Friday, March 16, 2018

Sprawl In Its Purest Form, Cleveland Edition

Jason Segedy tweeted the image below contrasting the amount of urbanized land in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County in 1948 vs. 2002. The county population was identical in both years: 1.39 million.

I’m not a hater on suburbanization. Growing populations require new urbanized land on the fringes. But when population growth is flat or negative in a region, which is the case in Cleveland and many Rust Belt cities, then sprawl has negative effects.

One of the them is the Chuck Banas quip that Buffalo has the same number of people, but three times as much stuff. When you double or triple your urban footprint, the cost of upkeep soars because you are paying to maintain and provide services to a lot more stuff. As we can richer as a society, we can afford to have more and nicer stuff. But it’s hard to make the argument that his has been the case of late in many of these Rust Belt cities where new suburban expansion continues to take place.

Another is that it puts downward price pressure on older developments through filtering. If you keep building new homes but you aren’t adding households, then older homes at the bottom of the scale will be abandoned. And all up the stack homes are devalued. This helps explain why even many inner suburban neighborhoods are falling into serious decay.

As a rough heuristics, development of new suburban footprint should largely be limited to the growth rate in households to avoid saddling a region with excess fixed cost.

from Aaron M. Renn

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Is Marijuana Legalization Causing More Pedestrian Deaths?

Photo Credit: Global Panorama, CC SA 2.0

A recent article in the New York Times raises the question of whether marijuana is causing pedestrian deaths to increase:

Pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents have reached levels not seen in years, and a safety group has sought to explain why. It has identified several possible causes, like digital distractions and an increase in driving. Now it has added another: marijuana.

Over the first six months of 2017, pedestrian fatalities rose sharply from a year earlier in states that had legalized recreational marijuana, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. In the rest of the country, such deaths declined.

“We are not making a definitive, cause-and-effect link to marijuana,” said Richard Retting, a traffic safety engineer at Sam Schwartz Consulting who was the author of the study. The data “is a marker for concern,” he added. “It may be a canary in a coal mine, an early indicator to address.”

Last year the Denver Post noted an increase in fatal accidents, and an increase in the number of drivers in those accidents testing positive for pot.

The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show. A Denver Post analysis of the data and coroner reports provides the most comprehensive look yet into whether roads in the state have become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization.

Last year, all of the drivers who survived and tested positive for marijuana use had the drug at levels that indicated use within a few hours of being tested, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which compiles information for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The trends coincide with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado that began with adult use in late 2012, followed by sales in 2014. Colorado transportation and public safety officials, however, say the rising number of pot-related traffic fatalities cannot be definitively linked to legalized marijuana.

The 2013-16 period saw a 40 percent increase in the number of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado, from 627 to 880, according to the NHTSA data. Those who tested positive for alcohol in fatal crashes from 2013 to 2015 — figures for 2016 were not available — grew 17 percent, from 129 to 151.

By contrast, the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana use jumped 145 percent — from 47 in 2013 to 115 in 2016. During that time, the prevalence of testing drivers for marijuana use did not change appreciably, federal fatal-crash data show.

And the numbers probably are even higher.

I haven’t seen that much written in the urbanist press about this compared to other related safety issues. Even the folks who normally blow a sprocket at safety issues involving pedestrians have been strangely muted.

There’s no way that the urban crowd would accept “no definitive link” type defenses if it were something they were already opposed to (driving in general, for example). But if we really want to reduce auto-related fatalities – and we do – then we need to address impaired driving and be willing to be honest about how pot legalization may have factored into that.

from Aaron M. Renn

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Brain Drain as Economic Development, Akron Edition

Akron, Ohio. Photo credit: Sleepydre, Public Domain

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I don’t believe brain drain is the problem it’s been made out as. Often talent export can actually itself be a form of economic development.

A recent New Yorker profile of the Silicon Valley firm Glassdoor, which allows employees to post reviews of their employer, made this point implicitly in passing. Robert Hohman, the CEO of Glassdoor, is from Akron.

One day last fall, I met with Robert Hohman, Glassdoor’s C.E.O., at the company’s Chicago office. He had just hosted a ted-like conference (tagline: “Winning with informed candidates”) where C.E.O.s and talent recruiters took notes on how to operate in the new era of corporate transparency. Hohman, who grew up in Akron, Ohio, resembles the actor Jeff Daniels; friendly and rumpled, he wore jeans, and his blond hair was slicked back. According to Glassdoor, ninety-one per cent of employees approve of Hohman’s performance. The other nine per cent include a former sales director, who recently griped about a “culture of blame” at the company’s Mill Valley, California, headquarters and advised Hohman to “stop standing up in meetings dropping F-Bombs like a 6th grader with a head injury.”

When he needed up with his startup, he looked to friends and family back home:

In 2008, shortly before Glassdoor’s launch, Hohman called his sister, Melissa Fernandez, in Akron. She had just given birth to her first child and wanted to work from home. He enlisted her to read every review that was submitted to the site, scanning them for violations of the Community Guidelines. When the workload got to be too much, Fernandez recruited Cara Barry, another stay-at-home mom, who recruited a third mom, her neighbor. Eventually, this group—the content-moderation team—grew to include twenty-six people, several of them men, although for years employees at Glassdoor’s headquarters referred to them as “the wahms,” for “work-at-home moms.” During the past decade, Glassdoor has built machine-learning algorithms to screen for fraud and profanity, and the members of Fernandez’s team read anything that users have flagged; these days, they also read half of all reviews submitted to the site regardless—a step that Yelp and TripAdvisor don’t take, Hohman said.

This turned into a Glassdoor office in suburban Akron, complete with Silicon Valley style perks.

From Chicago, Hohman returned to San Francisco. Dawn Lyon and I went to visit the content-moderation team, which works in an office park in Green, Ohio, five miles from the Akron airport. Melissa Fernandez met us at the door. She has a “Rachel” haircut, wire-rimmed glasses, and an even-keeled demeanor. She introduced her team of moderators—twenty-one other women and four men, working at adjustable-height desks. According to Glassdoor’s Glassdoor page, the Ohio office is the happiest of the company’s six locations, beating London and San Francisco, with a 5.0 rating—a perfect score. Fernandez explained that this is in part because the team has a great culture, and also because its San Francisco-style startup perks—yoga classes, dogs in the office, flexibility to work from home—are virtually unheard of in Akron, where the biggest employers are factories and call centers. Laura Beth Mercina, the team’s head of community care, previously worked at Arby’s. She said, “I tell people about my job at Glassdoor, and they’re, like, ‘Is this place real?’ ”

It’s not clear how many people Glassdoor employs in Akron. It sounds like a very small number. But any amount is more than they would have been employing if Hohman hadn’t left Akron to ultimately end up starting the company. Brain drain turned out to be gain for the folks who are now working for Glassdoor in Akron.

from Aaron M. Renn

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Low Trust Report

Following along with the low trust society theme, Edelman earlier this year released the 2018 edition of their Trust Barometer. Some interesting findings:

  • Average US trust in institutions dropped by nine points (on a 100 point scale), the biggest decline out of any country surveyed.
  • Trust in institutions by the US “informed public” declined by 23 points, from one of the world’s highest to the lowest surveyed.
  • Across the four major institution types analyzed (NGOs, Business, Government, Media), the informed public still has a higher average trust level than the general public.
  • The US has a 34 percentage point gap in trust in the media between political parties.
  • The media is overall the world’s least trusted institution (22 of 28 countries), including in the US.
  • Despite the “trust crash” last year, trust in all US institutions is actually higher than it was in 2012.

Click through to read the report.

from Aaron M. Renn

Monday, March 12, 2018

Reconnecting People to the Labor Force

Photo Credit: David McSpadden, CC BY 2.0

Friday’s jobs report was one of the best in a long time. There were 313,000 new jobs added to the economy. But more important were increasing signs that people who’ve been out of the labor force are reconnecting to work. As reported by the NYT:

The number of adults not in the labor force fell by a whopping 653,000 people, as the participation rate — the proportion of adults who either have a job or are looking for one — rose a healthy 0.3 percent to 63 percent. The proportion of people in their prime working years (25 to 54) who are working is at its highest level since 2008.

This is great news. The Wall Street Journal supplies an anecdote that gives an example of what’s happening behind the numbers.

Jaraun “Gemini” Boyd offers a window into the broad forces reshaping the jobs market as the expansion advances. As workers become scarcer, employers are looking further and wider for talent. That includes tapping a pool of former prisoners.

Mr. Boyd spent nearly two decades in federal prison on drug-related charges. After training to become a commercial-truck driver, the 43-year old rejoined the ranks of workers late last year, landing a job driving a garbage truck for the city of Charlotte, N.C.

“I was no saint,” Mr. Boyd said in a telephone interview. He initially received little help finding a job. “After prison you need a second chance—but if you have a record you can’t get a job, you can’t get housing assistance, you see why people turn back to crime.”

He landed the truck-driving training through the Charlotte Works Workforce Development Board. That “opened a door for me,” said Mr. Boyd. “It’s just a first step.” He wants to start a nonprofit working with at-risk youth.

The plural of anecdote isn’t data, and this case notably involves public sector employment. But the numbers are encouraging.

I see a tight labor market as a good thing in the present environment. It is forcing employers to take a chance on people like ex-offenders or the long term unemployed, who would otherwise be invisible. I’ve noted before examples of “green shoots” in this regard. Let’s just hope it keeps up. Long term unemployment is disastrous on a whole host of metrics. So I worry about the large number of people who fall into that category more than I do the risk of inflation at this point.

from Aaron M. Renn

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Cities in Books

Google Books’ ngram tool lets you search and compare mentions of various terms in books that they’ve digitized. I ran some city names through it to see how the relative level of mentions of these places has changed over time. These aren’t perfect. Some city names are too generic to really isolate, like Columbus (could refer to Christopher) or Charlotte (a common name). Others I assumed do typically refer to the major city of that name, but have other uses as well (Paris, St. Louis). Also, these are English language city name searches, and I’m not sure how much international literature Google has digitized anyway.

With that in mind, here are some charts. First, a look at three major global cities:

It’s interesting that London and Paris have been pretty consistent over time. New York has soared as it grew from a colonial town to premier global capital.

Here are some prominent Asian cities. Note that Tokyo was named Edo until 1868. (I left off Beijing because it was transliterated as Peking until recently).

Here are some other major, established US cities.

Despite the rise of the West Coast, LA and SF haven’t gotten as much love. Chicago’s rise is especially notable.

Here are some Sunbelt cities compared.

And some Midwest cities.

There’s a big peak around 1920. You see it also in Chicago above (too many mentions to easily fit on this chart), though in Chicago’s case it didn’t decline.

Heres a zoom in on Cincinnati vs. Indianapolis.

We see here mirrored that Cincinnati was once a very major city, and a different class than Indy really, but how that gap has essentially closed over the years as Cincinnati’s relative importance declined.

The ngram viewer is a fun tool play with, so check it out.


from Aaron M. Renn

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Millennial Footprints

William Frey, a demographer at Brookings, recently put up a post on Millennials, finding at their biggest footprint was in the South and West. Here’s one of his charts:

He notes:

Overall, with a few exceptions like Florida, the South and West “Sun Belt” areas tend to show the highest growth and biggest millennial footprints, while those in the North and West “Snow Belt” areas are more likely to register low growth and smaller millennial shares. This bodes well for millennials’ impact in the more rapidly growing regions of the country.

Click through to read the whole thing.

Pete Saunders also offers some demographic thoughts.

from Aaron M. Renn