Seeing changes in suburbs through the presence of religious congregations

Suburban diversity, such as through having more non-white residents and more less wealthy residents, can be seen through what religious congregations are present in a community (and which are not). Three quick examples of congregations near the college campus where I work. Example #1:

It’s a poignant time for Sublett, who grew up in the church and today runs its deacon ministry. His grandfather, Carl Lewis Sublett, was one of the workers on the old Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railway who helped start the church.

After meeting in the home of Charles Lucas, the church’s founders bought a $150 lot just south of the train tracks at 412 Crescent St. — today the location of St. Joseph’s Christian Orthodox — to build a church of their own.

It went up in an area referred to as “the Bottom,” a patch of lower ground along Crescent and Washington Streets. That, along with a neighborhood to the east of higher ground near Avery Avenue and Prospect Street called “the Hill,” were the two neighborhoods where it was acceptable at the time for African-Americans to live…

Eventually, the church outgrew the building, and on March 17, 1975, members dedicated the new, white-steepled church by walking about a mile east to where it stands at 1520 Avery Ave., according to church records. Sublett has pictures from that day and recalls the work church members put into erecting the church.

Example #2:

St. Joseph’s Orthodox Christian Church was established by a small group of faithful in March 1989. After meeting for five years in rented facilities, the present site was purchased from the DuPage AME Church. The present church was built in 1999. The community, which today serves well over 600 adults and children throughout the Chicago suburbs, is dedicated to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ through worship, fellowship, stewardship, and discipleship.

Example #3:

In late August, the Islamic Center of Wheaton bought and moved into the 26,193-square-foot former First Assembly of God Church at 900 E. Geneva Road, at the southwest corner of Geneva Road and President Street. Records show that, through a bank trust, the Islamic Center of Wheaton paid $3.15 million for the church and its 7.08-acre property.

Mosque spokesman Abraham Antar said he and his fellow congregants are excited about their new home, which he said is Wheaton’s first Muslim community.

“Wheaton is a city of faith, and we’re very privileged to be able to establish an Islamic community for Wheaton and especially for the western suburbs,” he said. “There are a lot of Muslims in Wheaton and the surrounding towns. It’s unfortunate for the (First Assembly of God) church that they lost their opportunity to stay there.”

That these three congregations meet and worship in a community known for its wealth, political conservatism, and concentration of evangelical residents and organizations says something. And these changes in religious groups are happening across many American suburbs; religious groups that even a few decades ago would not have been present now have thriving congregations.

The best scholarly text I know on the subject is the 2015 book Religion and Community in the New Urban America. The authors draw upon decades of research in religious change in the Chicago region, examine patterns across different religious traditions in suburbs, and look at different ways new congregations engage with the communities in which they are located.

(At the same time, the presence of new religious groups does not necessarily guarantee significant other changes in communities. Indeed, attempts by new religious groups to construct, purchase, or renovate buildings can invite concern and backlash.)

Win the suburbs, win 2020; patterns in news stories that make this argument

More than a year away from the 2020 presidential election, one narrative is firmly established: the path to victory runs through suburban voters. One such story:

Westerville is perhaps best known locally as the place the former Ohio state governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich calls home. But it – and suburbs like it – is also, Democrats say, “ground zero” in the battle for the White House in 2020…

In 2018, Democrats won the House majority in a “suburban revolt” led by women and powered by a disgust of Donald Trump’s race-based attacks, hardline policy agenda and chaotic leadership style. From the heartland of Ronald Reagan conservatism in Orange county, California, to a coastal South Carolina district that had not elected a Democrat to the seat in 40 years, Democrats swept once reliably Republican suburban strongholds…

“There is no way Democrats win without doing really well in suburbs,” said Lanae Erickson, a senior vice-president at Third Way, a centrist Democratic thinktank…

“There are short-term political gains for Democrats in winning over suburban voters but that doesn’t necessarily lead to progressive policies,” she said. In her research, Geismer found that many suburban Democrats supported a national liberal agenda while opposing measures that challenged economic inequality in their own neighborhoods.

Four quick thoughts on such news reports:

1. They often emphasize the changing nature of suburbs. This is true: the suburbs are becoming more racially, ethnically, and economically diverse. At the same time, this does not mean this is happening evenly across suburbs.

2. They often use a representative suburb as a case study to try to illustrate broader trends in the suburbs. Here, it is Westerville, Ohio, home to the Tuesday night Democratic debate. Can one suburb illustrate the broader trends in all suburbs? Maybe.

3. They stress that the swing voters are in the suburbs since city residents are more likely to vote for Democrats while rural residents are more likely to vote for Republicans. It will be interesting to see how Democratic candidates continue to tour through urban areas; will they spend more time in denser population areas or branch out to middle suburbs that straddle the line between solid Republican bases further away from the city and solid Democratic bases closer to the city?

4. Even with the claim that the suburbs are key to the next election, this often sheds little light on long-term trends. As an exception, the last paragraph in the quotation above stands out: suburban voters may turn one way nationally but this does not necessarily translate into more local political action or preferences.

Slight drop in millennial population in American big cities

The population of big cities may depend on millennials: will they flock to urban locations or leave for the suburbs? New data suggests slightly more of them are headed out of cities:

Cities with more than a half million people collectively lost almost 27,000 residents age 25 to 39 in 2018, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the figures. It was the fourth consecutive year that big cities saw this population of young adults shrink. New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Washington and Portland, Ore., were among those that lost large numbers of residents in this age group…

The 2018 drop was driven by a fall in the number of urban residents between 35 and 39 years old. While the number of adults younger than that rose in big cities, those gains have tapered off in recent years.

Separate Census figures show the majority of people in these age groups who leave cities move to nearby suburbs or the suburbs of other metro areas.

City officials say that high housing costs and poor schools are main reasons that people are leaving. Although millennials—the cohort born between 1981 and 1996—are marrying and having children at lower rates than previous generations, those who do are following in their footsteps and often settling down in suburbs.

MillennialsCities2019Data

An interesting update: millennials as a whole are leaving cities but younger millennials are still going to cities while the oldest ones are leaving. Does this mean that the argument that young urbanites will still leave for the suburbs when they form families and have kids?

Maybe, maybe not. It would be helpful to know more:

1. How does the older millennial move out of cities compare to previous generations? Are they leaving cities at similar rates or not?

2. Is there significant variation (a) within cities over 500,000 people and (b) within smaller big cities (of which there are many)? The first point could get at some patterns related to housing prices. The second could get at a broader picture of urban patterns by not focusing just on the largest cities.

3. The true numbers to know (which are unknowable right now): what will the numbers be in the future? The chart above suggests some shifts even in the last decade. Which pattern will win out over time (or will the numbers be relatively flat, which they are for a number of the years discussed above)?

Finding the second cities in tickets sales for NFL teams

Vivid Seats looked at ticket sales for NFL teams by location and found the place with the second-most ticket sales could vary:

Naperville represents the No. 2 most popular market for the fan base of a certain team from a certain town, known as Da Bears, according to ticket sales from Vivid Seats

It should come as no surprise that outside Green Bay, Milwaukee has the biggest fan base of Packers fans…

According to Vivid Seats, the second city with the highest overall percentage of ticket orders for its team was Colorado Springs, Colorado…

The Patriots’ fan base spans across New England, and Vivid Seats reports Quincy, Massachusetts, is the team’s second city. Providence, Rhode Island, isn’t far behind, and Nashua, New Hampshire, and Saco, Maine, are other hotbeds of Patriots fans…

For the Oakland Raiders, its No. 2 city is Sacramento, California, and Erie, Pennsylvania, comes in second to Pittsburgh for the Steelers.

A quick hypothesis: the distribution of ticket sales by NFL team is largely a function of the population of communities and distance from the home city of the team or the city where the team’s stadium is located.

These factors could be mediated by other influences. The relative wealth of communities could matter as NFL tickets are not cheap. The distance from the stadium may not be the best measure compared to access or time needed to get to the venue. Furthermore, the analysis suggests some fan bases draw from secondary cities in a region, like Providence for the Patriots or Sacramento for the Raiders.

With these factors at play, would the distribution of NFL ticket buyers largely reflect inequality across metropolitan regions or do ticket sales cut across racial, ethnic, and class divides?

Suburbanites can rally en masse against (and for) zoning issues

Suburbanites may participate at low rates in local elections but they certainly can be energized by controversial local zoning proposals. More on the ongoing Haymarket case in Itasca, Illinois:

Itasca plan commissioners admitted they underestimated public interest in a proposed addiction treatment center when a crowd representing 16% of the town’s population packed their meeting Wednesday night…

Demonstrators marched earlier Wednesday evening through downtown Itasca to pressure a Chicago nonprofit group to abandon plans to convert a hotel into a 200-bed drug and alcohol treatment center…

Prominent politicians, advocates and other nonprofit groups have thrown their support behind Haymarket, maintaining that the center would address a shortage of easily accessible residential programs for recovering addicts in DuPage County. Proponents also say much of the outcry stems from the stigma around opioid addiction…

Opponents have focused their main objections on the size and location of a facility they say would put too much of a burden on the village’s police and ambulance services.

Quite the excitement for a suburb with less than 10,000 people. Several parts of this latest news report stood out to me:

1. A public march through the community from those opposed to the center.

2. Public demonstrations of support from those in favor of the facility. While there may be a good amount of NIMBY activity, there are also people willing to stand up for the facility.

3. That this all is based on a medical center. This is not a landfill or huge condominium building in a town of single-family homes. Of course, it is not just any medical center: it is one involving drug treatment. (And many suburbs do not like getting involved with anything to do with drugs.)

4. This is not how such local political activity works but it would be interesting to hear where Itasca residents think the facility should be located or whether they could help broker a deal for another community rather than just reject the local proposal. More broadly, how might communities and residents work together to locate facilities that may be undesirable but are needed?

Alcohol and the gendered suburbs: suburban bros with beer versus suburban moms with wine

One writer argues alcohol makers and distributors have very gendered visions of the suburban life:

For decades, our televisions told us that men drank beer, women drank wine, and that’s just the way the world was. Beer commercials, even when they’re not overtly objectifying women, often still truck in mundane male fantasy: dudes sharing brews with their bros on game day, hanging out over the grill or golfing.

Wine, meanwhile, is often sold as Mommy Juice to stressed-out ladies who escape the suburban carpool grind with slugs from labels such as Little Black Dress and Skinnygirl.

And White Claw has a different approach:

There’s football — not on a bar TV but rather a co-ed game being played outdoors. Women might be shown in tightfitting clothes, but it’s athletic gear or just regular beachwear, and the models look strong and fit instead of seductive.

That’s entirely intentional, says Sanjiv Gajiwala, vice president of marketing for White Claw. When the brand launched in 2016, the idea behind it was that the traditional worlds depicted in beverage marketing had pretty much gone extinct. White Claw would be the drink of the new gender norms, of the kinds of “group hangs” that define young people’s social lives. “It wasn’t a world where guys got together in a basement and drank beer and women were off doing something else, drinking with their girlfriends,” Gajiwala said. “Whatever we put out creatively and how we positioned the brand really reflects that everyone hangs out together all the time.”

This gets at two issues:

  1. How products market themselves. On one hand, they can target particular segments of the consuming public. This can help drive sales. On the other hand, that specific approach could alienate other consumers who would not consider the product. This reminds me of a possibly apocryphal quote from Michael Jordan that “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” Pitch one product to men and a similar product to women for decades and there may not be much overlap in consumers.
  2. The gendered nature of suburban life. The stereotypes suggested above date back decades where men would participate in leisure activities, like grilling and golfing, with other men and women would stay inside, care for the children and home, and drink. The female dissatisfaction with suburbia helped kick off the women’s movement and even Marge Simpson ran into similar trouble.

If White Claw is appealing to a new generation and new norms, does this mean gendered life in the suburbs has changed? More men are drinking wine and women are grilling more? Or, are suburban gatherings all together different as suggested above: “group hangs” where friends and family mingle? (Or, are these “group hangs” more for single folk or kidless folk in urban or surban environments?)

Waterbeds and “straitlaced suburban living”

A 2016 piece from Mental Floss connects waterbeds to suburbs:

Although many associate waterbeds with strait-laced suburban living, back in the ‘70s they were a symbol of the free-flowing counterculture movement—more likely to be sold with incense and Doors albums than with fluffy pillows and high thread count sheets. “That fluid fixture of 1970s crash pads” was how a New York Times story from 1986 described them. The names of manufacturers and distributors reflected this: Wet Dream, Joyapeutic Aqua Beds, and Aquarius Products were a few that rolled with the times.

Sex, of course, was a big selling point. “Two things are better on a waterbed,” an Aquarius ad stated. “One of them is sleep.” Another ad proclaimed, “She’ll admire you for your car, she’ll respect you for your position, and she’ll love you for your waterbed.” Hippies and hip bachelors alike were the target market for the bed that promised the motion of the ocean. Hall even got in on the act, offering a $2800 “Pleasure Island” setup, complete with contour pillows, color television, directional lighting, and a bar. Hugh Hefner loved the craze, of course—Hall made him one covered in green velvet, and Hef had another that he outfitted in Tasmanian possum hair.

By the ’80s, waterbeds had moved from the hazy fringe to the commercial mainstream. “It has followed the path of granola and Jane Fonda,” the Times noted. Indeed, waterbeds were available in a variety of styles, from four-post Colonials to Victorian beds with carved headboards to simple, sturdy box frames. Allergy sufferers liked having a dust-free mattress, while back pain sufferers were drawn to the beds’ free-floating quality. Advertisements by sellers like Big Sur Waterbeds played up the health benefits with shirtless, beefy dudes like this one…

By 1984, waterbeds were a $2 billion business. At the height of their popularity, in 1987, 22 percent of all mattress sales in the U.S. were waterbed mattresses.

While the particular history (and then demise) of the waterbed is interesting in itself, it hints at larger patterns. Is this is an isolated story of a product that goes from the counterculture to suburban homes or is this a common pattern among American consumer goods and cultural products? What was once radical or born out of a subgroup can become simply a run-of-the-mill item found in millions of homes. Cool often can only last so long. I am reminded of the argument that the retailer Gap lost its edge when it became another company looking for suburban consumers.

Of all the consumer goods I could think of that are associated with the suburbs, it would be a long time before I made it to waterbed. I might have to start such a list with cars (after ruling out single-family homes because they are too expensive to really quality for such a list).