Tuesday, April 04, 2006
I'm assembling data for a piece (or a series of pieces) on 'Death in the Big City' - or 'Why Do So Many People Drown in the Blue Castle Moats?'. I can't choose between them yet. I've done the crime stats already and I have the city list - what I'm looking for now is a little advice on which data points from this Census Page are of interest.

So far I have:

Population, percent change, 1990 to 2000
Persons with a disability, age 5+, 2000
Homeownership rate, 2000
Per capita money income, 1999
Persons below poverty, percent, 1999

I'd like to keep it to 10 items so I need 3 more (violent crime rate isn't on the Census Report).



Syl said...

Seems to me big cities are more about rent than home ownership. Maybe some stats on rent rates?

Rick Ballard said...


I think that subtracting owners from total households equals renting households - I'll present it in that manner, anyway. It's intriguing that the 2000 national rate was 66.2% - the last national rate that I've seen is 69.1% which is a helluva jump in five years.

Fresh Air said...


If you want to show stuff by MSA, the different fed agencies collect relatively comparable data. (here are violent crime rates by MSA.) Keep in mind the census is out of date, though.

Knucklehead said...

Are you trying to explain higher levels of crime in cities?

Probably just me, but I'd be looking at the age breakdowns of urban populations vs. non-urban populations. I'd expect to find some correlation between the numbers of predators (young males, say <23 or so) and easy prey (say, >65 or so).

Renting vs. owning probably matters but I bet it ain't easy to demonstrate how.

Another thing I speculate matters a great deal, but I have no idea how to go about showing it, is that urban circumstances provide much higher levels of opportunity to act spontaneously - at least in the crime sense. Potential victims everywhere, you can move about without drawing attention much more easily the urban enviroments - it is easier to approach prey and disappear when the crime is completed. And not only are there more victims readily available there is more merchandise readily available. The convenience and availability that attracts people to cities is equally attractive to criminals.

I'd be surprised if income breadown showed much. First off, how does anyone go about making meaningful comparisons between "poverty level" for urban vs. non-urban? Also, cities tend to be for the rich and the poor - the middle can't afford to live in cities at the standards they want. Or maybe it is precisely the opposite and the presence of mostly only rich and poor

Rick Ballard said...


I pulled current data (2004) off of the FBI Summary file for the cities themselves - MSAs aren't quite tight enough. I'm using city rather than MSA data from the Census Reports too to keep things equivalent.

The 'suburban rings' are part of the MSAs but they are outside the moat - where things are a little safer.

Knuck - No I'm not pointing just at crime. It's more of an economic picture of what the Blue Barons are actually "providing" for their subjects. So far, anyway.

truepeers said...

It's more of an economic picture of what the Blue Barons are actually "providing" for their subjects. So far, anyway.

-could you map the proximity of neighborhoods with high numbers of professionals and PhDs to institutions of the welfare state, and similarly map locations of church membership and denominations?

Rick Ballard said...


I can find number of churches but I haven't seen membership broken out on a citywide basis. PhD's get grouped in with 'post graduate degrees' which include teaching credentials - that's what gives that demographic a Dem skew. I'd argue that teachers ought to be included in the union component - but maybe that's just my little bias.

If you want to mull over curious juxtapositions - the two largest Presbyterian evangelical churches (don't laugh - they really are evangelical) in the Bay Area are Menlo Park - next to Stanford and First Pres. Berkeley next to - you guessed it. And most of the PhDs that I've met from both churches work at one of the two uni's. On the hard science side to boot.

truepeers said...

That juxtaposition doesn't surprise me entirely, Rick. Scientists are disproportionately members of the lower to middle classes with strong ambitions to make something of themselves. SUch people are less likely to focus on their choice of church as a question of social status, but will rather like a religion that makes them productive by providing a personal discipline, however "irrational" some will call it. If i recall past polls correctly, the vast majority of American scientists profess a belief in God.

Knucklehead said...

The Blue Barons are providing mass-transit, housing subsidies, food stamps, WIC, and a whole bunch of warehouses labeled PS-nnn and, more importantly, the underlying jobs programs (normally union) and political giveaway positions hidden in all that. Or, to cut to the chase, they're distributing billions of dollars of OPM to the Blue Kiddies.

I don't think you're gonna find much of that showing up in demo and crime data. You have to try and dig into budget data for that.

Rick Ballard said...


I'm looking for a two layer approach and what I'm already seeing is that there are at least two things happening. The first is that the really ugly Blue Castles are losing population due to crime and going broke, the second is that "successful" Blue Castles are just going broke. Philly, Detroit, New Orleans being good examples of the first and Seatttle and maybe Portland of the second.

Knucklehead said...

Thanks, Rick. I wasn't following what you were after. Do you think there may be some underlying enabling technology in this? Namely, sufficient bandwidth networking and completely ubiquitous telecoms.

What I'm getting at here is that people are bailing on cities because of the expense of living in cities. There was a higher threshold in the past because of the enormous access and proximity that cities provided. I've been wondering for some time if the next half-century or so in the US will yield a very substantial redistribution of the population - a heavily modified resurgence of "Small Town America".

So, perhaps, there's an underlying enabler that leads some portion of urbanites to start looking at the cost-benefit of city living and deciding the cost side is going up and the benefit side isn't as large as it once was.

Let's ponder for a moment the sense of "cost". Higher crime has long been, of course, one of the things city people "put up with". But crime, even in urban areas, has receded toward low points. Yet, if you know you're city you know where not to go.

Which brings me to something I think I sense happening in some small measure but have no way to measure. I think that, in some barely conscious way, people are beginning to expect life to get uglier in a number of ways or just feeling increasingly vulnerable. The constant level of shrieking anger in all discourse anymore is, IMO, symptomatic of this. Not that people in general would list it out this way but if people are sensing that we're heading towards times of rising crime and disruptions - strikes, riots, and such - some people are going to want to get out while the gettin' is good.

And consider "everything changed on 9/11"... well, it did, but surely we haven't yet figured out all the little ways that is true. But you don't have to even think about it much to conclude that terrorism, let's burn something leftism, we're pissed off and we ain't takin' it anymore unionism, and even bird flu or other epidemic is going to hit where the most folks are the most crowded together. I think people are feeling more of the vulnerability of crowds rather than the safety and comfort in numbers.

Last, but perhaps not least, the transfusion to the the bloodstreams of cities has always been the influx of young adults. Not that young adults don't still find cities attractive but I think that has trended down a little over the past decade or so.

I have no idea if there are surveys which measure such things but it would not surprise me at all to learn that a smaller portion of the college graduating age population is inclined to head for the Big City to seek fame, fortune, and fun. We have the "Failure to Launch" sort of business going on there's also a "I'll Launch But I Don't Want to Land in Urbania" trend out there.

The Blue Castle Dwellers are always blathering about the Rich Getting Richer and the Poor Getting Poorer (tm). Yaknow what? That's probably what they see all around them in their world behind the moats. Cities are increasingly becoming the worlds of the very poor and the very rich and the folks in between are heading for the drawbridges.

Rick Ballard said...


Do cities fulfill any purpose beyond gathering points for those in need? The original purpose was a defendable (on a hill preferably next to a river) place in which to exchange surplus. It's been a while since that was true. What purpose, beyond political, do they serve now?

Cultural centers? They would have to be a bit safer. And the "culture" involved would have to be rather special given the means of communication now available.

Did you know that the big cities in the Bay Area are all showing population decreases? SF, San Jose and Oakland are all net losers over the past 15 years - and SF has been throwing up some rather bodacious large condo projects built precisely for the 'young and adventuresome' that you reference.

Is part of the reason that this is occuring without much comment because media is city centric? Only 15% of the US population live in the fifty largest cities - and the fifty include such booming metropoli as Louisville, Arlington and Colorado Springs.

Knucklehead said...

Geeze, Rick, don't leave me to defend the value of cities ;)

BTW, JIC it is useful to you, here's a site called CensusScope.org which allows for some poking at data. (Possibly OT, but have a quick gander at this Nuclear Family map!)

Do cities fulfill any purpose beyond gathering points for those in need?

They clearly serve this purpose. As the famous bankrobber once said, "That's where the money is." People addicted to welfare find it hard to vote with their feet and leave the city because that's where the welfare is. It took a major flood to dislodge the welfare based community of New Orleans. It's hard to imagine this function of cities dissipating to any great degree.

The original purpose was a defendable (on a hill preferably next to a river) place in which to exchange surplus. It's been a while since that was true.

This is still true to a large degree although I believe the relative importance of it is shrinking slowly but surely. Cities are still economic hubs. Roads, railroads, water transport, airports... these all still collect up in or near cities to a large extent. Cities grew where they grew for reasons.

What purpose, beyond political, do they serve now?

They still serve all the purposes they have always served but... The 20th century was largely a matter of consilidation of economic activity and human services into urban areas in the "developed" world. We still see this trend in the many places in the world as, for example, places like Mexico City become megalopolises with enourmous numbers of people in them.

Even throughout the '90s metropolitan populations grew faster than the general US increase.

I speculate that the 21st century, at least in the US, will see some trending away from that and back toward a more distributed population. Metros, or many of them anyway, seem to growing more slowly, stabilizing, or even losing population.

The question is why this is happening. I believe it is because cities are losing some of their value to the people in them, and are providing a less attractive draw to those outside of them, while the costs of living or establishing oneself in cities remains high. When costs are out of whack with value - perceived or real - people pack up and go elsewhere and fewer people head off to the metropolis in the first place.

If the trend I speculate is even beginning, however, it'll be 10 years or more before it starts to show much in the data.

Why are cities still attractive to so many? They remain economic engines for one thing. Culture is another. The symphonies, ballets, theater, operas and professional sports and such are still the province of cities. (If you are interested here and here are some reports about the performing arts.) I can't find anything at the moment that goes into it but I've seen some studies (and my own observations concur) that symphony audiences are getting old.

Whether the cultural attractions will be strong enough to prevent or significantly mitigate any trend toward declining city populations is way beyond my pay grade.

My speculation that young adults aren't quite as attracted to cities as they have been for the past few generations isn't a suggestion that young people aren't heading for the cities anymore. I merely speculate that this long trend may be losing some of its edge. And I'd also like to see some of the race/ethnicity breakdown of that data.

It seems pretty clear that families don't find cities great places to live. I speculate that if I could find the demo data it would show that there is not only a growing wealth gap in the demographics of cities but also an age gap. I don't mean to suggest that this is happening rapidly but I suspect cities are increasingly the province of the poor, the young, the old, and the rich. People in the middle in terms of both age and wealth are less inclined to live in cities. But it is just speculation on my part and even if true, would be subject to the same brakes and reversals that always influence these sorts of things.

I'll be very interested to see where your data analysis takes you and what you have to say in your upcoming series.

Rick Ballard said...


On a stict change in population set the biggest numerical drops in pop occurred in:

New Orleans (pre Katrina)
San Francisco

The net drop in population for this subset since 1990 is 428,736 or 4%. They are all Dem run cities, of course, but there is something else working - LA and NYC showed increases of 3% and 1% respectively.

If I do a Red state versus Blue state comparison in population differential I come up with a net increase in Blue state big cities of 5% and an increase in Red state big cities of 14%. The real number increases are 1.4M for Blue and 2.5M for Red.

There is definitely something going on but 'What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear'.

And so my cry for help - what are the other factors involved here? Are they available in the census tables or are they a matter of the 'Wisdom of the Great Unwashed Masses' acting under the auspices of Adam Smith's 'Unseen Hand'?

chuck said...

The 20th century was largely a matter of consilidation of economic activity and human services into urban areas in the "developed" world.

Enormous areas of the US countryside have become depopulated. Lots of nice areas, too, not all deserts and windy plains. I think that the end of the small farmer and rancher has played a large role in this, its economics.

Last time I spent much time in NM the countryside was dotted with small abandoned towns. The former inhabitants were still around, but they had moved into the larger towns along the Rio Grande. The story I heard was schools: people moving to the towns so their children could go to school. But I think there were larger forces in play.

Knucklehead said...


Some of the that depopulation happened in places like rural New England and upstate NY and the like. Some of it was loss of industries such as textiles, shoes, and such. The local economies couldn't adjust and the distances involved rendered them obsolete.

Communications used to mean telegraph, telephone, road, and rail. Slowly, but surely, some of today's "information economy" jobs are being recognized as "I can do this from anywhere" and this, I think, just as slowly but just as surely, leads to people seeking out these otherwise very nice places to live and economies regenerating. Distributed populations. It happens at a slower cyclic rate but perhaps populations trends are somewhat like the cyles of IT - centralized... distributed... centralized... distributed...