Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: What Is A Sanctuary City?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Hello Everyone:

Time once again for the latest installment of Blogger Candidate Forum, your weekly look inside Trump America.  Yesterday Judge William H. Orrick  sided with San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, "who argued that a threat to take away federal funds from cities that do not cooperate with some federal immigration enforcement could be unconstitutiona."  ( date accessed Apr. 26, 2017) This comes a month after a federal judge in Hawai'i issued a massive freeze on the current version of that ill-conceived ban hours before it was schedule to take effect.  Needless to say POTUS tweeted his displeasure.  However, what about those sanctuary cites?  What are they and what are then; what should they be?

"San Francisco: A Sanctuary City"
These are the questions that Tanvi Misra ponders in her CityLab article "Adapting "Sanctuary Cities' to the Trump Era."  She wonders "If a city wants to offer meaningful protection to immigrants and non-citizens at risk of being deported, it may need to go further than what it takes to be called a sanctuary city."  Let us take a step back for a minute and try to figure out the definition of sanctuary city.

The term is fraught with ambiguity but has real consequences.  When POTUS signed that order in January (you can read it at, he sought to punish municipalities identified by this label by holding back federal funds.  San Francisco County sued.  In mid-March, nearly 300 legal scholars sent a letter saying the order was unconstitutional.  Ms, Misra writes, "As part of their argument, they take issue with the meaning of the phrase itself."  Annie Lai, assistant clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine and one of the letter co-authors wrote,

There is no single definition of what it means to be a sanctuary city...The term is often used to tarnish or celebrate-depending on the speaker-that cities, counties, and states have advanced policies to separate and distinguish themselves from federal immigration authorities.

Judge William Orrick and POTUS

The vagueness of the term has little relevance for the legal case opposing the order: it just makes it harder to figure out which of the "300-plus so-called sanctuary jurisdictions are at risk of losing funds."  Be that as it may, the divisive response to the phrase indications how loaded it has become.  Opponents of immigration believe that sanctuary cities obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE.  Immigration advocates describe them as places that opt to disentangle the local justice system from immigration enforcement-"a definition similar to that provided in the letter."

This vagueness bred confusion, to say the very least.  Ms. Misra reports, "After the election, pro-Trump Bedford County, Pennsylvania, was surprised learn it was a sanctuary."  County district attorney Bill Higgins told The Washington Post:

The would be be popular with the locals...That would be a quick way to get voted out of office, like signing your political death warrant.

Mayor Garcetti at a campaign rally
On the West Coast, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has his qualms about the label.   "he's distanced himself from it, despite promoting many policies that invite that characterization.  Mayor Garcetti told National Public Radio back in January:

We've never declared ourself a sanctuary city; I still not sure what one is.

Sanctuary city illicit strong reactions stemming from the Reagan-era movement, in which American congregations provided shelter to Central Americans denied asylum.  In an aside Ms. Misra writes, "This 'sanctuary movement' is resurfacing today."  As the wording implies, cities that fall into this category are literally sanctuaries. Or are they?

No, they are not.  A 2013 report by the Migration Policy Institute a non-partisan Washington D.C,-based think tank, found, "The U.S. spends more money on immigration enforcement than on all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined." (; date accessed Apr. 26, 2017)   During former-President Barack Obama's administration, the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement grew.  Thus, ICE have ample resources at their disposal to round up people, rightly or wrongly, regardless of what city they live.  This is precisely what they have been doing under previous and current administration.  Now, POTUS intends to triple the number of ICE officers and hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents.  In order make this happen "the government is planning to loosen hiring standards, according to an internal memo obtain by Foreign Policy.

ICE agents
Sanctuary cities make the argument that "they want to prioritize by opting out of the programs that require their police to actively help ICE or do its job." Therefore, the jurisdictions decline to sign agreements with ICE to allow the use of local jails for immigrant detention, opt out of the 287(g) program, "which deputizes local polices and detention officers with immigration enforcement, and refuse ICE's requests to hold people they think are deportable for extra periods of time in jail."  All of these programs have been singled out for exacerbating racial profiling and abuses of immigrant populations, encountering legal battles.  During the previous administration, serious criminals were prioritized for deportation, however, ICE typically went after individuals who were convicted for minor or no crimes whatsoever through some of these programs.  Sometimes American citizens and permanent residents are places in detention.  Thus, it is understandable that many of these cities would also avoid these programs for liability reasons.

Opponents of sanctuary cities
Opponents of the sanctuary cities have argued that "not participating helps 'put hardened criminals back on the street,' and have used tragic, high profile criminal cases involving undocumented immigrants to make their case."  Tanvi Misra writes in an aside, "Available research shows what, at the very least, cities with policies do not see a statistically significant increase in crime."  The interesting part is: sanctuary cities actually do routinely cooperate with ICE to deport real criminals, in a way that does not destroy trust in the immigrant communities.  Many of these jurisdictions circumvent their non-involvement rules.  A recent Buzzfeed investigation uncovered evidence that the Los Angeles Police Department participated in joint operations with ICE in which undocumented imm immigrant with no criminal history were taken into custody.  (; date accessed Apr. 26, 2017)

Immigrants taking the Citizenship Oath of Allegiance in Atlanta, Georgia
Now that we are almost at the one hundred day mark (Saturday) of the Trump administration, anyone without papers and even permanent residents with papers is a target for deportation.  Sanctuary cities have be lauded as the frontline of resistance.  However, some immigration advocates are wonder if the phrase "sanctuary city" has enough bite.  The issue, they say, "is that the mechanism by which immigrants are siphoned into the deportation pipeline are still largely intact, even in welcoming cities."  Laws passed during both Republican and Democratic administrations have expanded the categories crimes that make an immigrant deportable.  For example, carrying a small amount of marijuana or medication without a prescription, even turnstile jumping can be sufficient reason to deport someone.  Also, certain types of police practices create a wider net.  Shakeer Rahman and Robin Steinberg of the nonprofit legal services organization Bronx Defenders wrote in the New York Times:

Map of sanctuary cities
If cities really want to protect immigrants, they must also end the quota-driven style of policing that make immigrants the victims of unnecessary arrests and disproportionate punishment.

Many of these unnecessary arrests stem from the discredited idea that a draconian crackdown on the most minor offenses-littering, sell loose cigarettes, biking on the sidewalk-will prevent more serious crimes.  This model of policing, known as broken windows or zero tolerance, helped to drive mass incarceration.  Its next cost could be mass deportation.  (; date access Apr. 26, 2017)

Mijente (, an immigrants's rights organization, has called on sympathetic mayor to expand sanctuary.  They suggest reducing the penalties for minor offenses, deleting gang databases (considered inaccurate and racially biased), and giving access to legal representation to all immigrant in danger of deportation.

Back in Los Angeles, Leighton Akio Woodhous of the The Intercept reported "the mayor's office has not yet clarified whether folks with felony records would be allowed to access counsel using recently announced legal funds."  (; date accessed Apr. 26, 2017)  In the interim, Mayor Eric Garcetti's hesitancy to use the term "sanctuary city," though completely understandable, has frustrated advocates.

Hector Villager, the executive director of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union, told Mr. Woodhouse.

I would hope that for a city as terrified as it now, that he would just say sanctuary city...That's the language people understand; that's what would give comfort at this moment.

Minus any genius practical application of the phrase "sanctuary city" this refusal is to say the words and accept its symbolism appears twice as cruel.

Paint It White?

Metro train Washington D.C.
Hello Everyone:

Why do some people insist on ruining perfectly beautiful architecture?  The reason why yours truly is asking is Washington D.C. metro rail stations are home to some of the spectacular examples of Brutalist architecture.  Regardless of what you may think of the genre, there is a certain appeal to it.  So why would anyone want to cover it up?  This is subject Kriston Capps ponders in his CityLab article "Keep Metro Bleak!"  The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority seems to think that the soaring coffered vaulted ceilings need covering up.  This stunned Bill Gallagher, principal for KGP design studio.  Shall we find out why WMATA wants to paint the vaults gleaming white?

Two metro rail cars decouple from a train during rush hour
Washington DC
Mr. Gallagher has a genuine affinity for the Metro rail stations. As a newly graduated architect, his first job was designing the station. He started work in 1976, the same year Metro rail opened with five inaugural stations.  Everything else was still being built or on the boards of Metro's late architect, Harry Weese, Mr. Gallagher's first supervisor.

Today, Mr. Gallagher is still designing Metro stations: "His firm's work includes canopies, elevators, and entrances for at least a dozen stations."  Thus, his views about the system are well earned and strong.  When he heard that workers were painting Union Station's signature exposed concrete vaulted ceiling-he was incensed.  He told Mr. Capps,

It was just unbelievable...Absolutely shocking.

Close up detail of Metro rail coffered ceiling
Washington D.C.
Martin Moeller, senior curator for the National Building Museum, was equally aghast.  WMATA painted the Metro vaults once before-at Farragut North Station-in 1992, for example, that moment caused a fuss.  Mr. Capps writes, The Farragut North job was a light gray, Moeller recalls, close to the color of concrete."

Mr. Moeller declared,

But not white...I'm sort of hoping against hope that ti's maybe a primer...White would be a radical change...

Okay, it is just paint, right?  Well, that paint took the WMATA in-house design team by surprise.  Left out of the decision process to paint the Brutalist vaults white were Metro's chief architect Ivalio Karadimov or chief architectural historian Jeff Winstel.  Messrs. Karadimov and Winstel were not even aware it was happening, an anonymous source, not authorized by WMATA, told Mr. Capps.  In an aside Mr. Capps writes, "A spokesperson there could not confirm or deny the claim.

Union Station vault
Washington D.C.
  What might seem like another eye-rolling moment for (most) Washingtonians was a cause for serious consternation for designers, historians, and fans of the Metro's beloved Brutalist vaults.

In WMATA's defense, the soaring arched wall of Union Station, the busiest station in the system, were "grim, grimy, and bleak.  WMATA's solution: several layers of white paint..."  WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel said via email,

While power washing was considered, years of dust, dirt, and grime coating the vault cannot effectively be cleaned and does little to move the needle when it comes to brightness.

The shiny finish may not last.  According to Mr. Gallagher, "Metro's vaults were not designed to be painted,...and WMATA management made a mistake by not consulting the experts first.  Raw concrete is a more forgiving surface; disguises wear and tear."  So you can imagine that painting the ceiling in pristine white may look fabulous at first, "but will only highlight the fresh grime as it accumulates."  Bill Gallagher warned,

Especially this station.  It's going to be filthy within weeks.

The Main Hall at Union Station
Washington D.C.
Painting the station is also an anathema to two different efforts by WMATA.  First, the agency is working with our friends at the U.S. National Park Service and the General Services Administration to find a more efficient way to clean the exposed concrete.  FortunatelyWMATA has no other plans to paint the other Metro vaults, making Union Station a one-time job.  Oddly, WMATA is also planning to submit to include Metro to the National Register of Historic Places-a designation that would override any renovations.

Robert Bruegmann, the author of The Architect of Harry Weese, told Kriston Capps, "It's all too common for institutions to come to think of their design features as flaws."  Harry Weese passed away in 1998, "long enough for many at WMATA to have forgotten him."  Elite opinion has been kind to the late Mr. Weese: "The American Institute of Architects granted Metro its prestigious 25-Year Award in 2014."  In an update dated March 31: The Washington D.C. chapter of the AIA issued a letter,

...expressing our deep concern regarding WMATA's decision to paint the interior of the Metro Stations [sic] bright white.

significant alterations to Metro stations in Washington D.C.

The barrel vaults at Union Station
Washington D.C.
The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts also posted a letter of concern and pointing out its role in approving

It is very easy to miss some of the more elegant details.  Mr. Capps writes, "Deep coffers that run between the ribs of the vaults-the coffers are structural, not decorative components-are mirrorred by the shape of the windows on the older-styles Metrorail trains."

Popular opinion has not been kind for a variety of reasons including top-down neglect.

Rather than rehabilitate Harry Weese's designs, something that WMATA attempted and failed at before, the agency could have simply power cleaned Union Station.  It is already modernizing the lighting with technology not available in the sixties when Mr. Weese's (and lighting designer William Lam) first drew up plans for the stations.  According to Mr. Gallagher, "Simply 'relamping' its Metro station...WMATA can brighten murky platforms, bring down costs, and expand the maintenance window for lighting from every 2 years to every decade.  (That would be be a better use of the agency's energy,...)"

Bill Gallagher continued, "Exposed concrete was key to the kit of parts that Weese designed for Metro.  He use a limited palette of durable yet warm materials."  Among the palette of material was quarry tile, granite, bronze, and brown paint (good for concealing rust on trains).  There are no columns so passengers can see their path of travel.  Indirect lighting allows people to always see faces around them.  Not every one of Harry Weese's concepts were so flawless.  "The bronze elevators were dark and confining. (Gallagher's firm replaced the one at the Rosslyn Metro Station with a more inviting glass elevator)."  The outsized kiosks are a forbidding obstacle that separate the station operators from the passengers.  For the all the flaws, Metro's warmth and soaring vaults are probably one the few good things about Washington D.C. right now.

The Grand Central Interior of Union Station
Washington D.C.
Robert Bruegman said,

Harry Weese was a very fine architect, and he did quite a few buildings, many of them interesting and whimsical...Ironically, it was when he did the Metro, where he had the weight of all these commissions and bureaucracies to deal with, that he somehow managed, along with everyone else involved, to create this system.

It is easy for commuters not to pay attention to the remarkable visual achievement of the Metro.  Especially when it is busy or they are trapped at the Rosslyn Station, waiting to be packed into a train car like sardines, or cursing all the way to or from a sports event.  However, if you happened to attend a local photography exhibition, try to find an image that does not included a blurry train against the backdrop of one of Harry Weese's majestic structural vault.  You will not.

WMATA can ill-afford to take Metro for granted.  The agency has more pressing concerns on its plate than cosmetic repair; allowing for aesthetic concerns, WMATA seems to have powered ahead without consulting with designers.  This impulsiveness has blown up in WMATA's face over the years.  Strangely, WMATA thinks it found a problem where there was not one, Harry Weese's design.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fighting Artwashing

Historic Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights, California
Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a new week and fresh subjects to talk about.  Let us give a big round of applause to all the scientists and those who love fact-based knowledge for coming out to the March for Science.  Science is key to making everyday things work.  Without science, buildings and ill-conceived border walls cannot stand up.  Yours truly urges all of you to support fact-based knowledge when and wherever you can.  On to today's topic: Boyle Heights.

Boyle Heights is a historically immigrant working class neighborhood in East Los Angeles.  Originally called Paredon Blanco (White Bluff), when California was still part of Mexico, by the 1950s Boyle Heights was once of the most racially and thnically diverse communities.  It was home Jews, Latinos, Russians, Yugoslav (Serbian and Croatian), Portuguese, and Japanese immigrants.  Today, it is predominantly Latino.

Jewish Boyle Heights mural
Photograph by Shmuel Gonzales
In May 2016, the nonprofit art gallery PSSST was getting ready to open in Boyle Heights, just across the Los Angeles River from the Arts District.  Instead of celebrating opening day, the gallery was greeted by protesters banging on drums, waving signs, chanting in English and Spanish "We don't need galleries, need higher salaries;  ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! At one point during the protest, someone lobbed feces at the window, according to the owners; finally a neighbor summoned the police.

Natalie Delgadillo writes in her CityLab article, "The Neighborhood That Went to War Against Gentrifiers", "This was not the first, last, or angriest protest against talliers popping up in Boyle Heights, but it would turn out to be a milestone: Last week, PSSST announced its shuttering."  A video of part of the protest can be seen at #PSSTOutOfBH  In a statement, the gallery gave the following reason for its closing:

Out young nonprofit struggled to survive through constant attacks...Our staff and artists were routinely trolled online and harassed in-person...we could no longer continue to put already vulnerable communities at further risk.  (; date accessed Apr. 24, 2017)

PSSST Gallery
Photograph by Matt Stromberg
Boyle Heights 
Natalie Delgadillo writes, "PSSST's closing is the latest development in a pitched battle around art and gentrification in Boyle Heights."  On the western edge of the neighborhood, new galleries have been opening along Anderson Road, overflowing from the Arts District and the accompanying threat of displacement.  This, at the least, is how the residents see it.  The term most frequently use is "artwashing."

What is "art washing?"  Angel Luna, a resident and member of the the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement, defines it as

Artwashing is the use of art and artistic labor perpetuate and enable gentrification.  

BHAAAD, together with Defend Boyle Heights ( and Serve the People LA ( have accused the galleries of being the forerunner for new development and the possibility of displacing long-term residents.  The groups have goranized marches, held protests, and worked to make life as difficult as possible for new businesses and their clientele.  The anti-gentirifiers claimed victory for the movement with PSSST closed their doors.  both BHAAD and DBH released a celebratory statement on their websites (links above), after the gallery announced its closure.

DBH: On PSSST Gallery
Natalie Delgadillo reports, "As cities nationwide struggle with issues of affordable housing, new development, and displacement, disputes over gentrification are common."  The difference here is the protesters's tactics.  Granted, throwing feces at windows is a little extreme but this kind of confrontational, combative, and determined approach along with calling people for condemnation and physically chasing unwanted visitors has been protestors's preferred method.  British newspaper The Guardian (; date accessed Apr. 24, 20177) published a widely read article on April 19, 2016, "Hope everyone pukes on your artisanal treats" written by Rory Carroll.  Mr. Carroll described members of Serve the People chasing an experimental opera company performance from a local park.  Mr. Carroll wrote:

An opera company which tried to stage a performance at the park was drowned out by by shouts, whistles and a brass band... (Ibid)

They left nasty messages for realtors, 

I hope everyone pukes on your artisanal treats.

The Sixth Street Bridge (demolished)
In December of 2015, a few weeks after the opera company fled the neighborhood, a group of urban planning student students were intercepted by STPLA, insisting they leave.  Mr. Carroll spoke with doctoral candidate Karl Baumann, one of the tour organizer and no fan of gentrification, who told him,

None of us were property owners or had any interest in buying property...It's like this reversal of race-based housing covenants and nimby policies in rich white areas...I wouldn't use those tactics...But as an outsiders I can't tell them what does or doesn't make sense in their community.  They assume the works unless proven otherwise.

Santa Cecila

Not all residents agree with the militant approach.  Steven Almazan, a local school teacher told CityLab over a year ago (,

Some groups have found very extreme ways to show that they're against changes in the neighborhood, ways that show this place is only fora very specific group of people...The neighborhood shouldn't say, 'Get out-this place is mine.' You want to find a balance.  We want investment from the city here.

More established advocacy groups such as the East Los Angeles Community Corporation ( have favored a compromised-based approach to creating affordable housing developments in the neighborhood and "trying to scare tenants better deals during evictions and displacements."  However, after many years of work, they faced criticism for "forcing resident outs and planning unwanted developments."

The Brooklyn Theater
Photograph by Leo Jarzomb courtesy of the Los Angeles Times
Boyle Heights, California
On the contrary, organizations like BHAAAD and DBH are not interested in conversation or compromise, only total capitulation.  Angel Luna told Ms. Delgadillo:

BHAAAD has pursued militant and aggressive tactics...We chose these tactics because we understand that city city council members, politicians, and no-profiteers aren't going to advocate for us, and we have to fight back.

In turn, the groups have engendered criticism for targeting artists, particularly the long-time art space Self-Help Graphics and Art ( has become enmeshed in the controversy.  The beloved space has been accused of assisting the new galleries as they come into the neighborhoods.  Regardless of the criticism, BHAAAD and DBH remain resolute.  Mr. Luna continues,

We believe that attacking the galleries us a useful strategy,...,because we are directly attacking the amenities that developers are trying use to attract new people into Boyle Heights.

"Walking through Boyle Heights"
Natalie Delgadillo reports, "Last September, protests staged the widest-reaching demonstration yet: Dozens of residents marched out to what's now know as 'Gallery Row' on Anderson Road, disrupting several exhibition opening and serving all the galleries with mock eviction notices."  On their Facebook page, the groups described their action:

Gallery attendee were harassed and harangued, pelted with water and bottles and an endless barrage of verbal assault.  They were stopped in their tracks, surrounded, chased back to their vehicles and out of the areas around Anderson Rd where the majority of these galleries have begun opening up.  The galleries themselves were surrounded while members of the community banged on their windows, entered their galleries to smash bottles, and continued the barrage of verbal assualt [sic].  (

BHAAAD posted several Facebook and YouTube videos of the incident.

1st and Cummings, circa March 30, 2010
Boyle Heights
These tactics have yielded results.  Boyle Heights has seen some changes over the past few years, and rents have gone up.  Yet, it remains a firmly working-class Latino neighborhood that is managing to maintain its identity even as surrounding neighborhoods like Echo Park and Highland Park continue to gentrify.  The shuttering of PSSST Gallery is proof, according to the more combative groups, "that they're successfully turning the tide."

Dana Cuff, professor of architecture and urban design at UCLA, told Ms. Delgadillo,

[The gallery closing] does point out that the community's efforts to slow gentrification are more effective than they might felt six months ago.  Six months ago there was a sense that the Arts District was going to push through Boyle Heights.

Congregation Talmud Torah (Breed Street Shul)
Boyle Heights, California
Be that as it may, Prof, Cuff says it is too soon for Boyle Heights to declare victory.  Prof. Cuff continues,

It's hard to use measure like failure and success in this, in my mind.  Gentrification is massive economic and real estate city force.  Gentrification is a massive economic and real estate city force.  One gallery closing isn't something that you could call a success or a reversal.

Angel Luna said, "BHAAAD and other community groups have that point clear.  They're celebrating PSSST's closure, but won't rest until all the galleries are gone."  Until then, they will keep fighting any incoming business or development project that they feel is inappropriate for neighborhood.  Ms. Delgadillo cites the 2016 closure of Carnitas Michoacán, a local staple taco place to accommodate a Panda Express; "it ended up closing down despite protests."

The really complicated works is deciding what kinds of businesses and development projects are appropriate for the neighborhood.  Housing is in short supply in Boyle Heights (like all of L.A.) and unemployment is 8.6 percent, over the city median.  Thus the question becomes, "How do you allow investment without encouraging population change and displacement?"

Angel Luna's response is "very carefully."  He said, "Boyle Heights groups do want new housing, but they want it to be truly affordable, with all rents calculated for median income in Boyle Heights, which is just $34,000 per year, compared to L.A. County's media of $55,000."  They do not want any new development that will lead to displacement of long-term resident-and where it must, they demand a right of return.  Anything less, according to Mr. Luna, is tantamount to a compromise with gentrification.  He said,

Angel Luna told Natalie Delgadillo,

We want things like...a new laundromat on the corner of Whittier and Boyle.  We want our streets and sidewalks fixed...We shouldn't have to wait until white people live here for someone to care enough to fix the sidewalks.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: "Bowling Alone"

Trump supporter on Election Night 2016
Hello Everyone:

It is that time of the week for Blogger Candidate Forum.  Before we get going on today's subject, Blogger would like give a shout out to the directionally challenged Commander-in-Chief President Donald Trump.  President Trump bragged bigly about a "armada" of American naval vessel headed toward North Korea.  Only one problem, the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, part of the armada, was headed in the opposite direction, toward Australia.  Oops.  Next time try using Google maps.  Shall we move on.

President Trump's first hundred days in office are coming to a close and yours truly thought it would be a good time to look at how detachment from community played a role in POTUS's election.  Emma Green considers in her CityLab article, "The Death of Community and the Rise of Trump," how decreasing affiliations with religious and civic institutions in predominantly Caucasian working-class America mean for its political future.

Evangelicals for Trump
Ms. Green writes, "In 2016, 57 percent of white Americans who voted chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton,...More white men voted for Trump than women.  A plurality of young white people vote Trump, as did roughly two-thirds of white people without college degrees."

While these numbers break down the Election into a simple story of race and partisanship, they ignore the demographic shifts among Caucasian voters that will have a major impact in future elections.  What is being ignored is Caucasian Americans, in particular young working class Americans, are becoming detached from religious and civic institutions.

Size of White Working in 2012
Despite a fresh burst of energy from the special election in Georgia's sixth districts, both Democrats and Republicans must contend with their demographic futures.  After a devastating defeat in November, progressives are struggling with how to reach out to  Caucasian voters who cost them the election.  The victorious conservatives must look ahead: "Their success largely depends on a shrinking share of voters who are becoming more disillusioned with and detached from political and communal life."  While these detachment matters for elections, it also has impact on American culture: "It's a small sign that the nation's cultural and civic fabric is fraying."

"The Religion Vote in the 2016"
 Demographers have long followed the rise of the "nones"-"people who don't identify with any particular religion."  The Public Religion Research Institute ( has concluded that there is a racial component to it.  Dan Cox, PRRI research director told Ms. Green in an email,

Overall, white Americans are significantly more likely to be disconnected from religion than...non-white Americans...They are 2.5 times more likely to say that seldom or never attend religious services and nearly twice (1.7 times) as likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated.

Emma Green observes, "What's interesting is that this might have a class component."  In October 2016, PRRI and The Atlantic conducted a study on Caucasian working class voters, who were so fundamental to POTUS's victory in the typically Blue States of Michigan and Pennsylvania.  (; date accessed Apr. 19, 2017)  Unlike some pollsters, "they defined 'working class' as people without a college degree who also paid by the hour or the job, meaning white-collar workers were excluded."

"Vote Choice in the 2016 Election"

Compared to their college educated counterparts, working-class Americans are less likely to attend religious services.  People in their late thirties and forties "...seldom or never go, compared to less than a third of college-educated people in that age group."  Overall, Caucasians under thirty-five are unlikely to regular worshippers: "Nearly half of both the working class and the college-educated said the rarely or never attend services."  Alternatively, young, well educated Caucasian people maintain that they are religious as well: "Only 31 percent of this group said they're not affiliated with any particular faith, while 43 percent of young, white working-class people said the said."

This is politically important.  Robby Jones, the CEO of PRRI explained in an interview,

They're going to be missing one of the major pipelines toward voting and civic population...Churches have served, for most of the nation's life, as pipelines to all kinds of civic engagement-and not because they hand out voter-registration cards or has them in the lobby.  We actually see a link between all kinds of civic activity and church activity.

"The Range of Reactions to the 2016 Election"
 This trend is apparent in PRRI's research.  "White working-class Americans of all ages were much less likely than their college-educated peer to participate in sports teams, book clubs, or neighborhood associations-55 percent vs. 31 percent said they seldom or never participated in those kinds of activities."  This is especially the case with young Caucasian votes, Mr. Jones continued,

...there's a real question whether...there will be a lower civic participation rate over that cohort's entire lifespan...,

"including everything from voting in elections to being involved in community groups."

Cover of Bowling Alone
The lack of civic and religious participation will have consequences for both parties.  Mr. Jones noted,

The parties are increasingly divided by race and religion.

The Democrats and Republicans must wrestle with the implications of these changes in American demographic, this includes an increasing number of non-white citizens and an aging Caucasian generation that was once more active in religious and civic life, by default.

The 2016 election was definitely shape by Caucasian religious voters however, the concept of living as a Caucasian person in the United States is changing.  Mr. Jones said,

My biggest fear is that we do end up with these two parties: One that represents an aging white Christian America, and that's resentful as it's losing ground, and one that represents a growing demographic but also its own kind of resentment,...Both parties give up on telling a story about the country that everybody can see themselves in.  So we have these two mutually exclusive stories about what it means to be in American.

Together with decreasing participation in common civic and religious institutions may produce a sense of alienation and grievance.

The survey research on issues of identity is unclear.  Individual lives are a complex mix of demographic determinants, and they do not always explain human behavior.  Mr. Jones said,

...your demographics exert a kind of gravitational force on your attitudes...

Here, elements like wealth and class might play a part in how detached Americans are from civic life: "Research shows (; date accessed Apr. 19, 2017) that are less likely to vote (; date accessed Apr. 19, 2017), for example."  However, race appears to an important element of the gravitational force described by Mr. Jones.  An increasing number of Caucasian American are "bowling alone," disengaging from the social network of civic and religious life that has forever defined American political culture.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Are The Suburbs Really Overtaking Urban Areas?

American suburbia
Photograph by Andreas Praefcke/CC 3.0
Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a new week.  United Airlines is still plagued by bad publicity, resulting from their anal retentive adherence to the rules.  History challenged White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer re-surfaced at the annual Easter Egg Hunt, reading a story to a group of children.  So far, so good.  On to today's subject: are the suburbs outpacing the cities in population growth?

On December 3, 2016, Laura Kusisto wrote in the Wall Street Journal an eye-grabbing article titled "Suburbs outstrip cities in population growth study finds." (; date accessed Apr. 17, 2017).  Ms. Kusisto wrote,

Big cities may be getting all the attention, but the suburbs ares holding their own in the battle for population and young earners...research shows that suburbs are continuing to outstrip downtowns in overall population growth, diversity, and even younger residents...  (Ibid)

Joe Cortright, in his CityLab article, "Are the Suburbs Really Back?" questions whether Ms. Kunsisto's is accurate.  Mr. Cortright writes, "On its face, the article seems to imply that much of what has been written in recent years about a rebound in cities is either wrong or somehow overstated."  Although the WSJ article was quick to paint the report as urban-suburban race for suburbs, an Urban Land Institute press release was more guarded:

Urban construction
Suburban housing markets across the United States are evolving rapidly and overall well positioned to maintain their relevance the foreseeable future as preferred places to live and work, even as many urban cores and downtown neighborhoods continue to attract new residents and businesses, according to a new publication from ULI... (

The full report was published on the ULI website December 5, 2016.  The report, Housing in the evolving American suburb, was prepared the real estate consulting firm RCLCO, which presents their classification of individual census tracts in the fifty largest metropolitan areas.  Mr. Cortright calls the report " ambitious undertaking, classifying even census tract in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas according to a new and quite complicated neighborhood taxonomy."  He admits that he has not had a chance to carefully vet the data, but he does have some initial thoughts.

Grading on the Curve
Joe Cortright writes, "The ULI uses its own custom-crafted definition of cities and suburbs.  And it's quite unlike that used by other researchers."  The researchers examined data for the 50 largest metropolitan and group individual metropolitan areas in six different subject headings including: "gateway, sunbelt" and "legacy."  New York is in a category all to itself.  He continues, "Each category has its own definition of what constitutes 'urban,' as well as five different flavors of suburb, ranging from 'established high end suburbs' to 'greenfield value suburbs.'"  Mr. Cortright asks the reader to think of it as grading on a curve because what defines urban in one metropolitan is considered suburban in another metropolitan area.  The first appendix explains "that each category of metropolitan areas had a set of rules for classifying tracts as urban or suburban, and for suburban tracts, their exact sub-category, based in part on the distribution of data for that category of metropolitan areas, but there's no reporting of the exact cut-off points for each category."  Page 43 of the appendix,

For more information on the absolute cuts for any given MSA category, see the table in this appendix (Ibid), do not look for that table, according to Mr. Cortright "no such table appears in either of the report's two appendices."

Google street view of Chicago suburb
The arbitrary classification and statistical thresholds for placing neighborhoods in each category in different metropolitans left some quite puzzled.  Mr. Cortright reports, "According to the ULI report, as measured by population a higher fraction of neighborhoods in Milwaukee (24 percent) are urban than in Chicago (12 percent), San Jose (40 percent) is more urban that either San Francisco (20 percent) or New York (35 percent), and Houston (10 percent) is slightly more urban than Seattle (9 percent)"  A further look at the report's maps of pattern of urban and suburban classifications suggest that thing appear correct;  "the center of every metro area is urban, its surroundings suburban."  That aside, it is not always apparent that the reader would agree where the report authors delineated the boundary between urban and suburban in a specific metropolitan area.  Case in point, residents in the Chicago suburb (pictured above) would be surprised to find that they live in a "suburb" based on the ULI report.

Phoenix, Arizona
Even if there might be some disagreement with the results in some place, Mr. Cortright credits ULI with trying "something different."  He does note "There are some serious limitations to using municipal boundaries to distinguish between cities and suburbs."  Boundaries are fluid and the common practice to view the largest metropolitan as the "city" and everywhere else as "the suburbs."  Cities such as Phoenix, Austin, Jacksonville have large swaths of low-density density development within the largest city limits.  Another point, is in some metropolitan ares, "the largest city represents only a tiny fraction of the metro area-the cities of Atlanta and Miami are only about 10 percent of their respective metros...."  ULI's methodology is a sober attempt to avoid the issue, by examining density, housing types, and neighborhood characteristics.  Fortunately you can follow their map to see how each census tract has been classified.

It is a difficult and in many respects subject task to delineate urban from suburban, and there is ample room for healthy disagreement.  Mr. Cortright additionally credits the authors for being "...pretty clear about their approach (although it would be great if they had included a table showing the actual definitions used in each category of metropolitan areas)."  However, in CityLab's opinion, "...grading on the curve-using different rules to define what constitutes urban and suburban in different metro areas-make it difficult to interpret their national level results."

Moving beyond a binary classification

The Wall Street Journal article's chief claim is "...this ULI study sheds new light on the relative attractiveness and success of cities compared to suburbs."  One of the issues with this manner of analysis is that it divides the metropolitan world in two black-and-white categories: "city" and "suburb."  However, it would be better to look at the grey area: where people actually live.

"Distribution of Young Adults' Distance from City Center"
UVA Demographic Center
One useful tool is a set of charts created by the University of Virginia's Luke Juday.  Mr. Juday used census data and plotted population and demographic features of the population by using a series of concentric circles around the center of each large American metropolitan area.  Similar to the ULI study, he also focused for the 50 largest American metropolitan areas.  Mr. Juday's analysis charts how things have changed between 1990 and 2012.  The above table charts where young adults resided during the study period.

The above chart tracks the distribution of young adults (22-34 years old) by distance from the city center to their neighborhood.  The brown line symbolizes the 2012 distribution, the orange lis is the distributor in 1990.  Two points to note.  "First, both lines slop down to the right: young people are more likely to live close to the center of the metropolitan area than other Americans.  Second, the line for 2012 is decidedly steeper than the line for 1990.  This shows that young adults have a much stronger preference for central neighborhoods now..."  This a more nuanced and powerful proof of locational preferences of young adults than the summary data in the ULI report.

The housing bubble is over

The expansion of the housing is over, something the ULI study neglects to take into account.  The study treats the period 2000 to 2015 as if it was a single time period.  However, anyone paying attention to the housing markets or the economy would notice that this fifteen year period is broken down into two phases.  Phase I: 2000 to about 2007, corresponding to the expansion of the housing bubble which resulted in construction of a plethora of suburban and exurban single family homes.  Phase II: 2008 to 2015, corresponding to the Great Recession and slow recovery, a period where suburban single family residences languished, most of the housing market action has been focused on multi-family residences, mainly apartments in urban areas.

"Primary City vs. Suburban Population Growth"
Metropolitan Policy Program
It is very apparent that the housing pattern has been quite different prior to and after the recession.  Joe Cortright cites the Brookings Institution analysis, Mid-Decade, big-city growth continues, of the city-suburb population trends assembled by Bill Frey (  The Brookings Institute report uses a central definition of city connected to the most populous urban areas in each metropolitan ("primary cities"), which is somewhat limited.  Mr. Cortright reports, "For 2000-2010, suburban population grew faster than city population, 1.38 percent per year to .0.43 percent.  In of the years since 2010, city population has exceeded suburban growth."

Joe Cortright's own analysis, Surging City Center Job Growth ( date accessed Apr. 18, 2017), demonstrate similar trends between 2001-2007 (i.e. suburbs expanded faster) and beyond (when city centers expanded faster).

He writes, "Despite the headlines claims in the report, buried in a single paragraph in the report's Appendix B there's an acknowledgement that were very different after the Great Recession than before:"

Using the RCLCO classification, suburban areas were found to have seen a somewhat lower share of growth since 2010, at only percent of population and 76 percent of household growth.   (

Allow Blogger to remind you that the report's primary conclusion about the prevalence of the suburban areas was "that they accounted for 91 percent of population growth over the 15-year period."  Mathematically speaking, this translates to suburbs made up 95 percent of the population growth between 2000-2010.  This implies that the percentage of population growth-mostly in cities-increased 5 percent between 2000-2010, approximately 20 percent during the 2010-2015 period-a serious increase.  Mr. Cortright observes, "The ULI report could more light on the question of city versus suburban growth.  If it had focused on the period since 2007, rather than simply present results that largely recount the unsustainable growth patterns recorded during the housing bubble."

17th Street Oakland, California
The myth of revealed preference

The implied argument backing the statistically based articles on how more Americans are living in the suburbs than cities, signifies a type of implicit preference for the suburbs.  There is a strong body of evidence that more people would live in urban areas if, here is the catch, there more more affordable housing available.  The strongest indicator of this is the increase of urban home prices relative to suburban home prices.  NIMBYism (or as Richard Florida prefers "urban luddites") and other serious obstacles to building more housing in urban areas which means fewer people can obtain homes that they enjoy living.  In his 2006 book Zoned Out, tried to answer the question: "Are local governments just responding to 'market' demand in ensuring that new development is low-density and auto-oriented?  Or is there really pent-up demand for urban neighborhoods that can't be satisfied because of zoning?"  (

Decatur, Georgia
Mr. Levine looked for the answer in two very different metropolitan areas: Boston and Atlanta.  (Ibid)  He matched comparisons of consumers and neighborhoods to prove that more Americans would rather live in urban areas.

Joe Cortright reports, "As we've pointed out, the rising relative price of housing in the urban core shows a growing demand for urban living."  Fitch Investment Advisers (Ibid) applied zip code level information on housing prices in America's largest metropolitan areas to chart housing prices in close-in city neighborhoods relative to the remainder of metropolitan areas over a 25-year period.  Their data demonstrates that "the premium that buyers are will to pay to live close to the center has accelerated in recent years.  (Fitch divided up large metro areas into five concentric circles based on their distance of the CBD; prices in the closet tier outperformed all other tiers from 2000 onward; The Fitch finding has been separately corroborated by studies from Zillow and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.)

"Home Price Index Over Time Based on City Center Distances"
Fitch Ratings

In Appendix B of Housing in the evolving American suburb, the co-authors touches on the subject of lagging relative suburban home prices.  The co-authors references the study published by the Federal Housing Finance Agency revealing that home prices appreciated twice as quickly in neighborhoods near city centers as in in neighborhoods ten miles from central business district; in the peripheral areas saw even slower price increases.  Mr. Cortright writes, "They argue that we shouldn't be tempted 'to treat these prices trends as demonstrating a shift in housing preferences.'"  However, the counter evidence is not so much a an impeachment of the rising demand for urban locations relative to urban ones. as a reason for this trend.  We have been told that suburbs are becoming less of a magnetic because of the long commutes, while urban amenities are growing.  Mr. Cortright writes, "They also argue that it's easier to build new housing in the suburbs than cities...what this essentially show is that we have a shortage of cities, and an unrequited demand for urban living."

New York City street scene
About diversity

The ULI report claims that the suburbs are almost as diverse as the cities.  It states:

American suburbs as a whole are racially and ethnically diverse.  Fully 76 percent of the minority population in the 50 largest metro areas live in the suburbs-not much lower than 79 percent of the population in these metro areas as a whole.  (

Joe Cortright critiques this statement, "If all suburbs were alike, this might be an almost convincing point.  But a key part of the ULI report is its observation that there are many different kinds of suburbs."  Sharing this information at a high level of aggregation vastly "obscures the differences within suburbs."  Specifically, "...62 percent of the population population of 'economically challenged suburbs' are racial of ethnic minorities, roughly double the fraction of the population in either 'established high end suburbs' (34 percent) or 'greenfield lifestyle suburbs' (27 percent)."  In an aside, "The report doesn't describe its data source, nor does it cite the exact definition of minorities that it uses..."
"Distribution of Black Residents' Distance from City Center"
UVA Demographics Research Group

Returning to the information from Luke Juday's Changing Shape of the American Metropolis spotlights a more nuanced light on the trend of racial and ethnic diversity across the metropolitan-scape.  The chart on the left shows a fraction of the population that is African American's distance from the central business district, aggregated for the 50 largest American metropolitan areas.  As you move toward the center, that fraction gets smilers.  Mr. Cortright writes, "While it's true that African-Americans are more decentralized now (brown line) than they were in 1990 (orange), it remains the case that blacks are about three times more likely to live within 5 miles of the city center than they are to live 15 or more miles."

Although racial segregation has somewhat mitigated in the United States, the cities remain more diverse than the suburbs; suburbans minorities are disproportionately concentrated in economically distressed suburbs, less likely to reside in more upscale suburban neighborhoods.

The verdict: Not proven

Joe Cortright concludes: "The three principal claims in the Wall Street Journal article, that suburbs are growing faster than cities, that they are 'outstripping' them in the growth of young residents, and they are more diverse, are all incorrect."  Between 2010 and 2015, cities grew faster than suburbs; close-in neighborhoods have become magnets for a disproportionate share of millennials, and cities more diverse.  Essentially, you do not need the WSJ to tell you this, this is obvious if you spend any amount of time in either the suburbs or urban areas.  The unfortunate part is that the media and Urban Land Institute study co-authors have position their report as a contest between the cities and suburbs. This obscures the nuances that exist within each the environments.  It is the nuances that tell the real story.