Maps: Pro-Trump in the Pioneer Valley

Since the election results, there has been much discussion about a particular demographic: white males without a college degree. Specifically, the narrative has gone something like:

White men without a college degree have been left behind by the US government and its economy, and their decisive support of Donald Trump was their retribution for this injustice. 

I won’t get into all of the things I think are wrong about this analysis, though I will quote one of my favorite scholars at the Brookings Institute, Richard Reeves, who wrote:

In the long run, the only cure is for whites, and especially white men, to change their expectation that high status, along with a decent-paying job, will be delivered to them merely by virtue of their race and gender.

Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that when you look at a variety of outcomes broken down by race/ethnicity, whites are doing pretty well. If any group of Americans is being left behind, it is (still) African-Americans and Latinos. As John Hudak, another scholar at the Brookings Institute, points out:

The conversation around the “economically marginalized” has focused almost exclusively on white working class voters, and that is a travesty. There are many other Americans who are not traditionally grouped under the heading “white working class voters” who remain economically marginalized—and most of them voted for someone other than Donald Trump.

He goes on to use a variety of charts pointing out that, certainly, some white working class Americans have had a hard time in the 21st century economy – and that this is a bitter pill to swallow when the generation before had no problem making a good living as a lumberjack or welder. But Black and Latino Americans have a much harder time succeeding in today’s economy.

gs_20161115_figure-2-median-weekly-gender1
As a racial/ethnic group, Whites earn far more than Blacks or Latinos.

Regardless of whether it is justified, there have been subsequent analyses released showing the strong correlation between the share of non-college educated whites and the share of votes for Donald Trump in a given state. This made me kind of curious about how that played out here in the Pioneer Valley.

Divides in the Valley

Even though a lot of people think of the region as “The Happy Valley,” full of hippy-dippy liberals with degrees in Women’s Studies, there are definitely conservative areas. 

town-results

I was curious, though – does the prevailing narrative about disaffected white non-college educated men also hold true in our part of the state? So, of course, I went to the American Community Survey to answer that question.

(Warning: Here is where I go into some technical stuff about the analysis I did.) Unfortunately, there was no data at the town level showing proportions of white non-college educated men (at the town level, I could have gotten “white men” or “non-college educated men” but not combining all three). To filter at that level, I had to use an artificial geography that’s called a Public Use Microsample Area, or “PUMA.” This meant that unfortunately I couldn’t get results town-by-town, and the maps I produced might look funny. I swear it’s not my fault!

First, here are how the PUMAs in the Pioneer Valley voted:

trump-vote
“Sources” got cut off, but it was supposed to also list WBUR.

Interestingly, if PUMAs existed as real political units, Trump wouldn’t have won any of them in the Pioneer Valley. However, he still did petty well in the close-in suburbs to the east and west of Springfield. The region gets less pro-Trump the further north you get.

Now for the proportion of the PUMAs that are Non-College Educated White Men (NCEWM):

wmnce_pop

Looking at the map, the two PUMAS most strongly pro-Trump also had the highest NCEWM population. Springfield, right in the middle, had the lowest NCEWM population and also voted most decisively for Clinton.

In fact, running a simple correlation I find an R value of 0.74, which is pretty strong (though there aren’t enough observations to feel comfortable running a statistical test).

table
R = 0.74

So what does this mean?

First off, it means that just like in the rest of the country, the Pioneer Valley has its own political divisions, and that there is geographic clumping of differing political views. It also suggests that the same economic forces getting so much attention in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are also at play here – our own Rust Belt in Hampden County.

This means that even in uber-liberal Massachusetts, there is still work to be done. Sharing the prosperity inside of 128 is essential to that effort. Otherwise we may find a rude awakening the morning after some election in the future, much as Ohio or Wisconsin did on November 9th.

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Six Things You Can Do Now

electoral-map

Tuesday was crushing, and I think I’ll be crushed by it for a long time to come. It increasingly looks like most of the things I care about – social justice, healthy communities, climate change – are going to be taking a back seat to defense spending, tax cuts, trade wars, gutting the ACA, and fossil fuel extraction, for at least the next two years, and possibly much longer.

In the wake of this colossal psychological trauma, a lot of my friends on social media have been saying, “Now what?” It’s hard to stare into the abyss of everything that could go horribly wrong and not feel lost. But I go back to an earlier post of mine to help light a single candle in these dark times.  

We live in a federal system, and the authority of the federal government is derived from the states. Some of that authority is granted to the federal government as outlined in the constitution. But a whole lot of that authority still remains with the states, and the communities within them. That’s where we should look. We should go local. 

Conservatives have dominated state legislatures and governorships for years, meaning that they have been able to draw electoral maps which secure their districts (AKA gerrymandering – see this is a great article outlining their strategy and success.) This was most evident in 2014, when the GOP maintained a 33 seat majority in the House of Representatives despite getting 1.4 million fewer votes than Democrats nationally.

Furthermore, Governing Magazine reported conservative domination of state governments is at its highest point ever. Creating and sustaining that dominance in thousands of state representative and senate districts is hard work, but crucial to the continued conservative majority in Congress. It’s the Republican Party’s greatest strength.

2016-legislative-party-control
Map of Party Control of State Legislatures.

I don’t want to make this a post about one political party versus the other, but rather one about values. The question I am concerned with is, “How do we instill humane, compassionate, evidence-based values into the American political system?” The rhetoric espoused by our now-president elect has appalled me, and demonstrated that the Republican party is unequivocally not the party that represents my values (I’m struggling really hard not to go on a long, rambling rant, so instead I’ll casually leave this link to vox.com right here).

To set the national course straight again, I believe now more than ever that reversing the damage must start locally.

So if the election results have you frightened, anxious, at a loss for what to do, here is a list of suggestions:

  1. Find a community group or nonprofit doing things that you care about. Attend a meeting or volunteer to help them out.
  2. If you don’t know who your main local elected representatives are, find out. This includes:
    1. Mayor or Selectmen
    2. City Councilor(s)
    3. State Representative
    4. State Senator
  3. Get to know at least one main local elected official listed above. This sounds daunting, but it isn’t. Local electeds are extremely approachable and, generally, love meeting constituents. Invite them out for a coffee or a beer, or meet them at their office. Often they have office hours around the community. Even better if you have issues to discuss. Email or call them often on the issues that concern you.
  4. Find a committee or commission that deals with things you care about, and attend at least one meeting. Some common examples:
    1. Planning Commission
    2. School Committee
    3. Historic Commission
    4. Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee
    5. Cultural Council 
    6. Fair Housing Commission
    7. A whole, whole lot more.
  5. If you like the committee, try to join it. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes this is hard – but find out how to get on it, and work toward that goal.
  6. If you don’t like a local elected official, get actively involved in a campaign (or run yourself) to oust him or her.

Finally, and this is most important, find others and work together. This might be getting involved in your town’s Democratic Committee. Or maybe that local nonprofit. Or it could be starting up a weekly “Progressives Happy Hour” at a local pub on meetup.com. Whatever it is, turning your civic involvement from a chore to a social event makes it so much easier to stay engaged.

Again, I don’t mean for this to be a hyper-partisan post, because I really do think that issues of environmental quality, climate change, social justice, recreation and greenspace, and public safety impact everyone, regardless of political affiliation. But Tuesday demonstrated to me that fear, bigotry, and a rejection of facts are dominating America’s politics from top to bottom. Creating a civic sphere of diversity, acceptance, and intellectual discourse is a generational project. We’ve got to start now, and I believe it starts at home.

Let’s get to work.

 


If you want to get more involved and would like some suggestions, you can contact me on Twitter at @pricearmstrong.

 

The Struggle of Planning, of Engineering, of the Next Six Months

Today is the 100th birthday of Jane Jacobs, which basically every urbanist, plannerlytype blog and Twitter account has been posting about all day long. It’s also Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you!), and the day after the improbable nomination of Donald Trump.

As a person keenly concerned about matters of equity and opportunity, the nomination of Donald Trump has been immensely troubling (as I noted toward the end of this blog post). Furthermore, I realized that even though we’ve gone through ten months of primary election backstabbing, name calling, and incoherent rants, we still have six more months before the general election – and the next six months are going to be even more intense than the primary.

In the context of profound disagreement and existential consternation, I thought I would take a moment to revisit a topic I presented at UMass recently – why planners and engineers clash, and how they can better get along.

The Match of the Century

The great cage match of the built environment in popular imagination is that of Robert Moses versus Jane Jacobs.

jacobs_moses
The rumble in the (urban) jungle, Robert Moses versus Jane Jacobs

For those of you unfamiliar with Robert Moses, he is perhaps the most consequential person in the history of 20th-century urban development. Most of his life is chronicled in this superb biography, The Power Broker. I won’t get into everything about him, but in brief, he oversaw the transformation of the New York City metropolitan area from a transit-dominated place to an autocentric megalopolis, and led the way for similar transformations around the country.

He oversaw the construction of countless highways, razing neighborhoods to the ground (usually low-income areas populated by people of color) in the process. He eventually butted heads with Jane Jacobs, resident of SoHo, over the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway.

lomex
Map of proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. Source: Wikipedia

Having seen what similar highway projects had done in other parts of the city (like the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which totally shattered the Tremont neighborhood), Jane Jacobs led the successful fight to kill the highway project. She fought Goliath, saved her iconic neighborhood, pioneered a new branch of social science concerned with urban placemaking, and inspired generations to carry on her work. It’s the kind of anti-highway, grassroots community swell that makes planners go all gushy, wanting to sit around a fire holding hands and singing “We Are the Champions” to acoustic guitar.

And of course, that’s the popular conception of planning versus engineering (at least for planners). Community-oriented planners supporting decisions that work best for residents, not just for maintaining a free-flow travel speed of 55 mph or better. The notion that planners go to bat for people without a voice, guiding them through public meetings and environmental reviews, all to combat – in the most Homeric sense – those heartless traffic engineers who care only about cold asphalt and steel.

What Keeps Engineers up at Night

I’m happy to report that even though such drama makes for excellent opera material (like A Marvelous Order, an opera slated to open soon about Moses and Jacobs), it’s far from reality. I’ve worked with countless engineers over the years, and none of them are nefarious technocrats sniffing around for the next opportunity to rip out a sidewalk or install a parking lot. Every engineer I’ve worked with has genuinely wanted to serve the community they are working in, and use all the tools at their disposal to do so.

But where planners and engineers diverge has to do with their greatest fears.

What is it that keeps you up at night? For a planner, it’s usually a derailed public process, or a cantankerous crowd at a public meeting, or maybe an elected official putting pressure on you to issue a permit or make a recommendation that you shouldn’t.

For an engineer, your greatest fear is something you designed failing and people dying as a result.

If a planner has a bad day, he goes home and has a glass of wine to meditate out the stress. If an engineer has a bad day, she could be sued for wrongful death.

Point in case is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, or Galloping Gertie for short. This was a bridge built in the Seattle area in the late 1930s that soon collapsed on an especially windy day. Thankfully no one was killed, but imagine if a similar mistake had been made on the Golden Gate Bridge. Literally thousands of people could die.

tacoma narrows bridge
The collapsing Tacoma Narrows Bridge

So engineers are risk-averse, and don’t like deviating from established design standards, and for good reason. And unfortunately we have decades’ worth of auto-centric engineering standards mandating minimum lane widths, minimal congestion, and maximum travel speed – but a blindspot when it comes to bicycle, pedestrian, and other person-scale street design. When us planners, or even other engineers, start making noise about designing places to slow traffic down, or design for pedestrians and bicyclists and buses, many engineers can’t find guidance in the official design documents. And engineers really don’t like that.

Building Bridges

Fortunately, I see this traditional conflict between planners and engineers resolving itself. This is for a few reasons:

  1. The design documents engineers rely on are getting better. AASHTO has released a bicycle design guide, for example, and NACTO is gaining credibility among engineers. If you’re not sure what those acronyms stand for, here’s a pretty good description.
  2. The two fields are starting to overlap. Planning is getting much more data intensive and evidence based, and engineers are having to become more politically savvy as transportation projects become ever more politicized.
  3. Education is getting more holistic. Engineering programs in particular are emphasizing Complete Streets, people-centered design, and the connection of roadways to livable places. Basically every engineer I know under 35 wants to retrofit multi-lane arterials into mixed use main streets, not the other way around.

We can help the process by recognizing everyone’s motivations and fears. Planners can work with engineers to identify existing design standards that achieve the community vision. And engineers can try to be flexible, if possible, when designing their facilities to best accommodate community needs.

Springfield Bike Lanes

A good example of bridging this divide was the effort to bring the first continuous set of bike lanes to Springfield. At the time I was working for the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, and we were working with Live Well Springfield to encourage active living in the city. Springfield only had a short stretch of bike lanes (maybe 100 feet), and we wanted to get some actual lanes painted before the grant funding ended. Plumtree Road seemed like the opportunity to do that.

bike lane
Section of Plumtree Road with bike lanes

Plumtree Road is a low-traffic street through a mostly residential area of the city. The city’s engineering staff wasn’t exactly reluctant to install bike lanes, but they were definitely cautious. Thank God for the AASHTO Bike Design Guide – it really helped make the case to install the bike lanes, demonstrating that the road width was sufficient to meet official design standards.

So, the city installed the bike lanes, held a press event, and celebrated! This was definitely a case where that old enmity could have reared its ugly head, but because of the progress of design standards, professional competencies, and education, we all just got along.

bike lanes
Inaugural bike ride on Plumtree Road. Source: MassLive

So in this time of discord, let’s honor those who taught us much. Jane Jacobs’ sage words written in that supreme urbanist bible The Death and Life of Great American Cities should and will live on as we work together to improve our communities; planners and engineers and community members and local electeds all working to make their communities more livable. Even Robert Moses, with his single-minded vision and uncompromising drive to achieve it, should inspire us. Nevermind nasty federal elections that infuriate and emasculate us. We’re better than that.

Happy birthday, Jane Jacobs – May the fourth be with you.

The Pioneer Valley’s “New Irish”

We’ve all put on our green shirt and socks, clasped the shamrock pin to our lapels, and downed our green beer. Today is the day that, as the saying goes, “We’re all Irish.” Now that I’m in the Pioneer Valley, and Holyoke specifically, St. Patrick’s Day holds special significance. Holyoke has one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in New England, inflating the population ten-fold this coming Saturday. But even without the parade, St. Patrick’s Day should hold special meaning in the Paper City.

The Great Hunger

To be Irish must include understanding the potato famine of 1845-49. We all know about the blight that destroyed the potato crops on which the Irish depended, but what may be more surprising is the magnitude of death and suffering the Irish endured. Out of a population of around 8.5 million, 1 million people starved to death and another 2 million immigrated. Birth rates plummeted. By Irish independence 70 years later, the population of Ireland was only half of what it was in the 1840s.

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