Suburban municipalities to take own actions regarding COVID-19?

As different government bodies look to act in response to the spread of COVID-19, I was struck by the number of large cities and states that are acting (including the state in which I live). At the same time, I wonder: how are suburban communities responding?

A few thoughts:

-Many suburban communities have limited capabilities and cannot do a whole lot. They may have limited budgets, a relatively small number of employees, and not much power to compel action. Still, decisions to close public spaces – such as libraries, city/village/town halls, community centers – matter to the everyday lives of lots of people.

-Yet, some bigger suburbs in the United States are as large as small big cities. Their actions can be very consequential and they have more budget room to address issues. At this point, the news has primarily focused on the biggest cities in the United States but this matters for numerous other communities over 100,000 people (to use an arbitrary cut-off point for a larger community).

Americans tend to like local control and government but at the speed that a virus can spread and across political boundaries, individual actions across hundreds of American suburbs might not add up to much. Hence, people look to the state and federal level to mobilize resources and direct action.

-What is the role of metropolitan regions in all of this? The City of Chicago can act and affect millions of residents and workers but there are roughly seven million more people in the region. Counties can act and affect more residents. But, then the next level of action regarding COVID-19 seems to be at the state level. Are metropolitan regions working together or is the general lack of metropolitan cooperation revealed again in a time of crisis?

“Top Three Religious Traditions in Major Metropolitan Areas”

Data from the 2014 American Values Atlas compiled by PRRI shows the top three religious traditions in a number of large American metro areas:


Here are some of the takeaways according to PRRI:


  • Urban areas attract the unaffiliated; the religiously unaffiliated are among the top three religious groups in every metro area polled.
  • Catholics also love cities; Catholicism is among the top three religious groups for nearly every metro area—only Nashville, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Atlanta don’t have Catholics among the top three.
  • Atlanta is the only metro area that doesn’t have Catholics, the religiously unaffiliated, or white evangelical Protestants in the number one slot; that prize goes to black Protestants.
  • Nashville has the largest percentage of one singular religious group: nearly four in ten (38 percent) residents identify as white evangelical Protestant.

Related to these takeaways, two things stuck out most to me looking at this data:

  1. The relative evenness of major religious traditions (and unaffiliated) in major cities. Few large regions have one religious tradition that comprises of more than 33% of the population. This suggests a lot of pluralism at the metropolitan region level.
  2. The pattern does not hold in every case but the leading cities for having the percent of different religious traditions tend to fall into certain regions: Catholics in the Northeast and Midwest, unaffiliated in the West, white evangelical Protestant in the Bible Belt and Midwest.

Put these two factors together and it would be fascinating to consider how the experience of religiosity differs across metropolitan regions. For example, a comparison across traditions such as between Nashville (dominated by white evangelicals) and Portland (dominated by the unaffiliated) could be interesting as would regional differences within the same leading tradition such as between Miami and Milwaukee. If metropolitan regions could be considered fields of religious activity, how might they differ in significant ways?


How close to San Francisco does a house have to be to be considered “in San Francisco”?

The short answer: closer than north of Oakland on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

The current edition of Brother vs. Brother on HGTV features two homes undergoing renovation in the Bay Area. However, they are located in the suburbs of El Sobrante and Pinole, respectively a 45 minute and one hour drive from San Francisco. This is similar to a post from years back when I wrote about Procure Proton Therapy claiming a “close to downtown Chicago” location with their Warrenville facility. Can the show truly claim to be about houses in San Francisco?

I would say no for three primary reasons:

  1. The location is just too far away from San Francisco to claim it is in the city. One could visit San Francisco from these locations but the show is not about San Francisco; it is about suburban housing. This is particularly noticeable in each episode with the size of the homes, the price of the homes, and the property each house sits on.
  2. This is not just about being relatively far our from the big city; the homes are also beyond Oakland. The Bay Area is a unique one in that there are three major cities within a relatively short distance from each other: San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. The largest in population is San Jose, the 11th largest city in the country, followed by San Francisco at 13th, and Oakland at 45th. Even though San Jose is closest to Silicon Valley, San Francisco is the most prestigious city with Oakland trailing both. If these suburban homes are to be connected to a big city, Oakland would technically be more accurate.
  3. Many suburbanites rarely make it into the big city if they do not work there or have business that regularly takes them there. They may still identify with the big city in the region, especially when talking with people from other parts of the country or world who have little knowledge of little communities but know certain big cities. Yet, their day-to-day experience is markedly different from that of a San Francisco resident.

I know the marketing is driving this. “Brother vs. Brother: San Francisco” is a lot more exciting than “Brother vs. Brother: Bay Area Suburbs.” Still, the consistent shots of San Francisco is a bit much when these are suburban homes that could fit in many regions across the United States.


When gentrifiers are pushed out of Brooklyn to places like New Jersey

Gentrifying doesn’t last forever: when the big money arrives, gentrifiers in places like Brooklyn have to move on.

By many measures, Jeff Huston and his wife, Lisa Medvedik-Huston, arrived late to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They weren’t among the first waves of artists and hipsters in the early-to-mid ’90s to cross the East River in search of cheaper, grittier confines. When they rented a spacious, duplex loft two blocks from the Bedford Avenue subway stop in 2007, they found a safe neighborhood already dotted with clothing boutiques and wine shops. The height of the real estate boom was approaching, and condos were rising along both the waterfront and McCarren Park…

And last year, when they were ready to buy, the couple quickly realized they had been priced out. “I can’t tell you how many listings said, ‘cash only,’ ” said Mr. Huston, whose real estate search included everything from $500,000 apartments to $900,000 fixer-upper rowhouses and took him from Williamsburg to Bedford-Stuyvesant. “That was a wake-up call.”…

And so the Hustons bid farewell to Brooklyn. In October, they spent $550,000 on a 2,000-square-foot loft in a converted suitcase factory in Jersey City Heights, a section of Jersey City that overlooks Hoboken. “We weren’t sure there was anyone like us in the neighborhood,” he said. Then a Brooklyn-style coffee shop arrived. “The line down the street was all people like us. We could have been in Williamsburg. It was all, like, expats.”…

Many have tried in earnest to stay in Brooklyn, squeezing into smaller spaces or heading deeper into the borough in search of affordability. But there comes a point when that hourlong commute becomes difficult to justify, and the realization strikes that a house with a yard in Maplewood, N.J., can be had for about the same price as a condo in Midwood.

Gentrification tends to draw attention – whether from existing residents who see problems in new residents moving in or from people celebrating the revival of a neighborhood – but this is a reminder that neighborhoods can go through numerous cycles. In this case, Brooklyn’s real estate is on a continued upward swing due to a lack of inventory and high prices in nearby Manhattan. But, even that upward swing is not guaranteed and is contingent on future social and economic changes.

It would also be interesting to track what happens to these ex-pats from Brooklyn. These changes to Brooklyn have the potential to transform numerous other communities, like the “hipsturbia” north of New York City. Opinions and studies about gentrification tend to focus on a defined geographic location but this limits seeing the true big impact gentrification can have across a metropolitan region.

Economic output of American metro areas rival that of foreign countries

One interesting indicator of the economic power of American metropolitan areas is how they match up with the output of foreign countries:

The greater New York metro, far and away America’s largest and richest, is projected to produce $1.4 trillion dollars in GMP in 2014. This makes it about the same size as Australia, equivalent the world’s 12th largest economy.

L.A., projected to account for almost $830 billion in GMP, has a larger economy than that of the Netherlands, and would therefore number among the world’s top 20 economies.

Chicago, with more than $610 billion in GMP, is about the same size as Switzerland and significantly bigger than Sweden…

And even far smaller metros can outpace some substantial national economies. With $180 billion in GMP, Denver’s economy is comparable to that of the entire country of New Zealand. Even Anchorage, Alaska, projected to produce nearly $30 billion in GMP, is about the same size as Latvia.

It strikes me that this is also a pretty fascinating look at America’s economic power overall. If each of these metropolitan areas could be their own city-states, having them all in one country is quite a feat. Of course, if they were split up, this could change their economic output. In fact, it would be interesting to play a what if game with that very question: which would US metros would thrive as independent states and which would falter?

Census Bureau official: Chicago now 5th biggest city in North America

Following on new from a little while back, the US Census Bureau has officially confirmed that Toronto is now larger than Chicago:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our city is home to 2.71 million people to Toronto’s 2.79 million in 2012.

Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles top the list.

Chicago is still one of the top 10 largest cities in North America, and the population did increase by more than 11,000 residents between 2010 and 2011. And we lead the nation in the category of cities that have experienced population growth downtown over the last decade, with an increase of more than 37,000 residents within 2 miles of City Hall, according to Chicago magazine.

Not a big difference at this point but Chicago is unlikely to get much closer in population compared to Los Angeles anytime soon, Toronto may continue to grow, Washington D.C. is growing in influence, and Houston is a ways behind Chicago but has been growing at a rapid pace in recent decades. Maybe this means Chicagoans should be a little worried about their status as a global city?

One area where Chicago does not have to worry: it is still securely ahead of Toronto in terms of its metropolitan area population. The Chicago metro area has over 9 million people while the Toronto metro area has over 5.5 million (2011 figures). Additionally, Chicago has over 2.5 million more than the next biggest US MSA, Dallas.

Show your knowledge of US metro areas with the US Census “Population Bracketology”

Even the United States Census Bureau is getting into brackets and bracketology. Go here to play “Population Bracketology” which shows your knowledge of the population of metropolitan areas in the United States.

Yes, it should be easy to select the winner. But, I like that a lot of the initial pairings matched Sunbelt versus Rust Belt cities. Some of these were hard to choose. On the other hand, the Los Angeles-New York City matchup in the first round knocked out a contender…

Myron Orfield on how to help keep the suburbs, like those of Chicago, diverse

Myron Orfield is known for his efforts to argue for more comprehensive metropolitan cooperation and planning. In this piece at Atlantic Cities, Orfield explains how to help the suburbs remain diverse:

Yet, while integrated suburbs represent great hope, they face serious challenges to their prosperity and stability. In America, integrated communities have a hard time staying integrated for extended periods. Neighborhoods that were more than 23 percent non-white in 1980 were more likely to become predominately non-white (more than 60 percent non-white) during the next 25 years than to remain integrated. Illegal discrimination — in the form of steering by real estate agents, mortgage lending and insurance discrimination, subsidized housing placement, and racial gerrymandering of school attendance boundaries — is causing rapid racial change and economic decline…

By 2010, 17 percent of suburbanites lived in predominantly non-white suburbs, communities that were once integrated but are now more troubled than their central cities, with fewer prospects for renewal. Tipping or resegregation (moving from a once all-white or stably integrated neighborhood to an all non-white neighborhood), while common, is not inevitable. Stable integration is possible. However, it does not happen by accident. It is the product of clear race-conscious strategies, hard work, and political collaboration among local governments.

Critical to stabilizing these suburbs are the following strategies:

  • Creation of local stable integration plans with fair housing ordinances, incentives for pro-integrative home loans, cooperative efforts with local school districts, and financial support of pro-integrative community-based organizations.
  • Greater enforcement of existing civil rights laws including the Fair Housing Act, especially the sections related to racial steering, mortgage lending discrimination and location of publicly subsidized affordable housing.
  • Adoption of regional strategies to limit exclusionary zoning and require affluent suburbs to accommodate their fair share of affordable housing.
  • Adoption of metropolitan-scale strategies to promote more integrated schools.

This tipping point phenomenon goes back to the research of Thomas Schelling who identified points where residents will start leaving a neighborhood with an influx of certain new residents. Research suggests that whites start leaving more diverse neighborhoods when the neighborhood becomes roughly 10-20% non-white.

It’s too bad Orfield doesn’t go further with this and talk about suburbs where this has successfully taken place. In his book American Metropolitics, Orfield talks primarily about inner-ring suburbs that now have more diverse populations. The Chicago metropolitan region maps included in this post are fascinating: between 2000 and 2010, a number of suburbs became more diverse. I’ve included the 2010 map from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity below:

Some quick observations:

1. The diverse suburbs have moved far beyond just the inner-ring suburbs.

2. The south and west suburbs are most diverse. There are a number of African-American suburbs just south of Chicago and the diverse population west of Chicago is primarily Latino with growing numbers of Asians.

3. The wealthier North Shore suburbs are the largest pocket of predominantly white suburbs though there are a number of these white suburbs sprinkled throughout the region. It is interesting to watch how these suburbs adapt to the growing diversity around them.

4. The most diverse suburbs appear to be ones with cheaper housing and more manufacturing and service jobs. There are some wealthier more diverse suburbs such as Oak Brook but I suspect the diversity in these suburbs is not also class diversity.

So Orfield’s four recommendations would help preserve this map and even increase diversity? Without much metropolitan cooperation, the Chicago suburbs have become more diverse. Perhaps Orfield might argue the suburbs would be even more diverse if metropolitan efforts had been undertaken. However, these maps obscure several important features such as social class and availability of nearby jobs.

Cities ranked by the “Trick or Treat Index”

Richard Florida has put some of his data to use to answer an important question: what are the best cities in the united States for trick or treating on Halloween?

According to National Retail Federation projections, Americans will spend $6.86 billion on Halloween this year, up from $3.3 billion in 2005 when a lot fewer of us were out of work. But even as Halloween edges up on Christmas as a shopping opportunity, the trick-or-treating experience is a lot less universal than it was. In some towns, you see hardly any unsupervised trick-or-treaters after dark; in other places—Brooklyn Heights or my neighborhood in Toronto leap to mind—there are more kids than you can imagine.

Herewith the 2011 edition of the Trick-or-Treater Index developed with the ever-able number-crunching of my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague, Charlotta Mellander. The 2011 Index is based on the following five metrics: the share of children aged 5 to 14; median household income (figuring the haul will be better in more affluent metros), population density, walkability (measured as the percentage of people who walk or bike to work) and creative spirit (which we measured as the percentage of artists, designers, and other cultural creatives). The data are from the American Community Survey and cover all U.S. metro areas, both their cores and suburbs…

As for the top ranking metros, Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut, comes in first again this year. Greater New York has moved up to second place, followed by Chicago, greater Washington, D.C., and the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Los Angeles, last year’s runner-up, has dropped to 7th place. Big metros dominate the top spots, but Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has moved all the way up from 16th last year to 6th on our 2011 rankings. And college towns like Ann Arbor, Michigan, Boulder, Colorado, and New Haven, Connecticut, also rank among the top 25.

This reminds me of another recent odd use of data that ranked the luckiest cities. So people with more money, who are more creative, and live in more walkable areas necessarily give more or better candy? Might they also be the people who are more likely to give substitutes to candy? Could this also be related to health measures, like obesity or life expectancy? This seems like opportunistic, atheoretical data mining meant to get a few page clicks (like me).

And since there are probably few people who would go to a whole new metropolitan area just to get candy, wouldn’t this be a better analysis if it was at a zip code, community, or census block level?

Interactive maps of metropolitan America

The Brookings Institute has put together a website with interactive data maps of metropolitan America. The data comes from the 2009 American Community Survey (done by the Census) and one can look at all sorts of variables across cities or metropolitan areas.

The best feature, in my opinion, is the tab that lets you compare suburbs alone across metropolitan regions. Very quickly, you can find that the suburbs of Syracuse, New York have the highest percentage of non-Hispanic whites (93.1%), the suburbs of San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, have the highest median household income ($96,478), and the suburbs of Modesto, California have the highest percentage of commuters traveling more than 90 minutes to work (7.2%).