Suburban voters lead the way in determining the 2022 midterm elections

Which group leads off an analysis of key voters in the 2020 midterms? Suburban voters:

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During the Trump years, many suburban voters, especially women, shifted toward the Democrats. A primary reason was the revulsion many of them felt toward President Donald Trump.

Democrats hoped that shift signaled a more permanent alignment, and it’s true that some college-educated White women became a key part of the Democratic constituency. But what happened in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race raised doubts about their reliability as Democrats. Then-candidate and now-Gov. Glenn Youngkin was able to move the suburban vote back in the Republicans’ direction

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake agreed that her party’s candidates cannot take suburban women for granted in November. “Women elected Biden for stability and in reaction to Trump,” she said. “They really rejected his style of leadership. But we had one woman say in a focus group, ‘I just want to get off this roller coaster.’ ” Under Biden so far, she added, “They’re getting no help in doing that.”…

“Suburban women have moved so far the opposite direction, we’re not going to get all of them back right away. But if we can at least win back a good amount of the suburban men that we lost and some of the suburban women, that’s a formula for us to win in pretty much every state that we need to win in,” said a Senate GOP strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could speak openly about the races they are working on.

The bottom line is that any notable move by suburban voters in the direction of the Republicans this fall will prove costly to Democratic hopes of holding down their losses. But a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade could counter GOP efforts to woo suburban women.

Suburban voters continue to be important in multiple ways:

-They matter in important swing states where both parties would like to win. Think Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Florida, and other locations.

-Compared to urban and rural voters, the perception is that more suburbanites are open to switching their votes or are more moderate. Thus, campaign pitches will be aimed toward them with the goal of swaying them to a particular side (maybe just for one election).

-The analysis above suggests there is a divide between suburban men and women and the issues that they care about. Will there be unified messages to suburban voters or will the campaigns clearly differentiate between male and female voters?

-Suburban voters can be reached in particular ways. Will there be big social media campaigns? An endless stream of materials in the mail and through text messages (what I have experienced in recent months in the suburbs)?

To paraphrase a famous slogan, this could be one rallying cry: “suburban voters of the United States, unite!”

Can new suburban developments be sustainable?

A long-proposed big suburban project north of Los Angeles aims to be sustainable:

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The company’s proposals promise a reprieve from California’s existential crisis about its way of life, suggesting that the environmental consequences of the state’s notorious sprawl can be reformed with rooftop solar panels, induction cooktops, electric cars, and careful bookkeeping. The threat of wildfires can be held at bay by stricter building codes. These proposals preserve the idea that, although the climate may be changing, the California dream of sunshine, a single-family home, and a two-car garage needn’t change at all.

But the debate it intense about whether the sustainable features of the development offsets what suburbia brings:

Cheap fossil fuels, the supremacy of private-property rights, and the maximization of shareholder value have, for decades, dictated the patterns of land use in America. People need homes, and, in Southern California and other growing metropolitan areas, those homes get built in areas far from the centers of cities. Disasters that follow this approach are attributed to natural causes or climate change, rather than to the avoidable flaws of poor planning. Consider the Marshall fire that burned a thousand homes last December, including all of a hundred and seventy-one properties in a nineteen-nineties-era subdivision built on the outskirts of Boulder County, Colorado—or the disappearance of water from exurbs constructed in the two-thousands in the Rio Verde Foothills, outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. Even reasonable predictions on a twenty-year event horizon are seen as fussy impediments to construction…

California has a severe housing shortage; a recent state assessment called for more than a million new units in Southern California to meet demand. Barry Zoeller, an executive at the Tejon Ranch Company, told me, “That’s going to have to take, in our estimation, a combination of both infill development in urban areas and also new master-planned communities of sufficient scale that can also meet climate-change criteria.” But many environmentalists argue that the imbalance between jobs and housing in Los Angeles can not be solved by building houses that are a thirty-minute drive from the city’s outermost suburbs. “Aren’t there better places to build?” Pincetl asked. “Yes, but you don’t own the land, so no.” She added, “If we’re turning over the provision of housing and the land markets to private entities, their motivation is not to house people. Why are private-equity firms coming into the real-estate market? Tell me. Not to provide housing.”…

I used my phone to scan QR codes and open the self-entry locks on a handful of model homes by Lennar, KB Home, and Toll Brothers, among others. The houses were built close together. They were large and well appointed, with gray laminate floors, giant appliances, many bathrooms, and cold air-conditioning. Some stoves at Valencia were electric, but many were still gas ranges—the era of banning natural-gas hookups hadn’t arrived when this development was approved. Some of the planned homes were already sold out, and a steady stream of racially diverse prospective buyers in luxury cars made their way around the neighborhoods-to-be. It looked like every other subdivision I’ve ever been in: paved-over farmland with a few transplanted trees, an island in a landscape hostile to pedestrian life. Maybe I just wasn’t seeing it with new eyes. The wind blew hot and the sun beat over the newly built homes, and from far away came the faint screams of people riding the roller coasters at Magic Mountain.

This is a decades-long issue as suburbs, first found in the United States in the 1800s, exploded in popularity and policy in the 1900s. With the expansion of driving and highways, the postwar suburbs sprawled in all directions from big cities and have not stopped since. All of this comes at an environmental cost: all of the materials used, the pollution from all of the driving, the inefficiencies of single-family homes, and the loss of land and habitat.

There are numerous ways to make suburbs more sustainable. This includes the moves suggested above as well as increased suburban densities, mass transit options or walkability or other transit options so that driving is not the only options, and better locations nearer population centers and jobs and away from important land and habitats.

So, where exactly is the line where suburbs might be “sustainable enough”? The article above suggests this line is in flux as communities, states, and other interested actors negotiate and set regulations for new development. It is unlikely that all suburban development will be banned or limited and it is unlikely that all suburban development will just happen without any questions about the environmental costs. This line can also vary across contexts as the local concerns are different outside of Los Angeles than they might be outside Columbus, Ohio or Jacksonville, Florida.

Historic preservation, the ways cities and suburbs resist development projects, and property values

In a discussion of how historic preservation aligned with particular political interests in cities, a scholar describes how suburbanites resist development compared to those in cities:

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The peculiar yet profound way in which historic preservation bound together issues of aesthetics, finance, and urban change is key to understanding why its popularity grew so rapidly in the middle of the 20th century. It also explains why a culture of historic preservation took root in some places more than others. Most suburbs—like the one on Long Island where Geller I once stood—relied on a different set of tools to stop development, such as open-space requirements and zoning codes that limited the number of new homes. To this day, historic preservation remains a less potent force in such places, largely because these other rules ensure that homes like Geller I are unlikely to be replaced by anything but McMansions. In cities with significant numbers of old buildings, however, preservation became an essential part of the process by which communities fended off urban-redevelopment projects.

While historic preservation does take place in the suburbs (and will come for McMansions at some point), it does not occur at the same level as in cities. As noted above, suburbs are not likely to approve significant changes to local zoning or buildings. Neighbors and residents will complain about changes to traffic, noise, lighting, and the character of a neighborhood in a way that tends to limit what a redeveloped property will be.

Cities also have zoning regulations and NIMBY responses to new structures but the presence of more buildings and uses in denser areas can make this all more complicated. Particularly in areas where redevelopment is hot, a new building might be very different than what has stood there for a long time.

But, as the article notes, historic preservation can be a tool used in a lot of places to halt plans:

Historic preservation not only gave this process of hyper-gentrification an imprimatur of political and legal legitimacy it might otherwise have lacked, but also continues to enable it in the present day. The LPC’s own website still notes that one of the purposes of New York’s landmarks law is to “stabilize and improve property values.” While the commission’s press releases paint an image of a body focused on protecting a diverse new array of buildings, the historic districts that already exist are, right now, a significant intervention in the city’s real-estate markets, whose main beneficiaries are the people who own land within them. Nor is this dynamic unique to New York. In California, wealthy cities like Pasadena and Palo Alto have recently tried to expand their landmarking powers in order to circumvent a new state law encouraging the construction of sorely needed housing. Simsbury, Connecticut, which is 87 percent white, just finalized a sale of nearly 300 acres to a land trust—killing an affordable-housing project in the process—on the premise that the site is historically significant because Martin Luther King Jr. once worked there. In Washington, preservationists have long tried to block the redevelopment of a water-filtration plant that hasn’t been used in 35 years on the basis that it is historically significant.

And perhaps this gets at the heart of the matter: whether using zoning or historic preservation, one of the goals of American residents is to enhance property values. Sonia Hirt argues that protecting single-family homes and their values is a primary goal of zoning in the United States. In a system that prizes the growth of home values, perhaps historic preservation plays a similar role.

Violating suburban boundary agreements

One Chicago suburb is accusing another of violating a long-term boundary agreement in order to pursue a sizable property formerly occupied by a notable company:

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Glenview officials indicated the Allstate campus is described as Territory D within the Milwaukee Road and Sanders Road Corridor Agreement between the two communities, which specifies that Glenview alone has the right to its annexation and that Prospect Heights shall not object to Glenview’s annexation.

But David Just, community engagement manager for Glenview, said Prospect Heights notified his village in late March that it intends to seek annexation of the former Allstate campus itself…

“We are disappointed to learn that Prospect Heights is now attempting to annex the former Allstate campus,” Jenny said. “This violates our long-standing agreement and partnership with Prospect Heights, and our community intends to take any and all actions necessary to enforce the terms of the agreement that governs annexation and development of this property.”

The statement added that Glenview strongly encourages Prospect Heights to respect the communities’ long-standing partnership and continue to abide by the promises made when the agreement was negotiated and approved.

Based on what I read, this strikes me as having two dimensions. There could be a legal dimension involving boundary agreements and annexations. How might the law and courts look at land between communities that could be claimed by both community or either community?

The second area involves interactions between communities in the long-term. Will Glenview and Prospect Heights see each other differently for years because of this? Will one community do something in response?

Suburban land is valuable, particularly if developers have plans for a land use that will generate additional revenues. Suburban communities are in competition for business and revenues so an opportunity like this might be too good to pass up, even if it ruffles the feathers of other actors. Given a good chance to secure a new development, how many municipalities would abide by agreements?

“Give me a [suburban] home, where the buffalo roam…”

The wildland urban interface often leads to stories about suburbanites encountering animals they might not expect. Recently in the Chicago region: a bison free in the northern suburbs.

One resident in Hawthorn Woods recently captured footage of a buffalo out and about, just walking around. Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time one has been spotted roaming the region.

Vince Clemens noticed the giant animal outside his home Friday, and his daughter, Michelle, captured video of the buffalo just minding its own business.

“I looked outside and saw the buffalo walking down the street,” Vince Clemens told NBC 5. “[She] broke free from a farm months ago, and is no stranger to people in the Northwest Suburbs…”

The wayward animal’s identity hasn’t been confirmed, but some wonder if its “Tyson the Bison.” Tyson escaped last September while being unloaded at her new home at a farm in unincorporated Wauconda.

More Americans may be much more familiar with seeing bison in captivity, such as in the zoo as in the picture above. They do not expect them to wander through suburban yards.

However, bison were regulars in the Chicago region prior to settlement by white Europeans. See these maps from Wikipedia (and the zoo has a similar map):

While bison will not be roaming the suburbs in large numbers anytime soon, suburbanites seem consistently surprised by coyotes and other animals that do not fit their suburban experiences or images. Yet, as the suburbs continue to mature – the Chicago area suburbs are over 150 years old – and nature continues to adapt, the suburban flora and fauna will change.

An Illinois gubernatorial candidate with experience as mayor of a suburb that is also the state’s second largest city

Without getting into the particular politics of Richard Irvin’s campaign for Illinois governor, it is worth noting the position from which he approaches his run: as mayor of Aurora, Illinois, the largest suburb in the Chicago region and the second largest city in Illinois. Some notes about Aurora and what leading that city might mean for leading Illinois:

-Aurora has unique history. With its location roughly 40 miles outside downtown Chicago, it has an industrial background with its location on the Fox River and its railroad connections. For Naperville residents at the turn of the 20th century, a trip to Aurora along the rail line was a big deal.

-The city experienced a renaissance in recent decades plus high population growth between 1980 and 2010 – going from over 81,000 residents to over 197,000 residents – before a slight downturn in the 2010s to a population of just over 180,000.

-That population growth means Aurora is now solidly the second largest city in Illinois.

-It is a racially diverse suburb with 2021 Census estimates putting the population at 42.7% Latino, 34.9% White alone, 10.5% Black, and 9.3% Asian.

-A relatively recent rebranding campaign took the city’s longtime motto of “The City of Lights” and updated it.

In advertisements, Irvin has highlighted his experience as a mayor of a decent sized city. A governor’s race between a politician identified with Chicago and another identified with the biggest suburb and second biggest city could present some interesting contrasts.

Residents, local leaders oppose a plan to redevelop a struggling suburban mall with 560 apartments and several businesses

Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, Illinois has struggled in recent years (earlier posts here and here). Yet, when a developer proposed adding 500 apartments to the property, residents and local leaders did not like the idea:

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Plans were to raze the majority of the largely vacant mall to make way for 560 apartments and townhouses, a hotel, new restaurants and retail spaces along East Main Street…

“It’s a good plan but the question is, is this the best use of space?” 2nd Ward Alderman Ryan Bongard said at the meeting. “In speaking with constituents, they don’t want to see 500 apartments.”

On Friday, St. Charles Mayor Lora Vitek confirmed the developers have pulled out of the project. The partnership of S.R. Jacobson Development Corporation and Lormax Stern Development Company LLC had previously entered into a purchase agreement for the former Charlestowne Mall property with current owners The Krausz Companies LLC.

In December 2017, Krausz closed Charlestowne’s interior shops and enclosed mall space at the center. Anchors Von Maur and Classic Cinemas Charlestowne 18 remains…

“That’s the overwhelming comment that I have heard through the city council,” Vitek said. “And I do believe that we can try to accomplish that. We shouldn’t settle. We’ve got a lot going for us. We know there needs to be more people here and we’re going to bring residential, but there needs to be a balance over there, too. The east side is very important to our town, but we do want to see the right fit.”

On one hand, I can understand this common suburban concern: if you eliminate commercial property and rezone it for other uses, will you ever get the same amount of money in tax revenues from the property? A successful shopping mall or entertainment area brings in sales tax revenue in addition to paying property taxes.

On the other hand, this particular shopping mall has languished for years. Shopping malls in general face big issues and many will not survive. There are only so many suburban entertainment districts that will work. A willing developer wants to build a mix of residences and businesses and it is not enough?

Here is my guess about what scuttled this project: suburbanites do not often like the idea of hundreds of apartments, particularly when they are located in a community that sees itself as full of nice single-family homes. Apartment dwellers are looked at with suspicion. Apartments threaten the single-family home nature of the community as they can increase traffic, bring more kids to local schools, and threaten local property values. Even expensive apartments are not desirable in large numbers.

As St. Charles does not “settle” for this kind of proposal, what better option will come along?

Can a suburban newspaper call for less driving and two long-term options for minimizing driving in suburbs

The headline to an editorial earlier this week in the suburban Daily Herald said “we need to re-evaluate our relationship with cars”. More from the editorial:

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If drivers have been reluctant to limit their car use and reduce mileage in the past, they now have two headline-making reasons to reconsider: painful prices at the pump and a sobering recent report on climate change.

Meeting both challenges means committing to conservation as individuals — and as a society…

Minimizing driving and maximizing the efficiency of our cars are vital tools in the battles to lower gas bills and protect our planet.

The Daily Herald covers news in the suburbs of Chicago and is based in Arlington Heights, a suburb with a denser downtown roughly 25 miles northwest of Chicago. In other words, they serve an area built on cars and driving. Their headquarters is primarily accessible by cars and is next to a major interstate.

One of the primary features of the American suburbs is that it revolves around driving. Single-family homes with larger lots are made possible by cars. Commuting to other suburbs or large cities is made possible by cars. Fast food is made possible by cars. Big box stores and shopping malls rely on cars. And so on. More broadly, one could argue the American way of life is built around cars.

I do see two longer-term and possible suburban options that could minimize driving:

-Denser suburban developments, downtowns, and communities. In the Chicago area, downtown densification has been a trend for a while as communities seek downtown residents who can then patronize local business. “Surban” communities are of interest. New Urbanists promote residences within walking distances of regular needs.

-More working from home. COVID-19 has accelerated this but technology does make it possible for some workers.

In both cases, suburbanites might not be able to give up cars all together but a household might be able to go from two to one car with less driving. That would reduce pollution, traffic, and parking needs.

However, both of these shifts are significant ones. Denser suburban areas are not necessarily ones with single-family homes on big lots. Denser areas put people in closer proximity to each other. Working from home might be technologically feasible but might not be desirable by corporations and organizations or by communities who relied on commuters and workers. These might be options more available in some communities or some residents rather than to all suburbanites.

2020 Census shows increasing number of Black residents in the suburbs

A trend continues in the 2020 Census data: Blacks continue to move from big cities to the suburbs.

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The two enclaves of roughly 30,000 people reflect how Black migration patterns in the 21st century are changing the makeup of metropolitan areas nationwide. For decades, Black residents have been leaving some of the nation’s largest cities while suburbs have seen an increase in their Black populations. Those two trends have now spread to even more areas of the country, according to the 2020 U.S. census.

The patterns echo the “white flight” that upended urban landscapes in the 20th century. Like those who left cities before them, Black residents often move because of worries about crime and a desire for reputable schools, affordable housing and amenities. But there are key differences: Leaving Black city neighborhoods that are starved for investment is often more of a necessity than a choice, and those who do settle into new suburban lives often find racial inequities there, too.

From 1990 to 2000, 13 of the United States’ biggest cities lost Black residents. By 2020, it was 23. According to the census, roughly 54% of Black residents within the 100 biggest American metro areas were suburbanites in 2020, up from 43% two decades ago, according to Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution.

While New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia all lost Black residents from 2010 to 2020, the change was especially notable in Chicago, which gained population but lost 85,000 Black people, the highest number after Detroit, according to the 2020 census. Those numbers could vary slightly, as the Census Bureau reported last week that 3.3% of the Black population was undercounted in the 2020 census, a rate higher than in 2010.

To summarize from the data presented above: among Black residents in the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, the majority now live in the suburbs.

This trend is several decades in the making. Traditionally, a move to the suburbs in the United States is interpreted as finding success in the land of single-family homes and middle-class and above life. Yet, not all suburban lives or communities are created equal. From the banning of Black and other minority residents from suburbs in the past to more informal methods today to exclude residents, residential patterns are uneven in the suburbs.

This also adds to the ongoing complexity of the suburbs where populations and communities are changing. The suburbs are not static even as they might as a whole adhere to similar ideals and ways of life.

Sociology and “milling” online

When unusual or bad events occur, how do people respond? They go online to try to make sense of it all:

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I don’t know what to make of all this, and I doubt if there is anything to be made. But the behavior on display is, if nothing else, a product of a lack of sense. It’s the agitated, aimless buzzing of the type of crowd that gathers in the aftermath of some bewildering catastrophe. Social scientists have a name for this mode of chaos: They call it “milling.” We are all just chattering away in restless and confused excitement as we try to figure out how to think about what’s happening. We want to understand which outcomes are most likely, and whether we might be obligated to help—by giving money or vowing not to share misinformation or learning the entire history of global conflict so as to avoid saying the wrong thing. We are milling.

The word comes from the mid-20th-century American sociologist Herbert Blumer, who was interested in the process by which crowds converge, during moments of uncertainty and restlessness, on common attitudes and actions. As people mill about the public square, those nearby will be drawn into their behavior, Blumer wrote in 1939. “The primary effect of milling is to make the individuals more sensitive and responsive to one another, so that they become increasingly preoccupied with one another and decreasingly responsive to ordinary objects of stimulation.”

These days, we mill online. For a paper published in 2016, a team of researchers from the University of Washington looked at the spread of rumors and erratic chatter on Twitter about the Boston Marathon bombings in the hours after that event. They described this “milling” as “collective work to make sense of an uncertain space” by interpreting, speculating, theorizing, debating, or challenging presented information.

To apply the term to the current moment may be a little sloppy—for a sociologist, milling would be the precursor to meaningful group action—but it gets across, you know, the current mood. We’re emoting, lecturing, correcting, praising, and debunking. We’re offering up dumb stuff that immediately gets swatted down. (We’re getting “ratioed,” as it’s called on Twitter.) We’re being aimless and embarrassing and loud and responding to each other’s weird behavior. “People are kind of struggling to figure out appropriate ways of responding to this really uncertain situation,” Timothy Recuber, an assistant sociology professor at Smith College, told me. Recuber, who is also the author of Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster, is an expert on the role that media play in what he calls “unsettled times.” And in these unsettled times, he said, we’re engaged in something like what Blumer had in mind.

The wisdom of crowds as an emergent property in the midst of uncertainty?

I wonder how this milling has changed over time. Specifically, I am thinking about spatial changes in the United States over the last century or so. Milling could work better when people live either in denser areas or small towns. This could lead to having “the public square” described above for people to gather. In a more suburban setting, where a majority of Americans now live, where would milling take place? Walking outside their house or residence might put them in contact with some neighbors but it would take some driving for many to get to a location where people might gather. Go to the shopping mall? The local library? Walmart?

If suburbanization reduced public spaces for gathering and add to this fewer people going to work during COVID-19, the online sphere offers more opportunities. The physical geography matters less when people can enter an online public square from anywhere. Now, there are numerous public squares available online with certain platforms or sites offering different opportunities and population with which to interact.

How effective is this online milling as opposed to milling in a offline location? In the offline public square, there is an embodied experience with people. The online public square is different with fewer cues from other actors and someone has to say/do something to be recognized.