Naperville as a center for suburban protests

Several hundred people gathered in Naperville Saturday to demand PResident Trump release his tax returns:

The sidewalks of downtown Naperville were filled with hundreds of marchers Saturday, many waving signs and chanting “release your taxes” in a Tax Day rally that gathered at the Riverwalk’s Free Speech Pavilion…

Foster said the Naperville protest was one of 180 Tax Day Marches held across the United States and in four other countries to demand Trump make his returns available to the public…

Both organizers and Foster said they were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, estimated to be between 300 and 600 people. Stava-Murray said the group initially requested a permit to hold the rally at the larger Grand Pavilion and to march along the Riverwalk, but the Naperville Park District rejected the requests, citing a rule prohibiting protests at both locations. She said the American Civil Liberties Union is looking into challenging the district’s rule as unconstitutional.

As a result, they rerouted the march to public sidewalks – east on Jackson Avenue, south on Main Street, west on Aurora Avenue and north on Eagle Street. Police stationed along the route confirmed the marchers were following guidelines worked out with the city for a peaceful protest.

Suburbs, particularly wealthier are more conservative ones like Naperville, are not usually known for their political rallies and marches. Yet, Naperville has had its share of political activity in recent years including an Occupy Naperville group in 2011 and a Trayvon Martin march in 2012. Why is Naperville a place for such activity? Some possible reasons:

  1. The city is the second largest suburb in the Chicago region behind Aurora. This means there are both a lot of residents who could be mobilized and a variety of viewpoints.
  2. Naperville may have a reputation as a business-friendly conservative community but it has more Democratic voters than before.
  3. Naperville has a highly educated population.
  4. It has a vibrant downtown where any sort of political activity could be viewed by a lot of people.
  5. DuPage County lacks other good protest sites. Other communities are smaller and sleepier. Could a march in Oak Brook draw the same amount of attention?

It will be interesting to see if (1) such activity continues and (2) how the city might respond to where activists can march.

The most congested city in the world is…

…Not much of a surprise. But, Los Angeles does lead the way by quite a bit over other cities:

Drivers in the car-crazy California metropolis spent 104 hours each driving in congestion during peak travel periods last year. That topped second-place Moscow at 91 hours and third-place New York at 89, according to a traffic scorecard compiled by Inrix, a transportation analytics firm.

The U.S. had half the cities on Inrix’s list of the top 10 most congested areas in the world and was the most congested developed country on the planet, Inrix found. U.S. drivers averaged 42 hours per year in traffic during peak times, the study found. San Francisco was the fourth-most congested city, while Bogota, Colombia, was fifth, Sao Paulo ranked sixth and London, Atlanta, Paris and Miami rounded out the top 10…

Study authors said a stable U.S. economy, continued urbanization of big cities, employment growth and low gas prices all contributed to increased traffic and congestion worldwide in 2016, lowering the quality of life.

The city built around the car and highways lives and dies with those same cars and highways.

What would it take to dramatically reduce that time in Los Angeles? The city has both a history of mass transit – extensive streetcar lines in the early 1900s – as well as rumblings about increased mass transit options in the future. See this 2012 post that sums up this potential “mass transit revolution.” But, any such effort must be monumental and involve both infrastructure as well as cultural change. Could we truly envision a Los Angeles in several decades where the car is not at the center of everyday life (both in practice and mythos) or will we have piecemeal efforts (including continuing trying to maximize driving through schemes like boring under the city) that don’t add up to much? Large-scale transformation would take a significant shift in focus by the city and other bodies and require sustained pressure for decades.

Another thought: are there effective ways for angry drivers to protest congestion? Yes, they can vote for certain candidates or policies. What if drivers one day symbolically walked away from their cars during the afternoon rush hour? (Such a protest, unfortunately, only would add to the congestion.) Could drivers clog the downtown streets in protest to block politicians? Refuse to go to work? There does not seem to be many options for the average driver to express their displeasure.

The difficulties of big protests at airports

Airports don’t often attract people for protests so the gatherings of recent days highlighted a few issues:

Moving hundreds of thousands of people to downtown streets for a march is one thing—getting people to an airport is a huge transportation challenge, especially in cities that don’t have adequate transit connections to begin with. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, transit authorities were coyly reminding protesters to use trains or buses to get to SFO and LAX.

Some airports reported delayed flights because crew members could not get to work, and heavy traffic was reported around many airports. Long-term parking lots and shuttles were filled with protesters, and passengers had to wade through sign-holding crowds to get to their gates.

So many New Yorkers were using the city’s AirTrain to get to the protest at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) that security guards blocked people from boarding it until Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered Port Authority to let protesters through

The incident on JFK’s AirTrain also points to another challenge for an airport demonstration. Most airports are a checkerboard of public and private properties with both local and federal oversight. JFK’s international terminal, Terminal 4, which became ground zero for the protests nationwide, for example, is partly owned by Schiphol Cargo, the corporation that manages Amsterdam’s airport…

Globally, this type of “airport urbanism” is actually becoming the norm as airport design worldwide moves away from the fortress model of the past. While continuing to focus on security for boarding areas, new airports are adding more permeable spaces that serve both passengers and the greater public. Munich’s airport has a similar programmed plaza that inspired Denver’s.

It is unlikely that airports can be consistent centers of urbanism because many types of development do not want to locate near loud runways. At the same time, there is little reason why more airports can’t introduce more interesting spaces that give travelers, workers, and other visitors opportunities to relax, shop, and interact. For example, I really enjoyed the grand windows at the Seattle airport last August. (At the same time, that space was past security and wouldn’t be available to protestors.)

Protestors in recent years have shown more willingness to congregate in transportation corridors, whether highways or airports. Such tactics do tend to get people’s attention while also highlighting the lack of large public space sin many locales.

Predicting riots using social media

In addition to the identified factors from research coming out of the 1960s and 1970s, one sociologist suggests social media activity can show how riots and protests spread:

The most promising method of “predicting” unrest might be through social media. Dan Braha, a professor at the University of Massachusetts and affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute, has studied unrest in hundreds of countries and the phenomenon of “contagion,” or how it spreads. In the past, printed newspapers, televisions, and other media played an important role, he said. “Today, the use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms is fundamental to the rapid self-organization and spreading of unrest activities—much like the spread of fire in a forest.” And the data from these media can be tracked. Riots, he claims, are certainly foreseeable, but “prediction regarding ‘when’ and ‘where’ becomes more precise on short time scales.”

It sounds like social media is just part of the puzzle here. There are certain underlying conditions mentioned in this article – such as hot weather or precipitating incidents (such as police violence) – but these do not always lead to riots. (In fact, given the inequalities present in many American cities, riots and protests could be considered relatively rare.)  Just as with the analysis of the Arab Spring activity, social media does not cause protests or riots but it can help facilitate it. This was reported in Egypt as protestors shared information through social media and even peer-to-peer options. This was also reported in Baltimore as protestors selected places to show up. This is not a new phenomena; riots in the 1960s spread in a contagion like manner and the dispersion could be tracked through news coverage in the New York Times. But, the availability of social media now makes it theoretically possible to watch things develop in real time, an advantage for both protestors and authorities.

Thinking to the future, what happens when protestors make use of non-public social media or peer-to-peer options that cannot be viewed by authorities?

All the world’s people could fit in NYC

The world’s population may be at record levels but everyone could fit in New York City if they all stood really close together:

Urban’s core assumption is that 10 humans can fit in a square meter. If you watch this video of nine journalists squeezing themselves into a square meter, you can see that while this would be cozy, it’s definitely possible. This especially true given that about a quarter of the world’s population is under 15.

At 10 people per square meter, that means we can fit 1,000 people in a 10-by-10-meter square. 54,000 people can fit in an American football field, and 26 million people – about the population of Scandinavia – can fit into one square mile, Urban writes. Central Park, which is 1.3 square miles or 3.4 square kilometers, could hold the population of Australia or Saudi Arabia. All 320 million Americans could huddle together into a square that is 3.5 miles or 5.7 kilometers on each side.

And what if we found a piece of land for everyone on Earth – all 7.3 billion of the world’s people? Urban calculates that we would need a square that is 27 km, or 16.8 miles, on each side – an area smaller than Bahrain and, yes, New York City.

Urban calculates that we could fit 590 million people in Manhattan — that takes care of North America. We could fit 1.38 billion people in Brooklyn, equivalent to the population of Africa, South America and Oceania. Queens could hold 2.83 billion — roughly the equivalent of India + China + Japan. 1.09 billion could fit in the Bronx, taking care of Europe, while 1.51 billion could fit Staten Island, making room for the rest of Asia ex-China, Japan and India.

Of course, this isn’t a long-term possibility. But, it does lead me to a few thoughts:

1. This suggests there is a lot of land where few people live. Some of this land is simply uninhabitable. But, there still must be more land where population densities are really low.

2. This reminds me of the sorts of calculations done by those who observe rallies and protests. Calculations of crowds on the National Mall utilize estimates of how close people can stand together for such events.

3. A more abstract question is what is the highest level of population density that can still support decent lives? If technology allowed people to live closer together in the future, would people choose this?

Is not taking a health care subsidy from the government an effective form of protesting?

At least a few Americans are refusing to take government subsidies for healthcare when they are eligible:

Her sentiment is unusual, but brokers say they do hear from clients who are eligible for subsidies – which are based on household income and not assets – but want no part of them. Health officials have been boasting that 6.6 million people have enrolled in health coverage through state or federal marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, but in sharp contrast stands a small group of Americans who say they want nothing to do with the plans, even if they would save money. Their reasons vary: Some are protesting Obamacare, while others simply feel it’s unethical to accept taxpayer dollars to pay for health insurance.

“It’s almost a philosophical or political statement,” says Gerry Wedig, a professor at the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.

For Brewer, buying a plan on her own would mean she would not have enough to pay for housing, she says, so she chose not to be insured this year and will have to pay a penalty in her 2016 tax filing that is likely to be 2 percent of her income. She has no dependents, is healthy, does not use prescriptions and says she has been careful about her health choices, not overusing medical care…

Complicating the ethical question is that some people who qualify for subsidies based on their income could afford to pay their own way. “There is no question that we are enrolling people through these programs who would otherwise be considered middle-class or even affluent,” says Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow for health policy studies at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation think tank. “We are seeing people with enrollment in these programs that have significant assets, but for whatever reason – usually a temporary reason – fall below the income line.”

This sounds like an interesting form of protest. How many people turn down free money? Would the same people not take other tax breaks? While I understand the interest in standing on principle, I would want to ask two further questions: (1) how would anyone know that you are taking this stand (would these people go around boasting about their principled stands or encourage media attention?) and (2) is this an effective method for bringing about desired social change. It seems like this sort of stand might not go very far…

The irony of a Chicago area march to support police held in…Oak Brook

Hundreds of people gathered on Sunday to march in support of police near the Oak Brook Center mall:

King took to Facebook a few weeks back to recruit backing for a community march that would support police officers. She envisioned it as a kind of counterprotest — a response to the marches against police brutality that have taken place in the Chicago area and around the country in recent months…

The march stepped off from a parking lot at Oakbrook Center mall, moved south on Route 83, then headed east on 22nd Street, ending in a parking area on the other side of Oakbrook Center.

Marchers yelled “Go blue!” as they walked, and they held up signs that said “Blue lives matter” and “Blue protects, serves and defends us all.”…

Oak Brook police closed portions of Route 83 and 22nd Street to accommodate the march. Marchers expressed their thanks to the officers as they walked by.

Why is this setting particularly interesting? Here are a few reasons:

1. According to the Census, Oak Brook had 8,041 residents in 2013 and the median household income was $135,880.

2. Oak Brook Center is one of the largest shopping malls in the Chicago region and one of the more upscale.

3. The community has low crime rates.

4. According to Wikipedia, “it is home to the headquarters of several notable companies and organizations including McDonald’s, Ace Hardware, Blistex, Federal Signal, CenterPoint Properties, Sanford L.P., Tree house Foods, and Lions Clubs International.

5. The history of Oak Brook was influenced by one influential landowner: “It is sometimes referred to as Paul Butler’s realized dream. As the largest landholder, he had consulted with such experts as Robert Kingery of the Regional Planning Commis­sion, Carl Gardner Associates, and Garson Rohrback of General Planning & Research…A unique feature is the village-owned 270-acre Oak Brook Sports Core, purchased from Paul Butler in 1977 pursuant to a vote by the residents. The Sports Core now boasts an eighteen-hole golf course, bath and tennis club, polo fields, other recreational areas, all sup­ported by user-fees and available primarily to Oak Brook residents. The Sports Core was originally developed by Paul Butler, who was instrumental in bringing polo, the so-called sport of kings,” to the midwest. Mr. Butler, whose accidental death, the day after his 89th birthday in 1982, proved a great loss to the village, had always been an enthusiastic sup­porter of excellence in all fields of athletics. The Sports Core has over the years been the location of numerous fashionable benefit horse shows, international polo matches, golf tourna­ments and other events for which Oak Brook was noted long before it developed residen­tially and commercially.”

All together, Oak Brook is a wealthy suburban community with a significant retail and office base and a history connected to polo fields. If the recent protests regarding Ferguson and New York City are about police conduct and more broadly about race, Oak Brook, Illinois is (1) a community removed from these everyday concerns and (2) is exactly the sort of protected place that represents the white establishment. To hold a march in favor of police could be construed then as advocating for the status quo in Oak Brook and similarly safe and well-off places.

(An alternative explanation might be that Oak Brook is near multiple highways, making it easy for marchers to travel to the community.)