Central DC: home to both bikes & young adults

Two recent geographic visualizations that describe my little corner of the District (and world):

First, MIT’s Media Lab, via their YouAreHere site, generated this map of the fastest mode of transport from my neighborhood to the rest of the city:

youarehere: SW Waterfront

Indeed, this more or less describes my travel decisions: I’ll bike anywhere in the L’Enfant City (where most attractions are) or along the rivers, take transit if going along the Green Line or to Silver Spring, and don’t really bother with the edges of town (including Upper NW).

The highest “percent of the city that can be reached fastest” by bike that I found was 62.7% of the city, from Stanton Park — but for most of the L’Enfant City and Mid-City, bicycling is the fastest way to get to about half the city. For transit, it’s 27.6% from Metro Center. Yet from most of the edges of the city (whether Ward 2, 3, or 8), cars are sadly still too convenient; 80%+ of the city is most quickly reached by driving.

A sad testament to the relative lack of speed of transit in Chicago: even from downtown, only 2% of the city is most quickly reached by transit.

Second, there’s this interesting “cross-section” visualization from Luke Juday at UVa’s Demographics Research Group, which underlines the increasing self-segregation of young people within the urban core:

No, the percentage of 20-somethings in the urban core didn’t appreciably increase. However, since the region’s population is now older, the core’s percentage went from 50% higher than the metro average to 100% higher, as 20-somethings have deserted the suburbs and piled into the urban core. The only area that gained 20-somethings is the near east side of town, which is a theme that the post’s other graphs explore.

And yes, the latter phenomenon just might have something to do with the transportation characteristics outlined in the former.

It’s not just a phase: urban population dynamics have changed

National Park Seminary new EYA townhouses

EYA townhouses in Forest Glen, Md.

Ben Adler from Grist wrote about a recent NYT trend piece about how suburbia is hollowing out, with few young families to replace the empty nesters. He puts too much emphasis on gross migration and population change, without drilling into how those components have been changing:

A handful of coastal and upper Midwestern cities are attracting more young professionals than before and are retaining them for longer… Even where gentrifiers are moving in at a pace sufficient to reverse outmigration, they’re barely making in a dent in reversing the tide.

Migration population losses from cities paint an unnecessarily dire view of urban prospects. There is a good reason why large metros would tend to lose people to domestic migration — and, for the 20th century, pretty much always did. A statistically significant group of young people move to large cities, get married there, have kids, and then move away in search of more appropriate housing. Two people move in, three move out: presto, population “loss,” even though the same number of people moved in and out. Similarly, for decades a steady flow of retirees southward, away from large cities, was a good thing for society — an indicator that healthier seniors were physically able to move, rather than remaining house-bound.

Yet long-established movements like these (plus shrinking household sizes, plunging overcrowding, the twin crises of deindustrialization and crime, and employment displacing relatively dense central-city residential), may have largely run their course.

Yes, this does indicate that “the school problem” remains,* but indications are that cities are attracting more young people, and retaining them for more years. This is occurring both before and after the critical life milestone of marriage: new households are overwhelmingly singles, couples, and unrelated persons. Whereas many of the 1950s pioneers who settled what are now inner-ring suburbs were young families headed by 20-somethings, or maybe 30-somethings, today many married couples (without kids, or with young children) stay in the city for longer.

Here in DC (where the city’s small size and overwhelmingly post-industrial nature makes the demographic transition especially sharp), Carol Morello from the Post observes:

the number of children younger than 5 has grown by almost 20 percent, from 33,000 to 39,000, according to census figures. In the same time span, the number of children ages 5 to 13 rose 7 percent. But there were fewer children 14 and older, suggesting that many parents still choose to leave the city when their children reach high school.

This also shows up anecdotally, as in the NYT’s quote of a Westchester County official (“Parents used to be 35ish, now they’re 45ish. What we’re seeing is not so much an exodus as a later arrival”) and this observation (at a recent ULI conference) by the biggest developer of townhouses inside the Beltway:

Within the DC region, the geographically compact core (about 3% of the region’s area) accounts for a huge share of net growth of 25-34s. (Drawn from 2010-2012 ACS.)

A larger share of households spending more years living in the city is a marginal boon to cities’ residential market share. Few Americans live in one place for life, anyways, but imagine the implication for apartment owners as their tenant pool both grows in size and stays longer.

Meanwhile, population decline hasn’t hurt some urban areas (like my old neighborhood of Bucktown, where densities on some blocks have fallen 90% since their WW1 peaks, and continued falling in recent years). These can feel more lively and active than ever, even with much-reduced populations, because incomes are way up. More disposable income can substitute for a smaller population; retailers look for underserved pockets of spending power, not necessarily people.

Yes, at the end of the day, cities need to provide homes for a growing global population and so should welcome growing populations. However, gross population shifts need to be disaggregated and viewed cautiously.

On another note entirely, I’d like to honor the recent passing of Donald Bogue, 1918-2014, who taught me much of what I know about demographic processes. (My “Relocated Yankees” paper was done as a final project for his class.) Even though he was well into his eighties when I took his class, his approach was the best of UChicago: thoughtful, broadly read, engaging, and kindly critical, and he helped to tie together a lot of loose ends that I’d thought about for many years. He leaves behind a tremendous published legacy — scores of publications in the Library of Congress, for instance — and his work on topics like Skid Row still has strong resonance in planning today, for example in understanding the historical intersections between homelessness and place.

* Don’t look at me for any answers; this isn’t a school policy blog.

Attitudes towards race and space: another red-blue divide

Just attended a CAP/PolicyLink event about a new poll examining American’s attitude towards rising diversity. The report raises some interesting implications about the intersection of race and place — particularly since attitudes about diversity play out very differently between diverse, growing coastal gateway cities vs. the slower-growing interior.

- The coast/interior divide is quite sharp. The poll analysis used responses about various positive or negative aspects of diversity to generate an “openness index.” The Mid-Atlantic (NY/NJ/PA) and West Coast were the only two regions to have an index score above the national average, and by large margins (7-8%). On the other end, the South Central regions had index scores 6-10% below the national average, and the mountain west was 4% below the national average.

- Questions related to place generated very sharp differences between age groups. Respondents were asked whether they agreed with a series of arguments, both good and bad, about diversity. Of these questions, answers related to places had a sharper age divide than any other question asked, perhaps pointing to very different experiences between young and old when dealing with diverse public spaces. Millennials are the most diverse, best-educated generation in American history, and their welcoming attitude towards a diverse population is one of the less-explored aspects of their shift towards city living.

Asked whether increased diversity was good because “Diverse workplaces and schools will help make American businesses more innovative and competitive,” 75% of 18-34s agreed, whereas only 60% of 65+s agreed; 69% agreed overall.

Asked whether increased diversity was bad because “Crime and problems in our neighborhoods will go up,” almost half of all respondents (47%) agreed. Responses varied relatively little by race, with 47-49% of Whites, African Americans, and Latinos agreeing. However, three groups (all of above-average urbanization, and therefore seemingly with more to lose) stand out as much more optimistic about diverse neighborhoods:
– 37% of 18-35s agreed (vs. 58% of 65+s)
– 32% of White college grads agreed (vs. 55% of non-graduates)
– 38% of Asian Americans agreed

- Some hint of how this may play out in the metropolitan political sphere can be seen in the New York City & Los Angeles mayoral elections:

Candidates who can embrace both their personal racial transcendence and an equitable-growth platform are well-poised to triumph in regional politics.

Three more election thoughts: coalition, gerrymandered House, cities’ voting power

1. The “Coalition of the Ascendant” narrative continues to be validated by the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Richard Cohen; Sully has a roundup. (James Joyner: ‘The only question is how many more elections they’ll lose clinging to a “traditional America” that’s a distant memory.’)

2. The tidal wave of Big Money and a House map spectacularly gerrymandered in their favor only downgraded the Republicans from a stern rebuke to a slap on the wrist. As a geography nerd, I’m particularly concerned about the electoral map: “the ridigity of the gerrymander is more impressive when you see it hold off a minor wave,” says Dave Weigel in Slate. He points to several states, particularly Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the House delegation and the Presidential vote diverge sharply. One could also look at the average winning margin across Democratic and Republican districts, or, as Princeton Election Consortium’s Sam Wang points out, that the total national vote may go to Democrats even as the actual House went to Republicans. (Put another way, if there were national, or even state-level proportional representation, the House would be balanced or slightly Dem.) Update: Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress points to a preliminary House tally of 53,952,240 (50.3%) Democratic votes vs. 53,402,643 (49.7%) Republican, with the caveat that West Coast vote-by-mail states have incomplete results and that uncontested races were excluded.

Another indication: the opposite may well be true at the Presidential level, which is tied to House representation but at a slightly more macro level. Republicans rack up huge margins in their core red states, but Democrats seem to have a persistent edge in several of the battlegrounds.

3. Sommer Mathis ties the ascendant demographics to the “urban archipelago,” a theme from the 2000 campaign that I heard echoed recently in discussions at NACTO (an event I’ll be posting notes from soon). Interesting to note that Romney’s largest county margins so far appear to have been in Maricopa at 131,770, Utah County (Provo) at 126,546, and Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth) at 95,897. Obama pulled six-figure margins even in suburban and second-tier counties like Contra Costa, Hartford, and Mecklenburg (Charlotte, a traditionally Republican city whose former mayor won N.C.’s governorship in a rare GOP pickup) — never mind the nearly million-vote margins in population centers like Los Angeles and Cook.

Ethnoburbs: why not?

James Frank Dy Zarsadiaz in The Atlantic Cities writes about his ethnographic research into Asian immigrants in Diamond Bar, Calif. (where my cousin lives and works):

While scholars and researchers rightfully problematize political economies, migration patterns, and social dynamics between different racial and class groups in the contemporary ethnoburb, oftentimes post-1965 Asian immigrants moved to these neighborhoods for tangible and banal reasons. Interviewees provided various mundane and frank motives as to why the east Valley sold them twenty or thirty years ago: inexpensive new housing, reputable school districts, easy access to work, distance from urban crime and racial “others,” and by the late 1980s and 1990s, conveniences to ethnic commodities.

As banal as the reasons for moving to suburbia are, though, Asian Americans have reshaped suburbia in some interesting ways. The San Gabriel Valley’s population shift has been accompanied by an influx of a few things that conventional sprawl didn’t accommodate well — like extended families and myriad small businesses — and the towns there have started to extensively retrofit their built environment to accommodate them. By organically adding mixed uses and a wider range of housing types, they’re perhaps well out in front of suburbs elsewhere in America that are seeking to improve their resilience. Last year, I presented as part of a “Cultural Urbanism” panel at the Next Generation of the New Urbanism which explored additional implications for urbanism that might arise as American metropolitan areas become more multi-ethnic — and assimilate different metropolitan values from the world’s cities.

Shorts: Austin + Madison, McLean, the South

1. No, it’s not another post about trendy baby names of the Aughts… Bike Snob NYC visits two cities that have also recently hosted the Congress for the New Urbanism, and once again I feel validated:


If you enjoy shirtless motorcycling, being drunk in revealing clothing, or just plain shouting “Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo!” like a Fred who’s just hit 46mph, then Austin is your kind of town. If, on the other hand, you prefer more refined pleasures such as quiet cocktails, polite conversation, and maintaining your dignity, you might be more at home elsewhere.


As it turns out, Madison is more than just “bike friendly,” and it’s actually so affectionate towards cyclists that it sometimes gropes you in a way that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable… I daresay that Minneapolis and Madison may be even more rideable than “The Artisanal ‘P’.” In particular, riding in Madison was like riding a cotton candy bicycle while being tickled with buttercups…

2. Speaking of fabled places, I would never have guessed that this line by Bobbi Bowman would have been filed from the Beltway’s Republican redoubt:

That battle was basically a clash of visions of downtown McLean. The vision of JBG and its partner, a townhouse developer, was townhouses, a garage on Elm Street with the first floor of restaurants and retail space, a tot lot, and improved storm-water management. The Planning Committee, McLean’s citizen-planners, envisioned apartments, higher density and no garage. [emphasis mine]

3. One of the strange-at-first-glance statistics in a recent Pew report on intermarriage is that the South, which led the opposition to mixed marriages, has a higher incidence of intermarriage than the Midwest or Northeast, although lower than the West. That ranking appears to be an artifact of two factors:
– exposure appears to lower rates of out-marriage in the Midwest; more homogenous states just don’t give their residents much opportunity to out-marry
– Florida and Texas are part of the Census Bureau’s definition of the South, and both share with the West a Hispanic heritage — which, by long-standing Census definition, is already a mix.

Inadvertently opting out of gentrification in Toronto

I’ve found some validation for my earlier hypothesis that neighborhoods which opt out of the broader housing market will also opt out of speculative consequences including gentrification. From Alan Walks and Martine August, “The Factors Inhibiting Gentrification In Areas With Little Non-Market Housing: Policy Lessons From The Toronto Experience” [Urban Studies, 45(12), November 2008, downloadable from neighbourhoodchange.ca]:

“Perhaps the most important reason why the embeddedness of the Portuguese and Chinese communities factors large in inhibiting gentrification is their control over a significant proportion of the housing stock and dominance in the local real estate sector. In both cases, houses purchased within the community tended to stay in the community and were often converted for multifamily use using their own or bartered labour. In most cases, tenants were sought from within the community, as proficiency in English remained marginal at best (Teixeira, 1998, 2000; Chan, 2006)…

“As already noted, many immigrant communities, like the Portuguese in Brockton and the Chinese in South Riverdale, finance their housing purchases through family connections and their renovations via sweat equity (Murdie, 1986, 1991). This meant that the ethnic communities were able to raise capital during a period in which inner-city housing as a whole, and these neighbourhoods in particular, were devalued (and/or considered too risky to insure) by institutionalised finance capital. The influx of ethnic capital, and the conversion of many properties to multifamily use, had the positive effect of limiting devaluation and thus the rent gap in the face of de facto redlining, therefore reducing incentives for demolition and redevelopment (Smith, 1996). Much of the increase in rental in both neighbourhoods can be attributed to the conversion of properties to multifamily by ethnic owners and much of this housing was rented to tenants from within the community as many were uncomfortable having to deal with tenants in English (Teixeira, 2007; Chan, 2006). Likewise, ethnic contacts are often sought out first when properties are put up for sale (Murdie, 1991) and, considering that demand for housing from within both the ethnic communities remained strong well into the 1990s, this would have meant that a significant portion of the housing stock was effectively removed from the capitalist property market available to gentrifiers (although it would still have been available to ethnic speculators)…

“In both cases, the reliance on ethnic sources of housing finance capital and labour appears to have played a distinct role in maintaining a measure of ethnic control over a section of the housing stock, which acted as a complementary stabilising force for the community at a key time in its evolution. Thus, a third policy recommendation would be to support the usage of ethnic and/or non-market or non-profit sources of housing finance and/or non-market programmes that can match vacant properties to new residents, thus largely bypassing the traditional housing market and in turn reducing, if not preventing, speculative real estate activity and gentrifiers’ access to key properties. Such a policy need not be targeted at ethnic communities—embattled working-class communities could also benefit from such a system… Of course, the extent of the phenomenon (of ethnic housing finance) and its precise effects in obstructing gentrification in our two case studies remains somewhat of an unknown. This is an area that clearly warrants further empirical exploration by gentrification researchers.”

Similarly, City Council actions to inhibit speculation and move housing off the marketplace helped: “in South Riverdale the city council specifically adopted policies to prevent ‘white-painting’ in the neighbourhood and protect affordable housing. While short-lived (from 1974 until 1977), a municipal ‘speculation tax’ was implemented across the city and the City’s non-profit housing corporation (City Home) was instructed to acquire selected apartment units and houses as a complement to its stock of projects and limited equity co-operatives (City of Toronto Planning Board, 1977, pp. 22, 50). Although the number of houses acquired in this way in South Riverdale was small (55 units), it was a disproportionately high share compared with the rest of the inner city and sent an important signal to the development industry that the city intended to protect low-income housing in the area.”

Other factors that may have contributed include tackiness, with the appropriate “historic preservation” response from The Powers That Be: “Perhaps even more important was the way that a significant proportion of the housing stock was renovated by the incoming southern European communities in west-central Toronto… The extent of dislike for such mediterraneanised facades is revealed by gentrifiers’ attempts to ban the use of ‘angel brick’ under the rubric of heritage preservation (Caulfield, 1994, pp. 204–207).”

They also discuss how delayed deindustrialization allowed the neighborhoods to maintain their working-class character longer — after all, industrial activity (a) creates housing demand by the working class and (b) has environmental externalities that the gentrifying classes dislike/avoid.

Demographics shorts

1. Bill Frey from Brookings on how America is already transitioning to a multiracial society:

Over the last decade, the U.S. population under age 18 grew by less than 3 percent. But the 2010 Census also reveals an absolute decline of white young people over this period, as well a somewhat smaller decline of black youths. Hispanics, Asians, and to a lesser degree multiracial children, accounted for all of the net growth the nation’s under-18 population.

This, however, has troubling consequences with regard to the ever greater divide (see #6) between older, whiter, conservative voters and younger, browner, liberal constituents — in short, between America’s past and America’s future, except that the former is generally going to be in charge.

2. Speaking of America growing apart, an interesting way to look at Brookings Metro’s newest online datasets — showing that metro areas dominate many states in population, employment, and particularly in economic output — is to compare cities that lead vs. lag in GDP per capita within their respective states. For instance, right next door:
Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.: 47% higher GRP/capita than state average
Burlington, N.C.: 25% lower GRP/capita than state average

Within the nation as a whole, the wide gap between the most and least productive regions is sharply growing: DC earns 5X as much as Mississippi, and that gap has grown 18% since 1990. By 2015, at PPP, Shanghai province will have a higher per capita income than Mississippi.

3. Wikipedia has some interesting bits on linguistics. For instance, the extra R in “char siu bao” (it’s pronounced “cha seew bow”) comes, of course, from the non-rhotic Englishmen who settled in Hong Kong. Also, something that I’ve noticed in England and New England alike — particularly in terms like street names — is a tendency towards plainer terminology, disposing of many of the euphemisms that American English has imported from French. This tendency has a term, since of course it was tied to the tension between upper and middle class Britons — “U and non-U.”


1. No, we cyclists don’t approve of how stupid riding, either:

The above video adheres to the bicycle messenger video style manual, which mandates that any video must include messengers talking about how dangerous their job is while simultaneously including footage of them doing their job in the most idiotically dangerous way possible…. I’d like to see a video from the IBEW in which electricians talk about how dangerous their job is, intercut with footage of them randomly stabbing at wall outlets with forks. – BSNYC

2. On the eve of the government shutdown:

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) drew cheers by saying, “If liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and shut down the government instead of making a small down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, ‘Shut it down.’” – reported by John Avlon, Daily Beast

I’d like to see these Ayn Rand-worshipping teabagger extremists survive a true government shutdown. End Social Security and Medicare payments, garrison the forts, abandon the airports and ports and border crossings, freeze defense contractors’ payments, stand down the poultry inspectors, turn off MedLine, rope off the Interstates. See how your constituents feel after a few days of living in the Stone Age. Those taxes we pay are (h/t Oliver Wendell Holmes) the price of civilization, and without them we’ll descend into anarchy — which ain’t pretty.

3. David Roberts says of a nifty LLNL flowchart of America’s energy consumption: “Holy sh*t we waste a lot of energy! Well over half of the raw energy that enters our economy goes to waste.” Less than 1/3 of the fuel going into electric plants actually ends up as used energy; generator losses and line loss accounts for much of the rest. (Smart grids and better transmission lines should go a ways to solving that.) Yet the huge waste is in transportation: just as much energy is wasted in transportation as is provided by coal. Only 1/4 of the energy going into the transportation sector actually gets used. Increasing fuel economy will surely help matters a great deal, but surely a great deal of that inefficiency stems from America’s overreliance on the 20%-efficiency internal combustion engine for almost all of its transportation needs.

4. DCentric’s Elahe Izadi reveals how (in DC as in Chicago, although less dramatically since gentrification led to net gains in DC vs. net losses in Chicago) suburbanization rather than gentrification actually explains much of the decline in both cities’ Black populations.

Yesterday we spoke with demographer Roderick J. Harrison, a senior fellow at the Joint Center and a Howard University associate professor, to get a better understanding of the city’s shifting demographics. He framed D.C.’s loss of 39,000 black residents in this light: gentrification wasn’t the major driving force in Wards 7 and 8, where population losses were the greatest. Rather, it was by-and-large classic suburbanization in which people left the city’s poorest wards “that are often considered the worst neighborhoods,” Harrison said.

“The force behind it probably is seen as a positive force. These are people who are some way or another, they are upwardly mobile, they are improving their housing and neighborhood conditions, they are making personal decisions that they see, on the whole, as an improvement,” he said.

5. I’ve previously despaired over whether Continental Airlines’ marketing strategy might win out over United Airlines’ — and yes, it seems that CO’s Kaplan Thaler is behind the new company’s branding. As Lewis Lazare wrote in the Sun-Times:

A golden age in the annals of airline advertising officially ended Tuesday when the merged United Airlines unveiled its first ad campaign from Kaplan Thaler/New York ad agency… does away with the elegant, illustration-centric print ads and television commercials that for the past four years were a hallmark of the United advertising created by the Minneapolis boutique shop Barrie, D’Rozario Murphy. Those print ads and story-driven commercials were always smart and sophisticated — the finest examples of airline advertising since the landmark ‘World’s Favorite Airline’ campaigns for British Airways from Saatchi & Saatchi/London in the late 1980’s… United’s ads from BDM helped elevate the carrier’s image even as the airline was struggling to right itself after a difficult bankruptcy filing… The new United advertising just now breaking incorporates much of the imagery associated with previous Continental campaigns, which have been handled for many years by Kaplan Thaler. It is certainly a functional campaign, if not hugely creative.

However, what worked for Continental might not work for the new United: the two competed in very different market spaces. Continental faced very little competition for its “hub captive” travelers, and has been able to profit immensely from that. That’s highlighted in Nate Silver’s recent analysis of airports with “unfair fares.” Legacy Continental’s hubs are #1, #2, and #6 on his list of most overpriced large airports, with megahubs IAH and EWR taking the top slots. Of United’s hubs, IAD and ORD are #7 and #8, but United’s other three hubs are apparently at least fairly priced — and United has at times been #2 to American at ORD.

Are they really “relocated Yankees”?

For an assignment last year, I crunched some numbers about migration to Wake County –as of this year, North Carolina’s most populous county thanks to plentiful in-migration. Three interesting findings:
1. Contrary to common perception, just under half of movers to Wake County are “Yankees” (moving from states north of the Mason-Dixon). Most out-state movers arrive from other largely suburban counties.
2. The largest sending counties to Wake are nearby rural or mill-town counties (consistent with “migration potential” theory), since the South in general is still rapidly urbanizing. North Carolina was still majority-rural until the 1970s. (Urban/rural population from 1900-1990 and 1990-2000 [xls]. Note that North Carolina in 2000 was as urbanized as Illinois in 1910.)
3. Within the Triangle, the metropolitan migration dynamic (larger households flow to the periphery, smaller households towards the center) appears to place Durham & Orange at the center, Wake at both center and periphery, and the exurbs at the periphery.

Full presentation (1MB PDF)

Tidbits, 11 May

  • In a classic case of Manhattan myopia, Ed Glaeser makes an oversimplified argument that high-rises can spur economic diversity in Economix. Two crucial shortcomings to the argument: (1) high-rises have inordinately high construction costs per unit, due to expensive steel/concrete structures and elevators; and (2) their highly standardized units and interiors, and high ratio of communal-but-not-common space, resist any efforts to meaningfully mix price points within.
  • “The Deepwater Horizon spill illustrates that every gallon of gas is a gallon of risks — risks of spills in production and transport, of worker deaths, of asthma-inducing air pollution and of climate change, to name a few. We should print these risks on every gasoline receipt, just as we label smoking’s risks on cigarette packs. And we should throw our newfound political will behind a sweeping commitment to use less gas — build cars that use less oil (or none at all) and figure out better ways to transport Americans.” — Lisa Margonelli in the NYT (h/t Ryan Avent)
  • Brookings (via TNR) unveiled an interesting new metro-area cluster typology. Larger growing regions can be low-education “border growth,” better educated and whiter “New Heartland” (Charlotte, Columbus, KC, MSP, SLC), or diverse and highly educated “Next Frontier” (they bet on Albuquerque, Austin, DC, Denver, DFW, Houston, Sacramento, Seattle, and Tucson). The “rust belt” divides into stable, better educated “Skilled Anchor” (Hartford, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh) and declining, less educated “Industrial Core” cities (Memphis, New Orleans, Toledo).
  • Seems like I’m not the only one who’s disappointed by the New United Airlines’ adoption of Continental’s whiffleball clip-art logo. It offers some peculiarly ugly typography — notably the stem on the uppercase U, which appears to be, in a sad twist on the false small caps of UA’s 90s look, an inverted and enlarged n. Contrast that with the “Helvetica on fast forward” look of the current wordmark, so clean and detailed that it draws attention to the angles snipped into the T. What also worries me is that the new company seems, so far, to be taking its design cues from Continental’s graphically blunt advertising, which features all-caps headlines, underlines (more appropriate for emphasis on typewriters than in digital media), high contrast colors, and predictable visuals — quite different from UA’s almost too elegant, soft-sell approach of spare watercolor illustration, in greys and pastels, set against lots of whitespace. In fact, Continental’s ad agency deliberately says about its strategy: “forgo the flowery imagery and messaging of typical airline ads and focus on what really matters to business travelers: getting basic needs met with consistency. Our campaign… talks to travelers in a simple, straightforward style and voice…” The visual contrast is nowhere more evident than in comparing their recent TV spots; particularly the parting shot that introduces the logo:

    (Interestingly, in choosing blue as the new airline color, it appears that US aviation is joining other duopoly markets that have coalesced around red vs. blue. Coke-Pepsi, Colgate-Crest, Labour-Tory, Republican-Democrat, TWA-Pan Am, and now Delta-United.) [originally posted to FT]

  • A recent article on “Chinglish” in the NYT reveals that the Shanghai government has been cracking down on poor English translations. That might explain why the amusing picture book cited in the article was one of the few English-language books widely available at most bookshops, gift shops, and the like — having it everywhere sure seemed strange given China’s strong aversion to embarrassment.