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.

Why more Americans are living alone

A new book by sociologist Eric Klinenberg tries to explain why more American are living alone:

Despite these risks, more and more people all over the world have decided that living alone is their best option. In the United States, 31 million people—one in seven adults—live alone, accounting for a remarkable 28% of households. That’s up from just 9% in 1950. Americans may think of themselves as uniquely self-reliant, thanks perhaps to Emerson, but the trend is even more pronounced in other affluent countries…

Why are people making this choice? For the many women who outlive their husbands, healthy single older men are scarce. Young and old alike, meanwhile, recognize that family togetherness, when it is not wonderful, can be conflict-ridden and downright awful. Roommates, at any age, hold little appeal. Not least, people go solo because they can afford it. Living alone is a luxury good that, like the purchase of a car or the increased consumption of meat, flourishes in societies that have become affluent.

But people also seem motivated by a loss of faith in the very idea of family. Mr. Klinenberg quotes Joseph Schumpeter’s observation that, as soon as people stop taking traditional arrangements for granted, “they cannot fail to become aware of the heavy personal sacrifices that family ties and especially parenthood entail.” Or as the sociologist Andrew Cherlin puts it, today “one’s primary obligation is to oneself rather than to one’s partner and children.”…

Most important, perhaps, is the increased value we place on autonomy. Since Dr. Spock, mothers and infants have departed from the age-old practice of sleeping together, and middle-class babies are now often placed in their own rooms. Swelling home sizes made this possible; from 1960 to 1980, the ratio of bedrooms to children in the average U.S. family rose to 1.1 from 0.7, so that nowadays parents and kids are rarely together in the same room—even for eating. Students increasingly expect a private room at college. Assuming that they do share quarters for a while after graduation, the move to an apartment of one’s own is now, writes Mr. Klinenberg, “the crucial turning point between second adolescence and becoming an adult.”

The review suggests Klinenberg thinks is a lasting trend but we’ll have to wait and see. What would it take for people to reverse the trend and have more people living in households or to want to take on the responsibility of having a family?

Perhaps Klinenberg doesn’t have the data to address this but I wonder how much people living alone interact with others – are they more involved in organizations, have higher levels of civic engagement, are more involved with others online, etc.?

It is interesting to think about this on college campuses – does anyone have numbers about how many college students do live in single rooms or how many would like to? Of course, few college students have ever lived with others in the same room when they arrive on campus so outside of marriage, this may be the only “normal” time for this to happen. If living in single rooms becomes a norm on campus, does this significantly alter the college experience?

An emerging portrait of emerging adults in the news, part 3

In recent weeks, a number of studies have been reported on that discuss the beliefs and behaviors of the younger generation, those who are now between high school and age 30 (an age group that could also be labeled “emerging adults”). In a three-part series, I want to highlight three of these studies because they not only suggest what this group is doing but also hints at the consequences. A study in part one showed that there is an association between hyper-texting and hyper social networking use and risky behavior. A study in part two showed that teens and college students today are more tolerant than previous generations but less empathetic.

Another interesting aspect of the lives of emerging adults is living alone. While this is common among the middle-aged, the proportion of emerging adults living alone is growing:

The stats are arresting. In this country, approximately 31 million people live alone, and one-person households make up 28 percent of the total, tying with childless couples as the most common residential type — “more common,’’ Klinenberg pointed out, “than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family, and the roommate or group home.’’

Those who live alone are mostly middle-age, with young adults the fastest-growing segment, and there are more women than men. No longer a transitional stage, living alone is one of the most stable household arrangements. And while one-person households were once scattered in low-density rural settings, they’re now concentrated in cities. “In Manhattan,’’ he said, “more than half of all residences are one-person dwellings.’’

I’ve seen a number of commentators attempt explanations for this: this is part of becoming an adult today, television shows like Friends or How I Met Your Mother glamorized the social life in the city (though these shows tend to show roommates living together), outrageous housing costs push younger people into odd living arrangements.

But couldn’t this trend toward living alone be linked to the two prior studies we looked at? If a lot of social life occurs through texting or through social networking sites and emerging adults are more tolerant but less empathetic, then living alone makes some sense. Emerging adults still have a social life – but this social life may look quite different as friends are found and communicated with through technology or social outings rather than through closer ties (such as living together).

And what if living alone or being alone more is the outcome for younger generations? How might this impact society? Such arrangements may be good for self-actualization (or not) but there will be consequences. What will “community” look like in several decades? If these three studies were all the evidence we had, we might conclude that emerging adults like to be social but also like to keep people at an arm’s length.

It is hard to draw conclusions from three studies that are reported in the news – but here is the emerging portrait: social interaction is changing. It may be easy to dismiss this new interaction as bad or wrong but we need more information and research on this particular topic. We need more measurement of depth or quality of relationships. Out of these three studies, we have two measures of interaction quality: the prevalence of risky behaviors (though this is only an association or correlation) and levels of empathy. We could be asking other questions like how many students in college today make arrangements for single rooms in dorms or would prefer to live in single rooms? How many students who study abroad actually are able to fully understand and appreciate a new culture versus just being able to see the differences two cultures?

All of this will be interesting to watch in the coming years as emerging adults  obtain the power to shape society’s values regarding interaction and community.

A recent experiment in human history: living alone

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently spoke in Boston about a relatively recent trend in human history: living alone.

The stats are arresting. In this country, approximately 31 million people live alone, and one-person households make up 28 percent of the total, tying with childless couples as the most common residential type — “more common,’’ Klinenberg pointed out, “than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family, and the roommate or group home.’’

Those who live alone are mostly middle-age, with young adults the fastest-growing segment, and there are more women than men. No longer a transitional stage, living alone is one of the most stable household arrangements. And while one-person households were once scattered in low-density rural settings, they’re now concentrated in cities. “In Manhattan,’’ he said, “more than half of all residences are one-person dwellings.’’

You’d think that the United States, with its cult of individualism, would be the world leader in living alone, but it’s not. Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, among others, come in ahead of us…

But despite a chapter that expands his examination of dying alone in the city, Klinenberg’s new work, based on a study of hundreds of one-person households in several cities and forthcoming as a book next year, takes a much more positive view of living alone. He treats it as an important rite of passage, our emergent standard measure of full adulthood, one for which our society begins preparing us from infancy onward — by making it normal to teach babies to sleep alone and for middle-class children to have their own rooms, and by making it convenient for young adults to carry on full and rewarding lives while living alone.

Klinenberg makes an interesting point about how this idea of being alone is one that many families stress from a young age. This trend of living alone as adults may just be a logical consequence of socializing children with these ideas.

Additionally, it sounds like Klinenberg is not as pessimistic as some who argue that American society has become more fragmented in recent decades. Indeed, Klinenberg makes it sound like living alone could provide people the ability to be even more social.

One way this could change society is in how people understand themselves. Living with other people is revealing in that it demonstrates how others operate in day-to-day life and also reveals individual’s faults and positive traits. This sort of interaction is hard to duplicate outside of the home.

This trend could also raise questions about traditional understandings of families and adulthood. People who choose to have families or live with others may become those who have to explain themselves. Social policy might need to be altered to limit privileges for families or provide new privileges for those living alone.

In the end, what would Klinenberg say about accumulated thoughts over the centuries about communal life, such as Donne’s suggestion that “no man is an island”? Have we simply moved on to a better understanding of our lives as individuals and a society? How will “community” be redefined?