More important than actual figures: Chicago’s population loss compared to others

Last year, I argued Chicago’s slight population loss was just an estimate. This year, it might be worthwhile to focus less on how many people Chicago actually lost – 8,638 – and instead discuss why it is the only major city that lost population:

Chicago was the only city among the nation’s 20 largest to lose population in 2016 — and it lost nearly double the number of residents as the year before, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau…

While the major cities in those states continue to grow, they aren’t growing as rapidly as they have in recent years. Houston, which saw the second-largest increase among major cities in 2015, when it gained 40,817 residents, gained 18,666 residents in 2016…

Even New York didn’t see as much growth in 2016 as it had in previous years. It grew by 21,171 people, compared with 44,512 people in 2015 and 49,530 in 2014.

“The big city growth we saw at the beginning of the decade is not quite as evident in the last couple years,” said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution who analyzes census data.

Two trends are discussed here: (1) Chicago is slowly losing population – this has been happening since the early 2010s – and (2) big cities overall didn’t grow as much during this past year. Both are important to note, even if these are just year to year estimates. A third ongoing trend complicates the story even more: the majority of the fastest-growing cities were in the South and West and communities in those regions had higher rates of population growth. In this broader context, it isn’t that strange that Chicago is losing people given its history and location (Rust Belt city, numerous ongoing issues) plus ongoing broader population shifts to the Sun Belt plus a slowdown in urban growth across the country.

For those who care about these figures, the bigger issue is that this does appear to be a trend over this decade: Chicago is slowly losing residents. The article notes several reasons including a loss of black residents and a slowing of immigration from Mexico. Apparently, even with all those luxury buildings going up downtown, there are not enough white suburbanites or millennials moving in.

The New York Times has compared many places to Brooklyn

The New York Times has been fond of comparing Brooklyn to all sorts of places including Oakland, Beijing, New Orleans, The Hudson Valley, and Everywhere. What might be the effect of doing this?

Beyond beards and Girls (or why NYT trend pieces are problematic), I always wonder how the residents these cities feel about being deemed a Brooklyn-like place. I also wonder what it’s going to do to their property prices.

There are two reasons: First, studies show that a prestigious sounding name adds value to a neighborhood. For example, researchers found that buyers were willing to pay a 4.2 percent premium for the term “country.” The Brooklyn dream branding has become a certain kind of prestige to young professionals looking for housing. They loosely know what real estate being “Brooklyn” means: cool neighbors, artisanal food shops, Zagat-rated restaurants and bars. It’s the stylish land of Blue Bottle coffee and No.6 clogs. The sell is: It has places you want to be and people you want to be around.

This narrative is problematic because it is unfairly discounting vast parts of the borough that’s not being gentrified in this specific way, which is why so many Brooklynites hate Brooklyn trend pieces. But it’s also just another way of saying it has a specific set of amenities that are appealing to a certain group—Brooklyn has become a euphemism for a kind of urbanism that millennials like.

Interesting that both reasons above deal with the hip, cool side of Brooklyn that appeals to young people. They imply that Brooklyn has become a trendy brand, even if many of its residents don’t see these benefits. Being a trendy brand also likely means that the frequent comparisons will stop at some point as Brooklyn (1) becomes less cool and (2) other neighborhoods, perhaps in New York City and perhaps elsewhere, become the places to be.

At the same time, I wonder why the Times has to make such comparisons at all. Is it because it helps their readers understand unfamiliar and foreign places? Or is it because New Yorkers think they have the best places (New York exceptionalism) so they impose their vision on other contexts?

Supersized McMansions, supersized roses for Valentine’s Day

I’ve seen McMansions compared to a number of other large consumer items, but until today I had not seen a comparison to flowers:

Leave it to America, land of the Big Gulp, Monster Burger and McMansions, to supersize yet one more thing: the rose.

Make that a six-foot rose, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

This flower-on-steroids — it actually gets this big from special breeding and soils — comes courtesy of several companies, including FTD, The Ultimate Rose and FiftyFlowers.com. Sales are taking off as florists promote the gargantuan blooms, which also come in three-, four- and five-foot varieties. The companies won’t release exact numbers, but FTD says sales have increased 50% year over year since it started selling the roses four years ago…

Skaff says FTD has already sold out of the five-foot variety and had to order more to meet demand ahead of Valentine’s Day. The Ultimate Rose, which supplies the giant roses to FTD and also sells them on its own site, says sales jump this time of year.

The suggestion here is that the presence of McMansions is related to the presence of six-foot tall roses through the desires of Americans for both because they are large. This seems like a bit of a stretch to me; are the same people buying McMansions and large roses? Are both solely about standing out from the crowd? Overall, this seems like a journalistic shortcut of recent years: when an item becomes larger, compare it to McMansions (and perhaps SUVs and Big Gulps might be other apt comparisons). What items if an item becomes smaller – is there a similar go-to comparison?

Graphic comparing US to other developed nations on nine measures

This particular graphic provides a look at how the United States stacks up against other developed nations on nine key measures, such as a Gini index, Gallup’s global wellbeing index, and life expectancy at birth.

As a graphic, this is both interesting and confusing. It is interesting in that one can take a quick glance at all of these measures at once and the color shading helps mark the higher and lower values. This is the goal of graphics or charts: condense a lot of information into an engaging format. However, there are a few problems: there is a lot of information to look at, it is unclear why the countries are listed in the order they are, and it takes some work to compare the countries marked with the different colors because they may be at the top or bottom of the list.

(By the way, the United States doesn’t compare well to some of the other countries on this list. Are there other overall measures in which the United States would compare more favorably?)