Is Chicago’s flag “a much bigger deal than” the flags of other big cities?

Here is an argument for “why Chicago’s flag is a much bigger deal than any other city’s flag“:

As reporter Elliott Ramos suggested in a 2011 post for WBEZ, Chicago’s love affair with its flag seems to have taken off in the 1990s, with an influx of young adults into the city. Michael, a kickball player featured on the Chicago Flag Tattoos website, explains why he felt compelled to have the flag permanently emblazoned on his arm: “After moving to Chicago and living here for a few years, Chicago really kind of took a place in my heart, so I thought it’d be a good thing to do.”…

Symbolism aside, the flag’s simple, bold design is the reason it caught on. On his Urbanophile blog, Aaron M. Renn wrote: “In the United States, I’d have to rate Chicago far and away #1 in the use of official civic symbols (maybe the best in the world for all I know), and also note the overall high level of design quality of these objects … If you come to Chicago, you’ll notice that the city flag is ubiquitous.”

It’s enough to make you wonder: Is this a unique local thing? How do other cities’ flags stack up against Chicago’s?

Turns out, many are bland, and a few are downright appalling. Even the good flags aren’t necessarily well-known by the people of their cities.

When the North American Vexillological Association (vexillology is the study of flags) conducted a survey in 2004 ranking the nation’s best city flags, Chicago’s flag received a stellar 9.03 out of 10 possible points. But that was only good enough to land Chicago in the No. 2 spot. No. 2? Who could possibly beat us?

There is some limited evidence here: anecdotal tales that Chicagoans seem to display the flag often and the flag is rated highly by a flag group. But, there are several issues at work here. One, Chicago’s flag might be “better” than other flags. This is more of an aethestic or design consideration. This is where you want to appeal to outside, impartial groups like the North American Vexillological Association. Second, Chicagoans might like their flag or identify with it more than residents of other cities. Perhaps it indicates that Chicagoans have some decent levels of civic pride. This could be addressed by survey research. Third, Chicagoans might display the flag more often. This is probably the easiest to quantify and observational data could provide better evidence (perhaps easier to do these days with Google Street View).

Given the evidence presented in this piece, I’m not convinced any of these three options are true…

Decentralization as a reason why LA just doesn’t care as much about the results of their sports teams

In an article that throws out a number of reasons why Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be as disappointed as other places when their sports teams don’t do well, a sociologist cites the factor of decentralization:

Sports fans in L.A. are more likely than those in other cities to come from somewhere else, bringing their old loyalties with them, diluting our civic passion.

“L.A. is very diversified and decentralized,” said David Halle, a UCLA sociologist who studies big-city culture. “That’s part of the whole zeitgeist.”

It’s different in, say, Boston, where books are written about how entrenched New England families pass the Red Sox and Celtics down through generations.

It is intriguing that decentralization is cited as a reason for lower levels of sports loyalty. The Los Angeles region is well-known for its sprawling landscape with a number of residential and economic nodes. Does this mean that there is a less cohesive civic feeling, using sports loyalty as a proxy for this, in Los Angeles compared to other places? Is this true of all places with pronounced sprawl?

There is an image (and rightfully so) of Los Angeles as the place where millions of Americans went to in the mid 20th century for the climate, the stars, and above all, economic opportunities. So is this the case in other American cities that have had a large influx of people, particularly other cities in the South and West that have grown in the last 60 years? Does Atlanta or Charlotte or Houston have similar lower levels of sports loyalties? I assume this might be the case in Florida and Arizona with a large number of retirees. But over time, wouldn’t there be a base of native Los Angeles residents who are loyal to local teams?

New York City to challenge 2010 Census figures

While 2010 Census figures have shown population drops in places like Chicago and St. Louis, New York City gained population in the 2000s. However, some think the Census undercounted the population growth:

Apoplectic city leaders Thursday scrambled for words to convey their shock after Census numbers seemed to lowball Gotham’s population growth since 2000.

The figures show the city grew only 2.1 percent, to 8,175,133. Mayor Michael Bloomberg contended that a 0.1% increase — a mere 1,343 people — of Queens residents and a wee 1.6 percent rise in Brooklynites “doesn’t make any sense.” The city will challenge the findings, though some observers suggested a surge in harder-to-count recent immigrants and mobile, elusive young people could in part explain a possible undercount…

Joe Salvo, NYC’s chief demographer, expressed disbelief that just 166,855 more people were added to the city, when city data showed that 170,000 new housing units had been built since 2000.

The Census Bureau will be accepting challenges starting in June. New York City last appealed its count in 1990…

The Census Bureau agrees. “The pattern in New York City is like that seen in many other large cities – higher rates of growth in suburbs than in urban cores,” the Bureau said in a statement.

Just because more housing units were built during the 2000s doesn’t not necessarily mean that the population should have gone up more. I wonder if these NYC officials have more data or evidence on which they would base their claim.

The article also notes the consequences of these figures. On one hand, federal money and Congressional seats depend on population counts. Particularly in a time of economic crisis, losing money because of an undercount would mean that the city will have to fill some financial gaps. On the other hand, there is the matter of “civic pride.” A sociologist describes this dynamic:

Unacknowledged is that modest growth injured the “pride of place” in an immodest metropolis that likes to be perceived as ever increasingly majestic and magnetic, said John Logan, a Brown University sociology professor. As Chicago winced when it fell from the nation’s second largest city to third, NY is similarly loathe to lose any ground on growth. “Some see the numbers as a sign of how good you are,” said Logan, “but that’s a mistake.”

Measuring the status of a community just by numbers is tricky, particularly when the numbers are not as strong as one would like. But American communities like to see growth – losing population (or perhaps even being stagnant) is often construed as a failure.

Even with this (undercounted?) population growth, New York City still has a sizable population lead on the next largest city: NYC has more than 4 million more people than Chicago.

Selling a car by selling Detroit

The troubles of Detroit have been well documented and discussed in the American media in recent years (see here and here). So why would Chrysler mount a full advertising campaign (and I see this commercial almost every commercial break at times) based on Detroit  for its new 200 model? See the long-form (2:03) video here.

The entire campaign seems to be built around this idea that Detroit is something different: the ad says it is not New York, Chicago, or Las Vegas. While we get some typical shots, of a high school team running and a woman ice skating, the emphasis is on their hard work. The scenes on the street are at night with steam coming out of manhole covers as the 200 rolls along. The longer ad features Eminen, perhaps the only celebrity known to most Americans as being from Detroit (does Kid Rock count?). And all of this is driven home by the tagline: “Imported from Detroit.”

Perhaps the strategy is this: why not take all of this talk about Detroit’s darker side (and the commercial mentions that this is a “town that has been to hell and back”) and turn it around so that the commercial makes a positive point about this gritty, tough, and edgy car. Will this explicit linking to Detroit, a city on the decline, boost sales of a particular car model? Do Detroit residents see this commercial as positive and representative of their city?

Will a declining newspaper really lead to a loss of stature for Los Angeles?

Newspapers across the United States have suffered circulation declines and employee layoffs in recent years. The Los Angeles Times has been no different and was even bought out by the Tribune Company. But can people really suggest that Los Angeles is losing stature because its primary newspaper is having trouble?

Since The Times was sold to Tribune, its newsroom staff has been cut in half. For many Angelenos, the downsizing is just one more sign that their city is losing stature. Add it to the list of other ego-bruising blows, like the loss of its professional football team, the flight of Fortune 500 companies from the city limits and a failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“We don’t even have a football team. So what does that tell you?” said Mr. Cheeseborough, a note of resignation in his voice.

The Times’s weekday circulation has been nearly halved since 2000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, falling to just over 600,000 — a far steeper rate of decline than at many other big dailies like The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press and The Washington Post.

To identify where all the local harrumphing comes from, it helps to understand just how closely the rise of The Times is associated with the rise of Los Angeles as a capital of culture and commerce.

The paper’s founding families, the Otises and the Chandlers, used their fledgling publication to push for the development that helped give rise to modern Los Angeles. Water was first piped into the San Fernando Valley because they arranged for it. Los Angeles Harbor was built in part because of their backing.

The suggestion here is that the newspaper decline is part of a recent serious of public failures. By invoking the founding families of the newspaper and their “growth machine”/boosterism efforts, the suggestion is the out-of-towners who manage the newspaper (from Chicago, no less) don’t care much about the city. And if the newspaper doesn’t care any more, then why should anyone in the city or outside the city care?

This argument seems spurious at best. There could be several things going on here:

1. There is resentment about a Chicago company owning the Los Angeles Times. Chicago and LA have had a long-term rivalry as Chicago almost overtook New York City in population in the 1890s (leading New York to annex all five boroughs into the city) and then Los Angeles grew tremendously after World War Two to overtake Chicago as the “Second City.” This is a matter of civic pride.

2. People who like newspapers or journalists are upset about the demise of the Times while the general population is not. Journalists tend not to like to see the decline of revered outlets. Could this just be journalists upset about the general decline of newspapers? The problems described in this story, less news, more ads, are emblematic of the entire industry.

3. This is simply bad timing. There is not a causal relationship here: the decline of the Los Angeles Times coincides with a number of other events.

In the end, do people really think that Los Angeles’ culture and commerce are going to decline precipitously in the near future because of its newspaper?

Reaction to Newsweek’s list of “dying cities”

Search for “dying city” and “Newsweek” and what you will see in the Google results is not the original article but rather reactions from some of the listed cities. Newspapers in South Bend, Rochester (NY), and Grand Rapids have voiced their displeasure.

This recent list from Newsweek is based on Census data and the cities that experienced the greatest population declines from 2000 to 2009:

We used the most recent data from the Census Bureau on every metropolitan area with a population exceeding 100,000 to find the 30 cities that suffered the steepest population decline between 2000 and 2009. Then, in an attempt to look ahead toward the future of these regions, we analyzed demographic changes to find which ones experienced the biggest drop in the number of residents under 18. In this way, we can see which cities may have an even greater population decline ahead due to a shrinking population of young people.

Here are the 10 cities that had the steepest drop in overall population as well as the largest decline in the number of residents under the age of 18.

Some thoughts about this data:

1. All of these cities, except two (one in FL, one in CA), are in the Rust Belt. Many of these cities are not surprises.

2. The local reactions seem to be expressions of civic pride. People in these cities can’t ignore the population loss but they are right in saying their cities are not going completely to waste. There are some good things going on in these places but broader population trends are working against them.

3. “Dying city” does not equal “dead city.” Dying doesn’t mean that everybody is leaving, just that these cities lead the country in percentage population loss. A real “dead city” would have no population left. These cities are from that point.

4. Perhaps what angers locals most is that articles like these can further negative stereotypes. These places already suffer from perception problems and lists like this do not help. For example, it is any surprise that Detroit continues to lose population after years of commentators saying how bad of shape Detroit is in? People probably leave places like Detroit for reasons more important than punditry (reasons like jobs, opportunities, etc.) but it could play some role.