Category Archives: Data

Interactive Tool for Criminal Justice Reform: The Prison Population Forecaster

Check out this interesting new feature produced by the Urban Institute to showcase the potential effect of different types of reforms for decreasing mass incarceration. The Urban Institute explains:

The tool currently uses data from 15 states, representing nearly 40 percent of the national prison population, to forecast population trends and project the impact of changes on rates of admission or lengths of stay in prison.

Using the tool, we can see that in some states, limiting prison admissions to only new crimes and diverting parole and probation revocations will substantially reduce the number of people behind bars. Other states can stem prison growth by tackling how they address drug and property offenses. Still others may discover that modest reductions in time served for violent offenses are necessary.

As promoting this feature in the New York Times, “When President Obama, the Koch Brothers, the American Civil Liberties Union and Newt Gingrich all agree on an issue, you know that something important may be happening.”

   EMBED :: VIEW THE FULL FEATURE

 

Land Banks and Land Banking

My former professor, Frank Alexander, has published the second edition of his excellent guidebook on land banking. According to the Center for Community Progress, the publication “combines research on land banks with practical guidance. It is targeted at practitioners who work with or are exploring the creation of land banks, as well as researchers seeking to understand the role of land banks within the broader fields of land use law, community development, urban policy, and urban planning.”

Additionally, the publication “includes a first-of-its-kind, at-a-glance comparison of existing state land bank statutes that examines the powers, priorities, and structures of land banks across states. The publication also includes a template for state land bank legislation.   At the local level, it features in-depth guidance on creating, structuring, operating, and sustaining a land bank – including sample administrative policies and examples of land banks in Atlanta, Georgia, Genesee County, Michigan, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio.”

You can download the publication here.

Excellent Profile of Cook County Jail as Mental Health Facility

There is an excellent article about Cook County Jail in the Atlantic this week entitled “America’s Largest Mental Hospital Is a Jail.” The article hits on some of the same points I made in this post from 2012 on the propriety of incarceration versus electronic monitoring for pretrial detainees, especially when nonviolent.

A few fascinating facts from the article:

  • Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart recently appointed a clinical psychologist as the executive director of the jail.  She “is currently the only mental health professional in charge of a major jail in the United States.”
  • “A study in 1990 found that 1 in 15 prisoners at Cook County Jail had some form of mental illness. Today, a conservative estimate is 1 in 3.”
  • The article calls the jail’s processing system “unusual, and possibly unique”: “After the normal post-bail intake procedure is complete, inmates file through a series of concrete cubicles staffed by a battalion of employees from the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. About 600 of the county hospital system’s 6,000 employees work at Cook County Jail. If the inmate is eligible, county officials can sign up him or her for CountyCare, a health insurance program for low-income Cook County residents created through the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid. The assembly-line layout allows the county to process about 200 applications a day. Over 10,000 inmates have signed up so far.”

Help Chicago Zoo Track Animals!

Coccycolius iris -Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois, USA-8aHere’s a bit of city/data news, from CityLab, that you (and I) can actually help with.

The Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo has created an interactive website, Chicago Wildlife Watch, “to help the Institute document and study the animals that live in Chicagoland” by viewing photos taken from cameras around the city and tagging which animals are in them.

As Lex Berko at CityLab explains:

According to the Institute’s director Seth Magle, who spoke to Chicago’sRedEye last week, this work used to fall under the purview of interns. As the Institute ramped up its identification efforts, the onslaught of photos—they currently have more than a million—became too much for their team to handle, so they decided to crowdsource. To date, more than 91,000 animals have been identified through Chicago Wildlife Watch.

I played around with the website, and there seems to be a lot of squirrels, and sometimes nothing, but that just makes it more exciting to find a deer or skunk.

Chicago’s Leadership Role in Suburban America

I just started what is so far an excellent book by Elaine Lewinnek,  an associate professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. The book is called “The Working Man’s Reward,” and I wanted to plug it here. It grabbed me from the introduction, which proclaims that “Chicago’s first product was real estate.” She promises to examine how the dream of homeownership—heavily shaped in many ways by people and events in Chicago—has affected the urban and suburban landscape throughout America.

Lewinnek nicely summarizes some of her ideas at the end of the book’s introduction:

[R]eal estate is a particularly interesting product, offering to produce further profits while providing shelter, class status, community, access to jobs, and investment equity. Real estate decisions can affect health, educational opportunities, physical mobility, and ultimately class mobility. Real estate matters, so much so that riots erupted over it. [See Lewinnek’s blog post about Chicago’s 1919 race riots tied to property values.] As Chicagoans sorted out what a modern city would look like—through land speculation, boosterism, two riots, and many barely conscious, often-constrained choices—they developed a city form that affects the sprawling and often racially divided spaces that all Americans have inherited.

I’m eager to dig into many parts of this book, but one that stands out at the outset is its study of how innovative local initiatives often quickly spread to other municipalities—an idea I’ve written about before. Whet Moser, interviewing Lewinnek for Chicago Magazine, paraphrased her thesis as being about how Chicago “invented” the suburbs. In that interview, she describes how some of the first zoning laws were “fire limits” that came out of the great Chicago fire. The new building rules forbade wooden houses in the city, and that forced workers to live further from their places of work. Usefully, she “reject[s] monocausal explanations” for why the Chicago model spread, arguing that it was a complex combination of different social and political forces at work at the time. She also sees lessons for the future from her study, as summarized in this part of her interview with Moser:

At the end of the book, you argue that learning from this past is a way of preparing for the future. What did you learn in researching the book that you think we should learn from?

The things that people developed on their own—the real struggles to own humble, small houses, were things that they clung to. With the institutionalization of public housing, the small houses were bulldozed and people were put into huge towers that didn’t end up being good places to live. Now we’re going back to public housing that looks more suburban, more dispersed. Part of what working-class Chicagoans invented in the late 19th century and the early 20th century is some of what we might be coming full circle to.

And some of those possibilities, too, of living in diverse spaces; being conscious of the whole range of suburbs. To me those are kind of exciting possibilities.

Lewinnek blogs at Elaine’s Blog.

On Portland, Semi-retired Youth, and the Best Places to Live

The New York Times Magazine has a great piece out this week about Portland and how it is attracting young educated folks despite not having jobs suited for their skills. They are coming for its vibe, for lack of a better term. There are lots of tidbits of data in the article, about Portland and other cities. But this discussion about “the sacrifice measure” was the one that fascinated me the most:

David Albouy, an economics professor at the University of Illinois, has created a metric, the sacrifice measure, which essentially charts how poor a person is willing to be in order to live in a particular city. Portland, he discovered, is near the top of the list. Even when college-educated residents get jobs there, they earn 84 cents for the average dollar earned in other cities, according to Greg Schrock and Jason Jurjevich, professors of urban studies at Portland State University. In 41 of the country’s 50 largest cities, young, educated people earn more than they do in Portland. “It’s a buyer’s market for labor,” Schrock says.

I found a paper Albouy published in 2012, Are Big Cities Bad Places to Live? Estimating Quality of Life across Metropolitan Areas, that ranked cities by quality of life. It doesn’t discuss his “sacrifice measure” but does have an interesting ranking of metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas by established quality of life. Here’s the top  50. Portland is all the way down at 44, but the west coast definitely dominates the list.

Continue reading On Portland, Semi-retired Youth, and the Best Places to Live

What Affordable Housing Should Afford: Housing for Resilient Cities

This post’s title is the title of a new paper in HUD’s Cityscape journal, Volume 16, Number 2, page 21. In it, a group of urban-planning experts from MIT argue, “Well-designed affordable housing involves more than the provision of safe decent, and inexpensive shelter; it needs to be central to the resilience of cities.”

They then list four goals for affordable housing:

  1. Support the community social structure and economic livelihoods of residents.

  2. Reduce the vulnerability of residents to environmental risks and stresses.

  3. Enhance the personal security of residents in the face of violence or threats of displacement.

  4. Empower communities through enhances capacities to share in their own governance.

I like the concept of city “resilience,” and the paper spends a little time usefully describing that idea. The rest of the paper gives detailed accounts of efforts to design housing to meet these goals.

 

New government buzzwords

The New Republic ran delightful little piece last month about the buzzword “disruptive.” Author Judith Shevitz argues that the inventor of the term “disruptive innovation,” which originally applied to the tech industry, has let it spin out of control, so that it’s being applied to areas like education and public health. This trend, she says, is “a category error” because “[n]ot all civil services need to be hyper-efficient and bargain-basement and in a state of permanent revolution, especially when the private entities tasked with disrupting government operate largely outside public view.”

I think her point is well taken, but I particularly enjoyed the story art, which mocks vacuous buzzwords generally. This got me thinking about some of the buzzwords I’m guilty of using. Of course, first and foremost is the title of this blog, as “data-driven” is  ill-defined jargon. I decided to plot a few terms using Google’s ngram, which charts how often terms appear in Google Books over time (click the hypertext to see a clear version of the chart below).

buzzword ngram

 

There’s no real conclusion to draw here, but I thought the information was interesting regardless. Not suprisely, terms like data-driven, public-private, and civic engagement have increased dramatically in use in recent years. Intriguingly, “urban renewal” has been surpassed in use by “e-government.”

New interactive infographic rates risks in all 50 states

After the jump is a new infographic that was suggested as a follow up to my post highlighting that three Detroit neighborhoods had topped the list of most dangerous places to live. Just as depressingly, this map pulls data from various sources to rank all 50 states based on the terrible things that could happen to you there. You can check out the original webpage here. Notably for midwesterners, Illinois and Michigan are ranked 40th and 44th respectively for murders per 100,000 people (with rank 51 being the worst and going to D.C.), and Illinois has the highest percentage of adults reporting poor mental health (according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of CDC data). Obnoxiously, as you’ll see if you interact with the map, the states are color-coded by total number of murders and traffic fatalities, even though the title for those sections says “per 100,000.” To clarify the accurate info click “see the data behind the rankings.” Continue reading New interactive infographic rates risks in all 50 states

Renting versus owning: how homeowners come out ahead

I’m doing more digging into the 2011 American Housing Survey, as a follow up to this weekend’s post about the age of American housing.

The survey breaks down “owner occupied” versus “renter occupied” units, and the differences between them are compelling. In particular, the survey hints at public-health downsides to renting, though these results are likely tied more to poverty than to the fact a person is renting as the data does not account for socioeconomic status. Nonetheless, here are some interesting statistics.

1. Renters share bedrooms more often.

chart_1

As you can see, around 50% of households in either category have .51 to 1 person per bedroom. But for households with 1.51 or more people per bedroom, the renter category jumps to more than 20%, while only 6.7% of owner-occupied households are that crowded.

2. Renters are more likely to have unsafe drinking water.

Frankly, it’s amazing to me that nearly 10% of people in the United States are without safe drinking water, but it’s worse for renters than for homeowners.

3. Renters have more problems with pests, bad wiring, and holes in floors and walls.

chart_4

As you can see, homeowners have more mice problems, but that’s about it. Renters have more problems with rats and much more problems with open cracks or holes, exposed wiring, and cockroaches. I’ve experienced that last one while renting in the Deep South, and it’s terrible.

4. Renters are less healthy.

Maybe it’s because of all the other things mentioned, but renters report being in “very good” health less often than homeowners. Although both categories of people have the same number of people who reported “excellent” health, renters also report “poor” health more than homeowners.

chart_5

Let me know your thoughts on the comments below.