Rahm Emanuel says Chicago is “the most American city”

In announcing that a prestigious conference will be held next year in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made an interesting statement about the city:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced today that Chicago will host the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates this spring…

The event is expected to attract high profile leaders from around the globe. All former Nobel Peace Laureates will be invited to attend. It will be co-chaired by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome. Emanuel will serve as an honorary co-chair.

This event “has been held in Paris, it’s been held in Berlin, it’s been held in Rome,” Emanuel said. “And they picked, in my view the most American city in America, Chicago.”

Chicago was chosen “due to its rich heritage and international profile,” organizers said Thursday.

What exactly makes Chicago “the most American city”? Several reasons come to mind:

1. Chicago came to prominence during the late 1800s as Americans were expanding to the West Coast, the railroad became really important, and America became a larger player on the world stage. In these changes, Chicago helped lead the way as a major port connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi and becoming the railroad hub of the nation. Chicago was the boomtown of this era, growing from just over 112,000 people in 1860 to nearly 1.7 million in 1900.

1a. In comparison, the older cities of the Northeast, Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia are too dependent on the colonial era.

1b. However, one could make the case that Los Angeles (or maybe even Houston) is the quintessential American city of the 20th century with a rise of the suburbs, highways, culture industries, and a population shift to Sunbelt and West Coast. At the same time these things were happening, Chicago was also changing: its suburbs have continued to grow (and also experienced growth in high-tech/white collar jobs) even as the city has experienced the Rust Belt problems of white flight and the loss of manufacturing jobs.

2. Chicago embodies some of the best and worse of America. It’s skyline is beautiful and it features miles of parks along Lake Michigan. The downtown and Michigan Avenue area is relatively clean and full of tourists. Chicago is a prominent world city because of its finance industry. On the flipside, Chicago is well known for its segregation (bringing MLK to the city in 1966), corrupt politics, and crime/gangsters.

3. Chicago is middle America, not the more educated or stylish East or West Coast. It embodies American values of hard work and grittiness alongside success and entrepreneurship.

A side note: it will be a busy spring in Chicago with the G-8 and NATO meeting in Chicago not too long after this Nobel gathering.

A sociology ph.d. becomes a New York state legislator and New York Supreme Court judge

Since students often ask what students can do with sociology degrees, I like to write about sociology majors (like Ronald Reagan) or sociologists who go on to intriguing careers. Here is another case: a sociologist who became a New York Supreme Court judge.

Sidney H. Asch, a New York judge with a Ph.D. in sociology who wrote scholarly works about civil liberties and made notable decisions about landlord-tenant law, employment of gay people and a man’s right to get his hair cut in a women’s beauty salon, died on Sept. 1 in a nursing home in North Carolina. He was 92…

Judge Asch, who wrote eight books, was modest about his academic credentials when he began his public career as a member of the State Assembly in 1952, and he seemed almost apologetic about them when interviewed a few years later, after he had won election to a Democratic Party leadership position in the Bronx…

Notwithstanding his effort to blend in, The Times found a scholar’s rise in city politics so unusual that it put its article about his election on the front page under the headline “Democrats Pick Ph.D. Egghead as District Leader in the Bronx.”…

In his decade in the Assembly, Judge Asch, who earned his doctorate from the New School for Social Research, promoted legislation to ban corporal punishment in schools and to require that cigarette packaging carry health warnings. Neither bill passed — though the objectives would later be met — before he left in 1961 to accept appointment as a New York City municipal court judge.

Sounds like an interesting career. I wonder if Asch ever spoke openly about how sociology influenced the decisions he made as a legislator or judge.

Plans for real megalopolis in China

The idea of a megalopolis dates back to the middle 1900s when people started thinking that collections of large cities, such as the large American cities on the Eastern seaboard including Boston, Hartford, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., such be considered as a larger grouping. But even this good example has cities separated by decent distances.

China is planning its own version of a megapolis near Hong Kong. The plans including merging nine cities with a combined population of 42 million:

The “Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One” scheme will create a 16,000 sq mile urban area that is 26 times larger geographically than Greater London, or twice the size of Wales.

The new mega-city will cover a large part of China’s manufacturing heartland, stretching from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and including Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Together, they account for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.

Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). An express rail line will also connect the hub with nearby Hong Kong.

“The idea is that when the cities are integrated, the residents can travel around freely and use the health care and other facilities in the different areas,” said Ma Xiangming, the chief planner at the Guangdong Rural and Urban Planning Institute and a senior consultant on the project.

This sounds like a sizable project. The article suggests that this is being done for several reasons: to achieve economy of scale in certain things (like medical services) and the ability to create unified policies for the region (including transportation and pollution initiatives). And this grouping of cities could conceivably grow even larger if Hong Kong was ever added to this mix.

The article calls this a “mega city” but I think it would fit the definition of a megalopolis perfectly. In fact, compared to most examples of a megalopolis, this one would be much better suited to the idea: the cities are relatively close and will be highly connected. Additionally, the cities are laid out more in a circle pattern rather than a line, allowing a variety of connections between urban centers.

I wonder how many planners around the world would approve of such a project. Combining certain infrastructure has its appeal as planning can be done on a broader scale and without cities constructing competing systems.

Interestingly, there are no plans to give the region a new name: “It will not be like Greater London or Greater Tokyo because there is no one city at the heart of this megalopolis.” Will future residents identify themselves as residents of the region or their specific city?

How to file 3 lawsuits an hour

The New York Times is reporting that the recession is causing a boom for some lawyers:

As millions of Americans have fallen behind on paying their bills, debt collection law firms have been clogging courtrooms with lawsuits seeking repayment.
Few have been as prolific as Cohen & Slamowitz, a Woodbury, N.Y., firm that has specialized in debt collection for nearly two decades. The firm has been filing roughly 80,000 lawsuits a year.
With just 14 lawyers on staff, that works out to more than 5,700 cases per lawyer.
While reporter Andrew Martin makes much of the shock value of the numbers and implies that there is no way such large-scale suing could be done responsibly, these numbers don’t strike me as inherently extreme.  While I am sure that abuse can and does happen in debt collection, consider the following:
  1. 5,700 cases per lawyer works out to just under 3 cases per billable hour (assuming a 2000-hour working year).
  2. Collecting a debt is not like proving that someone committed a crime.  It’s not like creditors have to prove to a jury that debtors owe money beyond a reasonable doubt.
  3. These lawyers are using automation software.
  4. These lawyers have a large support staff (who presumably handle most of the clerical work).

The high costs of living in suburbia

Via Yahoo! Finance, the New York Times looks at the costs of living in the suburbs vs. living in the city. The verdict: unless a family is sending kids to private school (particularly at middle-school age and above), the suburban life costs about 18% more.

The basis for the analysis – and Manhattan is not part of the figures:

While our analysis was by no means scientific, our goal was to recreate the type of decision a hypothetical family of four earning $175,000 a year might encounter. We chose an upper-middle-class income because that’s generally what our family needs to earn, conservatively, to afford a median-price home in Park Slope, a section of Brooklyn that is family-friendly, has good schools and is generally more affordable than Manhattan.

The two-bedroom, one-bathroom co-operative apartment that we’re using as a model in Park Slope is listed at $675,000, close to the median price for the neighborhood, as calculated by Zillow.com.

We stacked that against a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home in South Orange, N.J., just a 30-minute train ride from Manhattan, where the two parents work. The house is selling for $595,000.

Some experts have been talking a long time about the hidden costs of suburbia due to more driving and sprawl. Homes may be cheaper (and bigger) but there are added costs from lower density living.

If homeowners were presented with this sort of evidence (assuming it would hold up across cities), would they chose the suburbs in lesser numbers? Or would people still be willing to pay a premium for the amenities that suburbia can offer?