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.)

Reminder: shopping malls are clearly not public spaces

An effort to hold a protest at the Mall of America this Saturday was met with a predictable response: the mall is not a public space and the protest is not welcome.

The organizers, who are calling for a protest as part of the national “Black Lives Matter” movement responding to recent police shootings of unarmed black men, vow they will carry on as planned in the mall’s rotunda.

The protest had drawn 2,000 confirmations on its Facebook page as of Wednesday afternoon. Saturday also is one of the busiest shopping days of the holiday season.

Mall representatives have said that a demonstration at the mall would violate policy, and protesters could be removed, arrested and banned…

“Mall of America is a commercial retail and entertainment center. We respect the right to free speech, but Mall of America is private property and not a forum for protests, demonstrations or public debates,” mall management said in a statement.

As an alternative, the mall and the city of Bloomington urged protesters to use the former Alpha Business Center lot, which is public property adjacent to the mall, according to a letter from the mall posted on the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Facebook page.

The number one function of a shopping mall is to make money and protests can distract from that. Yet, shopping malls are one of the rare spaces in American suburban sprawl that you can find large numbers of people. One of the downsides of sprawl is that there are few public gathering places in centralized locations surrounded by population density. Sure, there are parks, public parking lots, and other public facilities but they tend to be spread out, often require driving, and don’t necessarily attract the attention of many other people.

Given the spread of protests along highways, I wonder if protestors could move instead to the public roads leading into the mall. There are likely restrictions on using these spaces as well but at least the protestors would be on public property.

A picket line against McMansions

McMansions may be unpopular in Los Angeles but they rarely attract picket lines:

Residents in the Melrose District Sunday protested what they’re calling mega-mansions in Los Angeles.

A picket line was set-up outside of a new home in the 700 block of N. Vista Street which some claim towers over much smaller residences nearby and isn’t energy-efficient.

Demonstrators say they timed their protest to coincide with the realtor’s open-house of the residence…

The owner of the home being picketed was not available for comment.

I am guessing this doesn’t build goodwill among neighbors. Imagine you are trying to sell a home (or buy that same home) that attracts a picket line…I’m not sure there is a good outcome for that seller. I assume the people in the picket line hope this (1) draws attention to their cause and (2) tells other owners in the neighborhood that they will be unhappy with similar teardowns. Yet, I wonder if this truly acts as a deterrent and instead affects their own property values. Directly protesting the actions of one homeowner tends to violate neighborhood friendliness or at least the suburban moral minimalism (a term from The Moral Order of a Suburb by Baumgarner) of leaving each other alone that marks many sprawling communities.

When American protestors take to the highway

Americans like their highways free of obstructions. So, what happened recently when a group of protestors blocked one of Atlanta’s main highways at rush hour?

That was what made the images of last week’s protest on the road known as the Atlanta Downtown Connector so jarring. A few dozen individuals, including members of the group Southerners on New Ground, walked out onto that roadway and laid down a banner reading “#BlackLivesMatter.” This was one of several actions around the country protesting police violence and mass incarceration, and expressing solidarity with those who have been demonstrating in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of black teenager Michael Brown by white policeman Darren Wilson…

The protesters blocked traffic on I-75/85, one of Atlanta’s major commuter routes, for only a short time, but they managed to get the attention of the drivers who rely on that route before the police cleared them from the roadway without making any arrests…

Reaction to the protest was decidedly mixed among Atlantans, with some people going on Twitter to criticize the action with comments such as, “I support the protests in #Ferguson, but why are they shutting down a highway in Atlanta so that BLACK folks can’t get home from work?” and “Look, I get standing in solidarity w/ #Ferguson, but #Atlanta traffic is already bad. So yeah, if you’re stuck in that, I’m POd w/ you.”

Blocking city streets has been an urban protest tactic since there were urban protests…

Blocking major roads in the United States, however, is much more rare. Most notably, the Selma to Montgomery marches that were pivotal in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s used U.S. Route 80, a move that was upheld in a ruling by Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. His opinion was deeply controversial at the time: “The law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups,” said the judge, “and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways.”

While this summary doesn’t give many details, I would be really interested to hear how the police handled this. Any pedestrian activity, let alone an intentional protest, on a major highway would often be viewed as a concern. At the same time, this is a good way to get the attention of a lot of people for the unusual location of the protest.

The article ends on a note that such protests help make highways less removed from normal life. This is due to a long American history of generally wanting their roads to be for automobile travel. This means bicycling, walking on nearby sidewalks, slow vehicles, and any other impediments (including natural ones) are often scorned. Such thoughts and policies helped lawmakers and politicians ram highways through major cities and urban neighborhoods in the mid-1900s. In contrast, our cities don’t have as many public pedestrian spaces like many European or other global cities which are full of plazas, parks, and wide sidewalks.

 

Hunger Games salute used by Thai protesters

Young adult fiction can lend itself to protest movements:

Fans of the popular book and film franchise The Hunger Games will recognize the hand signal instantly: the middle three fingers of the hand, raised to the sky. A gesture of resistance against the repressive government in the fictional world of Panem, it has now become a very real symbol of protest in Thailand at demonstrations against the junta that took power after the May 22 coup d’etat.

Crowds making the gesture have been pulled off the streets, according to reports, and a lone protestor was dragged into a taxi and arrested after making the hand signal…

Although the junta imposed a media blackout for television, satellite, and radio thanks to the immense popularity of social media in Thailand, discussion and criticism of the coup has continued on platforms like Twitter and Facebook—including tweets both documenting and encouraging the salute.

This is a fascinating example of protesters borrowing from the realm of literature and entertainment. The Hunger Games books contain some interesting commentary about modern society amidst their action and made-for-TV scenes. Just how different is the situation with the Capitol from the situation in Thailand? It may not even matter as it links their protests to a well-recognized symbol from mass-produced and consumed books and movies that can draw attention to their plight. Is there a similar symbol they could have used that would get them more attention or help their cause more?