Creative workers’ segregation and why city-level rankings annoy me

Richard Florida ran a series on the Atlantic Cities on various types of economic segregation in cities, and while it’s a good idea, I don’t really understand what he’s doing, and ranking indexes makes my eyebrows do that pinched thing they do when I am not happy. They find that LA is #1 in segregation of creatives. And while Florida (thankfully) doesn’t go there, somebody will: this is MORE PROOF that sprawl is bad. Because LA = must be sprawled = must be bad.

I will spare you the theory about why economic segregation makes sense, and that there are few reasons to a priori assume that economic segregation is a problem. Suffice it to say that there are good reasons for industries and their employees to cluster.

So here’s the post on creative class segregation. They use a dissimilarity index. DIs tend to be very good at showing segregation between two groups: they were designed back in the day to show residential segregation between binary race categories: white and black. We find with DIs that aggregating them causes them to behave oddly, as does having multiple categories. Those things can be dealt with, and it may be that Florida and his coauthors have done so.

Still, I am looking at the actual index numbers with my head tilted and thinking: so what? LA’s number #1 here, and the DI is 0.344, with 1 being perfect segregation. What does 0.344 even indicate? The range in the DI for the top 10 goes from 0.344 to 0.281. When we are looking at that small a range, exploding those differences by setting up rankings to represent what are, in fact, differences in hundredths in an index grossly distorts the concepts being measured. The income segregation numbers, shown in one of Florida’s prior columns, go up to 0.70. THAT is enough to get my attention. But while the map is nice, all I see here is meh: places that still have some hard industry left and have creatives come up an intense navy blue, one of my favorite colors no doubt, but awfully intense-looking for what are, in reality, tiny segregation numbers.

Can anybody who studies economic geography tell me why the rest of us should care about these DIs? Are they good news? Bad news? Because I kind of think they are “whatever” news.

Howlers in Vishaan Chakrabarti’s NYT op-ed on cities

In general, I’m all for planners and architects and their “Cities are awesome with awesomesauce” messaging. Cities are wonderful. Cities are sexy! Cities are infinitely many more times better than suburbs! Suburbs are just full of fat jobless losers bringing all the cool people down and ruining the environment. Suburbs, in fact, are ruining America.

Ok? Now that I’ve joined the zeitgeist and proven that I’m not one of those Joel Kotkin types that all the cool urban kids revile, can we talk about numbers?

Vishaan Chakrabarti is an associate professor of architecture at Columbia, so I don’t feel bad picking on him, but several of my students have circulated his NYT Op-Ed and it makes me rather sad. His recent Op-Ed notes that cities are growing (most are) and now full of those fab millenials, families, and retirees alike. There are many howlers in the article, but this one is a serious problem:

A staggering 90 percent of our gross domestic product and 86 percent of our jobs are generated in 3 percent of the continental United States, namely our cities.

Where did these numbers come from? The Bureau of Economic Analysis releases GDP numbers by metro region, not by incorporated areas (cities) as far as I know. Where did he get this number? I have no idea because he doesn’t tell us.

I’m pretty sure that’s not his research, and it’s not ok to throw around those numbers without telling us who actually produced the information, even in an Op-Ed. I think it’s a misquote of a Brookings report that came out of a few years ago or from Ed Glaeser’s book, but I could be wrong. You say “According to a recent report from researchers at….” and move to your point. Even if that is Chakrabarti’s own research, his book, or his team’s research, he should tell us where the info comes from.

It IS true that MSAs are the engines. You can download the data from BEA and show that: Total US GDP is 15,566,077 (millions of chained $$$$2005); the amount of that which comes from MSAs is $12,206,566 (millions of chained $$$2005). So that’s some nice trillions there. But that percentage is about 80 percent, rounding up. Cities are part of metro regions, so how cities can be producing 90 percent of GDP while regions are producing only 80 percent is confusing. I don’t get it. Am I missing something? I am using real GDP adjusted for inflation. Anybody seen the 90 percent number?

I’m too lazy to look up the jobs numbers, but I suspect there is a similar problem there (e.g. conflating metro regional numbers with “cities”.) But at least you could get employment numbers by zip code rather than by MSA.

But I have an intellectual problem of traducing suburbs and then incorporating their portion of GDP into the argument for why cities are so much better than suburbs.

Chakrabarti throws around a lot of assertions about what millennials want, how cities are centers of support for marriage equality, etc etc….and I’m pretty sure that information comes from Pew and other sources. Given how poorly Chakrabarti presents the economic growth numbers, I’m not buying these assertions either.

Howlers and failing to discuss his sources notwithstanding, Chakrabarti wants to know why are we subsidizing those terrible suburbs?

Because most voters live in suburbs. That’s why:

Total population 2010 by incorporated area to MSA

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 09 AM

And while cities are growing, suburbs are growing, too, and in many instances, at a much faster rate than central cities, even still:

Share of metropolitan growth 2000 to 2010

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 07 AM

I’m not sure I handled the Chicago pop loss properly in these calculations (It’s 3:10 am, by my excuse, and I’d welcome somebody to check the numbers), but you get the idea here. This is all metro area growth, and while most cities did grow–and Chakrabarti is right, that’s good news–their suburbs did as well or better than they did.

Now, we can argue causation. Subsidies might prompt people to move to suburbs, which might explain these numbers. Or it might explain why it’s so difficult to shift those subsidies. Or it might suggest a political economy of people who get the subsidies they want. But if we are just counting voters, there’s your answer. It also doesn’t help that downtown voters’ participation rates are lower than those in suburbs, generally. (See Jeff Seller’s new book).

I dunno. In general, urban op-eds make me happy. And in a world where people seem to believe whatever the hell they want to believe (climate change is university conspiracy designed to control us; Obama is a Muslim after our guns; General Motors ruined our jolly streetcars),the sloppy thinking in this Op-Ed maybe just advances the cause we all have in helping people understand that cities are important, because cities actually are important, and not unrelatedly, those of us who study cities want people to realize how important cities are and, by extension, how important we ourselves are, for being big-a-time experty-experts on them.

The other part me of just thinks this type of stuff makes urbanists look innumerate or like con artists. Check the numbers. Then double-check them. Then explain why, in polycentric post-city metro regions, we need cities to stand out. There’s an argument to be made for strong, amenity-rich centers even in major metro regions, and it has been made. Just not here.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #9: Ann Markusen

So Ann Markusen is a professor at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota, and she is the director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics.

I knew that I was going to include Ann Markusen in this discussion because she was an early influence on me. I came to planning from economics, and this does a lot of things to color your viewpoint, but one of the things it does, depending on how you were trained, is to make you perpetually skeptical of economic development. “Transfer effects” you sniff. Human capital development, you’ll buy. Place-based efforts? Eh. Transfer effects that foster either gentrification or throwing good money after bad.
You then view the people who foster such practices as well-intended ninnies who don’t get they are encouraging destructive competition between places and subjecting their own to winner’s curses.

This is wrong, but you don’t get to be the sort arrogant old person I am without being an arrogant young person first, and so this dialogue of sorts rummaged through my brain quite a bit in my classes about economic development at the University of Iowa when I was a master’s student. I did have excellent instructors there, Alan Peters and Heather MacDonald, who have since moved to more tropical environs, as anybody who lives in Iowa for too long really owes it to oneself to do.

All those self-indulgent reflections aside, Ann Markusen’s writing and thinking blasted into my lack of interest in economic development in the mid 1990s. Like Heather and Alan, her writing was, simply, too smart and interesting to ignore. And she did it to me twice. Once with economic development as an overall concept, and then again with arts and culture as part of economic development.

I have generally read everything of Ann’s that I have encountered since 1992 or so, but I know her only in passing. This paper appeared last year (2013) in Work & Occupation. The cite:

Markusen, A. 2013. “Artists Work Everywhere.” Work & Occupations. 40: 481-495.

This is a policy brief, and it aims to examine where artists live and their migration patterns. This is one of those papers that isn’t going to make anybody excited over methods or data; it’s just a report that gets people think differently than they tend to about artists and where/how they live. From La Boheme onward, we’ve had a very particular image of what artists are: young dreamers, struggling to make it in a big market and living, loud and proud, in splendid squalor in the middle of the most romantic downtowns out there: Paris, London and, of course, New York.

Using PUMS data, Markusen demonstrates that this image is a bit off.* There is a sizable number of artists over 65 working in many industries and living about as far outside of bohemian artist garrets as one possibly can. And even in the arts supercities (LA and New York), plenty of artists live in the suburbs in those regions.** Markusen uses location quotients, with caution, to note that LA and New York do have more as a share of total employment than other metro areas, in general, but that those two metro areas only have a little over 10 percent of all those employed in arts and culture industries. They report that second-tier metros like DC, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, and Miami also have higher shares than the national average.

The more interesting story concerns migration and reverse migration among artists. Migration to and from supercities for artists splits by type of artist and by age. Up to about age 35, artists flock to the supercities. Artists over 35, when they move, tend to move away from the supercities:

Qualitative work and case studies suggest that many reverse migrants, especially visual artists and writers but also musicians, are seasoned, successful, midcareer people who have both gallery represen- tation and publishers in arts market cities or who can travel to act or perform anywhere. Two well-documented cases—New York Mills (MN) and Arnaudville (LA)—involve visual artists who not only chose to live in small towns for amenities, affordable quality workspace, and family reasons but also brought skills that transformed their towns and communities. Painter John Davis bought a roomy farmhouse and barn in rural New York Mills, many hours from a major metro, to paint in peace, and ended up spearheading the creation of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center (Cuesta, Gillespie, & Lillis, 2005; Markusen & Johnson, 2006). Painter George Marks returned home to the tiny hamlet of Arnaudville to care for his dying father and stayed to lead a revitalization effort using visual art, Cajun music, and French language


Paint in peace? What the heck? Hasn’t he read Ed Glaesar? Doesn’t he know that he can only be innovative when he’s got 18 million other people yakking on their cell phones around him?

So some artists move to supercities, find a market and representation, and get their brand established, then move out when they can, probably to paint in peace and not pay out the nose for apartments they have to share with roommates and mega-rats. Or just to go back home, a call I hear now and then myself.

Musicians are the most dispersed of the artists, which I think is very interesting, though I have to admit: I know a lot of studio musicians in LA who live in the Valley. I need to think about this one. And that’s the point. Markusen always makes me think.

*But the fantasy is still pretty cool, except for the dying from TB part, even if that makes for pretty great opera:

**Squalid garrets I suspect are much less fun when Placido Domingo is not your roommate.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #6 Gen Giuliano

So this an unabashed fangirl post about one of my favorite people, Gen Giuliano, who is a dear friend and the Margaret and John Ferraro Chair in Effective Local Government here at USC. The summary statistics on Dr. Giulano make the case: she has over 100 peer- reviewed articles on various aspects of transportation research. Her total citation count is over 1,000. She has been the principal investigator on over $21 million in external research and funding on transportation, particularly on the analysis of the freight policy and planning. She was selected to give the Thomas B. Deen Distinguished Lectureship by the Transportation Research Board in 2007. In 2006, she was awarded the W.N. Car Distinguished Service Award, coming off her term as the head of the Transportation Research Board.

As accomplished as she is, it is a bit strange to begin the discussion with her dissertation, but I am going to. With her dissertation, Giuliano set out to establish the important features of public transit as an industry by answering a key question: are there measurable economies of scale in transit provision by mode? The answer from the dissertation suggests that bus service, in particular, does not exhibit economies of scale or scope for the organization running services. While at the route level, larger vehicles can provide cost savings to organizations, additional routes, additional vehicles, and additional service types can serve to raise the cost per passenger served. This dissertation, written over two decades ago, presaged some of the most pressing issues in the transit industry today as operators grapple with their operating costs vis-à-vis service demand. She began her research career addressing the most important questions in her field, and she has continued to do so.

In addition to questions of finance and industrial organization in transit, Professor Giuliano’s other significant contributions illuminated the fields of mode choice and travel demand. Her most oft-cited contribution, which appeared in Regional Science and Urban Economics in 1991, demonstrated the role that employment subcenters have on shaping travel demand in US regions. Perhaps more importantly, the same research shows that, while rigorously defining employment clusters in the urban geography can explain employment destination for commute travel, nearly a third of all employment occurred in places outside of the major job centers their analysis. She wrote this piece with the wonderful Ken Small at UC Irvine.

Variously called “job sprawl” research or “polycentricity” research, Professor Giuliano’s contribution here disproved the jobs-housing assumptions that transportation researchers made—and it significantly challenged monocentric city models in urban economics at the same time. No wonder this manuscript, and its follow up in Urban Studies, have been cited in total over 700 times. Her most recent work is focused on using cutting-edge methods such as electronic data collection to begin getting real-time information on origins, destinations, and modes.