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?

The importance of public squares for recent revolutionary activity

Public squares have played prominent roles in recent revolutionary efforts across the world, including in Kiev:

Not all revolutions have been centered in public squares, but many recent ones have, including several in former Soviet states. Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003 toppled President Eduard Shevardnadze from Tbilisi’s Freedom Square. Kyrgyz protesters seized Ala-Too Square from police in 2005, then promptly stormed the nearby presidential palace and ousted long-time President Askar Akayev. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 took place in the same Independence Square where protesters have now engaged in bloody clashes with government forces, wringing promises from President Viktor Yanukovych for early elections and a return to the 2004 constitution…

Cairo’s layout also made Tahrir Square the perfect place to launch a revolution. Centrally located in Egypt’s largest city, Tahrir sits near the Egyptian parliament, Mubarak’s political party headquarters, the presidential palace, numerous foreign embassies, and hotels filled with international journalists to broadcast footage of the protests for audiences around the world. After Mubarak stepped down, large public squares in other Arab capitals became revolutionary battlegrounds as well.

For Libya, Tripoli’s main public square has come to symbolize the success of the country’s 2011 revolution. Originally named Piazza Italia under Italian colonial rule (Western European-inspired central squares are a common theme in this part of the world) and then Independence Square by the Libyan monarchy, it had been renamed “Green Square” after Muammar Qaddafi’s political ideology. Libya’s transitional government promptly renamed it Martyrs’ Square after those who died fighting Qaddafi’s regime in Libya’s civil war.

But these public spaces don’t always survive the revolutionary moments that make them famous. Bahrain’s most prominent public square (or circle) met the same fate as the uprising that once filled it. After demonstrators marched to Manana’s Pearl Roundabout in March 2011, the Bahraini government retook the circle in a bloody crackdown, then tore up the grass with backhoes and demolished the central Pearl Monument to reassert control.

The article then goes on to discuss how several totalitarian countries have moved their capitals in recent years which cuts down on the ability of the masses in more populous cities to effectively gather and demonstrate.

This idea also seems to be behind the logic of those – including numerous sociologists – who call for more public space in the United States. Without such spaces near centers of power, average people don’t have the ability to gather in large numbers and utilize their numeric force that can provide a counter to elite political and economic influence. The Occupy movement tried to utilize such spaces for this very purpose: bring their protests to the heart of big cities and business districts in such a way that those they wanted to reach would be forced to respond. But, when more spaces are privatized or off-limits to protesting (like public spaces around political conventions), people have less ability to demonstrate.

The intersection of Chinese bridal couples asking for cash, Facebook, and protests

This could be a poster story for globalization: on Facebook, a Hong Kong bride asked for money from wedding attendees and this has attracted protestors to the wedding.

That’s the prospect facing one Hong Kong couple, who infuriated hundreds after the bride’s Nov. 2 Facebook post went viral.

“I’m not opening a charity….If you really only want to give me a HK$500 [US$65] cash gift, then don’t bother coming to my wedding,” she wrote earlier this month, according to an article Thursday in the Wall Street Journal China.

The bride’s identity and wedding venue were identified by social media users, and a protest was organized via Facebook. Nearly 1,000 have claimed they will attend.

A spokesperson for the hotel where the wedding will be held said they plan on honoring their contract with the couple.

Though giving newlyweds cash is a traditional Chinese custom, sociologist Ting Kwok-fai told The Wall Street Journal that Hong Kong weddings have grown increasingly extravagant in recent years. Engaged couples feel pressured to minimize the cost of the affair, he said, and in this case, the bride may be seeking to recoup some of the costs of the wedding.

Multiple social forces are coming together here in a new kind of way: traditional social norms, new technology and interaction on Facebook, and more public concerns about inequality and conspicuous consumption. This reminds me of the classic 1929 work of the Chicago School of sociology titled The Gold Coast and the Slum. While studying neighborhoods just north of the Loop in Chicago, Zorbaugh discussed the social interaction between some of the wealthiest Chicagoans and some of the poorest Chicagoans. While the two groups certainly knew about each other through walking in or passing through neighborhoods or reading news in the newspaper, there was little direct social interaction. For example, some of the wealthy socialite women tried to start aid groups to help these nearby poor neighborhoods but could not get much participation from the poor neighborhoods.

Today, some of these barriers are reduced because of Facebook and other technology. Again, there is likely not a whole of physical social interaction between those with a lot of money and those without. In Hong Kong, you can walk down Nathan Road in Kowloon and find the some of the world’s most exclusive brands. If you turn off the road several blocks to the west, you are among nondescript apartment complexes with little glitter or glamour. Yet, these new technologies allow for more awareness and more reactions which could then coalesce around social action. The socialite wedding announcement in the prestigious newspaper 50 years ago that would have drawn less attention has now turned into Facebook-announced weddings that can quickly become very public.

Sociologist discusses when protests over art are likely to break out

Some art stirs up controversy while other works of art do not. A sociologist discusses when protests about art are likely to occur:

STEVEN TEPPER: Right. Typically when we think about arts conflicts, we think there’s two reasons why people might fight over this. One is that enterprising politicians or religious leaders are sort of like birds of prey that are looking around for something smoldering that they can pounce on, inflame passions, mobilize constituents, raise money, win elections…

That’s the narrative of the culture war. And the other one is that as John Ruskin once wrote about James Whistler in the 19th century, Artists just fling pots of paint in the public space. And so if artists are trying to be provocative, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see that people get upset, but more interestingly is the fact that the same piece of art or the same presentation gets a very different response and reaction in different places…

Hundreds of theaters presented the work [Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America”. In Knoxville, Tennessee, no problem. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a few hundred miles away, also a Southern midsized city, a huge controversy. In Charlotte, the city initially threatened to close down the theater on indecency charges. They decided not to pursue that route. The theater went forward with the play. Four council members with leadership in the religious community basically succeeded in defunding the entire arts commission of the county because the theater presented that. What’s fascinating about this story is that the arts community and the business community rallied around the arts and said, What kind of city do we want to have as we move forward in Charlotte? Do we want a city that supports the arts or do we not? They organized a pact, they voted out of office the four aldermen that defunded the arts, and they ended up returning a higher budget to the arts counsel and a stronger arts community as a result of it.

JEFFREY BROWN: What you conclude and then go into in great detail is that it’s always local concerns, local issues that determine this.

It sounds like the culture wars and local concerns are both tied to the character of local communities. Does the work of art fit with the community’s culture, political, and religious views or not? If it does, there is likely little room for protest. If it doesn’t, people feel threatened and respond with protests.

I wonder how much artists are aware of this. On one hand, they are also operating within specific contexts and likely have an idea of who would respond favorably or negatively to their work. On the other hand, many works of art are meant for everyone or for the public and the artists might not be concerned about the tenor of the reactions but are more interested in stimulating discussion.

If art is local, it sounds like there could be a really interesting story to be told about how some work transcends the local and breaks through to larger contexts. Are there patterns to this process?