Where are the people oriented suburbs?

The book Market Cities, People Cities by sociologists Michael Emerson and Kevin Smiley examines big cities in light of two ends of a spectrum: market cities follow an economic logic and people cities look out for the well-being of their residents first. In their study, Houston is the model of a market city and Copenhagen is the people city exemplar.

This got me thinking about American suburbs. Given their history and priorities, they appear to be market communities. On the whole, American suburbs emphasize single-family homes, private families, driving, and local control over resources. They are generally known as wealthier communities. Additionally, the suburbs have generated a lot of money for developers, builders, the construction industry, and communities through tax revenues. Most of this is private wealth or money that residents hope can be spent on their own lives.

So, are there suburbs that emphasize the welfare of residents over markets? If so, where might they be located? A few ideas:

  1. Inner-ring suburbs. This could be because they located near big people cities or the sets of issues facing such suburbs – often racial and ethnic diversity and more poverty – could prompt a different approach to local governance and community life.
  2. Suburbs within blue states. If this is the case, suburbs in states like New York, Illinois, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington are more likely to have people suburbs.
  3. Suburbs that have strains of political liberalism. While suburbs are traditionally associated with more conservative political stances, this has been in flux in the last few decades. With new residents in suburbia as well as new generations, some communities may view suburban life through a different lens.
  4. The rare suburb that has experienced a significant crisis – a major development gone awry, the loss of a major employer, severe budget issues – and tried to forge a new path.

If I had to guess what percent of suburbs could be considered more devoted to well-being than markets, I might venture 20% at most.

Looking for the HGTV show that prioritizes fit and well-being, not budget and square footage

Reflecting on yesterday’s post on the dissonance of watching Marie Kondo in a McMansion, I wondered: where are the television shows that prioritize finding a home based on the social and psychological needs of the owners and their long-term health rather than emphasizing running up against the budget and maximizing the size of the home?

The easy answer is that these are not the homes or stories that Americans want to see. People want to get as much as they can within their budget. The overall price of the home and the size makes for interesting viewing across different locales.

Yet, I imagine there is some sort of viewership market for those who would rather emphasize how a home would fit their lifestyle. This occasionally comes through on HGTV but tends to be subsumed under concerns about budget and the size. Where are the people buying smaller homes and or cheaper homes because they appreciate the aesthetics of a particular home or because a smaller home is easier to clean and maintain or that cheaper and smaller home is near friends and family which are more important than their private home? Or, perhaps there could be a show about how relatively normal people purchase homes and then tweak them to fit their particular needs or interests.

If more homeowners are truly interested in long-term well-being, evidenced by interest in decluttering or options like the Not So Big House, it may be a while before they see this reflected on TV. Too many current shows are limited by budget and square feet to truly consider the well-being of the owners.

What if Facebook could consistently improve users’ moods?

There has been a lot of hubbub about the ethics of a mood experiment Facebook ran several years ago. But, what if Facebook could consistently alter what it presents users to improve their mood and well-being? Positive psychology guru Marty Seligman hints at this in Flourish:

It is not only measuring well-being that Facebook and its cousins can do, but increasing well-being as well. “We have a new application: goals.com,” Mark continued. “In this app, people record their goals and their progress toward their goals.”

I commented on Facebook’s possibilities for instilling well-being: “As it stands now, Facebook may actually be building four of the elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (sharing all those photos of good events), positive relationships (The heart of what ‘friends’ are all about), and now accomplishment. All to the good. The fifth element of well-being, however, needs work, and in the narcissistic environment of Facebook, this work is urgent, and that is belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self – the element of meaning. Facebook could indeed help to build meaning in the lives of the five hundred million users. Think about it, Mark.” (page 98)

This might still be a question of ethics and letting users know what is happening.  And I’m sure some critics would argue that it is too artificial, the relationships sustained online are of a different kind than that of face-to-face relationships (though we know most users interact with people online that they already know offline), and this puts too power in the hands of Facebook. Yet, what if Facebook could help improve well-being? What if a lot of good be done by altering the online experience?

Lincoln, Nebraska #1 city in well-being

A new survey from Gallup and Healthways puts Lincoln, Nebraska as the number one city in the U.S. for well-being:

Lincoln, Neb., had the highest Well-Being Index score (72.8) in the U.S. across the 189 metropolitan areas that Gallup and Healthways surveyed in 2012. Also in the top 10 are Boulder, Colo.; Provo-Orem, Utah; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.; and Burlington-South Burlington, Vt…

At 60.8, Charleston, W.Va., had the lowest Well-Being Index score, displacing Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio, which held this position the two previous years. Huntington-Ashland’s score of 61.2 is up from 58.1 in 2010, which is the lowest score on record for any metro area across five years of data collection. Mobile, Ala.; Utica-Rome, N.Y.; Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C.; and Fort Smith, Ark.-Okla.; join Charleston and Huntington-Ashland as frequent occupants of the bottom 10 list each year…

Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.-Md.-W.Va., residents reported the highest wellbeing among the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, defined as those with 1 million residents or more, followed by San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. These two metros have been in the top five among large metro areas in each of the past five years…

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The overall score and each of the six sub-index scores are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents the ideal. Gallup and Healthways have been tracking these measures daily since January 2008.

Interesting as there are more cities from the Great Plains and Midwest than I expected.

A few thoughts about the methodology:

1. After all is added up across these six measures, there isn’t much variation between the top and the bottom. Lincoln had the highest score at 72.8 and Charleston had the lowest at 60.8. So on a scale of 0 to 100, the range was just 12. This suggests there is not much variation in these measures and that this index may not tell us a whole lot. Are Americans simply generally optimistic about these topics or are they realistically not that different across cities?

2. What exactly does Gallup and Healthways do with this information that it requires daily polling? This is not a small sample:

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2012, with a random sample of 353,563 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

Perhaps there is some marketing edge to this surveying or it is related to some big research project.

Bonus well-being info: for occupations, doctors and then K-12 teachers lead the way and manufacturing-production workers and then transportation workers are at the bottom.

Moving poor families to better neighborhoods doesn’t improve jobs, education but does boost happiness

A new study suggests happiness is one of the primary benefits of poor families moving to better neighborhoods:

When thousands of poor families were given federal housing subsidies in the early 1990s to move out of impoverished neighborhoods, social scientists expected the experience of living in more prosperous communities would pay off in better jobs, higher incomes and more education.

That did not happen. But more than 10 years later, the families’ lives had improved in another way: They reported being much happier than a comparison group of poor families who were not offered subsidies to move, a finding that was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

And using the gold standard of social surveys — the General Social Survey, in which researchers have questioned thousands of Americans of all income levels going back to the 1970s — researchers even quantified how much happier the families were. The improvement was equal to the level of life satisfaction of someone whose annual income was $13,000 more a year, said Jens Ludwig, a professor of public policy at the University of Chicago and the lead author of the study…

“Mental health and subjective well-being are very important,” said William Julius Wilson, a sociology professor at Harvard whose 1987 book “The Truly Disadvantaged” pioneered theory about concentrated poverty. “If you are not feeling well, it’s going to affect everything — your employment, relations with your family.”

This seems to fit with findings from other studies looking at programs like the Gautreaux Program in Chicago or the Moving to Opportunity program that took place in a few big cities. The children of these movers/participants may have better jobs, incomes, and educations down the road but there is not much of an immediate payoff in these areas.

It is too bad Wilson doesn’t go further with his comments. What exactly does better well-being translate into? Improved or more stable family life? Better social relations? Could improved well-being translate into better jobs and higher education down the road?

Wellbeing among American cities

Gallup surveyed 188 metropolitan areas in the United States in 2010 and then ranked the cities according to their Well-Being Index. Here is the top 5:

1. Boulder, Colorado

2. Lincoln, Nebraska

3. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colorado

4. Provo-Orem, Utah

5. Honolulu, Hawaii

Here is some information on how the index was calculated:

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The overall score and each of the six sub-index scores are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents the ideal. Gallup and Healthways have been tracking these measures daily since January 2008.

In terms of analysis of these findings, Richard Florida has some thoughts. My guess is that Florida will tie these findings to own ideas about the creative class, a group that tends to live in cities that are college towns, have younger populations, higher level of innovation, and more cultural opportunities.

(A side note: I’m not sure who came up with the headline for Florida’s thoughts but calling these “America’s New Happiest Cities” may not exactly be the same things as measuring “well-being.” The Gallup index goes beyond “life evaluation” and “emotional health” to include other factors like physical health and workplace environment.)