Language ability and evacuation destinations

From my research in Chicago, the data show a very clear relationship between English language proficiency and knowledge of potentially ‘safe’ locations to go to during an emergency. Those with little to no English skills were much more likely to be unable, even in interviews conducted in their native Spanish, to be able to identify a geographic location to go outside of the City of Chicago in case of a large-scale evacuation.

For those of you who are wondering, this is a mosaic plot, made in R.

Richard Green on Discrimination, Property, and Wealth

My colleague Richard Green has written what looks to be a wonderful manuscript with Thomas Mitchell and Stephen Malpezzi on the long-term prosperity outcomes associated with forced sales conditions, and how property sold under compulsory conditions yield lower prices than under fair market conditions. In addition, the race and ethnicity of the property owner also factors in, with minority-status property owners getting lower prices. There’s a “double discount”–minority property owners are more likely to experience forced sales, and then as people of color they receive even lower sale values than non-minority households.

I’m so excited by this research! It’s so essential to understanding sustainability, largely because of the looming issues associated eminent domain and with larger social justice questions involving reparations to African Americans. If I’ve said it to my students once, if forced sales results in fair sales, why do we never do it in Beverly Hills, Georgetown, Beacon Hill, or Malibu?

Incompatible land use, externality-shifting American neighbors, or unsustainable practice?

Today’s LA Times ran this story about the land use conflict surrounding an immigrant-owned poultry slaughterhouse in Rosemead: the Chinese American Live Poultry Company.

These types of land use conflicts are at the center of sustainability, and it’s a thorny set of issues. The owners, the Phus, have got a number of code violations on the books, including improper disposal of chicken waste. That you can’t have, not at industry levels. It’s not like we’re talking a few chickens in the backyard.

And yes, chickens do smell.

But the facility has been there since 1991. I suspect that many of the neighbors who hate this facility and want it shut down moved next to it in the first place. And I bet they eat chicken, regularly, though I suspect not from the bloodied floor of a local slaughterhouse, but purchased in packages at Ralph’s.

My students often want to discuss mixed land use in terms of retail, housing and office space. If I push them to think about industry, they say they envision “green industry” but have no real way to flesh out what green industry is and how it works. Isn’t this a green industry? It’s providing local-scale food. If they composted the waste material (a process that would probably send the neighbors into outer space with rage), it could be pretty green. I suggest to students “how about organic or sustainable meat production in downtown LA-would that be green industry?” and they look aghast, even though most are not vegetarians.

Two major things have entirely altered the landscape of my youth: corporate agriculture and, not unrelated, methamphetamine production. My hometown in Iowa is enveloped routinely by the smell of hog production. Is it acceptable for people in Bakersfield to have to tolerate meat production so that everybody else, including Rosemeadeans, can indulge in chicken pot pies and roast beef sandwiches without having their dainty noises offended by the reality of their food?

This has always struck me as a problem that better urban design, better industrial ecology, and better governance should be able to help reconcile. Put some money and creativity into solving the problem rather than trying to just get your own way in a public conflict. Why, really, does that building and its environs have to be so ugly? Why does this conflict have to be about putting somebody out of business instead of enhancing their business to fit in better?

Perhaps the first rule of sustainability should be that if the land use/public service/whatever can’t go in your neighborhood, it can’t go in anybody else’s neighborhood either. Which means either you get creative, or you can’t eat chicken. The responsibility resides on both the producer and the consumer to construct livable communities.

Court smackdown for LA slumlord

Monica Hujazi has been ordered to pay more than $40K per occupant–for some families over $250,000, for failing to improve conditions in her rentals properties. The settlement amounts to more than $3.3 million, and it’s the second time at the rodeo for Ms. Hujazi, as she settled a $7 million suit in 2006.


One problem: Ms Cuevas is now going to buy a place in Bakersfield. From downtown to Bakersfield. Depending on where she works, that could be quite a switchup in commutes.

How terrorists think according to TSA

So apparently, the lesson learned from this last round of terrorist plots is to not let people stand up or use their stuff during the last hour of a flight.

I can see it now.

Fade in, first class cabin of an airplane containing the disaffected and yet highly privileged son of Muslim corporate parents listing over and over in his head the many injustices that he will right by killing people he doesn’t know. Having so enumerated his many reasons, he fails to notice that it’s an hour before landing and he must now stay seated.

Young Terrorist, talking to himself: Well, I WAS going to set off an explosive that I illegally brought on board despite the rules and cause an enormous amount of human suffering, but damn I can’t now because I’m not supposed to get up!!! If only I had set my Bulova alarm so that I could have stood up 62 minutes from the end of the flight, vengeance would have been mine!! Just you wait until next time, infidels! Where’s my headphones so I can watch the last of Friends before I disembark?

In all seriousness, I am assuming that TSA is attempting to keep planes from acting as weapons in US airspace–the last hour on most international flights are spent heading into US cities. I get it. I can understand that, but…this does not negate the enormous gap in security that led us to where a terrorist was on a plane with explosives in his pants. I can’t even bring lip gloss.

ClimateGate discussed over at Andrew Gelman’s blog

Basically, I still kind of think ClimateGate is rather a tempest in a pot of tea, even though The Transportationist (David Levinson)–who is way more savvy about evaluating scientific research than I am–has made a strong case for why the revelations around East Anglia should cast doubt on climate change science.*

Andrew Gellman—whose work I just think is wonderful—and Phil Klinker write one of the best social science blogs out there—Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science—and it should be required reading for all graduate students. They have a nice series about ClimateGate, including

1. Phil’s first contribution, which is very similar to my original response (only his is more intelligent and better written). So there are some climate scientists who were sloppy with their data and one guy who fiddled a graphic; the data are available elsewhere: get off your dead fanny and work on it and start proving people wrong if they are, in fact, wrong.

I have trouble believing that there are no scholars out there yearning to be the scientists that disprove warming. The payoffs are too high for me to believe that there aren’t contrarians itching to grab the spotlight. Get the data, get busy.

2. Andrew’s ideas on “how I form my attitudes about scientific questions” and

3) Phil’s post: Say a little prior for me post which cracks me up largely because I am easily won over by statistic puns.

*I should say that I think Professor Levinson and I probably agree more than we perhaps disagree. Having played with some of the aggregate data on climate change myself, the temperature trends are clear. That is basic. Extrapolating physical effects via models–ho boy. Arthur Viner at UCLA, who was one of my favorite professors and who tried to teach me atmospheric science, said “one well-designed experiment with original data collection can invalidate a thousand model runs” which air quality modeling has prompted me to take to heart.

So it’s fair game to test and challenge models. Attributing causation to specific human sources? Ho boy.

For my corner of the policy world, climate change is discussed a lot but it has never struck me as an issue that required proof. How can I possibly say that, given what a hard-core empiricist I am? In transportation we’ve been worried about petroleum consumption, energy, and air quality for almost 50 years now. The policy goal in transportation has been VMT reduction since I entered the field decades ago. Just so: what’s the proposed strategy for addressing climate change in transportation? VMT reduction. So it is not as though the cities and climate change question–no matter the science of climate change–really suggests a radical departure from the existing policy and planning goals in passenger transport. It does pertain to the timing and urgency of changes many have wanted for some time. But whether one justification for VMT reduction is true (or not) doesn’t factor all that much into my thinking.

Best Christmas Songs for the Depressed

In no particular order, these are among my favorite antidotes to the sticky-sweet traditional songs/movies that try to dupe us into believing that mankind is redeemable. In no particular order:

Father Christmas, the Kinks

Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, Tom Waits

Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, James Brown:

River by Joni Mitchell:

Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer Mambo by Billy May (I can’t embed this, but it is well worth visiting YouTube for.)

What is comparing apples to oranges in public transit analysis?

I’ve been reading away on various websites about the problems with transit investment as an environmental planning tool and–this should really annoy us–the way in which HSR ridership estimates have fallen and their projected per-ride fares have risen post bond measure. Here is a rather spicy editorial from San Diego on the HSR question. Now, in fairness, projecting ridership on these types of new systems is difficult, but…the fact that these assumptions are shifting around like a pig on ice should bother us a bit. Then I happened upon a “Save the Environment: Don’t take public transit” article from The Vancouver Sun, featuring quotes from the usual suspects, Randy O’Toole and Wendell Cox.

In both sets of comments, inevitably somebody argues (in one case, a commenter used the word “methinks”–ew. Way to help contribute to the idea that transit advocates are sanctimonious elites, dude) that Cox (or whoever) is comparing “apples with oranges” and thus wrong.

What does this statement mean empirically? Rhetorically, it means that the analogy one is making is unsound: the cases are similar (both fruit) but sufficiently different that conclusions based on one case can not be applied to the other. I think what these commentators are trying to say is that you can’t compare across systems? I don’t understand this argument because transit advocates often generalize from San Francisco or Portland.

There are standard measures of performance in transit evaluation: ridership, passenger-miles, cost per mile, etc. These are not apples and oranges, even metaphorically. I guess you could argue that rail passenger miles are special, but we already have measures for energy-cost per mile or per passenger, and we also have emissions per passenger or per passenger-mile.

I sometimes wonder: who are the real enemies of transit in this debate? The people who unquestioningly push transit investment–no matter where it is placed or how it is timed or how much it costs or the opportunity costs–or the people who demand prudential investment, as in the very best every time we put a proposal out the door? In some respects, I rather think the first instance has us where we are now: some congested urban systems that need greater levels of investments on the one hand (so service quality is suffering) and a bunch of low-performing, scattershot investments in places where transit is doomed to underperform (so service quality is actually overprovided—i.e., I can almost always get a seat on the Gold Line—but there aren’t enough riders to convince anybody who can add that the service is saving the planet) and that provide critics with a lot of evidence that transit is a waste of money.

Though John Kain and Don Pickerill are often pilloried among planners for “picking on” rail investment, at some point you have to ask: why have transit agencies–like Dallas’s–made themselves into such easy targets given the discrepancies between what they promise (forecasts) and what they deliver (passenger miles and passenger hours).

In transit, the battleground for dollars generally occurs among voters and politicians, not its customers, which is why newspaper articles like those I highlighted above are so threatening for advocates and why comments get so heated and preachy so fast. In places where transit works well, it has a constituency. If transit were unquestionably a quality public service, we wouldn’t have to be ragging on people to use it and we wouldn’t have to shout ourselves hoarse in the public realm trying to convince people it’s worth the investment. But right now, there is a much better payback in convincing nonriders (because statistically most voters are nonriders) to love transit than actually getting the riders to love the service.

Take a look at the transit agency near you. Chances are in its promotional materials, it stresses what it is has built lately, not how many passenger miles it has delivered.

And there comes the catch-22. You need money to invest to serve patrons, you need patrons to justify investment. And there is a lot of underutilized transit capacity in the US outside of the very largest systems. It’s discouraging.

*As a side note: on the comments from the San Diego Op-Ed, one person says that it costs $300 per fare to get from LA to San Francisco. You have to wonder about somebody who says this in public when the last three times I did this it cost $89, $90, and $140.