And we’re back: demographics

Well, hello there! No, I haven’t forgotten about the blog, but a lot of other things have been getting in the way. Anyhow, I’m going to try to work through this backlog of great ideas that I’ve been meaning to share by posting a few thoughts & ideas every few days.

Seven for 17 December, and heavy on demography:

1. The trade-offs of moving to DC, per Travel & Leisure: well, I gained better transit, intelligent locals, monuments and museums, and lost on pretty much every other count. Can’t say it’s too far off the mark, honestly, but

2. So, why does this feel like so much smaller of a city? Because it is, and somehow it didn’t really sink in until I ran some numbers via the ever-useful FreeDemographics.com (albeit Census 2000, of course). Why a little storefront food co-op could succeed in Logan Square but maybe not in Capitol East (where the H Street Community Market recently threw in the towel after years of organizing):

Dill Pickle Food Co-op: 87,979 people and 28,926 HHs within 1 mile
H & 15th NE: 42,252 people and 18,355 HHs within 1 mile

And why aren’t there more specialized businesses around where I live now, even though education and income levels are so much higher? Part of me thinks that it’s because ambitious people here all become star bureaucrats, rather than going off to open new businesses — it’s a comfortable life, and the cost of living is such that one really needs a desk job to get by. (Hence the general lack of hipsters.) Demographics is another reason, though: a Cafe Lula or Revolution Brewing counts on drawing from a fairly large area, and there just aren’t nearly as many people since the city itself peters out quickly and isn’t that dense to begin with. So while Columbia Heights is in some ways similar to Logan Square — it has a respectable 74,513 people within one mile and is the last bastion of multifamily density before the city dribbles out into the bungalow belt — it only has half as many residents within five miles (643K vs 1,338K).

3. Over at Human Transit, interesting counterpoint by Jarrett Walker to Patrick Condon’s advocacy of a streetcar (essentially bus-speed) transit option for western Vancouver, instead of a rapid transit alignment along Broadway. This is a difficult corridor to parse: it’s a high-ridership route with two high-density stretches (UBC at the west edge and central Broadway from Kitsilano to Mount Pleasant/C-Drive) separated by a long stretch of low-density residential, so both at-grade and grade separation have merits.

In any case, the argument reminds me of the shift in Chicago’s mass transit ridership patterns over time. The self-contained, highly walkable streetcar communities that Condon advocates resemble the Chicago of yore: essentially an endless series of walk-to-work, walk-to-shop small towns knit together with slow(ish) streetcars. (The Surface Lines were still faster than today’s buses, though, because there wasn’t much traffic then — and way faster than they would be in mixed traffic today. I’ll grant that streetcars are sexy, but buses do have much greater operational flexibility.) Tourists may think of Chicago as the city of the “L,” but unlike NYC or DC, surface transit ridership has always accounted for the vast majority of transit riders in Chicago.

Contrast this environment with the modern city, where rapid transit to downtown plays a much greater role in the transit system (even though actual downtown employment hasn’t grown all that much). Thus, the demand for rapid transit (“L” to downtown, cars to big boxes) has increased relative to the declining market for local transportation (buses, walking to local stores). Why? Perhaps exactly the same capitalist tendency towards gigantism that has created so many other sustainability dilemmas in the first place.

4. Population decline in a “growing” neighborhood [GGW]:

When a neighborhood with low vacancy gentrifies, the resulting population loss can be quite steep indeed. Paris’ population is down by a fourth since its peak in 1921. The largely Latino neighborhood I lived in last time the census figures dropped had added literally thousands of loft apartments from 1990-2000, but smaller households completely canceled out those gains:
Households: +6,557
Occupied housing units: +6,221
Population: -268
Household size: -18.7% (-0.57 persons per HH)
Median HH income: +153% (for ZIP)

The 6,000 new apartments, and the new shops drawn to the new money, were quite visible to casual observers — but the quiet absence of one person from every other house, dozens of people from every block, was invisible to all but the census takers.

5. The Hubert Humphrey Metrodome’s roof collapse sounded familiar — and for good reason. A few years ago, I was in Vancouver when the air-supported roof of BC Place collapsed during high winds, and indeed JJ Lee from the CBC points out that the roofs were of the same design. And yes, the same firm later designed the tensile-fabric roofs atop Denver International Airport and Canada Place.

6. Puzzling: why is it that everything in Copenhagen and Tokyo costs more, except for building and operating rail transit? Alon Levy brings some numbers to this discussion in some Streetsblog comments about NYC’s transit unions. Part of the reason in Copenhagen is that their metro is driverless, which also means that it (like Vancouver) can run at fantastic frequencies at all hours — an essential enabler of car-free lifestyles.

7. Since I’m planning a car-free trip to LA (with my parents, who probably never took the bus despite living in LA for decades), here’s a Frugal Traveler quote:

To be honest, I had expected getting around Los Angeles by bike and public transportation to be a barely tolerable chore — a money-saving second-best way to see the city.
Why, then, was I feeling so elated about my trip and smitten by a city I had never particularly liked before? … These were true Los Angeles moments — moments that most visitors, stuck in freeway traffic behind the steering wheel of their rental car, never get to experience. Or, at most, happen only when they stop their car at a taco or banh mi truck.

He stayed around Santa Monica-Venice most of the time. I’m going to try basing us in Hollywood; we’ll see how that works out.

Speaking of LA, “Here’s the sordid history of the Los Angeles Green Line, the ugliest duckling of all light rail lines,” by “Wad.”

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