Identifying the pockets of carless Chicagoans

With more Americans living alone and significant transportation costs for middle-class Americans, where do the carless Chicagoans tend to cluster?

So where do those carless Chicagoans live, and how many of them are there? A lot, it turns out. If you break down Chicago by cars and household size using 2012 census numbers, these are the only groups of more than 100,000:

One person, one vehicle 193,174
One person, no vehicle 168,004
Two people, one vehicle 135,143

Along the northern lakefront, around half the households don’t have a car; there are pockets in the Near North Side and Lake View over 60 percent. In one Edgewater tract, it’s over 70 percent. It’s not the highest percentage, though—there are two tracts in one of the poorest stretches of the South Side, between U.S. Cellular Field and 47th Street along the Dan Ryan, above 80 percent.

As you move north and west and the city gets less dense, the percentage of carless households drops off. There’s an exception, though: one tract in Logan Square, adjacent to the California Blue Line stop, where 41 percent of households don’t own a car. The “twin towers” transit-oriented development that’s going up at 2293 N. Milwaukee, and causing controversy as it goes, will live right next to that tract.

If I had to guess, this is related to income, age, more expensive parking options (for example, having to pay for a garage spot as opposed to plenty of street parking), and housing types (single-family homes which are more attractive to families versus apartments, condos, etc.). How well would these clusters line up with where the Creative Class lives?

The headline suggests that this is has led developers to respond with what they are proposing and building. Yet, the article doesn’t say much regarding these changes. For example, how about more shared streets like have been proposed for a few spots in Chicago? How about more bike lanes in these areas? How about more high-rise housing? If these population clusters hold and developers are indeed responding, these could be very unique places in a few decades.

Quick Review: The End of the Suburbs

I recently read The End of the Suburbs, written by Fortune journalist Leigh Gallagher. On one hand, the book does a nice job describing some recent trends involving, but, on the other hand, the book is mistitled and I think she misses some key points about suburbs.

1. If I could title the book, I would name it something like “The End of the Sprawling Suburbs” or perhaps “The End of Sprawl.” Neither title is as sexy but she is not arguing that the American suburbs will disappear, rather that demographics and other factors are shifting toward cities. There is a big difference between ending suburbs and seeing them “grow up,” as one cited expert puts it.

2. Some of the key trends she highlights: the costs of driving (the whole oil industry, maintenance/gas/insurance/stress for owners, paying for roads/infrastructure), a changing family structure with more single-person and no-children households, changes among millennials and baby boomers who may be looking to get out of the suburbs in large numbers, a push toward New Urbanism in new suburban developments to increase density and strengthen community, and builders and developers, like Toll Brothers, are looking to build denser and more urban developments with more mixed-uses and smaller houses.

3. But, here are some big areas that I think Gallagher misses:

a. While she highlights the benefits of New Urbanism, does this lead to more affordable housing? In fact, the need for more affordable housing is rarely mentioned. As certain areas become more popular, such as urban neighborhoods that attract the creative class, this raises prices and pushes certain people out.

b. The main focus in the book is on big cities in the Northeast and Midwest. While she mentions some Sunbelt cities, like Las Vegas and Los Angeles, there is a lot more to explore here. There are particular patterns in Northern cities compared to newer, more sprawling Sunbelt cities. And in a book talking about the end of sprawl, how could she not mention Portland’s fight against urban sprawl in the last few decades?

c. It is an intriguing idea that cities and suburbs are starting to blend together. But, some of the examples are strange. For example, she talk about how there is increased poverty in the suburbs, which then could make cities more attractive again. There are still some major differences between the two sets of places, particularly the cultural mindsets as well as the settlement patterns.

d. She highlights thriving urban cores – but what about the rest of big cities? While Manhattan and Chicago’s Loop might be doing all right, what about the poorer parts of those cities? The recent mayoral race in NYC involved this issue and many have complained in Chicago that most of the neighborhoods experience little government help. In other words, these thriving urban and suburban developments often benefit the wealthier in society who can take advantage of them.

e. It isn’t until the last chapter that she highlights some defenders of sprawl – people like Joel Kotkin or Robert Bruegmann – but doesn’t spend much time with their ideas. Indeed, the book reads as if these trends are all inevitably moving toward cities and defenders of suburbs would argue critics of suburbs have been making these arguments for decades.

4. Two questions inspired by the book:

a. Just how much should the American economy rely on the housing industry? Gallagher suggests housing is a sign of a good economy based in other areas rather than one of the leading industries. Sprawl can lead to boom times for the construction and housing industries but it can also face tough times. Perhaps our efforts would be better spent trying to build up other industries.

b. Is the century of sprawl in America (roughly 1910 to today – there were suburbs before this but their mass development based around cars and mass housing really began in the 1920s) an aberration in our history or is it a deeper mentality and period? Gallagher suggests we are at the end of an era but others could argue the suburbs are deeply culturally engrained in American life and have a longer past and future.

Overall, this is an interesting read summarizing some important trends but I also think Gallagher misses some major suburban trends.

“The U.S. is now a country where many people live alone in a land of 3-bedroom houses”

Putting together recent data on household type and housing supply in the United States, Emily Badger comes to this conclusion:

As we’ve written before, American households have been getting smaller as our houses, conversely, have actually been getting bigger. But the disconnect between those two trends may be felt the most strongly by people who live alone, whether they’re 22-year-old women who aren’t yet married, or 70-year-old retired widows. As more Americans are opting to live alone than ever before, that now seems like an entirely unremarkable choice. But for years we’ve been building houses for that big nuclear family that’s now less common. And housing data released earlier this summer by the Census Bureau, illustrated at right, suggests that the U.S. is now a country where many people live alone in a land of 3-bedroom houses.

Interesting claim but without knowing exactly if the single-person households are living in the three bedroom homes, it is difficult to support.

A thought: I wonder if household types/family life can change much more quickly than the housing stock. That housing supply data includes a lot of homes built in past decades, both in eras when homes were smaller with larger families (pre-1960s) and when homes have been larger (the last few decades). It will take a long time for the housing market to fully adjust to more people living alone. Micro-apartments may be catching on in a few big cities but smaller housing for solo households is still limited.

But, it would also be interesting to ask single-person households how many bedrooms they would prefer to have if they could. Three bedrooms allows for space for guests as well as other kinds of rooms (used as storage/closets, hobby rooms, etc.). Two bedrooms does the same thing but with less space and four bedrooms probably provides too much space.

Rising global interest in growing numbers of single-person households?

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg drew attention to the growing number of single-person households in the United States but the numbers are even higher in Switzerland:

Sociologists claim that Switzerland’s singletons are changing the housing landscape in the country.

In 2010, the Federal Statistics Office reported that over 36 percent of registered addresses were single-person households, one of the highest proportions in the world.

Here are some Euromonitor figures on single-person households around the world:

-The number of single-person households is steadily increasing globally owing to improving standards of living and a growing trend towards smaller household structures. The number of single-person households globally has risen by 30.1% between 2001 and 2011 and reached 277 million or 14.9% of total households by the end of the period;

-This trend is seen across regions and within both developed and emerging and developing economies. However, it is more pronounced in the developed economies of Western Europe and North America where the proportion of single-person households stood at 31.0% and 27.6% respectively in 2011 compared to 10.9% in the Middle East and Africa region;
-By 2020, the number of single-person households globally will rise to 331 million or 15.7% of total households. The USA will have the highest number of single-person households in the world at 36.3 million followed by China (31.6 million), Japan (18.2 million) and India (17.4 million) in 2020;

The primary objective of this conference is to advance theoretical and empirical knowledge on the formation of single-person households in Asia and their implications for individual well-being and intergenerational relations. We invite submission of papers to examine the trends and determinants of single-person households in Asian countries. Longitudinal and comparative works are particularly welcome.

Family structure in Asia has undergone significant changes in the past several decades. A fast-growing trend that has raised concerns by scholars and policy makers is an increase in single-person households. By 2020, it is estimated that four out of the top ten countries with highest number of single-person households in the world will be in Asia. The increase raises questions regarding how family functions, and indeed regarding the definition of family system itself. Statistics show a high level of heterogeneity among groups who live alone, some by choice, others out of needs. The increasing number of single-person households for both young adults and elderly warrants special attentions as they are the two groups with the highest propensity to live in a single-person household. This group of population may be at higher risk of financial stress or social isolation. In particular, studies on solo-living of young adults are rare in the Asian context. In the face of vastly different paces of change, structurally and culturally, in the region, research that examines the trends of single-person households in different Asian societies would help us to understand the impacts of social changes on families in Asia.

This a rising global trend that has the potential to transform numerous societies. This also might be an interesting example of globalization: a trend that begins among young adults in relatively wealthy countries spreads around the world.

Getting married in a Going Solo world: more married couples living separately

More Americans are choosing to live alone but what happens if they want to get married? Here is one solution that appeals an increasing number of couples: get married but live apart.

It may seem unusual, but these non-traditional arrangements are more common than you think. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 1.7 million married couples in the U.S choose to live apart, and experts say that number is on the rise.

Marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer said the looming 50 percent divorce rate has couples worrying about the future before they even say “I do.” She said living apart allows them to avoid all the daily little conflicts that can lead to big problems down the road…

Ultimately, Haisha said, they avoid all the business of being married and they can just enjoy the marriage…

“We want to be the wind beneath each other’s wings, not clip each other’s wings,” Haisha said.

Judging from the comments made in this article, it sounds like these couples want to maintain the perceived strengths of living alone, which means you can escape from other people and don’t have to get too involved in daily life which might lead to conflict, while still enjoying their marriages. In other words, the ideals of autonomy and individualism are preserved while still committing to marriage. But, doesn’t this redefine marriage to some degree as another relationship that can be had at the time of one’s choosing?

Who should be really happy about this trend? People in real estate as it suggests more couples need two place to own or rent.

Lots of sociological themes in Time’s “10 ideas that are changing your life”

I enjoy reading magazines and other media sources that are willing to consider the world of ideas and what new thinking we all need to know about. Thus, Time’s “10 ideas that are changing your life” are not only interesting – there is a lot of sociological material in these ten ideas. Here are a few sociological musings about four of these ideas:

1. “Living Alone is the New Norm.” I’ve highlighted some of the recent reviews of the new research from sociologist Eric Klinenberg (see here and here) that shows that Americans living alone “make up 28% of all U.S. households, which means they are now tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type, more common than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family and roommate or group home.” Another interesting line: “Living alone helps us pursue sacred modern values – individual freedom, personal control and self-realization.” That is an interesting trio of values to mull over.

3. “The Rise of the Nones.” Sixteen percent of Americans claim to be non-religious but this group is particularly interesting because 4% claim to be agnostic or atheist. Thus, many of the “nones” are spiritual or religious but dissatisfied with organized religion. This group can be examined as part of a larger debate about whether American religion is declining or not. This also presents a challenge for organized religion: how do you get these religious or spiritual “nones” to buy into established houses of worship?

7. “High-Status Stress.” New findings suggest that people in charge or in the higher classes experience more stress: “In fact, research indicates that as you near the top, life stress increases so dramatically that its toxic effects essentially cancel out many positive aspects of succeeding.” It may not be easy to be at the top even if you have the power and ability to do more of what you want. I’m not sure how this would affect the class struggles between the upper and lower classes but it is interesting information nonetheless.

9. “Nature is Over.” Humans have altered the earth in many ways, doing so much so that our conception of nature might need to change: “The reality is that in the Anthropocene, there may simply be no room for nature, at least not nature as we’ve known and celebrated it – something separate from human beings – something pristine. There’s no getting back to the Garden [of Eden], assuming it ever existed.” This reminds me of the romanticism of nature in the mid 1800s that influenced how early American suburbs were created (designing winding streets to preserve pastoral views) and how Central Park was created (meant to preserve a piece of nature in the midst of the big city). More realistically, neither city parks or most suburbs really present much of nature – based on an idea in James Howard Kunstler’s TED talk about suburbs, these are more elaborate “nature band-aids.”

Several of the other ideas have sociological implications as well.

Reading through this list, it reminds me of how much I enjoy reading and talking about new ideas and where society might be going. If I could get all of my students to share this enthusiasm and develop a capacity to seek out and interact with ideas on their own (using the critical thinking skills and other tools they have picked up in college), it would make me happy.

Living alone means having no “social checks and balances”?

As more Americans live alone, these solo dwellers may have different behaviors at home:

In a sense, living alone represents the self let loose. In the absence of what Mr. Klinenberg calls “surveilling eyes,” the solo dweller is free to indulge his or her odder habits — what is sometimes referred to as Secret Single Behavior. Feel like standing naked in your kitchen at 2 a.m., eating peanut butter from the jar? Who’s to know?

Amy Kennedy, 28, a schoolteacher who has a two-bedroom apartment in High Point, N.C., all to herself, calls it living without “social checks and balances.”…

Among her domestic oddities: running in place during TV commercials; speaking conversational French to herself while making breakfast (she listens to a language CD); singing Journey songs in the shower; and removing only the clothes she needs from her dryer, thus turning it into a makeshift dresser…

What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different — in ways big and small — from the self they present to the world. We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them.

This sounds like Goffman’s dramaturgical approach: those living alone can be truly back-stage with themselves perhaps in a way they never could with a spouse or family. Would all of us exhibit this kind of quirky behavior if we didn’t have others around at home? Without others around to enforce the social norms of behavior, perhaps we become our only standard.

This makes me think about an area of life we don’t examine enough: what do people do when they are alone? Do they generally follow social conventions or are all people quirky? Do they feel comfortable when alone? Are there limits to much we can talk to each other about being alone or how much we can ask about what others do when they are alone? How do alone behaviors and feelings about being alone differ across cultures? Do people in the Western world today spend more or less time alone than in the past? Do we feel a need to have more alone time (“me-time”?) or do simply express this more? How do others tend to respond when we express loneliness or express that we like to be alone?

One thing I noted when reading this article: what about being alone yet through different mediums not really being alone? I’m thinking of situations where someone is alone but they are watching TV, listening to the radio, or interacting with people online. (Might reading also fall into this?) Of course, this kind of interaction is different than face-to-face interaction but is it truly living alone? I tend to be a person who likes to listen to talk radio – am I alone when doing this? Additionally, does this mediated interactions limit the quirky side of living alone?

It might be difficult methodologically to get at alone time. I assume the best way to do this would be to have cameras observing people while alone. Of course, it would take some time for people to forget the cameras are there but it would happen eventually. Other methods would not be as good: having a person do the observations would alter the setting too much; time diaries are unreliable; and surveys or interviews after the fact could be helpful but would end up being interpreted accounts.