Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Carnage?

Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch
Hello Everyone:

Time once again for Blogger Candidate Forum.  More on the confirmation hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch.  So far, not much in the way of bombshell revelations or fiery exchanges.  The most heated exchange, if you call it that, took place yesterday, between Minnesota Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Judge Gorsuch over a case involving a frost bitten truck driver and another exchange with ranking member California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) over abortion.  One telling question came courtesy of Senator Jeff Flake's son, when he asked Judge Gorsuch whether he would prefer to fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?  Blogger thinks the point of the question was to get to know Judge Gorsuch the person, not the federal judge.  Blogger kind of wonders if Judge Grouch's answers are sincere or specifically intended to secure his seat on the Supreme Court bench.  His answers sound a little too neat.  However, bigly barring any shocking revelations, Judge Neil Gorsuch will take his seat.  Now, on to today's subject, American carnage.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In his inauguration speech, President Donald Trump painted a grim picture of American cities.  The image he painted was that of a war zone with bullets flying everywhere, criminal undocumented immigrants roam free, single mothers and their children living in never ending poverty.  He called it "carnage."  John Eligon, in his New York Times article "Trump's Vision of 'Carnage' Misses Complex Reality of Many Cities," reported that at a January gathering of Republicans, "Mr. Trump perpetuated this vision-'carnage' is what he calls it-when he incorrectly told a gathering of Republicans...that Philadelphia's murder rate had increased over the last year."  He also took aim at his usual favorite urban target, Chicago, asking What the hell is going on?

Chicago Theater
Chicago, Illinois

What the hell is going on, Mr. President?  What is going is your dark over generalization does not even come close to the realities of urban American.  The dropping crime rates, rising populations, and growing innovation, cities are prospering, albeit unevenly.

Isaiah Thomas told Mr. Eligon during a tour of his predominantly African American neighborhood,

Our streets are clean always...Our neighbors in our community, we know each other and we get along.  We got backyards, man.  We go outside in our backyards and play. We go swimming.  We got ballet lessons. We grew up playing instruments.  We're doing the same things that most people do in the country.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Make no mistake, American cities are still places of segregation and yawning wealth gaps.  African American and Latino families frequently bear the burnt poverty, failing schools, and violence.  Mr. Eligon reports, "The number of people nationwide living in extremely poor neighborhoods has increased by about five million over roughly the decade, according to a Brookings Institute study."

Thus, when POTUS pontificates about urban ills, the focus of his broadsides is almost exclusively "on these pockets of entrenched social ills."

Los Angeles skyline
Los Angeles, California
As incomplete as POTUS's rendering of cities are, he was, according to Lee Huang, the senior vice president of the Chicago-based Consult Solutions,

...tapping into a level of outrage that we ought to have about our cities...Whether it's violence in Chicago, whether it's unemployment and poverty in Philadelphia, whether it is these structural and physical examples of blight and disinvestment and disparity, I don't think he's off in saying our cities have a lot of challenges.

However, POTUS's critics say that his generalizations are planting fear and solidifying the racial and ethnic stereotypes that divide the United States.  Lucas Leyden commented,

It never seems like he's talking in the context of saying...It's always just disparaging remarks.  "This is bad.

Greektown Detroit, Michigan
On the campaign trail, when speaking on issues of race, then-candidate Trump frequently targeted his words on what he perceived to inner cities, at one point saying,

...African-Americans, Hispanics, are living in hell, because it's so dangerous.

Sulaiman Rahman is worried by this dark portrayal of minority communities, an attempt to justify more aggressive policing tactics.

For example, a mere one week into his administration, POTUS tweeted that if "local officials in Chicago could not control the rampant shooting there, I will send in the Feds!"

Mr. Rahman continued,

When he speaks and uses certain coded language, we kind of understand who he's talking about...You're framing it to justify a more detrimental agenda.  That's the issue.

Homicide Rates For Cities With More Than 250,000 People

John Eligon writes, "Although homicides in large cities in 2015 increased about 15 percent from 2014, they were still down 51 percent from two decades earlier, Richard Rosenfeld a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said."

Although homicides did go up almost 13 percent in Philadelphia between 2014 and 2015, they slightly dropped last year.  Prof. Rosenfeld said,

Carnage doesn't describe the reality of American cities.

Aaron Renn, a senior Fellow in urban policy at the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute for Policy Research argued, "Mr. Trump's assessment of cities is rooted in the problems of segregation, discrimination and economic inequality that 'urban progressives' have emphasized."  Mr. Renn would like to correct those disparities.  He said,

I've never heard him once say, "You're to blame for the problem.

Strolling through her Northside Philadelphia neighborhood of Frankford to work, Shanise Bolden has little concern about walking to her job.  She told Mr. Eligon,

Why would it be scary when we know each other.

17th Street Oakland, California
Shanise Bolden's comment is indicative of the sense of community and kinship that runs counter to the roughness of Frankford.  It is that quality that people would overlook or consider if they based their impression of the community solely on crime and economic statistics.

John Eligon describes the neighborhood, "...tightly packed rowhouses.  An elevated train track cuts through the main drag, Frankford Avenue, which is jammed with convenience stores and cellphone shops, and storefronts boasting haircare products, clothes and pawned goods.

Fishtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
 For every Frankford, there are neighborhoods like Fishtown that are undergoing gentrification.  Fishtown was once a haven for drugs and other dubious diversions  has transformed into a places of evening jogger and people toting yoga mats.  The corner convenience stores have been replaced by bars with Skee-Ball machines and billiard tables.

Gentrification has displaced a lot of low-income residents of Frankford, and has led to violence.

Leshay Davenport is not too concerned about this.  She told Mr. Eligon that "...she avoided certain parts of the neighborhood know for having a lot of riff raff.  Ms. Davenport has lived in the neighborhood for a decade and feels quite comfortable letting her daughter play outside.  She said,

It's pretty good...The kids are friendly.  There's not really too much violence.  It's a really pretty friendly neighborhood.

Frankford Avenue, 2013
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
High school senior Rasheed Ross told Mr. Eligon, "The challenges of living in a place like Frankford are real.

Positive role models are hard to come by and it is easy to trapped in the wrong things.  He continued, "A lot of people think their only avenues for success are rapping, basketball or dealing drugs.  He said,

It's hard and it's, at the same time, scary...You can get shot anywhere, at any time.

This bleak assessment aside, Mr. Ross also described more nuanced reality.  Most of the shootings are the result of personal conflicts.  He told John Eligon, It's not like somebody would just walk up to you and shoot you for no reason.

American cities as places of carnage?  Not quite true.

One more thing: Blogger would like to send lots of love and good thoughts to the friends, followers, and fans in the United Kingdom as London recovers from a horrific terrorist attack.  Stay safe.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Politics Of Place

Are we as divided as we think?
Photograph by Randall Hill/Reuters
Hello Everyone:

Day two of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch and no bombshells.  Blogger supposes that is a good thing.  A by-the-book confirmation hearing might just be the antidote to the daily barrage White House tweet.

Is the United States a divided country?  You would think that this is the case after the November election: a red state conservative and a liberal blue state and cities.  We are half way into President Donald Trump's first hundred days, now would be a good time to step back and take a look if the United States is really divided into red states, blue states.  Our guide for today is Richard Florida's CityLab article "Putting Politics in Place."  Mr. Florida writes, "While [Hillary] Clinton won the popular vote, conservatives out number liberals in four out of five states."  This schism is less about class and culture; "place is increasingly the critical fault line of American politics."

2016 Electoral Map
A new study, The political reference point: How geography shapes political identity (; date accessed Mar. 21, 2017) adds a fascinating perspective to this narrative.  The study is co-authored by Mr. Florida's colleague at the University of Toronto Rotman School, Matthew Feinberg, concludes "that our political identification is not only shaped by where we live, it is relative to it."  The words "liberal" and "conservative are relative to the place.

Moderate in the middle
 We know this: "Someone who identifies as a moderate in a deep-blue Ithaca, New York could easily be to the left of someone who calls themselves liberal in small-town Texas, just as a self-identified conservative in Berkeley may be more liberal than a moderated Utah."

Confused?  Allow Blogger to explain matters.  Humans instinctively assign each other to neat judgement packages, including political affiliation.  Thus, people often feel pressured to conform to the political character of the place they live.  However, the key component at work is what the study calls political reference point-"a locally shaped gauge that people use to identify their own political leanings."  Essentially if you live in a red state or city, you can call yourself a moderate or liberal because your views lean left of the prevail conservative outlook surrounding you.  The opposite is also true: if you live in a blue state or city, you can call yourself moderate or conservative because your political outlook leans to the right of your peers.

Issue Position relative to State Business
Matthew Feinberg et al,/PLoS ONE

Richard Florida writes, "The study examines this relative effect of place on politics at the state level and county level, looking at the relationship between our self-reported political identity and position on different policy issues in light of the political tenor of the places we live."

Matthew Feinberg and his co-authors used data from the American National Election Survey, which aligns political identity on a seven-point scale from extremely liberal to extremely conservative.  The chart at the above left presents the results of their analysis for the 2012 presidential election.

Red state vs. blue state

If political identity was homogenous across state line, the graph lines would be flat.  However, the sloped lines present variations within same political identity across state lines.  Mr. Florida points out the obvious: "The bluer the state, the more liberal the policy positions; the redder the state, the more conservative those positions are."

To put it this way, saying you are extremely conservative means different things in Utah and Hawai'i.  For example, let us look at the white hot subject of abortion.  Extremely conservative Utahans oppose abortion in all cases, including cases of rape; an extremely conservative Hawaiian are willing to consider legalizing the procedure.  Mr. Florida writes, "As the study points out, conservative and moderates in blue states indicated more support of liberal policy policy position than conservatives and moderates in red states, and the bluer the state was, the stronger their support was for liberal position."

Liberal and conservative position on military and ACA
Matthew Feinberg et al,/PLoS ONE
The study then focused on the variation in political identity across counties.  To understand this, the study authors assembled their own survey data on political identity culled on a seven-point scale (strong conservative to strong liberal) and then across a ten-point scale (strongly oppose to strongly in favor) on ten major issues.  The authors polled individuals across seven political identities in red and blue counties to find out how affiliation squared with issue positions, based on a sample of 1,269 people.

The above left graph resents a a sample of how political affiliations correspond with position stance in different states.  (Richard Florida adds, "Be warned: the graphic is flipped from the traditional 'left-right' continuum.").  The Texas icon signifies people in the 100 reddest counties and New York icon stands for the 100 bluest counties.

Once again we see that identifiers such as "strong conservative" and "strong liberal" are formed by the political predilections of the places people live.  Mr. Florida reports, "A strong conservative in a blue county registered less support for a strong military than a strong conservative in a red county, while a strong liberal in a red county had more conservative on the military than a strong liberal in a blue county."  Moderates in blue counties aligned themselves with the same position of strong liberal in the reddest counties.

John F. Kennedy quote
The conclusions of The political reference point: How geography shapes political identity support a more optimistic view about the American political landscape.  The study found,

[T]he animosity and disgust so commonly felt toward those on the other side of the political ideology spectrum may often be misplaced...[I]f a person feels hatred toward others simply based on the how they identify on the political ideology spectrum, then in some circumstances, that hatred is actually aimed at some with the exact same policy stances.

Matthew Feinberg and his co-authors conclude that frequently,

It is not the policy preference or the values that differ between people, but simply the labels they give themselves-labels that shift depending on the their political reference point.

The social media has so greatly enhanced our difference that, to the rest of the world, it seems that Americans live in two separate countries.  We do not.  The things that separate are not as great as we think they are and that is a reason for hope, even in this fraught moment in history.  Hope is powerful thing.  It gives us a reason to work for a better future.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Income Inequality And Poverty Are Also Geographic


America's Distress Belt
Population Reference Bureau
Hello Everyone:

Washington D.C. was buzzing with activity this morning.  The rather by-the-book Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch and Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.  The two big revelations: the FBI is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Second, the Department of Justice was not wiretapping Trump Towers.  No surprise.  Stay tuned, more will be revealed.  Alright, onto to today's subject inequality and poverty.

Here is another non-surprise, income inequality has dramatically risen in the United States since the early eighties.  This fact is linked to worsening health, higher rates of violence and minority incarceration, limited upward economic mobility.

Richard Florida reports in his CityLab article, "America's Economic Distress Belt" reports,  "But until  recently, a county with higher inequality did not necessarily have a high concentration of poverty."

High-Inequality, High-Poverty
Population Reference Bureau

A new study, Poverty and Inequality Pervasive in Two-Fifths of U.S. Counties, by Beth Jarosz and Mark  Mather, published by the Population Reference Bureau, follows the rapid growth in inequality across over 3,000 American counties over a two-and-half decade study period.

Mr. Florida reports, "Today, 41 percent of U.S. counties suffer from high levels of combined poverty and income inequality, up from just 29 percent back in 1989."  Shocking.  The table at the left presents a worse situation, "...just 28 percent of counties have low levels of poverty and low levels of inequality."  In short, "...more than 70 percent of counties have either high levels of inequality, high levels of poverty, or both."

"High Levels of Inequality and Poverty Are More Prevalent Across
All Types of Counties Today Than Two Decades Ago"
Population Reference Bureau

The bar graph on the left-hand side charts the level of inequality according to type of counties: large metropolitan counties, small and medium-sized counties, non-metropolitan and rural counties.

Looking at the numbers for metropolitan counties (the second to the left), the pink bar represents "...11 percent of large metropolitan counties suffered from high levels of inequality, a figure that grew to 21 percent by 2014 [the red bar]."  In the small and medium-sized counties "The combination of inequality and poverty increased from 22 percent to 46 percent of small and mid-sized counties  and expanded from 35 percent to 44 percent of rural and non-metropolitan counties over that same time period."

Time lapse map of "Number of Counties With High Levels of Inequality
and Poverty Has Increased Over Time"
Population Reference Bureau

The time lapse map follows the increase in poverty and inequality throughout U.S. counties.  The green signifies counties with low poverty and inequality, gold stands for low inequality and high poverty, blue is low poverty and high inequality, and red signifies the alarming rate of high inequality and poverty.

Over time, large swaths of the map turn red.  Mr. Florida writes, "Today, the health pockets of green (representing low inequality and low poverty counties) are limited to Midwest and Mountain regions of the country, along with parts of the Mid-Atlantic."  However, the Sunbelt states (eg. Southern California, Arizona, Texas, and South Carolina), in particular, has become America's economic distress belt, with high rates of inequality and poverty.

Although some pundits continue to laud the Sunbelt's rapid growth and low housing costs, an increasing numbers of people and places are falling behind "in absolute terms and compared to the rest of the country."  The bottom line is inequality and poverty are beyond class issues, they extend to geographic issues, as well.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: What Does Infrastructure Mean?


Old Post Office Building under renovation for the Trump International
Washington D.C.
Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Today we are going to step away from the subject of sanctuary cities, for now, Blogger promises, and on to the subject of infrastructure.  Specifically, we are going to look at what will President Donald Trump's $1 trillion build out look like?  This is the question that Laura Bliss ponders in her CityLab article "What Does Trump Mean When he Says 'Infrastructure?'"  It is an issue that has been moved to the back burner, for now but no less important.  Another question that needs to be asked is whether or not Congress will make it happen?  Ms. Bliss writes, "Key among the questions waiting to be answered is a very basic one:  What is Trump talking about when he talks about 'infrastructure'?  Is it the state highways and municipal water pipes you're imagining?  Or could it also be the kind that's attached to the the kind of projects a golf course developer/casino magnate would best: real estate?"  All could questions that hopefully will be answered in the next 3 years and 10 months.

Segment of I-97 between Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland
On the campaign trail, POTUS used some traditional infrastructure words when spoke on the subject.  In a post-election interview published by the New York Times, then-President-elect Trump said,

We're talking about a very large-scale infrastructure bill...[a]and we're going to make sure it is spent on infrastructure and roads and highways."  (; date accessed Mar. 15, 2017)

President Trump's economic advisors released a proposal (; date accessed Mar. 15, 2017) to privatize infrastructure projects  The proposals describes infrastructure as the

...complex network of airports, bridges, highways, ports, tunnels, and waterways that underpins private sector growth.

Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building, 1961
Los Angeles, California
This is all well and fine but neither the proposal, nor POTUS has clearly states what specific types of projects would be applicable to the privatization scheme, "which would incentivize private companies to bankroll, construct, and own infrastructure assets by handing them tax credits worth 92 percent of their original down payments."  In all, the advisors (Laura Bliss notes that they did not return request of comment as did the transition team) claimed that the plan would drive $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, at zero cost to taxpayers "because the original federal tax credits would be eventually offset by tax revenue from associated wages and business profits.  Does this make any sense?

Flint, Michigan water pipes

What type of projects would get built under the proposed privatization scheme?  Most likely the ones that would not necessarily serve the public interest.  For example, badly needed water pipe reconstruction in Flint, Michigan is not as attractive as-maybe, a toll road in heavily travel area-to investors.  However, it would be still hard to conceive of enough glamorous highway projects that would add up to $1 billion in infrastructure investment-"or enough tax revenue from profits for the feds to break even."

Rendering of an industrial park in Port of Vancouver, Washington

Be that as it may, it is possible that  POTUS may not be referring to "rebuilding infrastructure" in the typical way, rather, in new property development.  That would make sense given his background in real estate development.  Ms. Bliss speculates, "Could an industrial park primed to have a major, even transformative, economic impact on a region be considered infrastructure?"  Further, POTUS has also found success developing apartments thus, could housing be thought of as infrastructure?  What about all the sewer and utilities needed to support new residential projects?  Consider the construction booms in in Hunters Point, San Francisco and Roosevelt Island, New York City.  The point is that developers frequently pay out of pocket via impact fees for utilities (i.e. water and power) and roads that come with these types of lucrative developments.  Laura Bliss speculates, "But perhaps under a Trumpian infrastructure scheme they'd be eligible for a whopping 82 percent tax credit."

Construction on Roosevelt Island, New York
  How many ways can we say this would be so wrong?  Several ways.  First, without an encompassing definition of "infrastructure, there is almost no reason to believe that the Trumpian scheme would actually create new investment.  The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pointed out in his column "that it could wind up privatizing projects that would have been built anyway with regular federal support-in other words, removing assets from the public's control, and for giveaway prices."  To put it this way, if Trumpian definition of infrastructure includes some types of profitable real estate development, then the federal government would be funding ventures that private companies would want to be part of anyway.  In effect, the federal government would control the market, essentially padding the wallets of said private stakeholders-while the public picks up the bill. Mr. Krugman presents once example of how this would play out:

[I]magine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion.  Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 million while putting up $200 million i equity-buit it would a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its outlays would only be $36 million.  And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million.  ((; date accessed Mar. 15, 2017)

Clear as mud, right?

To put it another way, if we apply this method to a profitable business park.  The taxpayers foot the bill for a development that private development companies would have built without any incentive.  The companies that build and manage the center receive large checks-the very definition of corporate welfare.  This would result in grand scale corruption.

Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, said they would work with President Donald Trump on his infrastructure  bill.  Before they jump on board, they should first pin down a specific definition of infrastructure, "because there is no legal definition."  How President Trump defines infrastructure may not be the way you or Blogger define infrastructure.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"The Rest Is History"

Image from the Fugitive Slave Act
Hello Everyone:

Today we are going back to the subject of sanctuary cities.  This time, we going to look at the historic context of these jurisdictions.  The best place to understand them is to step back in time to the Civil War-era.  Just as contemporary American cities are opting out of enforcing immigration laws, prior to the Civil War, Northern states chose not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, a legal move supported by the United States Supreme Court.

Tanvi Misra's CityLab article, "Lessons From the 'Sanctuary Cities' of the Slavery Era," offers an illuminating look how Northern cities defied law and gave refuge to Slaves, fleeing the Southern states, and what we can learn from this moment in history.

Fugitive Slave warning
On January 25, 2017, President Donald Trump issued his "Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States."  Section 1 of the order states,

Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from remove United States.  these jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic... (; date accessed Mar. 14, 2017)

The city of San Francisco has challenged the administration, arguing that it violates the tenth amendment to the Constitution, a challenge supported by some legal experts.  The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states,

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, to the people. (; date accessed Mar. 14, 2017)

Tanvi Misra writes, "In doing so, it launched the first counterstrike in what might a long, tumultuous battle between the local and federal governments on immigration."

"Practical Illustration Of The Fugitive Slave Law"
For historian and writer H. Robert Baker, this conflict is all too familiar.  His February 2, 2017 blog post , "A Brief History of Sanctuary Cities," Prof. Baker provides a short summary of a similar moment from the Antebellum period, that may provide clues as to how this battle might play out.

Ms. Misra writes, "Baker writes that a version of sanctuary cities existed in the late 18th century, in the form of Northern jurisdictions that refused to capture and return fugitive slave-'America's first significant class of refugees.'"  The  Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 guaranteed slaveholders the right to retrieve escaped slaves.  However, without the cooperation of the individual states, it was difficult to enforce.  Ironically, demanding tighter compliance contradicted the Southern states cherished belief in States's Rights.  Prof. Baker explained,

"Practical Illustration Of The Fugitive Slave Law"
...Congressional statutes assumed state cooperation, as did the Fugitive Slave Act of the 1793.  But by the 1810s and 20s, such cooperation began to look increasingly like coercion, especially to southerners who were making much of the sanctity of states' rights.  An attempt to revise the Fugitive Slave Act in 1818 led to failure, in part, because the proposed bill required state officers to enforce federal law.  This violated contemporary understandings of dual sovereignty-the idea that federal and state governments were each sovereign in their sphere, and that the spheres were entirely separate.  Congress might direct federal law enforcement officers and judges, but they could not direct state officers, and vice versa... (; date accessed Mar. 14, 2017)

Antebellum cartoon

Tanvi Misra reports, "In 1842, the Supreme Court backed up the ideas of dual sovereignty.  The ruling in Prigg v. Pennsylvania said that the issue if fugitive slaves  was indeed a federal matter, just like immigration is today."  In essence, the states, could not enact laws that interfered with federal "but they also had the right to opt out of enforcing it."  Once again Prof. Baker explains:

 ..This meant that city constables and sheriffs were instructed not arrest suspected fugitive slaves, that state jails were closed to federal marshals who had fugitives in their custody, and that state judges would refuse to issues warrants or certificates of removal.  Into the breech stepped free blacks and their white abolitionist allies, who organized protective societies and became increasing bold in their opposition to federal law enforcement.  Sanctuary cities became like fortresses.  (Ibid)

Cartoon supporting the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
E.W. Clay

Are you beginning to understand the precedent in the challenge to President Trump's ill-conceived executive order?  Constitutional law and Supreme Court ruling appear to be on the side of cities like San Francisco.  Little more history.

During the pre-Civil War-era jurisdictions that opted out of assisting federal law enforcement were not called sanctuary cities.  The phrase comes from the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, when houses of worship provided shelter for refugees from Central America who were denied asylum.  The sanctuary movement was a response to the Reagan-era restrictive asylum police, which supporters of the movement viewed as immoral.

"Solidarity in 1980s Sanctuary Movement" 
By the eighties, Los Angeles already ordered police officers not to check immigration status during routine stops.  Surprisingly former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Darryl Gates, who was known for not being easy on minorities, believed that this move allowed undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear of deportation.  San Francisco enacted a 1989 ordinance forbidding the use of municipal funds for federal immigration enforcement.

Other cities followed suit since 2008, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement began asking local law to detain alleged undocumented immigrants for additional time, even if they were not charged for a crime.  Ms. Misra writes, "The constitutionality and legality of ICE's 'detainer' requests, which sometimes even target American citizens, have since been challenged in court."  Regardless what the name implies, the current 300-plus sanctuary cities are not making an effort to prevent federal authorities from deporting criminals rather, they are just establishing their own priorities reminiscent of what the Northern states in the Antebellum era.

Sanctuary Austin
In the current grand scheme of power, states trump cities.  Be that as it may, this period in American history provides some fuel to the sanctuary cities legal battle against the federal government.  Prof. H. Robert Baker writes,

[States' rights] modern association with "massive resistance" to desegregation has tarnished it to liberal eyes.  but sanctuary cities are cut from the same constitutional cloth-the very same that gave abolitionists the cover they needed to resist the Fugitive Slave Act.  Sanctuary cities' resistance to federal immigration law depends upon local popular support, legal and political assistance from the state, and a constitutional regime that respects the integrity of two sovereigns sharing the same space.  (Ibid)

The point of this history lesson is "...resolving the local-versus-federal fight may not necessarily end the political divide that caused it in the first place."  The decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania allowed Congress to expand the federal mechanism to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, fueling more resistance among Northern communities that federal authorities did not have the resources to put down.  Citizens rioted, shamed slave catchers, and held mass protests outside places where slave were detained.  In 1860, the Southern states seceded.  As they say, "the rest is history."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Urban Planning For Better Mental Health

Men playing chess in Hyde Park
Sydney, Australia
Photograph by Daniel Munoz/Reuters
Hello Everyone:

The toaster, slow cooker, and I were having a lovely chat this morning about today's post on supporting mental health through urban planning.  Oh wait, "I'm not Inspector Gadget," sorry Kellyanne Conway.  Seriously, we are going to talk about "How to Support Mental Health Through Urban Planning," the fascinating interview by Mimi Kirk for CityLab.  Ms. Kirk's speaks with Tokyo-based psychiatrist Layla McCay, the founder of the Center for Urban Design and Mental Health (  The purpose of the center:

To help inform, motivate and empower policymakers, designers, planner, and public health professionals to build better mental health into their cities... (Ibid, date accessed Mar. 13, 2017)

The center was founded in 2015 and has grown at a quicker pace than Dr. McCay imagined.  She joked with Ms. Kirk, Be careful of finding an unmet need, a reference to the fact that Dr. McCay spends a majority of her time running the center.

Boston, Massachusetts
The center functions as:

...a central repository and global go-to-resource and platform for policymakers, architects, transport, planners, urban planners, developers, designers, engineers, geographers, and other who want to design better mental health into cities, and drive integration of mental health into urban design as standard... (Ibid)

Dr. McCay said,

For instance...we know that green space is good for mental health, but there are a lot of questions.  What kind of green space?  How can make sure people want to use it?

Dr. Layla McCay sat down with CityLab to speak about how "how cities make us anxious and depressed, and what  civic officials and planners can do about it.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
CL: Why did you create the center?

LMcC: Every time I went to events about cities, I was hearing about physical health, but no one was talking about mental health.  Or if they were talking about mental health, it was about access to therapy and medication, or getting people with depression to play sports-not about design of the city itself.

...there's an untapped concept here, about how to integrate mental health support into that design...mental health disorders are complex, and there are all sorts of reasons for them.  But there is a role urban design can play in helping to prevent these disorders, and helping people who already have them.

I started contacting researchers in the field.  They were there, but few and far between.  I thought it would be great to have a place for people to find each other and get this really import subject on official agendas.

Los Angeles, California

CL: How do cities affect mental health?

LMcM: Living in a city is both good and bad for mental health...But there are also theories about how living in an urban area negatively affects mental well-being.  One has to do with sensory overload.  You're encountering many people, and your brain is being very stimulated.  Some scholars argue that this is problematic mental in the long term...

More established research argues that cities strip away the protective factors that foster mental, such as green spaces, exercise, and especially social interaction.  You see a lot of people, but you might not have meaningful interactions with them...migration from rural areas to cities means that people are leaving their families and friends and have to build new social networks.  This makes people vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

The Canals of Venice, Italy

CL: What can urban planners do to promote mental health?

LMcM: We highlight four main themes that should be incorporated into urban to support mental health.  These areas have the most research behind them.

  • Green spaces. We know there's compelling relationship between green space and mental well-being, with fairly persuasive research show how,...access spaces reduces anxiety or improves ADHD in children.  This means space that you don't have to make a special trip to, but space that you encounter in daily life-...
  • Active space.  When people are designing for health, this is the focus.  It's a big opportunity for physical  health, but there's also a strong mental health correlation.  For mild to moderate depression, regular exercise can act the same way that antidepressants do.  Examples of such design are walkable spaces or spaces that encourage exercise on a daily commute
  • Social spaces.  These are spaces that promote natural interactions among people.  Research shows that people who live in neighborhoods with this kind of space have lower mental distress.  It's a question of making public places more social...
  • Safe spaces.  This is crucial, whether it means security in terms of crime, traffic, or, for example, for people with dementia, safety from getting lost.  But you don't want to design a safe space so that it feels suffocating or sterile...people should choices about which route to take rather than being constrained into one specific "safe" route.
Street scene New York City, New York
CL: If a city hasn't factored mental health considerations into its planning up to this point, what can it do?

LMcC: Every time the city has a project, it can start by looking at our framework: How are you optimizing green, active, social, and safe space?  It's not such a departure from what cities are usually doing already...But taking a moment to focus on it will help to integrate these elements and start to have positive effects on mental health...Investing in mental health is essential if you want to have a vibrant, sustainable city.   Building a population that has coping skills and strong relationships means you have a happier, healthier citizenry.

The Barbican London, England
CL: Can you give an example of a city that has done design particularly well, whether consciously or not?

LMcC: Well, there are little pockets of goodness everywhere!  The Barbican [a London residential estate built in the 1960s and 1970s] is a good example.  It look like it's bad your mental health-It's in the Brutalist style-...the planners actually prioritized walkability, green space, and social space...

I like in Tokyo now, and I've been struck at how it evolved in a way that keeps pedestrians as a top priority.  Research is being done about "boringness" in cities; increasingly cities are becoming boring because they have unremitting facades with nothin to look at.  People thrive having entryways at the street level where you can see things and people, and where there might be welcoming elements on the sidewalks...In Tokyo, though there are challenges such as crowding...Most small roads have very little traffic, and people go into local shops and they know each other.  There are also little micro parks...Within the metropolis, it feels local.

Tokyo, Japan

CL: Who exactly should be implementing the framework?

LMcM: I've spoken to a lot of architects and urban planners about the framework, and they say, "Sure that sounds great, but the client has to want it."  So it has come to come from the top down.  This is an opportunity for leaders such as mayors and other politicians to make it a policy.  Physical health is becoming a standard policy, and mental health should be part of that policy too.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Future Of Affordable Housing

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson
Hello Everyone:

It is time, once again, for Blogger Candidate Forum.  Today we are going to move off the subject of immigration and onto the topic of fair and affordable housing,  Specifically what will the future of fair and affordable housing look like under President Donald Trump. Blogger would like to spend the time speculating on what if someone, other than Dr. Ben Carson, was nominated and confirmed as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  There were other candidates, each with vastly more experience than Dr. Carson.  With the help of Kriston Capps's CityLab article, "What's at Stake in Trump's Pick to Lead HUD," we are going to take a look at what might fair housing look like over the next four years.  It would interesting to discuss how Donald Trump real estate developer-turned-president stands on fair housing.  Shall we begin?

Former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)
Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) was one of the names then-candidate Trump floated as a potential running mate over the summer along with Pamela Patenaude, president of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America's families, an executive with over 30 years experience in housing policy.  Both candidates for the HUD post have long-term commitments to affordable housing.  Kriston Capps writes, "During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Senator Brown co-hosted a benefit to support Make Room, an affordable rental housing advocacy organization; the Terwilliger Foundation sponsored that event."  Be that as it may, another name was considered for the position, Robert Astorino, a committed foe of one of HUD's signature fair housing accomplishments during the Obama administration.

Robert Astorino, a Republican, is the county executive for the tony Westchester County, New York.  In 2009 he cruised to victory and re-election in 2013 by brutally attacking the department.  Mr. Capps points out, "Although 62 percent of Westchester County voted for Clinton...the more conservative message on housing resonates for historical reasons."  Yonkers, New York, a city just north of Bronx, was the location of a fight over fair housing during the eighties and nineties.  The source of consternation was " effort to build public housing in white neighborhoods..."

Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino

Fair housing is a never-ending battle in Westchester County.  Mr. Astorino has condemned HUD and its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.  He loathed it so much that during his  2015 state of the county address, he promised that he,

...would not allow unelected bureaucrats at HUD to create new obligations for the county that were never agreed upon in the settlement.

Interestingly, both POTUS's and Mr. Astorino's fates have intertwined.  The New York Times reported that "President-elect Trump appealed to Astorino to run with him on a ticket when he was mulling a campaign to be governor of New York."  (  Now there is a thought, POTUS as governor of New York State.  He could ended either as Governor-elect Trump or the runner up.  Instead, Mr. Astorino ran his own campaign as the Republican nominee in 2014, losing to now-Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Although Mr. Astorino was considered a lock for the position, according to his hometown newspaper, his pushback on the Trump campaign's anti-immigration rhetoric may have cost him the job.In June 2016, he told The Daily Caller that then-candidate Trump "...confided in him privately that he would rescind the AFFH rule if elected."  He was elected president and fortunately, Robert Astorino was not nominated for HUD Secretary.

That aside, previous Republican efforts to curtail AFFH have not been universally loved.  Kriston Capps writes, "When Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee tried to defund HUD from implementing AFFH, 13 Republican senators joined Democrats in a 60-37 vote to table that amendment."

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told Mr. Capps,

From Trump himself, of course, we haven't heard much on housing in general and fair housing especially...But we do have the Republican Party platform to give us a sense on where the party may be headed on AFFH, and in the party platform it says, AFFH seeks to 'seize control of the zoning process...In order socially engineer every community in the country.'  So I think that gives a sense of where the Republican Party is headed and feels generally around fair-housing issues.

AFFH banner
Also at stake: Obama's legacy on fair housing

During the 2016 campaign, fair housing never became one of the bold faced issues.  However, now that he is president, Donald Trump is responsible for enforcing the very same fair housing rules which once ran afoul as a developer trying to prevent African American tenants from renting his apartments.

During President Barack Obama's tenure in office, there were two major advances in fair housing, that now could be under reconsideration.  The first is AFFH, "which requires cities to assess how they distribute low-income housing in order to received federal housing funds."  Elements of AFFH have yet to be put in place: "the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for state governments," has not received final approval by the Office of Management and Budget.  If AFFH is to be successful, POTUS 45 will have to complete the task that POTUS 44 began

POTUS 44 with ex-HUD Secretary Julian Castro

The second Obama administration accomplish is the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project.  The Court affirmed that "'disparate impact'" is a form of racial discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.  This means "that housing practices that disproportionately negatively affect a minority group are illegal, even if that impact is not an explicit goal."

John Henneberger, the co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Services told Mr. Capps,

There are conservative business interests and there are conservative government entities that opposed disparate impact case and filed amicus briefs against that case...But that was a case that, in the end, was affirmed by a full Supreme Court when Justice [Antonin] Scalia was on the court.

Dr. Carson with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA) at his confirmation hearing
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Mr. Henneberger continued,

In our opinion, the desperate-impact standard for the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act is a matter of settled law, by a full Supreme Court, and won't be overturned by a Court even if the president were to appoint a justice who was opposed to that law.

That justice is SCOTUS nominee Judge Neal Gorsuch.

How Judge Gorsuch will rule on fair housing cases remains to be seen but Mr. Capps points out that "...a Trump administration could still undermine a full reading of the Fair Housing Act by not aggressively enforcing it."  Texas legislators, for example, are searching for creative ways to prevent low income housing from going up in their constituents's communities.  The Department of Justice will be crucial in protecting fair housing standards as HUD.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told Kriston Capps,

Robust enforcement of the FHA at HUD and at DOJ, including through disparate-impact cases, remain critical priorities...Whomever [President-elect Trump] appoints as Attorney General [POTUS appointed Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions] and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division must respect the expertise and discretion of career prosecutors.

LIHTC Program logo

How tax reform could save affordable housing-or spell its doom

The current federal mechanism for creating housing for low- and very low-income households is the low income housing tax credit.  SCOTUS's decision on disparate impact means that the LIHTC cannot be reserved sole for low-income or majority-minority communities.  This allows the LIHTC to become a way for creating fair housing, albeit an imperfect tool.

Philip Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council told Mr. Capps,

The low-income housing tax credit is the only tool we have right now to develop new low-income housing...Both the low-income housing tax credit program and the Section 8 housing choice voucher program rely heavily on the private market.  Section 8, of course, was originally a Republican proposal.

Housing advocates do agree that changes need to made to the LIHTC program to make it more efficient however, a Republican led Congress may not be incline to implement most of them.  The LIHTC has enjoyed bipartisan support, but reform could bring about changes in nuance that could reduce the program's efficacy or change the household income range it serves.  Congress could also limit the LIHTC program or get rid of it altogether.  Mr. Capps notes, "Notably, the LIHTC was one of the few corporate credits retained under the comprehensive tax reform proposal released by the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp..."

Further, "More direct forms of federal spending on housing are certain to decline under a Republican-controlled Congress."

LIHTC Assessment Report
Novogradac & Company LLP

Another point that Mr. Capps makes, "More direct forms of federal spending on housing are certain to decline under a Republican-controlled Congress."

Melora Hiller, chief executive officer of the Grounded Solutions Network spoke with Mr. Capps,

The federal government support through funding for affordable housing has been declining for many, many years...We've been on the defensive in trying to protect things like housing choice vouchers, public housing, and the[HOME Investment Partnerships] programs, and I think the assault will continue.

A dedicate source of funding for the National Housing Trust Fund is another priority for housing advocates but may not happen in a Republican led Congress.  Despite that, one target of reform in the National Low Income Housing Coalition and other housing organization's cross hairs is the home mortgage interest deduction.  Diane Yentel spoke with Kriston Capps,

For a long time, that's something we've been pushing to reform in order to both make the [tax] benefits of homeownership available to low-income homeowners, who currently get none, and also to realize some really significant savings that can be reinvested in affordable rental housing programs...[Mortgage-interest deduction] reforms, for many years, was a third rail.  It's not anymore.  In almost all the bipartisan tax reform proposals that we've seen, we've seen something around reforming MID. And Paul Ryan himself, in his 'Better Way' package of policy proposals, leaves open a window for changes to the mortgage-interest deduction.

Tax reform is only the first step.  Ms. Yentel continues,

The challenge from our perspective is fining a way to retain some of those savings and reinvest them back in affordable-housing programs, and not just use them to further lower tax rates.

Affordable housing design in San Francisco, California

Another spending cliff looms-and affordable housing could go over the edge

Budget sequestration has been particularly hard on housing.  Mr. Capps writes, "According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, federal support for housing choice vouchers fell $228 million from 2010 to 2016, meaning the loss of housing aid for tens of thousands of vulnerable families."

During the fall campaign, then-candidate Trump laid out a goal to eliminate sequestration for defense spending.  All well and fine.  The Republican-majority Congress may get the opportunity to decide that the best or only way to pay for defense spending increases is to make corresponding cuts to non-defense discretionary funding.  By non-defense discretionary funding we mean majors cut to HOME, Section 8, public housing, and other programs.

Melora Hiller commented that government support for affordable housing funding has been in decline for many years.  This is indeed true.  Kriston Capps reports, "Federal housing aid has been steadily declining since 1995."  One proposal announce by President Trump would cement federal assistance decline.  His "'penny plan,' annual, cumulative 1 percent cut to non-defense spending would shred the government's budget for housing assistance.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that by 2026, federal non-defense spending would 29 percent below current spending levels, even accounting of inflation."

Diane Yentel added,

That would be devastating to affordable housing programs...Each year, there are inflationary increases needed, especially be so much of HUD's budget is taken up by rental-assistance programs, and those costs go up every year.  Just the inflationary adjustment is necessary to keep programs running as they are.

Rural road
Marshall County, Indiana

Trump has a rare opportunity to serve rural America-and the inner city, too

There is some hope amidst the gloom.  President Trump has the opportunity to improve on President Obama's record.  Seriously.  Here is how.

Rural America has fallen victim to the worst housing conditions in the nation.  Buffeted by depopulation, an aging population and housing stock; programs like the LIHTC, dependent on the private market to spur housing, have not had much of an effect on rural America.

For over a decade, federal aide under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing programs have suffered steep cuts.  In the election, rural America play a significant role in electing POTUS.

John Henneberger said,

There rural-housing programs have basically been starved to death by the last four or five administrations that have come along...If rural American is to survive, it's going to need decent quality housing, or people can't stay and live in those areas.

Rural Texas housing
A large number of substandard housing in the U.S. is found in the rural areas.  These areas also have large population of low-income households, elderly and disabled residents.  Increasing the revenues of rural America translates into reinvesting in housing-aid programs that actually do impact them.  These include the Rural Housing programs at USDA as well as HUD programs such as HOME and Community Development Block Grants.  Mr. Henneberger opined,

I think it will be an interesting signal to see from the Trump administration...If they just ideologically decide to cut or eliminate those kinds of block programs, they're really going to starve housing out of rural American.  that will be devastating to those communities.  These communities feel already neglected by the federal government.  They're going to feel even more cut off when they basically watch their population be unable to stay because there's nowhere decent for people to live out there.

Inner city  boys playing outside
 During the campaign, POTUS frequently spoke of America's inner city residents.  Mr. Capps points out, "Improving the lots of white rural Americans and black urban Americans means similar invests in infrastructure and affordable housing, albeit scale to different needs."  Most of the tools for doing accomplishing this task are available at HUD, and it remains to been seen whether or not POTUS will avail himself or reject them.  Kristen Clarke added,

If he follows through on this commitment [to the inner cities], it is important that this approach address the country's growing affordable housing crisis and ensure that people of color are not displaced from rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.

Looking at the big picture, Mr. Henneberger said "that racial polarization is the defining issue for which the next administration will be judged."  If fair housing is the solution to racial segregation, then the Fair Housing Act is very best mechanism the federal government has to create a better future for America's communities.  Mr. Henneberger told Mr. Capps,

If President-elect Trump is able to take actions to undo the harm that has been done-and frankly the continuing, multi-decade, 100-year, 200-year problem of racial polarization and recall inequality in this country-then his administration will be a success...If, as many fear, he does not, or if we further go down the path of inflaming and making polarization worse, then that will be a disaster.  It will be a disaster for his administration, for the country, for all of us.