What happens when you let Boston residents crowdsource neighborhood boundaries

Here is a fascinating online experiment: let residents of a city, in this case, Boston, illustrate how they would draw neighborhood boundaries. Here are the conclusions of the effort thus far:

Although we talk a lot about boundaries, this post included, the maps here should also remind us that neighborhoods are not defined by their edges—essentially, what is outside the neighborhood—but rather by their contents. And it’s not just a collection of roads and things you see on a map; it’s about some shared history, activities, architecture, and culture. So while the neighborhood summaries above rely on edges to describe the maps, let’s also think about the areas represented by the shapes and what’s inside them. What are the characteristics of these areas? Why are they the shapes that they are? Why is consensus easy or difficult in different areas? What is the significance of the differences in opinion between residents of a neighborhood and people outside the neighborhood?

We’ll revisit those questions in further detail in future posts, and also generate maps of other facets of the data. Next up: areas of overlap between neighborhoods. Here we’ve looked neighborhood-by-neighborhood at how much people agree, so now let’s map those zones that exhibit disagreement. Meanwhile, thanks so much for all the submissions for this project; and if you haven’t drawn some neighborhoods, what’s your problem? Get on it!

This gets at a recurring issue for urban sociologists: how to best define communities or neighborhoods. The best option with data is to use Census boundaries such as tracts, block groups, blocks, and perhaps zip codes. This data is collected regularly, in-depth, and can be easily downloaded. However, these boundaries are crude approximations of culturally defined neighborhoods. People on the ground have little knowledge about what Census tract they live in (though this is easy to figure out online).

So if Census definitions are not the best for the on-the-ground experience, what is left? This crowdsourcing project is a modern way of doing what some researchers have done: ask the residents themselves and also observe what happens. What streets are not crossed? Which features or landmarks define a neighborhood? Who “belongs” where? What are typical activities in different places? Of course, this is a much messier process than working with clearly defined and reliable Census data but it illustrates a key aspect about neighborhoods: they are continually changing and being redefined by their own residents and others.

New census data suggests many American big cities now growing faster than their suburbs

New census data suggests demographic patterns not seen since before the 1920s: big cities growing faster than their suburbs.

Driving the resurgence are young adults, who are delaying careers, marriage and having children amid persistently high unemployment. Burdened with college debt or toiling in temporary, lower-wage positions, they are spurning homeownership in the suburbs for shorter-term, no-strings-attached apartment living, public transit and proximity to potential jobs in larger cities.

While economists tend to believe the city boom is temporary, that is not stopping many city planning agencies and apartment developers from seeking to boost their appeal to the sizable demographic of 18-to-29-year olds. They make up roughly 1 in 6 Americans, and some sociologists are calling them “generation rent.” The planners and developers are betting on young Americans’ continued interest in urban living, sensing that some longer-term changes such as decreased reliance on cars may be afoot…

Primary cities in large metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million grew by 1.1 percent last year, compared with 0.9 percent in surrounding suburbs. While the definitions of city and suburb have changed over the decades, it’s the first time that growth of large core cities outpaced that of suburbs since the early 1900s…

In all, city growth in 2011 surpassed or equaled that of suburbs in roughly 33 of the nation’s 51 large metro areas, compared to just five in the last decade.

Note: this is from one year of data, 2010 to 2011, it is hard to know whether this is a big trend or not. The different in population growth was 0.2%, not inconsequential but not exactly a big shift either. We’re not exactly at the end of the suburban era just yet.

Let’s say these numbers hold for a few years. It would be interesting to see how suburbs respond. It would also be helpful to see if the people who are moving to the city are doing so from inner-ring suburbs, exurbs, or somewhere in between as these different types of suburban communities would likely respond in different ways. I could imagine scenarios where built-out larger suburbs, places like Naperville, push for denser and taller developments in order to try to attract residents.

The implications of discontinuing the American Community Survey

This didn’t exactly make the front page this week but a vote in the House of Representatives about the American Community Survey could have a big impact on how we understand the United States. Nate Berg explains:

So the Republican-led House of Representatives this week voted 232-190 to eliminate the American Community Survey, the annual survey of about 3 million randomly chosen U.S. households that’s like the Census only much more detailed. It collects demographic details such as what sort of fuel a household uses for heating, the cost of rent or mortgage payments, and what time residents leave home to go to work.

In a post on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, Director Robert Groves says the bill “devastates the nation’s statistical information about the status of the economy and the larger society. Modern societies need current, detailed social and economic statistics. The U.S. is losing them.”

While the elimination of the ACS would take a slight nibble out of the roughly $3.8 trillion in government expenditures proposed in the 2013 federal budget, its negative impacts could be much greater – affecting the government’s ability to fund a wide variety of services and programs, from education to housing to transportation.

The issue is that the information collected in the ACS is used heavily by the federal government to figure out where it will spend a huge chunk of its money. In a 2010 report for the Brookings Institution, Andrew Reamer found that in the 2008 fiscal year, 184 federal domestic assistance programs used ACS-related datasets to help determine the distribution of more than $416 billion in federal funding. The bulk of that funding, more than 80 percent, went directly to fund Medicaid, highway infrastructure programs and affordable housing assistance. Reamer, now a research professor George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy, also found that the federal government uses the ACS to distribute about $100 billion annually to states and communities for economic development, employment, education and training, commerce and other purposes. He says that should the ACS be eliminated, it would be very difficult to figure out how to distribute this money where it’s needed…

And it’s not just government money that would be wasted. Reamer says many businesses are increasingly reliant on the market data available within the ACS, and that without it they would have much less success picking locations where their businesses would have market demand. It would affect businesses throughout the country, “from mom-and-pops to Walmart.”

Some history might also be helpful here. The United States has carried out a dicennial census since 1790 but the American Community Survey began in the mid 1990s. There has been talk in recent years of replacing the expensive and complicated dicennial census with a beefed up American Community Survey. There would be several advantages: it wouldn’t cost as much plus the government (and the country) would have more consistent information rather than having to wait every ten years. In other words, our country is rapidly changing and we need consistent information that can tell us what is happening.

In my mind, as a researcher who consistently uses Census data, dropping the ACS would be a big loss. The government funding is important but even more important to me would be losing the more up-to-date information the ACS provides. Without this survey, we would likely have to rely on private data which is often restrictive and/or expensive. For example, I’ve used ACS data to track some housing issues but without this, I’m not sure where I could get similar data.

This is part of a larger issue of conservatives wanting to limit the reach of the Census Bureau. The argument often is that the Census is too intrusive, therefore invading the privacy of citizens (see this 2011 story about an insistent ACS worker), and the Constitution only provides for a dicennial census. I wonder if these arguments are red herrings: there is a long history of battling over Census counts and timing depending on which political party might benefit. For example, see Republican claims that inappropriate sampling techniques were used to correct undercounts for big cities, claims that the Census “imputes” races to people (so mark your race as American!), or efforts by New York City to ask for a recount in order to boost their 2010 population figures, which are tied to funding. In other words, the Census can turn into a political football even though its data is very important and it uses social science research techniques.

States with the highest percentages of homegrown residents

The Census Bureau recently released statistics about which states have the most residents who were born in that state:

Nationally, on average, 60 percent of people are living in their native state. According to a Governing Magazine analysis, states in the interior South and Midwest tend to have a higher percentage of natives. Louisiana tops the list, with 79 percent of its population born there.

Among large metro areas, Birmingham ranks near the top: 74 percent of the metro population was born in Alabama, the 6th-highest percentage of homegrown residents among the top 50 U.S. metros…

Jim Williams, executive director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, has spent years trying to persuade governments to adopt changes to governmental practices developed in other states. Progress is difficult, he said…

There is a lot of literature in sociology and psychology establishing that a lack of contact with other groups tends to maintain stereotypes, Fording said. Conversely, contact between groups tends to overcome stereotypes.

Here is the list of the top 10 states: Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Iowa, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama.

It is a little difficult to look at this list and see the exact traits these states share. The regions and the cultures are similar in the South and Midwest though this doesn’t apply to Pennsylvania (maybe the western half but not so much the eastern half?) or maybe West Virginia. Other factors that may be influential:

1. Immigration rates.

2. Lack of world/global cities which tend to attract diverse groups of people.

3. Lower levels of education?

4. Density of population/more rural areas.

It would be interesting to ask residents of these states why they stay. It is one thing to stay because one likes the place versus the opportunities to move elsewhere are lacking. While Americans might romanticize small town life and talk about establishing roots, this likely varies from place to place. Certain values, such as interacting with people different from oneself or having access to cultural amenities or always being willing to move to follow job opportunities, could then trump geographic stability.

New Census data on income inequality by state, metro areas

Based on American Community Survey data from 2005 and 2009 and working on the assumption that “Spatial income inequality is neither intrinsically bad nor good,” the Census has a new report on income inequality. Here are some of the findings:

The report, by Daniel H. Weinberg, analyzed income data at various geographical levels and found that the region encompassing New York, northern New Jersey, Long Island and parts of Pennsylvania had the highest income inequality of any large metro area.

New York State also has the highest income inequality of all 50 states (although Washington, D.C., was worse).

Below is a map showing three measures of income inequality for each state: the Gini index (which ranges from 0.0, when all households have equal shares of income, to 1.0, when one household has all the income and the rest has none); a ratio of household income at the 90th percentile to that at the 10th percentile; and a ratio of household income at the 95th percentile to that at the 20th…

After New York, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have among the most unequal income distributions. At the low end are New Hampshire, Alaska and Utah, which is the most economically homogenous state in the nation.

The states that are above the US averages are an interesting group: Texas, New York, and California (tied to larger populations?) but also Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. Table 8 and 9 of the report have correlations and regression coefficients to look at the relationship of inequality measures to demographic characteristics. (Intriguingly, the regression is a stepwise regression analysis.)

Of more local interest: Illinois is lower than the US averages on two of the three measures and Chicago has a very similar Gini Index to the US average. And of places with more than 100,000 people, Elgin, Illinois has the lowest Gini Index value.

Here is part of the conclusion of the report:

This paper has shown that low income inequality at the neighborhood level is most likely a result of income sorting. In other words, it may be that higher-income households, when they can, choose to live away from lower-income ones, sometimes forming “enclaves” with little income variation. Alternatively, it may be that developers concentrate higher-end houses in certain tracts and those can be afforded only by households of higher incomes.

This uses more neutral language of sorting but we could probably tie this to larger processes of residential segregation: those with money (with wealth related to race) have the opportunity to live in their own communities and leave everyone else behind.

It will be interesting to see how this report gets spun by Occupy Wall Street supporters and those opposed and in the ongoing presidential race.

Wealthier blacks and Latinos live in poorer neighborhoods than poorer whites

In addition to recent news that the wealth gap between whites and minorities has increased, recent Census data shows that wealthier minorities tend to live in poorer neighborhoods than poorer whites:

The average affluent black and Hispanic household — defined in the study as earning more than $75,000 a year — lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average lower-income non-Hispanic white household that makes less than $40,000 a year.

“Separate translates to unequal even for the most successful black and Hispanic minorities,” says sociologist John Logan, director of US2010 Project at Brown University, which studies trends in American society.

“Blacks are segregated and even affluent blacks are pretty segregated,” says Logan, who analyzed 2005-09 data for the nation’s 384 metropolitan areas. “African Americans who really succeeded live in neighborhoods where people around them have not succeeded to the same extent.”…

“White middle-class families have the option to live in a community that matches their own credentials,” Logan says. “If you’re African American and want to live with people like you in social class, you have to live in a community where you are in the minority.”

Residential segregation is very much alive, particularly in large cities in the Northeast and Midwest. For minorities, simply having a middle-class income does not guarantee living in a middle-class neighborhood that one might expect as part of the American Dream.

This reminds of the classic work American Apartheid (1993) that cited the idea that residential segregation is the “linchpin of American race relations.” Without people of different incomes and races and ethnicities living near and with each other, a host of other issues are difficult to address.

Texas population trends, the “demographic revolution,” and comparing Chicago and Houston

Census data regarding Texas has been released and there are several demographic changes underway:

1. Texas is growing, particularly compared to some other areas of the country:

The first results of the 2010 Census were released in December, showing that Texas’ population grew more than twice as fast as that of the nation as a whole, to 25.1 million.

As a result, the Lone Star State will gain four additional congressional seats, more than any other state.

2. The cities are growing as our minority populations:

Texas’ largest cities grew larger and more diverse, as did many suburban counties, part of what Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg calls “this accelerating demographic revolution.”

“The number of Anglos is falling more rapidly than one would expect, and the number of Latinos is rising more rapidly,” Klineberg said.

Latinos accounted for 35.3 percent of the total [population growth in Houston] — 41 percent in Harris County alone — while the number of Anglos dropped to 39.7 percent.

African-Americans made up 17.3 percent of the metro area’s population, while Asians made up 7 percent…

Statewide, the number of Anglos grew by just 4 percent, according to Rice sociologist Steve Murdock, a former director of the Census Bureau.

The number of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians grew exponentially more rapidly.

“I don’t think most of us expected the absolute amount of Anglo growth would be so low,” Murdock said.

3. Shedding light on my question from a few days ago about what Chicago’s population drop looks like compared to Houston’s growth or loss, here is the answer:

The city of Houston’s population grew to 2.1 million, up 7.5 percent over the past decade, and the metropolitan area — which now encompasses a 10-county area — surged to 5,946,800 people. The area’s incorporated cities are included in the count.

Chicago’s population dropped by 7 percent, but it remained well ahead of Houston at 2.7 million and No. 3 in the national rankings.

4. This will affect what Texas suburbs look like in the coming years:

And if the lessons of the 2010 Census are any indicator, the new residents will be a diverse lot.

“The idea of predominantly white suburbs” no longer holds true, Murdock said.

Texas’ growth has some similarities and differences compared to the rest of the country. The main difference is the overall population growth. The similarities are that the population growth is being driven by immigrant and minority populations and the urban areas, particularly the suburbs, are becoming more diverse.

Use data in order to describe Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

A recent NPR report described the changes taking place in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In addition to calling Washington “Chocolate City” (setting off another line of debate), one of the residents quoted in the story is unhappy with how the neighborhood was portrayed:

Kellogg wrote that “in recent years, even areas like Anacostia — a community that was virtually all-black and more often than not poor — have seen dramatic increases in property values. The median sales price of a home east of the river — for years a no-go zone for whites and many blacks — was just under $300,000 in 2009, two to three times what it was in the mid-’90s.” After profiling one black resident who moved out, Kellogg spoke with David Garber, a “newcomer” among those who “see themselves as trailblazers fighting to preserve the integrity of historic Anacostia.”

But Garber and others didn’t like the portrayal, as even WAMU’s Anna John noted in her DCentric blog, where she headlined a post “‘Morning Edition’ Chokes On Chocolate City.”

On his own blog And Now, Anacostia, Garber wrote that the NPR story “was a dishonest portrayal of the changes that are happening in Anacostia. First, his evidence that black people are being forced out is based entirely on the story of one man who chose to buy a larger and more expensive house in PG County than one he was considering near Anacostia. Second, he attempts to prove that Anacostia is becoming ‘more vanilla’ by talking about one white person, me — and I don’t even live there anymore.”

Garber also complained that Kellogg “chose to sensationalize my move out of Anacostia” by linking it to a break-in at his home, which Garber says was unrelated to his move. Garber says Kellogg chose to repeat the “canned story” of Anacostia — which We Love D.C. bluntly calls a “quick and dirty race narrative.”

Garber continues, “White people are moving into Anacostia. So are black people. So are Asian people, Middle Eastern people, gay people, straight people, and every other mix. And good for them for believing in a neighborhood in spite of its challenges, and for meeting its hurdles head on and its new amenities with a sense of excitement.”

This seems like it could all be solved rather easily: let us just look at the data of what is happening in this neighborhood. I have not listened to the initial NPR report. But it would be fairly easy for NPR or Garber or anyone else to look up some Census figures regarding this neighborhood to see who is moving in or out. If the NPR story is built around Garber’s story (and some other anecdotal evidence), then it is lacking. If it has both the hard data but the story is one-sided or doesn’t give the complete picture, then this is a different issue. Then, we can have a conversation about whether Garber’s story is an appropriate or representative illustration or not.

Beyond the data issue, Garber also hints at another issue: a “canned story” or image of a community versus what residents experience on the ground. This is a question about the “character” of a location and the perspective of insiders (residents) and outsiders (like journalists) could differ. But both perspectives could be correct; each view has merit but has a different scope. A journalist is liable to try to place Anacostia in the larger framework of the whole city (or perhaps the whole nation) while a resident is likely working with their personal experiences and observations.

The census and US House seats

There are a number of people eagerly awaiting the results of the 2010 Census. In addition to sociologists, politicians and states are awaiting an announcement regarding how population changes have affected seats in the House of Representatives:

The U.S. Census Bureau will release the new Congressional apportionment figures at a Dec. 21 news conference at the National Press Club, making official the number of Congressional districts each state will have for the next 10 years…

One trend expected to continue from the previous census is population growth rates in the South and West far outpacing those in the North and East. Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York are expected to lose seats as Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada are likely to gain seats.

I am very curious to see the full 2010 Census results regarding where the changes in the American population have occurred. While people have suggested that the suburban population has continued to grow (particularly in its proportion compared to city and rural dwellers), it is also interesting to note the continued trend of population growth in the South and West.

It would also be interesting to track how population changes, and the subsequent Congressional changes, really affect where the seat of power is in America. Let’s say New York loses a House seat going forward – does this really matter in the House? Does it matter in terms of public perception? Even with the population growth in the South and West, do the newer cities like Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego have the same perceived political power as established cities like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago?

Long form of Canadian census now voluntary

Canadian officials have recently decided to make the long-form of their census voluntary. While the move is being made to protect the privacy of citizens, some people are not happy. The Wall Street Journal describes some of the protests:

Statisticians have protested, arguing that fewer people will respond to a voluntary survey, which will make the results less representative and reduce the government’s knowledge about its populace.

The article goes on to talk about how participation and response rates are dropping for many private surveys. If this is the case, might not the information from voluntary long-form be biased? A study done by the US Census Bureau in the early 2000s showed that changing a government survey from mandatory to voluntary dropped response rates by 20%.

Generally, social scientists operate under the assumption that research participation is voluntary. However, governments have the ability to require participation, say in areas like taxes or the census. Additionally, the statistics collected by the census have broad implications for funding, research, and knowledge about a country.

While some may not like such information being in the hands of government, do they not think their bank or credit card company already knows a lot about them?