coasts that experience a lot of travel in and out as well as much mobility across the region. But, does New York’s location in the the Northeast corridor matter and does New York City have significantly higher rates of global interaction and trade?

Marijuana sales viewed as hurting family-friendly suburbs, Naperville edition

Tuesday night the Naperville City Council voted against allowing marijuana dispensaries to locate within the suburb:

Naperville City Council members voted 6-3 Tuesday to opt out of recreational marijuana sales within city limits, and directed staff to come back with information on a potential referendum question for council consideration.

The decision to opt out of recreational pot sales came several hours after hundreds of people began packing the Naperville City Council chambers as residents and non-residents waited their turn to comment on the issue of whether to allow the retail sale of pot. The discussion on marijuana sales brought 238 people to sign up for public comment on the topic — a vast majority speaking in favor of opting out while wearing white and orange “opt out” shirts.

Over the past couple weeks, the group was organized to rally and lobby city council members to keep recreational cannabis dispensaries out of Naperville. At the same time, residents in support of retail marijuana sales have circulated a survey on the issue.

People who asked city council to opt out Tuesday night are concerned recreational pot dispensaries would lead to increased availability to children and would hurt the “family friendly” brand of Naperville.

This is not a surprise. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the likelihood that wealthier suburbs would not want to sully their brand by allowing marijuana sales. A community like Naperville has a reputation to protect: it is large, wealthy, has a vibrant downtown, highly-rated school districts, and acres upon acres of single-family homes. While marijuana sales may do little to affect behavior in a community of over 140,000 residents, this is about an image. Not too long ago, the vibrant downtown presented a similar issue: alcohol-related incidents were getting out of hand and the city responded.

At the same time, Naperville could change its mind later. Perhaps the dispensaries will not cause issue in similar communities. Perhaps the city will want the extra sales tax revenue. Perhaps the group that turned up in large numbers in front of the City Council to opt out will fade away and advocates will win the day. But, at least for now, Naperville wants to – and to be honest, does not need to look for quick money or be on the leading edge of this – protect its brand.

More broadly, how long until marijuana sales and use becomes normal fare in the American suburbs? For decades, some claimed the suburbs makes people conservative: they want to protect their families and homes. However, the political tides of suburbia have turned (including in DuPage County as well as in Naperville) and attitudes toward marijuana and other drugs have changed.

Waiting to hear Chicago suburb advertising lower property tax rates

In recent years, multiple Chicago suburbs have advertised for businesses and residents to move there including Elk Grove Village, Bedford Park, New Lennox, and Lemont. Their pitch often includes mention of the suburb’s transportation advantages, amenities (ranging from water supply to community atmosphere), and available land.

Here is one local feature that is missing from these advertisements: lower property taxes compared to other suburbs or Chicago. This would be a competitive edge in a region where residents and businesses face relatively high property tax rates.

There have to be communities that actually do have lower property taxes. There are a number of suburbs that have higher concentrations of commercial and industrial businesses that provide a good tax base. Industrial parks and office parks provide space for businesses and offices. Many suburbs would want this: the companies help carry more of the local tax burden and this provides extra revenue for the community. In comparison, a bedroom suburb may have really high property taxes because it is primarily residents paying the property taxes and there are limited sales tax revenues.

If the advertisements for suburbs are primarily aimed at businesses and not residents, then perhaps the property tax arguments make less sense. At the same time, a strong existing business base could be very appealing for other firms. Some proof that other businesses have thrived in a suburb plus some opportunities for local synergy in addition to lower taxes could all be very appealing.

In the super competitive race between the Chicago suburbs and the city plus competition from other nearby states like Indiana and Wisconsin (let alone Texas and Florida) for businesses and residents, I am surprised to not hear a property tax appeal. Perhaps this simply means that few Chicago area communities could offer any real advantages in this area. Or, maybe there is some reluctance to tout lower property tax rates. Yet, as suburbs compete, I would expect that their mass appeals will continue to evolve.

Get creative and sell home and new car together as package deal

Thinking about an earlier post linking new upscale car purchases with suburban gentrification, I had an idea: why not sell more homes and new cars together as a package deal? Here are reasons this could be a good pairing:

  1. Americans like the lifestyle that comes with a single-family home and driving a car. It is particularly important in the suburbs where owning a home and the ability to drive rank high in importance. Put these two big purchases together and sell a whole lifestyle.
  2. Both a home and a car are a status symbol. Pairing the two really provides an opportunity to brand the owner. Would someone want to purchase a McMansion but still drive a two Toyota Tercel or a Pontiac Aztek? Or, retire and downsize to a nice urban condo and keep driving a minivan or an older model SUV? Matching the home and the car at the same time provides a unique opportunity to establish oneself.
  3. I wonder if there are some “efficiencies” in purchasing both at the same time. On the producer side, developers and dealers want to move properties and cars; if selling them together helps, this is a deal. On the buyer side, perhaps they can roll all of the costs together and just pay one lump sum a month for two important items. (Mortgage documents might be hard enough to put together, let alone a joint document rolling together a mortgage and a car loan). Could it all be cheaper for the buyer (or get the sellers/lenders more money in the long run on interest)?

I would guess there are also good reasons this is not done widely. Still, given how much Americans like buying properties and like driving and cars, there may be potential here.

The growing influence of mascots: a short history of Benny the Bull

In addition to providing fun and distracting from what may be poor play by the team, sports mascots are important brand symbols. The symbolic nature of their existence and their importance in developing and sustaining a brand is highlighted in this summary of Benny the Bull’s life:

Benny accompanied Richard M. Daley to China. Benny has been sued and Benny has been ejected from games. Benny has topped the Forbes list of the most popular sports mascots and Benny has been arrested at the Taste of Chicago. Off the court, the people who played Benny didn’t get health insurance from the Bulls until the Jordan era (or a 401K plan for even longer). One owned a deli in Skokie, another was an evangelical Christian…

I know who Benny has been since he was born; seven people (and countless understudies) have slipped into Benny’s shoes since he debuted Oct. 17, 1969. I know the name and job title of the person playing Benny right now but agreed not to reveal it, because, well — for the sake of the children. The Bulls want to retain some mystery with Benny, so we will honor that — to a degree. As Benny developed as a brand, the Bulls have treated him increasingly as Disney treats Mickey: No one plays Benny! No one is inside Benny! Benny is Benny! That is, a cottage industry, and like any mascot, the face of a franchise. Players come and go, but only Benny remains….

As the Jordan era waned and the business of the Bulls rolled on, Benny gained new relevance. He acquired an entourage — including Lil’ Benny, Mini Benny, and, notoriously, Da Bull, Benny’s angrier brother. Bring up Da Bull to the Bulls today and they look at you as if you asked for a loan: The Chicago man who played Da Bull was arrested in 2004, near the United Center, for selling 6 ounces of marijuana (and later received probation)…

And so this summer Benny — who is being inducted into the new Mascot Hall of Fame in Indiana and getting a new van for appearances — also will be busy. The Bulls say he gets a work-life balance; and he is paid well (low six figures, whisper some close to the job). But the job itself never ends. Asked if he can relate to workaholic Benny, Landey Patton, the first Benny, said he couldn’t dribble, never mind dunk. He said, “It’s all razzmatazz and dancing now. And so corporate, you know? When I was Benny, families could afford tickets. And what are Bulls tickets now — $10?

Four quick thoughts:

1. This relatively recent emphasis on mascots mirrors big shift in sports in recent decades: it is big business and big entertainment, in addition to being about winning games. The mascot can be an important part of the show that needs to go well to help enhance what are booming values of teams. The most recent valuation by Forbes suggests the Bulls are worth $2.9 billion and Benny is part of a well-oiled machine.

2. The article hints at this but I have to think much of this is about attracting kids and hoping they become lifelong fans (and customers).

3. Sports run on certain schedules, usually emphasizing the games, but mascots help the teams and sports stay in the public consciousness all year round. These are now year-round activities, even if the games stretch from late October to early June.

4. I have not attended many Bulls games over the years but I have always been partial to the Benny the Bull blimp who had plenty of airspace to navigate when the team moved to the more expansive United Center in the mid-1990s.

Chicago suburb to sponsor college bowl game

The competition between suburbs can be intense and Elk Grove Village has a new way to stand out: sponsor a college bowl game to be played in the Bahamas.

The village and ESPN announced Tuesday that Elk Grove will be the title sponsor of the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, to be played Dec. 21 in Nassau, Bahamas, using the village’s business marketing tag line. The village is spending $300,000 to sponsor the game, which will air on ESPN. The game had previously been sponsored by Popeyes.

It marks the first time a non-tourist municipality has sponsored a bowl game, the village and ESPN say…

Johnson wanted a way to expand the reach of the village’s “Makers Wanted” campaign, which launched in 2015 to promote the village industrial park — at 6 square miles, the largest contiguous one in the country. The campaign has included a website, billboards, TV and radio commercials, and print ads…

The fee to sponsor the bowl game is part of a $400,000 increase the board approved in its contract with Lombard-based Red Caffeine, the marketing company that developed the Makers Wanted campaign. The other funds will pay for new Elk Grove TV commercials set to air regionally on cable news channels this fall.

It is not uncommon for states to mount such campaigns. For example, see efforts by Texas, Indiana, Florida, and isconsin to draw residents and businesses from Illinois. It is more rare for a single suburb to mount such a campaign on a national scale.

However, conspicuously missing from this article is any evidence that such campaigns work. Can the village conclusively show that the campaign started in 2015 has (1) increased the number of businesses in the community and (2) revenues have increased because of the moves?

This could also be about the status of the suburb. The Chicago area has scores of suburbs and communities often want to stand out. This is why they might seek to change a motto, a logo, or run campaigns to distinguish themselves from others. Such a marketing campaign can make a suburb feel better about itself and local leaders can show they are being proactive regarding growing their community (and growth is good).

It will be very interesting to see whether the football audience helps advance the goals of the suburb and if they are willing to renew their sponsorship for another year past the first. The mayor is claiming the news about the campaign has already helped the suburb (suggesting 95% of the value has already been realized) but the long-term prognosis will take some time to sort out.

Suburbs consider mottos, branding efforts

In an effort to stand out, a number of Fox Valley area suburbs are considering mottos and branding campaigns:

Oswego is looking for a motto, as well as a logo and marketing strategy, to better identify its image and solidify its place in the region.

Michele Brown, community relations manager, said Oswego wants to be a regional destination for economic development and tourism…

Carpentersville’s slogan is “Building a Better Tomorrow…Today.”

Village officials, including staff and board and commission members, are working on a rebranding campaign with the goal of changing Carpentersville’s public perception…

North Aurora last year went through a rebranding process that came up with a new logo and the motto “Crossroads on the Fox.” This came after months of debate over nine design options with dozens of variations.

Usually, these are pitched as efforts to attract businesses and residents. Think of those Bedford Park or Elk Grove Village ads that run in the Chicago area – having a catchy motto or campaign sounds better in an advertisement. Whether such campaigns work or simply help the community feel better about its efforts is another story. At the least, branding is an effort at local boosterism as businesses and residents can choose among hundreds of Chicago area communities.

But, not every suburb wants such branding:

Some towns, though, have made a conscious decision to not wear the label of a slogan or motto, like Wheaton, Naperville and Carol Stream.

Presumably, these are communities that are more comfortable with who they are and/or don’t feel like they have a negative public image.

Of course, mottos can signal things other than being open to growth like New Lenox which was selling itself in ads as “home to proud Americans.”

Mexico City changes its name

Last week, Mexico City officially received a new name:

President Enrique Peña Nieto officially changed the capital’s name to “Mexico City” on Friday as part of a reform to devolve power from the federal government, allowing the city’s mayor to name senior officials including the police chief…

The reform moves Mexico City – the area of nearly nine million people surrounded on three sides by the grungy suburbs of Mexico State – closer towards becoming a state in its own right…
Campaigners – mostly on the left – started pushing for an end to the Federal District after the devastating 1985 earthquake, after an inept federal response left millions to fend for themselves. Leftwing movements rose from the wreckage, achieved political reforms and won the first mayoral and assembly elections in 1997…

Some analysts warned of potential confusion caused by adding a capital called “Mexico City,” to a country already named Mexico, whose biggest state is the “State of Mexico”.

It sounds like nothing may change from the outside. However, relationships between the city government and federal government as well as city residents and other residents of Mexico may be impacted.

Perhaps city residents who live in a major city that also doubles as a national capital have a unique urban experience? This article suggests that Mexico has a centralized system, centered in Mexico City, which may mirror other countries (London in England, Paris in France, etc.) where the most important city is also the capital. In contrast, other countries have capitals outside of their major city with the United States as a prime example with a space away from New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The misspelled band name intended to enhance Internet searches

The Scottish band Chvrches spelled their name in such a way to help separate themselves online:

Chvrches, deliberately misspelled to maximize Google-search recognition, formed after Mayberry, Cook and Doherty were slogging through indie-rock bands and day jobs.

A tactic only for the Google search result age. Bands can go through all sorts of hoops to select a good name that reflects who they are as well as attracts the attention of consumers. I’m reminded of how the Beatles selected a name – multiple name changes in the early years and resisting the influence of the day to be something like John Lennon and the Beatles (have the group name reflect the lead singer/personality) – versus how Blur selected theirs – off a list of potential names given to them by a label executive. (For a fun Wikipedia time, check out this page with hundreds of band name etymologies.) Today, you can add to the list the strategy of taking a common name or phrase and then tweaking it in such a way that no other Internet personality could overlap. Still, I can hear the conversations even among fans:

I like that song. Who is the artist.

Chvrches.

Great. Wait, I can’t find anything about them online.

Yeah, they have a v rather than a u in their name.

Oh, there they are…