Where Hate Groups Are Concentrated in the U.S.

Hate in America is on the rise. There are currently nearly a thousand known hate groups in the United States—an increase of 4 percent just this past year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). At the cusp of this are white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, which have surged the most, according to the most recent data. Furthermore, there is evidence that hateful acts have proliferated since Donald Trump began his presidential campaign.

How can we make sense of this growth in hate across the country, as well as the cultural, political, and economic factors that underpin and influence hate groups?

A new paper published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers takes a deep dive into the geography of organized hate groups around the country. To do so, the paper’s authors—Richard Medina, Emily Nicolosi, Simon Brewer, and Andrew Linke, all of the University of Utah—use data on organized hate groups from the SPLC. In 2014, the year their study focuses on, the SPLC identified 784 organized hate groups. Previous studies, including my own, have tracked the geography of hate groups, but a key contribution of this research is that it tracks them across U.S. counties.

The geography of organized hate in America is at once significantly concentrated and considerably spread out. On the one hand, hate groups are found in slightly more than 10 percent of U.S. counties (340 of 3,142), according to the study. But on the other, hate groups span the entire country, and can be found in every single state. While the heartland—stretching from the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Nebraska to Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas—has among the highest levels of hate groups, the East and West Coasts have a high density of these groups as well, as the map below shows.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018 (Design by Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

The study finds that, not surprisingly, the geography of organized hate is shaped by factors like race and ethnicity, education, poverty, religion, and political conservatism. Organized hate is concentrated in places that are poorer, less educated, less diverse, and whiter, more religious, and more conservative. But the precise extent to which these factors affect hate differs somewhat in different parts of the country. The maps below chart the connection between hate groups and these variables for the 340 counties that are home to hate groups.

Race

Race plays a considerable role in the geography of hate. The map below shows the connection between hate groups and the white share of the population. As you can see, there is a stronger connection between race and hate in some areas of the country than others, with it being more pronounced in the heartland and on the West Coast than along the East Coast.

The association is stronger in areas where there are concentrations of white people, while non-white people are more spatially diffuse. This, the paper notes, can cause immigrants or minorities to be perceived as threats. On the map below, dark red represents areas where the influence of white populations on hate groups is the strongest, while lighter pink indicates weaker associations between the two.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Poverty

Hate also tends to track with poverty. Here, the connection between poverty and hate is most pronounced in the center of the county and on the West Coast. On this map, dark red counties again show places where the correlation between hate groups and those living at or below the federal poverty level is strongest, while pink indicates places where the association is weaker.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Education

Hate groups tend to crop up in areas with lower levels of education. But now we see a slightly different pattern: The connection between lower education and hate groups is strongest in the South, especially parts of Texas, as well as Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. On the map below, the darker blue areas represent places where the lack of college-educated people over 25 years of age has a greater effect on hate groups—though this is a common trend throughout the U.S. Light blue indicates places where this connection is the weakest.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Religion

Although hate tends to be connected to religiosity, the connection between religion and hate groups varies around the country. (The study measures religiosity based on the number of people in religious congregations compared to the number of people living in a county.) A higher number of religious people is associated with more hate groups in parts of the Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast. But there is a negative relationship between religion and hate in the West, from California and Oregon to Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. On the map below, red and pink indicate places where religion is positively associated with hate, while shades from light to darker blue indicate places where the correlation is negative.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Political Conservatism

Hate groups track to politically conservative areas, but the effects of political conservatism are also mixed across regions, in ways that are similar to religion. (The study measures political conservatism as the estimated share of Republican voters.) In the map below, dark red shows places where hate is more closely correlated to political conservatism, while lighter pink indicates places where the correlation is weaker. Gray areas are ones in which political conservatism doesn’t have an effect.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Political conservatism and religion appear to reinforce one another when it comes to organized hate in America, according to the study. But this relationship fluctuates around the country: In the Midwest, Southeast, and parts of the Northeast, religion seems to have a greater impact on hate-group activity where there is a higher degree of political conservatism. In the West and Mountain regions, the two do not interact as much.

***

The study shows that while organized hate groups are concentrated in U.S. counties, no geographic region is immune to hate. Indeed, hate in America has a long, distressing history that cuts across America’s major geographic regions. The Midwest was a hotbed of white supremacy before the Civil War and is home to the Michigan Militia. The South and Southwest have long been centers for the Ku Klux Klan and other white-supremacist groups. The Northwest saw a striking rise in white-supremacist groups in the 1980s. And the Northeast has had its share of organized hate as well: In the ‘30s and ‘40s, a wave of anti-Semitic and racially motivated violence hit what we now think of progressive states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

In fact, the study argues that geography and place play a fundamental role in organized hate in America. Identity is strongly rooted to place, so hate can be understood as a reflex to defend a place from a perceived threat or “other.” Powerful local groups can mobilize around just such a defense when they feel “their” community and “their” values are under threat. In this way, hate is organized differently, and takes on different expressions, depending on the place. This sounds a lot like stories we’re hearing in the news from across America today.

CityLab Daily: A Movement That Spread Across the City

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***

What We’re Following

Walkout 101: It’s been a long time since U.S. students mobilized like they did for Wednesday’s walkout against gun violence, but the scenes were drawing on a powerful history of student-led protest. Fifty years ago, for example, Los Angeles students staged a walkout to demand better treatment of Latino students in their school district. While students across the U.S. were commemorating the Parkland shooting, CityLab’s Teresa Mathew spoke with an activist who was just 17 years old when she helped organize a movement that spread across the city:

“Once the walkouts began, the so-called grownups realized we had taken on issues and actions that they should have been dealing with all along.”

Also: CityLab’s Alastair Boone was out on the scene yesterday to speak with the high school students who came to protest in front of U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Amazon Go Might Kill More Than Just Supermarkets

Supermarkets are community anchors. Amazon’s “just walk out” version embodies a disconcerting social transformation.

Laura Bliss

Why L.A. Just Appointed a Design Czar

Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has become the city’s first chief design officer, tasked with making sure the development juggernaut doesn’t get ahead of urban-design principles.  

Benjamin Schneider

On Safari in Youngstown, Ohio

Three years ago, a city councilman wanted to see how far he could drive off the beaten path. That adventure now helps local leaders and advocates survey the remains of the city’s heyday, and find potential for the future.

Scott Sowers

The Perfect Selfishness of Mapping Apps

Apps like Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps may make traffic conditions worse in some areas, new research suggests.

Alexis C. Madrigal

Why America’s Teachers Haven’t Been Getting Raises

It’s not just educators in West Virginia and Oklahoma who have watched their wages and benefits erode since the Great Recession.

Annie Lowrey


Game Time

Cities make great settings for video games, from SimCity to Grand Theft Auto. And now Google wants to play. The search giant is integrating its Google Maps API with the video game engine Unity to bring games into the real world. It will turn the 100 million 3D buildings, roads, landmarks, and parks into game objects that developers can toy around with by adding texture, style, and customization. Now Pokemon Go won’t have a monopoly on games that stroll city blocks. (h/t Fast Company)


What We’re Reading

Philadelphia’s new top prosecutor is rolling out unprecedented reforms (Slate)

An avocado toast dream home Instagram for millennials (Curbed)

Tehran’s mayor watched a dance recital. Now he’s no longer mayor (New York Times)

The National Forests of the future need to be in cities (Fast Company)

TIGER grants are Trump’s program now; most go to highways (Streetsblog)

The case against jaywalking laws (New Republic)


Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com.

Walkout: In 1968, East L.A. Students Led a Movement

Yesterday was not the first time that high schoolers walked out the door of a classroom, calling for a revolution.

The school walkouts across the country yesterday were, in part, a 17-minute protest in memory of those who died during the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They also serve as a clear demand. Students, both in Parkland and nationally, are speaking out—on Twitter, in town hall meetings, at rallies—for stricter gun control laws.

They did much of their mobilizing online. And a good deal of attention has been paid to the way social media has allowed the teenagers to organize. But activism didn’t begin with the internet, and the current movement echoes a series of school walkouts in East Los Angeles 50 years ago. Then, as now, high school students were angry and frustrated about the way their lives were being harmed within the walls of an institution that was supposed to support and protect them.  

On March 6, 1968, students at four high schools marched out the doors to protest the school district’s treatment of students of Mexican-American heritage, pushing back against norms that included corporal punishments for speaking Spanish. The high schools—all of which had populations of more than 75 percent Latino students—were overcrowded and in a state of disrepair. Furthermore, the punitive measures, lack of college prep courses, and sometimes outright racism from teachers and administrators painted a damning rationale for why the dropout rate in the district was approximately 60 percent for Mexican-Americans. And with no Mexican-Americans on the district’s Board of Supervisors, the families of L.A.’s East side felt they had no advocates.

Knowing that their public schools would lose money for each student not attending class, the organizers decided to plan a walkout. The original plan—to threaten the walkout after presenting a list of demands to the school board—was conceived in 1967 but never came to fruition. A year later, when the principal at Wilson High School cancelled its school play with no warning, frustrated students walked out of the campus. The organizers of the walkout movement realized their protest had new life. On March 6, 1968, a new round of walkouts began in earnest, and by the end of that week the protest had spread across the city: more than 15,000 students in Los Angeles had marched out of their classrooms.

The students had clear proposals for reform, including an end to corporal punishment, the inclusion of Mexican-American history in the curriculum, and the removal of administrators and teachers who showed prejudice towards Mexican or Mexican-American students. They also had more immediate practical demands, such as the addition of covered dining halls: At one school, students had only an outdoor dining area and were forced to eat in the rain during poor weather. Eventually, the walkouts led to the school district hiring more Hispanic teachers, the end of paddle beatings for speaking Spanish, and the introduction of bilingual classes and ethnic studies. The walkouts also changed the students, and their belief in what they could do: The Los Angeles Times reports that the year after the walkouts, the number of Mexican-American students enrolling at UCLA rose 1800 percent.

Paula Crisostomo was a 17-year-old high school student at the time, and one of the walkout’s organizers. CityLab spoke with her on the day of the Parkland walkouts.

What was your role in the walkout movement?

I was one of the organizers and leaders. We planned and organized for at least a year—remember, this was before social media and computers and all that. We had to build a movement by raising consciousness and awareness with not only our peers, but the community: educating everyone about the conditions of our schools and racist treatment. That entailed lots of meetings [and] free community newspapers we wrote for. We were also guided and mentored by one teacher, Sal Castro, and a cadre of Chicano college students who knew more about this stuff that we did.

What motivated you to plan and take part in the movement?

I had the privilege of having Sal Castro as a teacher, and he was an out-of-the-box sort of guy, especially for those times. One time, Mr. Castro took us for a 15-20 minute ride down the freeway to another school. I was amazed at the condition of that school: It was new, it had green space, it had this beautiful lobby in the administration building, the libraries were full of books, and the restrooms were open. All of ours were closed, because we weren’t allowed to use them before school, during lunch, or after school. We had to get a special hall pass: We had to respect them. They were bathrooms, they weren’t church!

When Mr. Castro said [this school] is part of the school district you’re in, I had to wonder “What the hell?” seeing the inequality of the whole situation. We were, of course, in a lower-income working class community; the school he took us to was higher-income and predominately white.  

Was it difficult to convince the larger community to get behind the movement?

We didn’t get much support till after the actual walkout, and it was very difficult to convince other students, because their parents were opposed to it. At that time, we were an obedient and conservative community. But some of the principals called in the LAPD for what they called crowd control. The police started using their batons and beating students. So when the parents and community saw that—and again, it was a peaceful protest, we were not violent but we were met with violence—when the parents heard about or saw that, they knew that it was more serious than they had imagined.

And a lot of them felt guilty, because the walkout was not our first step: It was our absolute last. We had a list of demands and had started by going through the protocol to get our grievances heard and met. And that included meeting with parents, and community people, and members of our school board, but no one listened to us. They never thought we were going to do anything about it. So once the walkouts began, the so-called grownups realized we had taken on issues and actions that they should have been dealing with all along.

Do you wish you’d had social media to help with the organization process?

It sure would have been a lot easier, of course. However, actually talking to people face-to-face—seeing their expressions or being able to argue with or convince them, actually hearing their misgivings and answering questions—I think was really important to sustaining the building of the movement. There were about 15 other [schools] across the city that walked out also in our support, and that was part of the meetings and face-to-face educating and raising awareness.

What did this mean for you as a 17-year old? Did you feel like you had any real power?

Not at the time. Because we weren’t getting any support, and because things moved so slowly—especially when you’re 17 you want things to happen overnight—I  didn’t feel really empowered, that took a little while: Maybe when I started receiving accolades about my so-called bravery, and when I started to see some specific school site changes. We had a long list of demands, and some of them required a vote by our board of education, or state legislature, but a few of them were things the principals could decide to do if they wanted. When I saw the principals were making those changes the following semester, I started to feel like “Hey, we may have done something here.” And when the statistics came out of how many students from our community had applied to colleges and were going to go to college, that was really encouraging.

How did your family react to your involvement in the walkouts? Did most of the other students have familial support?

My mother was very supportive, and my father was not. I know that caused a huge friction in their relationship, and it did affect the relationship I had with my father. He was mostly concerned about my safety, and he thought I would not be able to graduate because of it. That was one of the threats, early on, but that became one of our first demands: that any student who participated would not be punished.

Where do you think the strength of student activism comes from?

[Students] have no real ties to anything or anyone yet. They certainly have fresher ideas, and more time to devote to these causes. I think our strength came from each other, and from knowing that we weren’t asking for anything crazy. We were asking for a better education: for teachers to treat us like we had human intellectual potential. I felt like I didn’t have any other choice.

I had a geometry teacher—we were supposed to be working quietly at our desks, and I got up to ask him a question. He, very loudly, because he wanted the rest of the class to hear it, said, “Oh Paula, why are you wasting your time? You’re not going to go to college, you and your girlfriends are going to be pregnant by the end of the summer. Go back to your seat.” It’s horrible to hear that today, but we had heard that throughout our entire school career: teachers who called us lazy Mexicans and stupid wetbacks and thought nothing of it. When you hear this over and over again, you internalize it, it became normal. But we started feeling like “wait a minute, this isn’t right.”

How do you see the legacy of that movement reflected in the current walkouts and activism of high school students?

I’m very proud that they’ve chosen the strategy of walkouts, because we certainly proved that it helped us. So I’m really, really awed by these students. By standing up when the adults did not, just as we did. But I have to question why the Black Lives Matter organization, who also was also building a movement, and also was concerned about their lives and their safety, was so vilified. We received the same sort of racist treatment by everyone else. While what they’re doing is awesome, by standing up when grownups would not, I just, again, have to wonder why when people of color, when our movements stand up, we’re vilified for it.

Why do you think administrators ultimately gave in to some of the proposals?

It was a long process, because some of them did need some laws changed. We were politically unsophisticated—we were high school kids, what did we know?

But over the course of several years things changed, and parts of the larger demands that we made have been implemented because of the walkouts, for sure. A lot of our parents and community members [pressured the administration] to meet our demands.

Do you think the reason the administration gave in instead of forcing more punitive measures against students was because they knew the movement was not going to back down?

Yes.

On Safari in Youngstown, Ohio

As he steered his Jeep off the road, Youngstown City Councilman Mike Ray checked to make sure his machete was still in the back seat. Pausing for a moment, he plucked the loose Parodi cigar off the dashboard, stuck it between his teeth, and punched the accelerator. I grabbed for the handrail in front of me as we bounced through ruts, with trees and bushes scraping the fenders.

The path ahead was gradually being overtaken by weeds and tree branches—hence, the machete. It follows what’s left of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, which used to haul coal and steel between Youngstown and Pittsburgh, before the mills closed in the late 1970s. The city has since bought the land, ripped up the tracks, knocked down bridges, and turned most of it into an industrial park. This five-mile stretch, though, was left to nature—and now, the safaris.

Ray’s adventures on this path began in the spring of 2015 as something of a lark. He was participating in a neighborhood cleanup day with a city planner and two employees of the local economic development council. The sun was shining and the doors were off the Jeep as they ventured beyond the cleanup site. The original goal was to see how far into the wilderness he could drive while still staying within city limits.

Sara Wenger, a community planner with the Eastgate Council of Governments, was along for the ride that day. “It’s a great tool for storytelling,” says Wenger, whose group works with the city to identify infrastructure projects and revitalization strategies. “The safaris help planners experience the city differently. You see different angles and how geographic places interact. It helps with idea generation, not only with what could be, but how one experiences what a city is.”

Youngstown was built for a different economy, one fed by trains and trucks rolling through town. Many of the major roadways were overbuilt to handle the heavy loads. Now, they’re out of scale as the population has shrunk from a high of 165,000 in 1950, to its current level of 65,000.  

The city recognizes changing times. It recently finished a $5 million renovation of Wick Avenue, a main thoroughfare that runs by Youngstown State University, the Butler Institute of American Art, and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. The stretch was repaved, relit, and reconfigured to include bike lanes.   

Word of mouth about Ray’s off-road adventures spurred dozens more safaris, with passengers including city leaders, real estate developers, and members of the media. His jaunts attracted more city planners curious to see what was hidden from maps or the confines of a normal car. In city council meetings, Ray had proposed that members travel to the best and worst areas of each ward to get to know every corner in town. The safaris played off that theme, showcasing the city’s ruins as well as its natural beauty. “Everybody had a blast, but it was also kind of educational,” Ray says. “There were a lot of questions about what used to be there.”

The dotted blue line shows the path of the Urban Safari. (Regional Economic Development Institute)

Youngstown’s past and present is tied to water access. The safari paths have been cut along both banks of the Mahoning River, which functioned as a cooling source and slop sink for mills in the city’s manufacturing days. Active and defunct rail lines that used to serve the steel industry still run alongside the river, and planners visualize activating the riverfront while working around the trains.   

In fact, this railroad infrastructure sparked one of the first ideas to arise from the safaris: a plan to turn the old railroad line into an elevated park modeled after New York City’s High Line. In 2017, the city won a $100,000 NEA grant for public art projects that included lighting an arched railway bridge over a main thoroughfare—a taste of what could be. Design charrettes have explored the possibilities, but so far the “Y-Line” remains a dream.

A bit farther down the abandoned rail line, Ray’s Jeep bounces past a cab driver cleaning his car on a patch of gravel. A concealed path nearby leads to a small boat dock built by the Boy Scouts and used by “Friends of the Mahoning River,” a grassroots coalition of kayakers who tout the “72 species of fish” now living in the newer, cleaner, version of the river. The dock sits in a rustic setting, except for the power lines stretching across the glistening water.  

The group has plotted maps of put-ins and portages, and it’s advocating for the removal of four dams to improve river navigation and fish migration. “We’ve put forward legislation to remove the dams, but there’s concern about releasing sediment from when all the industrial stuff was being dumped in it,” Ray says.

In 2016, the group notched a victory by winning a $2.4 million EPA grant to remove a dam and deal with the sediment in nearby Lowellville. The demolition and construction of a boat livery is expected to start this year. According to Ray, as safari-going city officials have become more familiar with the area, they’re imagining new uses for the waterfront, including possible locations for festivals.

A dock and rail bridge along the Mahoning River. (Scott Sowers)

Downtown

Backtracking a bit, we returned to paved city streets. We navigated downtown, passing by Art Deco buildings and the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, a museum designed by architect Michael Graves. Heading back toward the water, the Jeep stopped on a wide section of bare earth.

The river and the railroad tracks define the far border of the site; the center of town is two blocks away. The land will eventually hold the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater, a 4,500-person entertainment venue that will rest in a park-like setting behind the Covelli Centre, a 5,900-person multi-purpose arena that opened in 2005.

The amphitheater’s financial backer, the Youngstown Foundation, was started in 1918 by a group of the steel barons whose names now adorn streets, museums, and other public buildings in town. The new amphitheater was built on a reclaimed brownfield site once occupied by a steel foundry.

“We needed additional recreation for the city residents as we continue to make it more residential,” Ray says. The downtown core is showing signs of life. The boundaries of Youngstown State University stretch toward apartments, condos, and a new hotel, all of which have been carved out of abandoned office buildings.

Inside the former Republic Rubber building. (Scott Sowers)

East side

Cutting across town, the Jeep entered the Republic Rubber site—a favorite of urban explorers and “scrappers” looking for copper in what’s left of the millworks. The site offers plenty of hardcore decay porn on land that’s still too hot to plow. “It’s a huge environmental issue that needs remediation,” Ray says, “and funding has been cut, so that site remains a challenge.”  

Still, the site was put to use recently. A California-based film production company, Mad Media, used it to shoot a video about high-performance all-terrain vehicles exploring the Rust Belt by zooming around abandoned buildings and crashing through windows. Ray keeps the link to the video on his phone.

“The ATV video opened our eyes to the possibility of bringing film productions into the area,” he says. In 2015, Ray was sent on a mission to Santa Monica to chat up producers. That trip eventually led to a feature film shoot—the upcoming thriller “Them That Follow”—with the city providing the location and financial support. “They used our float loan program for $1.2 million in financing and the local spend within city limits was probably around $200,000,” Ray says.

West side

On the west side of town, the Jeep followed the river and was quickly dwarfed by the million-square-foot French-owned Vallourec plant, built in 2010 at a cost of $650 million. The firm specializes in seamless tubing that’s used in the fracking industry and employs about 400 people.

Any kind of business moving into the Mahoning Valley—especially a steel manufacturer or fabricator—sparks hope for the good old days. The plant looks like a postcard of a clean, modern, industrial park with the river and the tracks defining the western boundary.

According to Wenger, jobs that are currently available in the area don’t always help the city’s blue-collar residents. “Although there are over 15,000 jobs available at this moment in the metro area, if you do not have a bachelor’s degree, only 1 in 5 openings provides a wage that merits going off of public assistance for a family of four,” she says. She also cites that openings for bachelor’s degree holders are weaker than nearby markets like Cleveland, Akron, and Pittsburgh—other Midwestern cities looking to attract talent and residents.

Youngstown has been bleeding population for years and wrestling with smart downsizing. “We did a solid job of acquiring the land, rehabilitating it, and returning it to new productive use,” Ray says. “Unfortunately instead of employing thousands, these new places employ hundreds.”

The workhorse of the Urban Safari. (Scott Sowers)

Going street legal

Grassroots economic development groups have been eyeing Ray’s safaris with ideas about monetizing them. The notion of providing Jeeps sponsored by local businesses has been floated, but obstacles remain.

“There are plans currently in the works to adapt the Urban Safari concept as an education tool, but funding and organizational capacity to implement a program of this scale are a big challenge,” says Nicholas Chretien, a member of the Economic Action Group. “Particularly those associated with insurance and operations management.”  

Wenger believes nostalgia may be holding back general progress. “The biggest challenge is that the past is so present, and even those like myself, who didn’t live during the heyday, are reminded all the time of what was, rather than what could be,” she says. “We’ve dealt with so much loss and suffering that we fear taking risks.”

Risk is always along for the ride inside the Jeep. Ray likens his town to a comic book metaphor. “We are our own little Gotham,” he says. “We have the art, we have the industry, the local millionaires, the benefactors, the university. We have all those things from our past that’s very special. My fondest wish is that people don’t have to leave for opportunity.”

‘They Can Either Go With It, or They Can Get Out’

Taylor Broadby, 16, is no stranger to lockdowns. In the small town in New Mexico where she used to live, she told me these drills were routine, in part because because students frequently brought guns to school. “Those were the most terrifying moments of my life, and I don’t want that to happen to me or anyone else I know ever again,” she said.

Now she’s a junior at Blyth Templeton Academy, a private prep school in Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill, and she’s galvanized by how close she is to those in a position to do something about gun regulations. “I think this is amazing,” said Broadby. “I feel like I have a lot more power here than I would have had if I was still back in New Mexico.”

Calder Brown (L) and Taylor Broadby (R) at a rally for gun reform in front of the Capitol (Alastair Boone/CityLab)

On Wednesday morning, high-school students gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to mark the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The attack left 17 dead and kindled a national conversation about U.S. gun policy that shows no sign of ebbing.

This Capitol contingent was but a small subset of the masses of students across the country who participated in the national school walkout. Some 3,000 walkouts marked the day; elementary, middle, and high-school assembled in football fields and cafeterias, marched down city streets, and rallied on the steps of city halls, demanding legislative change.

On Wednesday, Snap Map featured student walkouts across the nation (Snapchat)  

Like walkouts across the nation, the rally in Washington began at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. After gathering outside the White House and observing a 17-minute moment of silence, students marched to the U.S. Capitol, where a host of Democratic lawmakers, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, awaited. “Thank you for bringing your urgency to the doorstep of America, the doorstep of the United States,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Throughout their speeches, the students cheered loudly, holding up signs that read “We’re Afraid To Go To School” and “Make America Safe Again.” Some proclaimed simply “Enough.”

As the Atlantic’s Isabel Fattal wrote yesterday, the power of this youth movement, as in earlier acts of student-led activism, goes beyond the sheer numbers involved in the protests: These students, and their peers around the country, have so far succeeded in sustaining some of the outrage that occurs in the immediate aftermath of a shooting—and they’ve also focused it specifically on the legislators who have failed to act in the past.

Students gathered outside the White House, observing 17 minutes of silence (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

“This protest is about Congress, because they took money from the NRA way before Trump was in office,” said Annabel Dobbyn, 17, a junior at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. Her classmate, Devin Lucas, held up a sign that listed members of Congress by name, followed by the dollar amount they have received in donations from the gun rights advocacy organization. “You can’t ignore the political aspect of this because everything about this is inherently political. It’s legislation that can save our lives and it’s legislation that needs to change.”

Matthew Little, a 17-year-old who attends Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, voiced a similar sentiment. “Our proximity to the nation’s capital does make everyone feel the necessity to get out here,” he said. “But there are other factors, too. This is something that we really care about; this is something that we’re concerned about. And we want to see change happen.”

Matthew Little (Alastair Boone/CityLab)

Ever since Columbine in 1999, mass shootings have established a maddeningly familiar political routine: Democratic lawmakers act indignant and demand, as Senator Chris Murphy did after the Las Vegas massacre, that Congress “get off its ass and do something,” while Republicans brandish the Second Amendment and speculate that violent video games are the real culprit. But the students of Parkland and their allies nationwide have short-circuited that ritual, to some extent: Poised, resolute, and media-savvy, they have begun to reframe the American gun debate on their own uncompromising terms.

(Jim Bourg/Reuters)

It’s clear that many of them understand this, too. In the upcoming midterm elections, a full third of Senate seats and every member of the House will be contested. Most of the students won’t be voting, but they were intent on making their voices heard.

“It’s important that we all come together,” said Little. “That process is what’s really going to make change. That’s the main reason why we’re out here. To make sure that change happens.”

Devin Lucas of St. Andrew’s Episcopal agrees. “Look at all these people here right now,” she said. “Politicians need to understand is that we’re all coming of age. We all are going to be able to vote soon. So if they don’t pull themselves together and start putting their constituents before their greed, we’re going to vote them out of office. We are the rising generation, we’re going to make change. And they can either go with it, or they can get out.”

How Smart City Policy Can Support Electric Vehicles

If cities wish to obtain the environmental, public health and quality of life benefits of electric vehicles – and meet the needs of their residents – they will need to plan for the dramatic expansion of electric vehicle charg­ing infrastructure, including in residential neighbor­hoods where off-street parking is limited.
A transition that reduces demand for parking from private vehicles – while creating new charging opportunities for both privately owned and shared electric vehicles – can deliver a powerful “win-win” for cities and help propel America toward a clean, efficient, zero-carbon transportation system.

Getting San Diego Ready for 100% Renewable Energy — Episode 52 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

More than 50 U.S. Cities have made commitments to reach 100% renewable electricity, but how do communities build the political will to adopt such goals, and how do they plan to meet them? John Farrell interviews Nicole Capretz of the Climate Action Campaign to learn how San Diego’s community choice program will move them toward 100% renewable electricity.
Read More

The post Getting San Diego Ready for 100% Renewable Energy — Episode 52 of Local Energy Rules Podcast appeared first on Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

MapLab: When Women Map the World

Welcome to the ninth edition of MapLab. Sign up to receive this newsletter in your inbox here.


Orient yourself: Hard, but not impossible

A map only reveals as much as the mapmaker knows about the world, or at least, cares to show. When most mapmakers are men, there’s bound to be gaps.

For example, on Open Street Map, the free and open-source Google Maps competitor edited by volunteers around the world, “childcare centers, health clinics, abortion clinics, and specialty clinics that deal with women’s health are vastly underrepresented,” reports Sarah Holder at CityLab. It’s estimated that just 2 to 5 percent of OSMers are women. The vast majority are older, retired men.

That gender imbalance provokes serious debate among mapmakers—one of the more contentious battles in OSM history was in 2011, when editors rejected an appeal to tag “childcare” at all. (It’s since been added.) But more importantly, a map that fails to represent the needs of more than half the population is not a very a useful map. The stakes are highest in places where there is no Google, Apple, or any other company working as a back-up. Sometimes, a volunteer-made map is the only cartographic resource citizens and humanitarian organizations in developing countries have to go on.

A childcare center in Scottsdale, Arizona. (OSM)

That’s why a team of OpenStreetMap users—with lots of women involved—is intentionally creating maps that reflect space more inclusively. On International Women’s Day, Holder reported on a “feminist map-a-thon” in Washington, D.C., hosted by Missing Maps, a humanitarian mapping organization. There, volunteers worked to build a map for an NGO in Tanzania that shelters girls facing the threat of genital mutilation. Their digital lines and labels (such as: “women’s toilet”) could become real-world escape routes.

Inclusive geography is about more than mapping bridges and tunnels that everybody uses. “It’s shaped by asking things like: Where on the map do you feel safe?” Holder writes. “How would you walk from A to B in the city without having to look over your shoulder? It’s hard to map these intangibles—but not impossible.”


Compass points: Puerto Rico’s exodus

Hurricane Maria, the storm that devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, left hundreds of thousands of residents without power for months, and continues to crush the island’s economy. No wonder young Puerto Ricans are leaving faster than ever. A report by the City University of New York’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies estimates that roughly 470,000 Puerto Ricans will leave the island between 2017 and 2019. Most of them are headed to the U.S., with 135,592 already settled on the continent.

(Center for Puerto Rican Studies CUNY | UNIVISION)

As it is, six states—Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey—account for 80 percent of the Puerto Rican population in the continental U.S., CityLab Latino’s Martín Echenique reports. It’s likely that most new arrivals are headed there, too.

However, Puerto Ricans aren’t just headed towards the urban centers that have traditionally been magnets for migration. “Post-Maria, the data from the state of New York shows that the enrollment rate of Puerto Rican students has been higher in upstate cities than in New York City itself,” writes Echenique.

That’s consistent with other data on domestic migration. If it weren’t for immigrants moving there from other countries, New York’s population (and that of other U.S. cities) would probably be declining.


Mappy links

Student walk-outs on the east coast of the U.S. (Snap Map)

Snap Map has legitimate social value: Student walk-outs demanding gun control unfolded live on the app-based map around the country. ♦ Kind of nowhere: frightening maps of where adequate affordable housing is available in the U.S. ♦ Spawn of Pokémon Go: Google is opening up a software platform for location-based mobile games developers. ♦ Speaking of Google Maps, sounds like Japan’s version rules: ”It’s like Street View, but from your dog’s perspective!” ♦ Thank you, Stephen Hawking: Here is a map of things written and said by the greatest physicist of our time, who died on Wednesday. ♦ One step closer to a theory of everything: Cambridge University’s COSMOS supercomputing center has been plotting a 3-D map of the known universe, a project Hawking launched in 2016.


MapLab isn’t afraid of black holes either. But don’t let it approach one. Share with your loved ones and sign up here.

Laura

Why L.A. Just Appointed a Design Czar

On Monday, the architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Hawthorne, posted his final column for the newspaper. Rather than a wistful goodbye to readers, Hawthorne offered a tantalizing preview of his new job: He will be the city’s first chief design officer, starting next month.

During his 14-year tenure at the Times, Hawthorne not only evaluated new buildings but commented on the transformations of the cityscape that have accompanied L.A.’s 21st-century reinvention. Now, rather than critiquing those changes, he will have a hand in carrying them out.

Christopher Hawthorne accepts an award for the television program “Third L.A. With Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne” at the 2017 L.A. Area Emmy Awards. (Danny Moloshok/Invision for The Television Academy/AP)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tapped Hawthorne precisely because of the scale and pace of development occurring in the city—from the rapidly expanding metro system, to countless Olympics-adjacent infrastructure improvements, to the thousands of residential units and shelter beds needed to address a housing and homelessness crisis.

“All these projects will change the landscape of the city, and when we have one chance to do it, you need to do it right,” said Billy Chun, the deputy mayor for economic development, in whose office Hawthorne will work. “Christopher has been the inner architectural voice of the city … so we felt like we needed to bring him in.”

While Hawthorne is not yet sure what his day-to-day responsibilities will be, he told CityLab he expects to be wrestling with similar projects, issues, and ideas as when he was at the Times. “I think people who know me or have followed my work seem to be understanding it as a pretty natural progression,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the intersection of architecture and politics; architecture and the civic realm.”

Hawthorne wants to use his perch to make the city’s buildings and public spaces more beautiful, inclusive, and efficient. (In addition to having direct input on public works, he will continue to use his platform to advocate for good design on private projects, he said, and regional projects outside of city limits, like new metro stations.) He will also have the opportunity to think through some of the larger challenges that face booming cities like Los Angeles.

For instance: How can a city ensure that new investments in historically marginalized neighborhoods actually serve the existing residents, and don’t cause mass displacement? “We can no longer be, as cities, thinking in a kind of paternalistic way about about providing benefits to different parts of the city regardless of what the needs of those neighborhoods are,” Hawthorne said.

Another part of his portfolio might be navigating the involvement of tech companies in the systems and physical infrastructure of the city. Every private-sector experiment, he said, should be executed with a “broader public in mind.”

L.A. City Hall is not hurting for urban planners, with a planning-department staff in the hundreds. So why hire an architecture critic?

“He’s used to looking at a space or a proposed space and explaining that space to the public: This is what it means, this is why it’s important,” said Lee Bey, a former architecture critic for the Chicago Sun-Times who was Mayor Richard M. Daley’s deputy chief of staff for planning and design from 2001 to 2004. “And I think that’s invaluable in a government mechanism.”

However, as Bey can attest, proposing design changes and actually executing them are two very different things. “When you’re inside, and you see the bewildering amount of things that you have to juggle, you do get a new appreciation,” he said. “A critic can look at a building and say, ‘This thing is awful; why doesn’t the architect do better?’ But then you realize the architect is often the man or woman who has the least impact on a design.”

Bey’s career change might be the most direct antecedent to Hawthorne’s, but it’s not the only one.

In the late 1960s, New York City Mayor John Lindsay convened an “Urban Design Group,” which helped promote mixed-use development and car diets long before anyone was using those terms. In a 1975 article on the group, Paul Goldberger described the nascent field of urban design as a combination of “architecture, planning and public administration.” This interdisciplinary approach tracked with a new, wide-ranging style of architecture criticism, pioneered during the same era by New York Times columnist Ada Louise Huxtable, one of Hawthorne’s idols.

The Urban Design Group gradually dissolved, and subsequent mayors in New York City and around the country turned away from many of its principles. But at the turn of the millennium, as the back-to-the-city movement roared into being, urban design came back into vogue—and back into city halls, to a limited extent.

Chicago brought in Lee Bey to work on preservation and major public-works projects, like the renovation of Soldier Field. Amanda Burden was a powerful advocate for fine-grained neighborhood design when she oversaw New York’s rezoning under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Janette Sadik-Khan became an urbanist hero for her human-centered street-design improvements as that city’s transportation commissioner. Several years ago, San Diego briefly had a civic innovation lab co-led by architect Teddy Cruz, a venture inspired by how Bogotá and Medellín used urban design to bring about dramatic social and economic change.

Meanwhile, design’s cachet was rising outside of government. “Design thinking” has recently become a ubiquitous, buzzy phrase, and Chief Design Officers have become common in the corporate world at companies like PepsiCo and Phillips Electronics. Perhaps reflecting the private-sector trend, Helsinki created what was likely the first big-city Chief Design Officer position in 2016, appointing Anne Stenros, who holds a Ph.D. in architectural theory.

In an era of increased public awareness about urbanism, it makes sense that the people driving the discourse should be in a position to change things for the better. Making that happen, however, is incumbent on mayors and other officials. Inviting critics to become part of the city-building process is the first step; listening to them and giving them real authority has to come next.

“This was an attractive position for me, in large part, because the conversations I’ve had with the mayor suggested that he is really, genuinely interested in and knowledgeable about these issues,” said Hawthorne. “That is probably the most encouraging thing of all, in terms of why I’ve decided to make that leap.”

Amazon Go Might Kill More Than Just Supermarkets

I love supermarkets. Wandering the canyons of bright labels, hearing the languages of aisle numbers and PLU codes, peeking voyeuristically into other people’s carts: to me, these are sensual pleasures that shopping for other things rarely provides. I love the way good grocery stores—whether it’s a neighborhood Food Basket, a sprawling Publix, or a vintage Ralph’s—blend familiar products with new stuff to chance upon.

I especially love visiting supermarkets in new cities, because they’re a glimpse into the communities that use them. Young couples in gym attire, moms juggling strollers, aging bachelors who never bring bags: The need to eat and feed families tends to draw a more diverse crowd than other consumer impulses. Like jury pool waiting rooms and motor vehicle administrations, supermarkets (though not all of them) can be among the few places in American society where different kinds of people mix.

But I hate lines, so the concept of Amazon Go, the checkout-free store in Seattle where you “just walk out” with your groceries, fascinates me on many levels. Last Thursday, I walked into the company’s lone pilot store, which first opened to the public in January. To enter, I scanned my phone at the sensor-laden turnstiles where an orange-shirted greeter (or was he a guard?) stood with a smile. I peeled a paper bag off a stack and started to wander, giddy with early-adopter energy. (Yeah, maybe I don’t get out enough.)

Amazon Go sells only prepackaged, often pre-prepared items seemingly targeted to the youthful and upscale tastes of the Amazon employees that colonize this corner of downtown. And I guess my tastes, too. Here there be tiny cups of smoked tofu, multiple types of almond butter (chunky was sold out when I visited), flat-iron steak salads, special edition chocolate bars from Theo, a popular local producer. I bought one of those, plus a kombucha and a goat cheese salad. Local IPAs and other craft brews dominated the sizeable beer and wine section, where the second of two human employees I saw checked IDs. As on Amazon-dot-com, prices are as low as you’ll find anywhere else; that steak salad was about $8.

The place smelled of convergence: Part of a wall was devoted to snacks from Whole Foods, the splashy recent acquisition of the e-commerce goliath. I watched a woman in a dark coat study the selection before picking off a box of 365-branded cookies and dropping them into her reusable Amazon sack. Other shoppers seemed to be a mix of tourists and puffy-coated tech professionals.

Welcome to Seattle; here is your puffy coat. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

But this wasn’t like wandering through a new supermarket in an unfamiliar neighborhood. For one thing, wandering was hard to do. Supermarkets have their CCTVs, but this store is watching you more intensely than a high-security prison. Wall-to-wall cameras and sensors track shoppers, their phones, and each item we pick up and put down via special glyphs printed on the product packaging. And, at 1,800 square feet, it’s more of a convenience store than a grocer, with only a few “aisles” in the traditional sense. It takes only a couple turns to figure out where everything is. (The layout needs to be pretty orderly for the cameras, I’d imagine). A certain sense of discovery was missing in the shopping process.

Of course, like its dot-com parent, Amazon Go isn’t supposed to be about the traditional pleasures of shopping, and certainly not about the pleasures of what’s being sold. If either were the case, the store would look a lot nicer than it does, and they would have figured out how to sell fresh produce. (Let me tell you, no one is buying these sad bags of pre-sliced apples.) Instead, the format is designed instead for speed, convenience, and cost efficiency, with a technology that does all three. Eliminating the teams of workers that currently make in-person commerce possible could cut labor costs substantially. Amazon insists that the “just walk out” technology wouldn’t have to eliminate the nation’s 3.5 million cashiers if applied at scale. But with one greeter and one ID checker per store, it’s hard to see how most people working low-skill retail jobs would fit the descriptions for the some of the new types of work Amazon Go would entail, such as software development.

A greeter stands by the row of turnstyles at Amazon Go. (Laura Bliss/CityLab)

Like few other types of retail, grocery stores are neighborhood anchors. It’s one of the reasons that food “deserts”—that problematic term for communities with few fresh eating options—are so vexing to study. Supermarkets are associated with healthier communities, but that’s not simply because they offer access to produce. It may also relate to the social capital they provide. “Especially in urban neighborhoods that have higher-than-average crime or poverty rates, a grocery store can serve as a community center—one that stays open late, generates foot traffic for the surrounding area, and features familiar faces,” writes Civil Eats. People seem to feel better about their neighborhoods when there’s a supermarket there, and worse when suddenly there’s not. Charles Platkin, the executive director of the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, recently told the New York Times, “When a supermarket in your area closes, it feels like you’re moving backward.”

Having culled the ranks of bookstores, electronics emporiums, and clothing retailers, Amazon is now coming for the grocery store. Whereas once the food sector seemed safe from the company’s appetite for disruption, consumers are getting more comfortable with perishable deliveries. Now, more Americans with the disposable income to pay for delivery are shopping Amazon in lieu of their usual aisles. The acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017 was about the best-shod entry point into the brick-and-mortar world of groceries Amazon could have made, as well as a potential expansion of its array of delivery nodes. “Amazon will never take the whole grocery market, but they’ll take the top 10 percent of the most profitable customers, and few retailers can afford to lose the top 10 percent,” Rich Tarrant, CEO of MyWebGrocer, told Bloomberg in 2016.

Large grocery chains that can are competing for those precious customers with their own online shopping and on-demand options. Walmart just announced that it, too, is ramping up food delivery in more than 100 U.S. metros. Some supermarkets are building up their in-store customer experiences—more cheese-tasting tutorials and coffee bars—to keep their doors gliding open. But other locations, in less profitable, lower-income communities, are simply closing.

It’s much too soon to say where Amazon Go, as a product, fits into that landscape. Even if consumers embrace the line-free life, the expense and complexity of the technology behind it could easily prevent it from transforming retail anew. “We don’t have any idea if the mysterious system behind Amazon Go can be distributed at competitive cost and at scale, like an iPhone, or if it is an expensive, one-off display of ingenuity, like the many gewgaws corporate America once paraded at the World’s Fair,” Henry Grabar wrote at Slate in January.

But to me, Amazon Go represents something more chilling than a direct threat to storefronts. It feels like a physical embodiment of the larger social transformations its online parent has helped create. A segment of upscale-good shoppers—people like me, spenders on kombucha and goat cheese—will get to shop hassle-free, whether it’s online, at a Whole Foods, or one of its newly decked-out competitors. That’s great for us. But that leaves a lot of other people out of the equation, because they can’t afford online delivery, or because they live in neighborhoods where groceries can no longer justify the cost of operating. (At least one online petition has been launched to encourage Amazon Go to accept SNAP benefits, the federal food assistance program.) That could fray cohesion in those communities and, maybe, push apart the social mix that grocery stores can do so well. And never mind all those retail workers, who more or less disappear from the privileged shopper’s view.  

As demographically targeted as its products must be, Amazon Go isn’t really about any local experience. It’s one more expression of the wide-reaching impulses of a multinational corporation that wants to sell me everything it possibly can. The appeal is undeniable. Those of us who can shop there—because we have credit cards, smartphones, and a taste for probiotic-infused beverages—will, for all the reasons I keep shopping on Amazon-dot-com: It’s easier and cheaper. And, at least for now, the new technology is a thrill.

Yes, a thrill. Walking out through the Amazon Go turnstiles—with no human cashiers or attendants, no lines to judge or wait in—gave me the same tingly, vertiginous feeling I recall from the first time I “just got out” of an Uber. It was the sense that I’d mastered some previously onerous urban chore. As I sat down with my salad in an eating area equipped with wifi and USB connections, I refreshed the Amazon Go app to see if my receipt had loaded. Within a few minutes my three items popped up—another little jolt of excitement.

As I took screenshots, a young man in a slim puffer jacket sat down next to me and began to silently pray over his bahn mi and seltzer. When he finished, we chatted. His name was Keith. He was a data scientist for Amazon. He’d moved to Seattle from Kansas City. I asked Keith how he got to work every day (I was in Seattle to report on its transit system), and he told me drove his car from Bellevue, the suburb he’d moved to after years of living in the city. But he actually missed taking the bus, he said, for the feeling of human connection—the chance to bump against people he never gets to otherwise.

It occurred to me later, after my giddiness wore off, that perhaps there’s a similar threat in this one-trick automat. Obviously, Amazon Go can engineer possibilities for human connection into its otherwise frictionless space; sharing a moment with Keith proved that. The question is who’s invited in, and who’s getting walked out.