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.

Chinatowns gentrifying even across the Pacific

I’ve written earlier on gentrification in U.S. Chinatowns (as with everything else, Manhattan gets more than its share of attention). Yet this is something new: gentrification (including, apparently, a shift to a whiter population) has occurred even in cities with large Asian majorities, like Honolulu, Vancouver, or even Singapore.

The broader context matters little: in these cities, Chinatown is the original ethnic neighborhood, offering vintage architecture (and, in both instances, unusually well-preserved) adjacent to the CBD. Just as in Los Angeles (where gentrification’s further along in Little Tokyo than in Chinatown), that proves an unbeatable combination for boutiquey businesses appealing to hip travelers or expats — who might find most local neighborhoods, with their preponderance of concrete apartments and enclosed malls, insufficiently “exotic” for their tastes.

Harlem “transition” missing the point

Sheesh, white privilege can result in such blinders. A NYT article by Sam Roberts bears a headline proclaiming that blacks are now less than half of Harlem’s population. Oh really? I hadn’t noticed the last time I was at 125th & Manhattan Ave. The article has the usual “experts” talking about gentrification and white-black relations, and the photo shows a white guy on a brownstone stoop. Yet an accompanying set of graphs shows a clear black majority in “central Harlem” (the area most residents would call Harlem) and a shrinking — but already minority — black plurality in “greater Harlem.” The “greater” area, it turns out, includes Spanish/East Harlem and much of Morningside Heights, neither of which have ever been majority black. Even within “central Harlem,” the graph shows a steep drop in the share of black residents beginning in 1980, long before the white gentry ever got to the neighborhood. In short, the graphs say that this was a poor neighborhood undergoing steady ethnic succession (by no means a new phenomenon; indeed, it’s the story of urban America) — from native-born black to Latino (a not-obvious shift, since many Caribbean immigrants blend the two categories) — and that minor gentrification has taken place over the past few years.

Basically, it’s not news (and we don’t even pretend to notice) until white people get there. This in spite of the fact that class, not race, is the real issue here and with gentrification in general; that households and not population are really the units of gentrification.

I’ll quote Brad Smith, who left this comment:

The Times places a photo of a white family at the top to suggest the displacement is because of whites. And most of the article concerns the influx of whites, suggesting the same cause. However, the accompanying graphs show the uptick in white families to be rather small, with “Other” constituting the real source of the population shift. Presumably, those are Hispanics but there is scant mention of them in the article… The loss of “majority” status has nothing to do with the influx of whites or the development boom of the past 10 years. So why is a white family featured in the photo and why is the demographic change repeatedly portrayed as a function of the influx of whites when the statistics and timeline say something else? The article is rather misleading and suggests an agenda.

Where there were no bad schools

Well, this is disappointing. I’ve always been proud of the fact that I went to integrated public schools in a Southern inner city — especially since moving up north and seeing the damage that de-facto school segregation wreaks upon city and suburbs alike. What seemed normal as a kid was, as it turned out in my social-policy classes, a national model of how to do the right thing.

The magnet-school system in Raleigh not only provided remarkable education opportunities (my high school offered three orchestral programs, multivariate calculus, and Latin), but left me with enough street smarts to easily and respectfully navigate multiethnic city life. Getting bused across town for school also, in a way, taught me about educational opportunities across the entire city — museums, other libraries, the university. Although half of my peers lived in the lower-income, mostly African American neighborhoods of southeast Raleigh, nearly 90% of us went on to college. All this despite spending some 30% less per student than failing urban schools in the North.

The school system’s strong commitment to integration — suburban and city schools merged long after the courts had shifted away from forced busing — means that there are no bad schools, no schools worth fleeing or closing or “reconstituting,” in a county just shy of one million residents. Indeed, in Raleigh it’s the city schools which are better. This fact arguably played a huge role in making Raleigh one of the best-educated, most prosperous, fastest-growing cities in America:

For comparison’s sake, imagine that instead of merging in 1976, the Raleigh and Wake school systems had continued to be separate. And not only that, but Raleigh was one school district and every other town in Wake County had a separate school district of its own, like Wayne County [suburban Detroit]. Would Raleigh today be affluent? Or would the affluent people of Raleigh have long since moved to Cary, Apex and the rest of the suburbs, leaving a poor inner-city school system behind? [Bob Geary, Independent Weekly, writing about Gerald Grant’s new book Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh]

And yet there are others who inexplicably see such policies as failures, who insist that geography should be destiny. A small minority, likely drawn to Raleigh by its reputation for great schools, has consistently railed about the constant churn of school reassignments — necessary for a district that opens several costly new schools every single year. Maintaining integration has become more difficult as sprawl marched farther afield and as patterns of socioeconomic segregation ossified. (In this regard, the spread of suburban poverty and inner-city gentrification have actually helped to maintain some integration.) The usual right-wing hue and cry over “socialist social engineering” (never mind the right’s continual insistence on deeply interfering with private lives) becomes double-speak for perpetuating segregation. One school board member wants to have his cake and eat it, too — disband the magnets and somehow offer their programs at every single school, while decrying the “high cost” of busing. (Is there demand for AP Latin at every school? Even if there were, who could afford it?) Yet busing costs much less than trying to rescue failed schools with vast infusions of cash.

I’m only writing about this since, of course, the fringe has won a crucial battle: apparent control over the Wake County school board. NC Policy Watch argues that only 3% of voters — just over half, largely in the suburbs, in a poorly attended election — have come to dominate the debate, and that the considerable achievements should be better marketed; “the school system itself could do a better a job telling its impressive story and acknowledging the work it must do to address its problems.” I can only hope from afar that Wake County doesn’t turn its back on one of its few progressive policy achievements.


There’s much, much more where I came from.

My ancestors, like those of many Chinese-Americans, hail from a pair of valleys about 100 miles west of Hong Kong. The conurbation rapidly rising between the two — standing astride the Pearl River Delta — is “the fastest growing region of the fastest growing country” in the world, with a population estimated at over 50 million. That’s akin to packing the population of the three West Coast states into an area smaller than the Phoenix metropolitan area. (That, in turn, is only a bit smaller than the three states of southern New England.)

(This reflection comes from the graphic comparison of metropolitan footprints in Peter Bosselmann’s book Urban Transformations.)

Of course, China’s vast population defies any attempt to put it into scale; after all, per Guinness, I share my last name with over 100 million Chungs. Just about as many people answer to just my last name as pledge allegiance to Mexico or Japan. Luckily, I’m the only living “Payton Chung” known to Google.

What does it all mean? We often hear about China becoming a larger economy, a larger polluter, a larger exporter, a larger whatever than [America, Europe, Japan, etc.] — meaningless statistics without accounting for the mind-bogglingly vast human resources that China has, both to offer and to support. Here’s a thought exercise: walk down the street and, for every single American you see, imagine an entire family of four. That might give you a sense of how crowded China is.

A great many narrow-minded observers from “the west” suffer from pot and kettle syndrome when pointing at China: “they pollute more, so why should we care?” Well, such observers sometimes neglect human rights in their own way: no human has greater rights to pollute than any other, and on a per-human basis Americans are still by far the greater environmental criminals.

Assorted collected

Recent quotables. No common theme.

Bill McKibbenin Yes! Magazine:

The kind of extreme independence that derived from cheap fossil fuel—the fact that we need our neighbors for nothing at all—can’t last. Either we build real community, of the kind that lets us embrace mass transit and local food and co-housing and you name it, or we will go down clinging to the wreckage of our privatized society.

From the Baffler, “The flight of the creative class: a bohemian rhapsody” (satire), Paul Maliszewski and Thomas Frank:

“Creative people do have certain needs, however, They require hip entertainment, organic street-level culture, and artistic environments—from restaurants serving mind-boggling fusions of world cuisines, like Thai and Tex-Mex or Indian and Australian, to experimental theaters, avant-garde galleries, and authentic coffee shops with mismatched cups and saucers and deteriorating couches. Creative people crave lively street scenes and late-night music venues serving up pricey energy drinks in test tubes. In short, creative people insist they lead the sort of lives that feed their creativity, inspiring them.”

Thomas Geoghegan, “The Law in Shambles” (Prickly Paradigm, 2005), excerpted in same Baffler:

“In a plutocracy, we don’t trust the government. Why should we? It does nothing for us, it is underfunded, and it’s unreliable. This attitude, in turn, makes the problem worse. The more arbitrary and unfair we think things are, the more we drop out. We don’t simply stop voting. We stop reading the paper. Stop following it at all…

“Remember the teaching of the great law professor Clyde Summers: ‘It costs a lot of money for people to have “rights.”‘ […]

“Where I live, in Chicago, I’m in a ring of nuclear power plants. I’d be in terrible danger if we ever successfully muzzled the trial lawyers. It’s only the tort system that saves us from another Three Mile Island. Yes, I agree, it might be nice if we had more nuclear plants. We could cut down on Mideast oil. We could slow down global warming. And if I lived in France, with all its nuclear energy, I might think it was a good thing. So why do I oppose it here?

“Because France has a real administrative state, a real civil service, and the best and brightest do the regulating. In America, we can’t even keep the trains on the tracks. And so, sure, as a citizen, Id like to curb the trial lawyers.

“But I also want to live.”

Some bits from the January 2007 SMARTRAQ report, about the market demand for sprawl vs. walkable neighborhoods, for my future reference:

page 9. Residents of the least walkable neighborhoods generated 20% more CO2 from travel then residents of the most walkable neighborhoods, about 2 kg more CO2 per person per weekday.

Residents of the most walkable areas are 2.4X more likely to get the level of daily activity necessary to maintain health (30 minutes): 37% vs. 18% in the least walkable neighborhoods.

page 10. About a third of metro Atlantans living in conventional suburban development would have preferred a more walkable environment, but apparently traded it off for other reasons such as affordability, school quality, or perception of crime in addition to lack of supply. It is likely that this mismatch between community preference and choice is due to an undersupply of walkable environments.

page 32. 55% of survey respondents preferred a shorter commute, even if residential densities were higher and lot sizes smaller. 33% of respondents preferred such an option, but did not currently live in this type of neighborhood.

56% of respondents would prefer a neighborhood where they had easy travel choices, even if it meant a smaller house, over a house in a neighborhood where they had to drive for everything. 37% would prefer such an area, but did not currently.