Does a Higher Building Elevation Lead to More Risk-Taking?

If you’re in a penthouse, stay away from the ponies: Researchers have found that people are more likely to take financial risks at higher elevations inside a building.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers looked at data from more than 3,000 hedge funds all over the world and found a “weak but significant” correlation between the volatility of each fund and the elevation of the building floor (ranging from the first to the 96th) where the firm was located.

The finding seems to reflect a fact of commercial real estate: The higher the office, the more expensive it is to rent or own, so a company sitting pretty at the top may have more money to wager. But the study was designed to test the effect of elevation on individuals, not just corporate entities.

In one experiment, participants made bets inside the glass elevator of a tall building. In some cases the elevator was ascending, and in others it was descending. As the elevator ascended, those who traveled up to the 72nd floor were more likely to choose a riskier bet. The descending group, on the other hand, opted for a more conservative choice.

In another experiment, researchers asked some participants on the ground floor and others on the third floor of a building to make 10 decisions, each of which had different risk and payoff options. Those on the third floor chose riskier options more frequently than people on the ground floor.

Sina Esteky, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of marketing at Miami University in Ohio, noted that there’s an architectural association between elevation and power stretching back through history. “Powerful buildings are put on top of a hill, [and] a lot of religions discuss divinity, or people of high power, being in high physical positions. It seems to be a deeply rooted association, [and] it seemed like the reason elevation can lead to people taking more risks is they usually feel more powerful.”

One person who’s well aware of the connection between building height and power is penthouse owner Donald Trump. As a developer, Trump routinely inflated the number of floors in his buildings, because, he said, people “like to have apartments that have height, the psychology of it.”

In their paper, the authors note that although past research has looked at how “atmospheric factors” like lighting and sound can affect consumer decisions, few studies have delved into the effects of spatial positioning. This, they write, is surprising, because “with rapid urbanization, particularly vertical expansion in high-density urban environments, consumers are making a growing number of decisions in multi-story buildings.”

Meanwhile, there has never been more opportunity to work high above the ground. The number of super-tall skyscrapers around the world keeps rising, especially in financial centers like New York City and Hong Kong, and 2017 set a record for the number of new skyscrapers built in a single year. That could mean more people working on the 65th or 82nd floor who are tempted to wager their kid’s college fund on cryptocurrency.

Esteky, who has dual Ph.D.s in business administration and architecture, doesn’t want to do away with elevated towers: “I would not encourage architects or urban designers not to design skyscrapers or high-rises—I think they’re necessary with the amount of density we have in cities,” he said. “But designers and consumers need to be mindful of these subtle effects that aren’t as subtle as we think.” He recommends that designers and developers think carefully about how to deal with urban elevation. For instance, a restaurant might work better than a hedge fund on the top floor of a tower.

“If you’re talking about high-stakes risk-taking—financial, medical, legal—I would encourage people not to put their offices on high levels of a building,” Esteky said. “Or, if they are [near the top]: have a thick curtain.”

Lyft Delivers Carbon-Neutral Rides

Over the years, John Zimmer, the co-founder and president of Lyft, has often pointed to a class he took as an undergraduate as the source of his ideas about environmental sustainability—and by extension, Lyft’s goals to create greener transportation options.

The class at Cornell University was called “Green Cities.” The professor, Robert Young, opened the first lecture by describing how roads and transit systems built decades ago weren’t designed to sustain the rapid growth of urban populations today, Zimmer recalled. “If we don’t fix the infrastructure problem, we’re going to have a major economic and environmental problem,” Zimmer told a roundtable of reporters in Washington, D.C., in late March.

Founded in 2012, Lyft is now an $11 billion ride-hailing company, second in the industry to Uber alone. Its concept of ride-hailing has long been founded on reducing the need for personal car ownership. But today, the company made perhaps its most meaningful move yet towards reducing carbon emissions: Lyft is promising to offset the carbon emissions of every ride around the world, making all rides “carbon neutral.” From now on, Zimmer and his co-founder Logan Green wrote in a Medium post, “your decision to ride with Lyft will support the fight against climate change.”

According to the post, Lyft’s total annual investment will amount to over a million metric tons of carbon, “equivalent to planting tens of millions of trees or taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road,” which will make Lyft one of the largest voluntary purchasers of carbon offsets in the world. Scott Coriell, a Lyft communications officer, said the company does not have a specific estimate for the cost of the investment, but that it will be in the millions of dollars. According to a 2015 report by the NGO Ecosystem Marketplace, General Motors, Barclays bank, and PG&E were the top three voluntary buyers of offsets between 2012 and 2013, respectively scooping up 4.6 million, 2.1 million, and 1.4 million carbon offsets, which are measured in metric tons, during that period.

Carbon offsets have been the subject of some scrutiny and scandal; some companies that take money promising to plant trees and capture emissions have been exposed as worthless or scams. Coriell noted that Lyft will become carbon neutral by investing in offset projects that would not have happened without their backing. These projects will all be U.S.-based and close to Lyft’s largest markets, Corriel said, and will include investments in a manufacturing emissions reductions project in Michigan, oil recycling in Ohio, and a wind energy farm in Oklahoma. These projects are verified under the American Carbon Registry, Climate Action Reserve, or Verified Carbon Standard—all rigorous third-party standard setters of legitimacy.

The announcement is not Lyft’s first gesture towards environmental sustainability. In 2017, it signed “We Are Still In,” joining hundreds of states, cities, and corporations (including Uber) in pledging to uphold the U.S. carbon emissions reduction goals set forth by the Paris climate accord, after President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the country’s commitment. At the time, Lyft also outlined plans to make the majority of its fleet autonomous and electric by 2025. “Bringing more electric vehicles onto the platform in the future will help us reduce the needs for offsets,” Coriell wrote.

As part of its own efforts to reduce car ownership, Uber has recently pivoted to become a multi-modal mobility provider, building car- and bike-sharing services into its app. It has not announced any plans to offset its carbon emissions. An Uber representative declined to comment on Lyft’s announcement.

Lyft’s commitment to carbon-neutrality is especially meaningful, because one irony of the ride-hailing industry is that, so far, it’s likely creating more vehicle miles traveled, not less. Though some studies have suggested that ride-hailing users are more likely to give up personal car ownership, more and more research shows that the convenience and relatively low cost of on-demand rides are leading travelers to take trips and generate pollution that they wouldn’t have otherwise. (Plus, all of those deadheading drivers.) As these services lure passengers off of public transit systems, it has become hard to argue that there’s anything particularly environmentally friendly about hailing an Uber or Lyft. This announcement changes that.

Lyft is hardly a perfect citizen, planet-saving-wise. Alongside Uber, it lobbies state legislators to preempt local regulations, which may limit the ability of cities from organizing road space in the most environmentally efficient way possible. And from a sustainability perspective, it would probably be better for Lyft to go carbon-neutral and invest in bike-sharing, as Uber is doing. Even renewably powered electric cars have a sizeable carbon footprint. If customers take a Lyft instead of walking or biking because they think these options are all equally green, they’re wrong.

Still, over the past year, Lyft has made genuine efforts to grow into its image as the “woke” alternative to scandal-ridden Uber, to borrow Zimmer’s term. Donations to the ACLU and free rides to anti-gun rallies have bought it credibility among progressives. Going carbon neutral is probably its most significant step in that direction: It is a lasting delivery of one of the company’s most fundamental promises. That really matters, especially as car manufacturers dial back their Obama-era eco-friendly branding efforts and push to weaken environmental regulations. Lyft seems to have real faith in the notion that there’s a market value in socially conscious transportation—that riders will choose Lyft over other apps, or their own vehicles, because they know it’s a better choice.

“We’re aggressively pursuing a set of values because one, we think it’s the right thing to do and two, it’s good for business,” Zimmer said last month. “That’s what we’re out to prove.”

The Weirdest Ways That U.S. Cities Are Celebrating Earth Day

When Earth Day began in 1970, the dire state of cities had a lot to do with it. Urban industrialism had literally become lethal: During a particularly warm Thanksgiving weekend in 1966, the smog in New York City killed nearly 200 people. As the environmental historian Adam Rome told CityLab’s Laura Bliss in 2015, back in the ‘60s, “[c]ities epitomized everything that was wrong with the planet.”

A lot has changed in the intervening decades. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed after the first Earth Day, and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts followed. Cities have cleaned up their air and water, and many have stepped up as forces for environmental progress. San Francisco is now striving for zero waste by 2020, and Portland, Oregon, is working toward cutting the city’s carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030.

Earth Day at the Capitol, 1990 (Greg Gibson/AP)

According to Kathleen Rodgers, the president of Earth Day Network, thousands of events will happen around the world this weekend in honor of Earth Day, which is officially on Sunday. They are intended to draw public attention to issues that environmentalists wrestle with year-round: climate change, habitat loss, and plastic pollution, to name a few.

But for many city dwellers, the goal is a little simpler: to engage with their communities in an Earth-friendly way and have a good time. Here are a few of the more unusual ways that American cities will be advocating for a healthy planet this weekend.

Drinking Thomas Dolby’s Beer in Baltimore

If you live in Baltimore, you may have spotted Thomas Dolby driving his motorboat around the city’s harbor. “I don’t have a car, but I have a little motorboat, and I use that to get around,” Dolby told CityLab. “You’ll often see me out there on my way to Safeway to get groceries, or on my way to Fells Point to get breakfast.”

Those who don’t know Dolby from his jaunts around the Baltimore Harbor may remember the British musician’s 1982 hit, “She Blinded Me With Science.” Now you have another reason to listen to it: Baltimore’s Peabody Heights Brewery has partnered with Dolby to release a new wit—that’s a Belgian wheat ale, in brewery-speak—called “She Blinded Me Wit Science.” Fittingly, the label will feature an image of Professor Trash Wheel, the newest googly-eyed trash-collecting device on the Inner Harbor.

Proceeds from the beer will benefit the Healthy Harbor Initiative, whose goal is to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. The beer will be released in Baltimore and around the country on Saturday, just in time for Earth Day.  

“I think people should get enjoyment out of their harbor,” said Dolby, who is currently a professor of the arts at Johns Hopkins University. “The harbor is already a great center of gravity for Baltimore events … but it would certainly be nice if there were a beach or two.”

Recycling Oyster Shells in Richmond

On Saturday, volunteers at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rice Rivers Center, just outside of Richmond, will help the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) stuff mesh bags with oyster shells, which the organization collects from restaurants around the state. That’s the extent of what the volunteers will be doing this Saturday, but it’s not the end of the process. The bags—which program director Todd Janeski described as “10-by-24-inch sausages of shell”—will then be submerged into tanks, where staff members will introduce oyster larvae. The larvae will attach themselves to the shells, then grow into spat and eventually full-sized oysters, with shells of their own.  

Once the larvae have attached themselves to the recycled shells, VOSRP will pour the bags back into the Chesapeake Bay, where they will become part of an oyster reef the organization has been building since 2013. Because an oyster shell has two valves, and 10 to 15 larvae typically attach themselves to each valve, “that means we return 20 to 30 oysters to the Bay for every oyster that we get,” Janeski said.

This is the first time that VOSRP has invited the public to participate in shell recycling. But its work, and that of similar organizations, is vital to the health of the bay: In the early 1900s, 17 million bushels of oysters were being harvested from the Chesapeake Bay annually. By 2001 it was just 23,000 bushels, the lowest harvest on record. Building oyster reefs helps restore the bay’s ecosystem, which in turn helps waterfront communities along the bay to thrive.

“Maintaining a viable working waterfront is really important within coastal communities,” said Janeski. “So in a small way, we’re helping contribute to that.”

Daring to Ride Bare in San Francisco

Over the years, there have been plenty of reasons to get naked in public in San Francisco, and since 2010, Earth Day has been one of them. This Saturday is the eighth annual San Francisco edition of the World Naked Bike Ride, a clothing-optional bike party that takes place all over the world. The ride will begin in the city’s Embarcadero district, pass an Earth Day Festival in the Civic Center, and end in the Castro neighborhood. (This will not even be the first naked bike ride in San Francisco this year: SF WNBR has already hosted two clothing-optional bike parties in 2018.)

Whereas many Earth Day events are broad in scope, this one has a specific aim. “This event was born out of the anger many of us were feeling at the [BP Oil Spill in 2010], and the resulting oil spill that has continually devastated the Gulf,” Oswald Montecristo, one of the organizers, wrote in an email. “Our WNBR for Earth Day is meant to be a visual and audible reminder of this.”

Participants are encouraged to decorate their bodies with black body paint, or trash bags, to mimic spilled oil. If black paint isn’t your style, the organizers suggest wearing green to promote Earth Day.

Besides these events, there will be plenty of other untraditional Earth Day celebrations happening around the country. In Milwaukee on Saturday night, REmodel Resale Fashion Boutique will host an Earth Day Fashion Show to promote recycling and refurbishing clothing. In Dallas, thousands of Tesla owners will gather on Saturday at the city’s EarthX conference to admire each other’s cars and endorse the benefits of electric vehicles. In Monterey, California, a group of divers plans to remove a dumpster’s worth of garbage from the sea. And on Sunday in Corpus Christi, Texas, there’s going to be a Plogging Party, where runners will pick up garbage while jogging through town.

For Kathleen Rodgers, it isn’t a day to celebrate, exactly. “We don’t use the word ‘celebration’ inside Earth Day, though we recognize that people use Earth Day to connect with each other or do things that are cool or funny,” she said. “For the most part, our work is entirely focused on getting communities to make commitments around what they’ll do for the next 365 days.”

So remember, whether you strip down and get on your bike, watch a fashion show, or attend a concert: Earth Day is fun, but it’s also one reason why American rivers no longer catch on fire.

Does Homeownership Really ‘Drive’ the Black-White Wealth Gap?

The wealth gap between blacks and whites would take 225 years to disappear, according to one recent, rather optimistic, estimate. As to how this could happen, theories abound.

Squeezing shut the homeownership gap is a popular solution, and understandably so. A century of racist housing policy—redlining, mortgage loan discrimination, preferential housing subsidies—has created major barriers to homeownership for black Americans. Simultaneously, the federal government has long promoted homeownership as one of the primary asset building mechanisms in the U.S. The result: A homeownership gap that largely overlaps with the wealth gap. But will eliminating the former also do away with the latter?

According to a new paper from the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University: Not really.

In this report, authors William Darity Jr., Darrick Hamilton, Mark Paul, Alan Aja, Anne Price, Antonio Moore, and Caterina Chiopris set out to debunk a number of myths about this racial wealth gap—and its fixes. Improving financial literacy, elevating educational achievement, increasing savings, and encouraging entrepreneurship may be helpful, but ultimately insufficient, they argue; these solutions place the brunt of the responsibility on black Americans, to correct a problem they did not create.

But bridging the homeownership gap is a long-touted piece of the solutions puzzle. In 2017, in an article for The New York Times Magazine, sociologist Matthew Desmond wrote: “Differences in homeownership rates remain the prime driver of the nation’s racial wealth gap.” And research by various public policy organizations and housing experts appears to back this up. Technically, they’re not wrong: Housing market conditions and policies do worsen economic inequality. But what the authors of the Duke University paper take issue with is the implication—or perhaps more accurately, the inference—that the homeownership gap causes the wealth gap. They write:

The word “drive” suggests a causal link between homeownership/home equity and the generation wealth. However, a major flaw in this reasoning is that, by definition, homeownership/home equity is a component of wealth. Hence, the statement that “homeownership drives wealth” is equivalent to saying that “wealth drives wealth.”

In other words, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem in the way we talk about the relationship between homeownership and wealth. And the authors of the Duke University paper are arguing that the wealth disparities came first. They write in the paper:

Without sufficient wealth in the first place, households have limited means to invest in homeownership. Wealth, after all, begets more wealth.

Of course, the decades of discriminatory housing policy have driven a deeper wedge between racial groups, but the seed of the black-white wealth gap was sown back during slavery. For this argument, the researchers have some support. A recent historical analysis found that there’s a significant economic penalty for being black in America, and it has remained constant for over 100 years.

That’s why doing away with the homeownership gap, by itself, will not create wealth parity for blacks and whites (although the authors of the Duke paper agree that it will help). They have numbers to prove it: White households that do not own homes have 31 times more wealth than black counterparts. The net worth of the latter group is just $120, according to the researchers’ calculations of 2014 government data.

Among homeowners, too, racial differences exist. White households who own homes have $140,000 more in net worth than black ones. That’s a much narrower gap, but still pretty significant, the authors write in the paper. They conclude that it’s not just that white households, on average, have greater housing equity, but they appear to have greater equity from all other types of financial assets.

(Duke University)

According to the authors, a true reckoning with the black-white wealth gap in America requires a meaningful consideration of the idea of reparations—compensation for the damages of slavery and everything that came after it. With respect to housing, in particular, it could work something like this:

If the goal truly is to eliminate the racial wealth gap, policymakers should be concerned with providing, at the very least, an initial, significant financial endowment to black young adults to invest in an asset like a new home, as well as an aggressive campaign against housing and lending discrimination, which limits the asset appreciation of the housing stock and financial products available to blacks.

Dutch Cities Don’t Love Weed

If you assume the Netherlands has an anything-goes attitude toward cannabis, think again.

This month, the city of the Hague—home to the parliament and royal family of this famously tolerant country—announced that, while it will still tolerate the possession of small amounts of cannabis, it will ban public consumption in its city center. The move is apparently in response to complaints about noise and smells. While it might seem tame compared to countries that ban smoking outright, it still marks a turnaround for a place that has an international reputation for permissive drug policies.

Indeed, the tide seems to be turning against general tolerance in the Netherlands, with increasing curbs being placed on cannabis trade and public consumption. So why is this tightening up occurring here at a time when other countries are moving toward relaxing their laws?

The truth is that the Netherlands has been trying to curb some aspects of the weed business for a while now. As things stand, cannabis possession is technically illegal, but for personal consumption, that law is ignored. Amsterdam (later followed by Rotterdam) banned coffee shops from setting up within 250 meters (820 feet) of secondary schools as far back as 2011. Meanwhile, the whole country came close to limiting weed sales back in 2012, when the government proposed a “Weed Pass” system that would limit cannabis sales to national residents, replacing a cannabis club membership system that had long been in place in the county’s three southernmost provinces. While a few border towns kept the system, the pilot was largely abandoned due to fears that it increased black-market street trading.

Now the Hague’s move is the most comprehensive ban the country has seen yet. What it implies is less a drug crackdown and more of a general shift away from tolerance of cannabis use in public. The ban is being introduced partly because people simply don’t like smelling weed when they’re, say, buying a ticket at the central station. This needn’t come as a surprise. The Netherlands—or at least Amsterdam—may have earned a stereotype among some Americans as a sort of daily re-enactment of the Woodstock Festival with added windmills. The country can nonetheless strike visitors as a rather buttoned-up place, one that places high value on social and environmental orderliness.

Consumption isn’t necessarily the target here—the Netherlands has long had comparatively low levels of cannabis use compared to other European countries, anyway. It’s more about combatting a sense of public untidiness and tacit official approval for weed use. Banning coffee shops around schools, for example, won’t necessarily deter young people from getting their hands on cannabis. What it does do is lessen their exposure to it, as does banning its use from central streets. Frustration at publicly active stoners is also partly influenced by the country’s ongoing anti-tourist backlash, which has seen clampdowns on anything from beer bikes to Airbnb. Coffee shops are especially popular with travelers who face tighter controls at home, though weed tourists are more likely to choose Amsterdam than an attractive but terminally unhip city like the Hague.

Laws that shield people from cannabis use without actually blocking its supply can hardly be said to infringe on people’s rights—or, to be fair, even their convenience. There are still some question marks over the ban, though. Can it be meaningfully policed across a large swathe of a major city, especially when officers have more pressing concerns? And are weed smokers genuinely more of a social menace than drunk people, who throng Dutch streets on weekends?

While the ban’s workability is still open to question, the broader movement could arguably be interpreted as a positive step toward making tolerance of cannabis use more functional. Haguers who hope their central streets will smell sweeter when outdoor cannabis smoking is banned may be in for a disappointment, though.

Operationalizing Racial Equity & Inclusion: Transforming Organizations and Beyond

We recently released a report titled “What Does it Take to Embed a Racial Equity & Inclusion Lens?” that captures themes from internal interviews, a field scan, and learnings from our grantmaking and investments in cities across the country. In this post, we share the next three themes that emerged from our research. To read the previous post, click here.


5. “Embedding” a racial equity and inclusion lens has to be an overarching framework in every aspect of our work.

To many people, advancing racial equity and inclusion can seem like a daunting task. They do not know where to start or what it means to “apply a racial equity and inclusion lens” to social change work. Yet, there is a definition of what this means that has been commonly embraced in the field, and indeed is reflected in our own definition of our racial equity and inclusion work. That definition asserts that organizations must incorporate racial equity and inclusion at every stage of the work and at all levels: personal, team, and institutional. Tactically, this can be as simple as:
Pausing to reflect on the racial equity and inclusion implications as we make decisions, and,
Engaging in candid and authentic conversations about race so we can surface blind spots and hold each other accountable to our values and norms.

Our Recommendations:

  • Introduce and hold project teams accountable to using and being able to share how they used a racial equity impact analysis tool for decision-making that asks the following questions:
    • Are all racial/ethnic groups who are affected by this policy/practice/decision at the table?
    • How will the proposed policy/practice/decision affect each group?
    • Does the policy/practice/decision worsen or ignore existing disparities?
    • Based on the above responses, what revisions are needed in the policy/practice/decision under discussion?
  • Design and implement an audit tool that takes stock of all Living Cities work through an REI lens so that staff can practice applying this lens in an applied way.
  • Develop a set of norms and agreements for staff to engage in candid and authentic conversations about race without losing a sense of psychological safety.

Tools and Resources:

6. We need to treat racial equity as a real competency and skill.

From across all of our activities, it is clear that achieving racial equity and inclusion requires a set of informed policies and practices intentionally designed to promote opportunity equitably and to rectify disparities. The implementation of these practices and policies and the ability to identify instances of interpersonal, institutional, and systemic racism requires skills and competencies including but not limited to the following:

  • Comfort and fluency around speaking about what REI means at Living Cities and in the world, including ability to identify, discuss, and confront interpersonal, institutional, and systemic racism.
  • Understanding the role that racial equity plays within your projects and Living Cities’ broader portfolio.
  • Ability to interrogate your own personal biases and worldview, and to modify your own behavior on a daily basis based on that interrogation.
  • Deep understanding of the history of racial inequity in America, including around the idea of race as a social construct and the ways that, throughout our history, systems were designed that isolate and separate us, and that empower a select few—based on the invention of race—with the privilege of innovation, creativity, and power..
  • Comfort with making oneself vulnerable at work internally and externally with partners based on the understanding that racial equity work is personal and that we are all learners.
  • Understanding of how to apply a racial equity and inclusion impact assessment tool in decision-making.
  • Ability to effectively facilitate difficult conversations about race toward achieving impact.
  • Ability to set racial equity outcomes, goals, and performance measures.
  • Engagement in community organizing and community-led efforts.
  • Ability to write with nuance, clarity, and humility about racial justice topics.
  • Ability to critically examine social issues and messages for racial biases and inequities and their impact on oneself and others’ thinking, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Understanding relevant amendments, laws, regulations, and policies (e.g. 14th amendment, Federal Indian Policy, immigration policies, criminal justice and policing policies)

Our Recommendations:

  • Adopt racial equity and inclusion as a core competency for employment.
  • Evaluate candidates for employment in part based on their racial equity and inclusion competency.
    Create a competency framework that includes prioritized competencies and skills (including from the list above and from the resources in this report) so that all staff have clarity around the organizational definition of racial equity and inclusion, and so that they can measure their own progress and work with their people managers towards improving their skills and competencies.
  • Provide multiple opportunities/offerings for Living Cities staff to build racial equity and inclusion skills and competencies. These might include individual coaching and training, all-staff conversations and training, conversations and trainings in conjunction with community, and time for self-reflection. All staff should, at a minimum, attend a 101-level training about the history of racism in America by the end of 2017.
  • Make articulating a racial equity and inclusion objective mandatory for all Living Cities staff.
  • Ensure that organizational leadership is working towards high levels of competency in this area, with some members of the leadership team moving towards a “mastery” level as defined by the competency framework.
  • Set up accountability mechanisms and systems of rewards so that all staff, regardless of race, are held accountable for racial equity and inclusion competence, and so that those who are performing well in this area are rewarded for that work.
  • Assign people to work on projects in roles that reflect their REI competence and skills, acknowledging that some teams require higher levels of competence and skill in this area, just as, for example, people with investment backgrounds are placed on teams with emphasis on investing capital.
  • Create a train-the-trainer model so that initial investment in outside training/facilitation/coaching can be brought in-house over time.

Tools and Resources:

7. We all must be able to effectively communicate about REI.

How we talk about race matters. Historically, racial inequities were intentionally created. We must now be even more intentional as we dismantle racial inequity, using a common shared understanding of institutional and structural racism. Yet, many people find that communicating about race and structural racial inequities is a challenge. From our research, we see that it doesn’t have to be. There are many best practices grounded in decades of research and practice. Indeed, through Living Cities work on Racial Equity Here, we have curated a lot of that research and some examples into a racial equity communications guide for public sector practitioners. Many of the strategies and concepts are adaptable and adoptable for other sectors.

Our Recommendations:

  • Consider the ‘affirm, counter, transform’ framework for internal and external conversations about race. (See the Racial Equity Here communications guide.)
  • Work to be explicit about race in a culture of hiding racial inequities behind other words..
    Leverage data whenever possible in our communications (internal and external) about race, but not at the expense of stories. In the end, it is people’s real lives that we hope will change for the better as we undo systems that created our historical and current inequities — stories tell us about the tangible impacts of these inequities and possible paths toward a more equitable future.
  • Adopt a practice of communicating about race that stresses values (“all men are created equal”), realities (“all men are created equal” as expressed by Jefferson referred only to white male property owners), and aspirations (we strive to make “all men are created equal” not just a value but a truth that we are willing to work hard to live in how we live, work, and engage).
  • Ensure that everyone at Living Cities understands and can define key terms related to racial equity (see glossary in Racial Equity Here communications guide).

Tools and Resources:

[[big-button “Read the Full Racial Equity & Inclusion Report” “https://www.livingcities.org/resources/342-report-what-does-it-take-to-embed-a-racial-equity-inclusion-lens”]]


All artwork from this series comes from CultureStrike’s”Until We Are All Free“ project.

Of New Power Generation, How Much is on the Roof? — 2017 Update

The U.S. experienced relatively sluggish gains in total new power plant capacity in 2017, when compared to 2016, but it also saw another, more positive outcome: a notable surge in distributed solar. Using the latest available national data on power generation, this most recent look at data on annual and quarterly electricity generation nationwide from the Energy Democracy Initiative at ILSR illustrates how small-scale, distributed solar energy stacks up against its big, fossil fuel and utility-scale renewable energy competitors.… Read More

The post Of New Power Generation, How Much is on the Roof? — 2017 Update appeared first on Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In Many State Houses, Big Cable and Electric Companies are Making the Rules (Episode 44)

Experts Stacy Mitchell, Christopher Mitchell, and John Farrell discuss the impact that concentrated economic power has in state legislatures in topics as wide-ranging as high-speed broadband access, electric utilities, and Facebook’s recent Congressional foibles.… Read More

The post In Many State Houses, Big Cable and Electric Companies are Making the Rules (Episode 44) appeared first on Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

What Happens When 1,000 Strangers Talk Race In L.A.?

LOS ANGELES, CA—As the seven diners passed the roast chicken and collards, Veronica Perez cleared her throat. “I have a tough question that’s a little bit hard for me to ask,” she said. “Do we know why it is that homeless people are disproportionately African American in this city?”

It was a tough question. Los Angeles is facing a historic homelessness crisis. And in many contexts, especially in the company of strangers, bringing up race can be uncomfortable. Yet race was the main course inside Perez’s ninth-floor apartment in the downtown Arts District on Tuesday night. It’s what these seven Angelenos, who had never previously met, had gathered to talk about over a catered meal of soul food.

In other dining rooms across the city this week, some 1,000 Angelenos are joining them, talking about how skin color shapes their lives in this city over 100 meals in private homes around town. It’s part of embRACE L.A., a city council initiative to open up civic and civil dialogues about race.

Anthony Foster, a coordinator at Community Coalition, a local nonprofit partnering with the city to facilitate the conversations, jumped in to field Perez’s question. Foster, who is black, cited L.A.’s growing unaffordability, which disproportionately affects people of color. Coupled with the rates of incarceration and low access to mental health care, “the system makes it hard for you to get on your feet, and stay on your feet,” he said.

That led Perez, a public affairs professional, to wonder if the city should look at homelessness as a civil rights issue. “If the demographics looked different, would there have been earlier calls to action?” she wondered.

“I think that’s why this is getting more attention now,” said Ernesto Hidalgo, who works in social-impact real-estate development and grew up in South Central L.A. “Yes, there are more homeless. But also the complexion of the folks we’re seeing now is a little bit different.”

Launched in 2016, the first of the embRACE L.A. dinners was piloted by city council president Herb Wesson at his own home last spring, echoing the work of the chef-artist (and CityLab contributor) Tunde Wey, whose work Blackness in America brought similar dialogue-driven meals to cities around the country. This year marks L.A.’s first round of municipally sponsored dinners. The events are free to residents, who applied via an online process in March. Demand turned out to be more than double the seats available, so guests were selected by lottery. Volunteer hosts offered up dining rooms in affluent and lower-income communities alike, from majority-black neighborhoods in South L.A. to the ranch-like compounds of Topanga Canyon, which is mostly white. “That signaled to us that there’s a real hunger to talk about race in this city,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, the communications director for Wesson’s office.

It was revealing, then, that the first of two hours of the conversation on Tuesday night did not focus on race explicitly, but on the record number of individuals living on L.A. streets. Perhaps that is the beauty of the “100 Dinners” concept: It is not meant to prod participants towards a particular lesson or policy idea. The goal is simply to create space for neighbors to talk frankly about race—and at this dinner, inequality, perhaps because so many participants lived in gentrifying areas downtown, where the issue of homelessness is hardest to ignore.

After all, even in one of the most liberal states in the country, in a city of kaleidoscopic diversity, L.A. is hardly inoculated against extremes of poverty, segregation, and racial conflict. On that last item, one event looms large in the city’s history—the L.A. riots, 26 years ago this month. Introducing himself to the table, Hidalgo spoke about how his memory of that violent uprising, in which the mixed-race neighborhood of Koreatown burned after the acquittal of police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King, still serves as a flashpoint for understanding the complexity of racial dynamics and economic access in L.A. “The problem back then was a lack of investment in the community,” said Hidalgo. “Fast forward to today, that still exists in a lot of L.A., with the added complexity of gentrification, displacement, and the housing crisis.”

That’s why Danny Hom, who works to bring solar energy to low-income communities and identified as Cantonese and Ashkenazi Jewish, said he thought L.A. needs to tackle housing affordability before cracking down on homelessness with police force—especially since people of color are disproportionately affected. “We need more compassion on this issue,” he said, as caterers served up hunks of cobbler for dessert.

But with a fraying social safety net, affordability doesn’t equal stability, said Emily Coldiron, a program manager at a nonprofit that works with children. Coldiron, who’s multiracial, drew on her experience being raised in Wichita, Kansas, by a single mother who faced multiple evictions. “I think the U.S. as a whole has this approach of, ‘Oh, you’re having a problem, this is your fault, you need to deal with this on your own,’” she said. “There’s just not a lot of support. We’re not all having dinners together.”

Coldiron’s point seemed to hit on a possible limitation of these dinners: At least for now, they’re self-selecting. A number of participants at Tuesday’s meal remarked on this, acknowledging that everyone at the table came with a range of generally progressive political views. Each participant also happened to identify as a person of color. That wasn’t on purpose, Rodriguez said, but “merely reflected L.A.’s diversity.” Most had professional backgrounds in nonprofits, mental health, medicine, and law.

In some ways, hosting a table of politically like-minded individuals was productive, Foster said when asked after the dinner ended. People tend to be open up more when they know they won’t be attacked or critiqued. On the other hand, he noted, there may have also been a benefit to having more conservative attendees, people who are less educated on racial issues, or indeed, more white people, at the table. “It would have been interesting to work through these issues with folks who aren’t already aligned with what we’re trying to do,” Foster said.

In the future, he thought that city council could do targeted outreach to bring even more diverse voices to break bread. Rodriguez said that this is a possibility for future series—and that this was just one of 100 dinners.

Still, a number of Tuesday night’s diners said afterward that they felt more empowered to talk about race with other people in their lives. Hom said that he had come to the dinner expecting to find more divisions than shared experiences. But he left feeling like he had more in common with his fellow Angelenos than not. With that knowledge, “tomorrow, I feel like I can start working on making things better,” he said. Participants had come up with many strategies for building a more cohesive, compassionate L.A.: visiting unfamiliar neighborhoods, voting in diverse political representation, speaking up when a fellow human is being harassed, volunteering for social causes, and even watching TV shows that subtly bridge social divides, like “Queer Eye.” (“That show is kind of mind-blowing,” said Tom Chang, a former mental health professional whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand.)

As the night came to a close, caterers washed dishes as Perez packed up leftover cheese and crackers to send home with willing takers, and a few diners lingered to keep chewing over dangling threads of the conversation. No, the dinner did not produce radical solutions to move more people off the streets—nothing akin to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s declaration of a “shelter crisis” the same day. But Foster felt that the conversation might have nudged some hearts and minds by talking about the how people find themselves living in homelessness, and how structural racism may play a role. He expressed hope that these participants will now feel more empowered to spark their own conversations with other people in their lives.

The next night, Foster would guide a conversation among a much larger—and whiter—group near Malibu. But no matter the racial makeup of the participants, he said, “with issues that are so huge and institutionalized, people are going to shift their views on a one-by-one basis,” he said.

The key was to keep faith in dialogue. “Whether they’re like-minded or not,” he said, “just having a conversation begins many more like it.”

U.S. Homebuying Slows Down, But Not for Hispanics

There are more than 51 million Hispanics in the United States and their influence in the American real estate market is becoming increasingly significant. During 2017, the number of Hispanic homeowners reached 7,472,000. This figure is an increase of 167,000 homes owned since 2016. The increase largely has been driven by the purchase of new properties in areas where the Hispanic population has been growing rapidly, like Kansas, Iowa and Utah.

These findings were released earlier this year, in the 2017 State of Hispanic Homeownership Report, a project of the Hispanic Wealth Project in association with the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

The authors note that today, 46.2 percent of Hispanic households own their properties, returning to the levels registered in 2012 but not yet reaching the highs of 2005-2007.

Year   Hispanic Homeownership Rate Number of Hispanic-owned households Annual Change in the number of hispanic-owned households
2017 46.2% 7,472,000 +167,000
2016 46.0% 7,305,000 +213,000
2015 45.6% 7,092,000 +248,000
2014 45.4% 6,845,000 +68,000
2013 46.1% 6,777,000 +96,000
2012 46.1% 6,680,000 +352,000
2011 46.9% 6,328,000 +130,000
2010 47.5% 6,198,000 –56,000
2009 48.4% 6,253,000 –65,000
2008 49.1% 6,319,000 +15,000
2007 49.7% 6,303,000 208,000
2006 49.7% 6,095,000 +243,000
2005 49.5% 5,852,000 +404,000
2004 48.1% 5,448,000 +275,000
2003 46.7% 5,172,000 +261,000
2002 47.0% 4,912,000 +414,000
2001 47.3% 4,497,000 +256,000
2000 46.3% 4,242,000 N/A

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

According to the report, 15 percent of all homes sold in the U.S. during 2017 were bought by Hispanics. The purchasing power of this demographic group is most influential in traditionally Latino states such as Florida, Texas and California, but it is also significant in other states with Hispanic populations that have grown recently like Kansas, Iowa and Utah, as mentioned previously. In states like Wyoming, Oklahoma and Nebraska, Hispanics do not constitute a majority demographic group, but each shows a rise in the percentage of Hispanic homeowners, increasing in 2017 to 56 percent, 50.3 percent and 46.7 percent, respectively.

By 2024, Hispanics are expected to add 6,000,000 new homes owned to the national total, leading the growth of homeowners and stimulating the real estate market in the U.S. The report explains that this increase will be due to the fact that some Hispanics are leaving the states that have historically hosted them, and moving to other jurisdictions like Kansas, Iowa and Utah, lured by a job market in need of a labor force with and without college degrees, and where the housing is more affordable, enabling them to become homeowners.

For the most part, Hispanics who choose to move from California, Florida and Texas are millennials who have a higher educational level than their parents, and were born in the United States or are DACA recipients, says Sonja Díaz, director of the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative at UCLA. She explains that this internal Hispanic migration to other metropolitan areas such as Des Moines (Iowa) or McAllen (Texas), is because there is growing demand for Hispanic labor, as well as greater availability of homes priced under $300,000.

“It’s about where Latinos live, but also where they can afford to enter the mortgage market and own a home, or be on the path to owning one,” Diaz said.

The report also highlights that Latinos are the fastest-growing economic force in the country, reaching a purchasing power of more than $2.13 trillion. This would make Hispanics in the U.S. the seventh largest economy in the world, if they were counted as a single country.

How does the future look?

Although the increase of Hispanic homeowners in the U.S. is auspicious, the report indicates that there are still barriers that make it difficult for new owners to enter the market. During 2017, the report identified three major problems: the shortage of affordable housing nationwide, natural disasters in areas with a high concentration of Hispanic population such as Florida and Texas, and the uncertainty generated by President Trump’s immigration policies.

The shortage of affordable housing isn’t new. The United States has been experiencing a home price crisis for years: Property prices and rentals, along with the cost of living in coastal cities, have increased significantly. However, these price increases are even more noticeable in cities with a high concentration of Hispanics. Las Vegas is an example: the homeownership rate grew by 9 percent in 2017, but only 21 percent of the new homes available cost less than $300,000: In 2016 that figure was 42 percent. In San Diego, the picture did not change: most new homes cost at least $1 million; and in Houston, Tex., there was a significant increase in homeownership rate, but only in those homes priced at $300,000 or more. Similarly, states like Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Utah and California––all of which have growing Hispanic populations––were the states that saw the biggest increase in housing prices during 2017.

State Housing Price Increase 2016-2017 Hispanic population
Washington 12% 12.1%
Nevada 11% 27.8%
Idaho 10.7% 12%
Utah 10.7% 13.5%
California 8.2% 38.6%

Source: CoreLogic

“We are in a crisis, there are simply no affordable houses. Building new homes is so expensive, especially in highly regulated states like California and New York,” said Diaz. “Wages are not leveled with the prices of these houses. Many Hispanics and many Americans simply cannot afford a first home of 600,000 dollars, and that’s what we’re seeing in California, for example.”

In short, cities with large numbers of Hispanics do not have affordable housing that allows them to easily become owners. It is even harder given that Hispanics in the United States earn on average, $47,000 per year, while the income of non-Hispanic whites exceeds $70,000.

In addition, it is expected that the environmental disasters of 2017 will not help improve the real estate market for Hispanics. The California wildfires, together with hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, directly affected the three states that currently have the largest Hispanic populations. Likewise, Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico with an unprecedented storm that, in addition to causing its own population to flee towards the mainland, also changed the supply of affordable housing on the island. Diaz argues that federal agencies do not adequately report the state of housing in Puerto Rico, and, according to her, the scenario does not look promising.

”Puerto Ricans who owned their homes on the island will have challenges and obstacles when rebuilding, and those who have already emigrated to the continent are at a disadvantage given the political and economic consequences of the disaster,” she said. ”I’m not sure if the prices of new homes that will be built in Puerto Rico will be affordable, but what I’m sure of is that housing will continue to be an issue there.”

The future of Hispanic housing will also be affected by the immigration policies coming from the White House. According to the report, this is the most sensitive and influential element affecting Hispanic homeownership growth. A total of 5,100,000 children—of which 79 percent are U.S. citizens––live in households where their parents’ immigration status is mixed. That is, where 1 of 2 parents is currently undocumented or has an irregular immigration status. The risk of deportation “influences their future, socioeconomic mobility and educational patterns,” according to the report.

The report explains that 31 percent of the more than 11,000,000 undocumented persons own their home and that hostile measures taken by the Trump administration could have significant consequences for the real estate industry. These policies would drastically reduce the Hispanic demand for housing, leading to a loss of billions of dollars in taxes, and decreasing a labor force that fuels the real estate market in the United States.

According to the report, this may be the most significant obstacle to Hispanics having greater and better access to housing. The ”volatility surrounding immigration reform is surely impeding the growth of Hispanic owners in the U.S., and is costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars in taxes and revenues,” the report states.

For Diaz, the question that is even more relevant: What happens to the owners who are deported from the country and what are their property rights? ”Given the way we approach our immigration system, one that is broken and dysfunctional, it is inevitable that some people will be affected by arbitrary decisions taken at the federal level,” she said.

However, the report predicts that despite the challenges and obstacles they may have to become owners, Hispanics will continue to lead growth. It affirms the importance of Hispanics to the real estate market and identifies patterns that indicate this will happen not only in the states where Hispanics have traditionally settled, but throughout the country.

This post originally appeared in Spanish on our sister site, CityLab Latino.