The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

According to a growing pile of headlines, hordes of Californians are fed up with their expensive coastal dystopia-state and are fleeing for cheaper, less-flammable places like Idaho, driving up housing costs, ruining the local culture, and spurring a new building boom.

But U.S. Census Bureau data tells a more complex story: Though California outmigration leaped 38 percent in 2018, that was only 1.8 percent of the huge state’s population. The state still ranks in the bottom three for proportional departure rates. And Americans overall are moving at the slowest rate since 1947.

The factors limiting big moves are demographic (more older Americans are aging in place) and, more powerfully, economic (with unemployment low and remote work increasingly common, fewer people are finding jobs good enough to move for). Some worry that our reluctance to pull up stakes is deepening regional economic inequality.

But plenty of stuck Americans do wish they could move. And Apartment List, a rental property search engine, has opened a window into the nation’s mobility dreams, as people browse for new apartments in far-flung cities or neighboring towns. This week, the company released a new analysis of where it sees renters hoping to move, based on their search habits over the second half of 2019. Better (or comparable) jobs and more affordable living seemed to be prime motivators for making a switch.

While there’s no way to determine how many of these searchers actually followed through on the transitions they pursued through the platform, Chris Salviati, Apartment List’s housing economist and the author of the report, says that the site’s long registration process helps weed out those who aren’t as serious about finding a new apartment. Users’ origin city was pulled from their IP addresses; if they searched for properties multiple different areas, Salviati says he used the first place they started searching for. This is the second such report the company has released, and the first that takes two quarters into account—that could cut down on some of the seasonality reflected back in June.

Based on the results, California’s mass exodus appears to be overstated, says Salviati. While about 22 percent of Bay Area renters are peeking at Seattle, Denver, New York, and Austin, mostly, people based in San Francisco want to move somewhere nearby in California, like San Jose or Sacramento, which offer similar employment opportunities and lifestyles. (San Joseans want to move right back to San Francisco, for what it’s worth.)

Other Californians, too, feel Western ties. In Riverside, California, where 50 percent of outbound searches are for places out of the city, 40 percent of them are to nearby Los Angeles. Nearly 20 percent of Angeleno apartment hunters are interested in moving to Phoenix, Arizona; 12 percent are looking at Las Vegas, and another 12 percent are scoping out Riverside. “Phoenix is also a car-centric city, but lacks L.A.’s traffic issues,” the report notes. Nashville, Apartment List’s “most changed” metro of the decade, keeps 71.6 percent of its renters searching within the city, but of the remainder,  Los Angeles tops their wish list.

People in Boston seem to be similarly wedded to the New England area—two-thirds of Boston searches focus on the Boston; most of the remaining third are considering three slightly more affordable cities nearby; Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut; and Manchester, New Hampshire.

It’s a similar story in Washington, D.C.: Of the 38 percent of users who are interested in moving outside the increasingly unaffordable D.C. metro—where median incomes for families of four are $40,000 less than the salaries the Economic Policy Institute estimates will allow you to live comfortably—about 15 percent are hunting in nearby Baltimore, Maryland, which is in commuter range. Another 15 percent are looking at Philadelphia.

“What you’re seeing is really people who are moving from D.C. to find more affordable housing and probably, in the vast majority of those cases, maintaining their jobs in D.C.,” said Salviati.

There are a few cities that appear to be luring long-distance migrations. Among the top 25 largest cities, Denver, with its snowcapped mountains and tech jobs, tops the list of cities drawing far-flung inquiries: Almost half of the people looking at Denver apartments were from outside the metro area. (Between this report and the last, Denver overtook Tampa as number one.) D.C. people are the most interested in heading to Denver, a phenomenon for which techlash could be blamed, Salviati posited: “Over the past year or two, the tech industry has been subject to a lot more scrutiny generally. It might be the case that early-stage tech companies are trying to get a little bit of a jump on that by being more interested in hiring folks that have policy background.”

Ringing in second for most out-of-metro interest is Baltimore, thanks to its D.C. neighbors; third is San Diego, thanks to Riverside, L.A., and San Francisco.

On the other end of the spectrum stands Detroit: Despite the Motor City comeback hype, the Michigan city ranks dead last for share of people looking to move there from outside the metro, and it has the third-highest share looking to leave. Tourism-heavy Orlando, Florida, ties Riverside for first in renters trying to escape. But they, too, aren’t looking to make major cross-country moves, instead drawn to other economies in the Southeast; meanwhile, they’re still drawing 34 percent of their search traffic from out of the city.

As CityLab’s Laura Bliss noted in her coverage of the previous Apartment List report, this portrait of American wanderlust doesn’t necessarily line up with actual urban growth patterns, and the data reflects only the users of a single apartment-hunting website—a group that’s younger, more affluent, and more female than the overall population. Still, the report seems to confirm one overarching narrative about the state of American mobility: Most of those who yearn to move are not looking to get very far.

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CityLab Daily: Where Cuts to Food Aid Will Hurt the Most

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***

What We’re Following

Snap off: On Wednesday, the Trump administration took the first step in a series of three major changes that could see millions booted from food benefits. A new rule announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would revise work requirements for receiving SNAP benefits, kicking an estimated 688,000 people out of the program. The rule curbs the flexibility of states to provide extra assistance in areas with high unemployment, particularly in response to a recession or other changing economic conditions.

If the change had been in place last year, the total number of households participating in SNAP would have fallen 5 percent in nine states. CityLab’s Kriston Capps has the details on where this change would affect the most people: Thanks to New SNAP Rules, Millions May Lose Food Aid

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

The Case for Portland-to-Vancouver High-Speed Rail

At the Cascadia Rail Summit outside Seattle, a fledgling scheme to bring high-speed rail from Portland to Vancouver found an enthusiastic reception.

Gregory Scruggs

Why New Development in Baltimore’s Chinatown Is Controversial

As developers turn to Baltimore’s historical Chinatown, Ethiopian residents worry about displacement while others worry about cultural commodification.

Amir Khafagy

America’s White-Collar Workers Can’t Escape the Office

Thanks to the internet, every hour is a potential working hour.

Derek Thompson

20 Years Ago, Seattle Redefined the Modern Protest

The 1999 WTO protests shut down Seattle and brought new attention to the effects of global trade. The event looms large in the activist imagination today.

Gregory Scruggs


Worlds Apart

Tehran on the left, Pittsburgh on the right. (The Other Apartment)

You’re not seeing double. Those are two different apartments in the photo above. Two artists have put the idea of visiting someone else’s home to a new test with an installation called The Other Apartment. Over four months this year, Sohrab Kashani and Jon Rubin recreated Kashani’s Tehran apartment more than 6,300 miles away inside Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory Art Museum.

Bridging the geographic, cultural, and political divides between Iran and the United States is tough enough, but Kashani and Rubin face another hurdle: collaborating across the Trump administration’s 2017 travel ban. They made the duplicate apartment by coordinating entirely through photos, sketches, spreadsheets, and video chats. On CityLab: In ‘The Other Apartment,’ One Home Spans a Deep Divide


What We’re Reading

Attorney General William Barr said “communities” that protest cops could lose “the police protection they need” (Washington Post)

Installing free Wi-Fi to help count rural communities of color in 2020 Census (NPR)

The sordid history of housing discrimination in America (Vox)

Parking lots, once asphalt wasteland, become golden opportunities (New York Times)

Kamala Harris’s criminal justice record killed her presidential run (The Appeal)


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CityLab Daily: Where Flooding Is Sinking Real Estate Values the Most

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter

A house built to withstand a storm surge and hurricane-force winds. (Nexus Media)

Bay St. Louis comes out near the top of the list. But even there, not all properties are losing value equally. Ironically, properties right on the water seem to be in the highest demand. After a post-Hurricane Katrina building boom, some waterfront homes were built more than 20 feet in the air and fortified to withstand hurricane-force winds. One real estate agent says questions about climate change and sea level rise hardly come up with homebuyers in these flood-prone areas—but at least they come with a view of the water. Josh Landis of Nexus Media has the story on CityLab: Where Flooding Is Sinking Real Estate Values the Most

Andrew Small


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How to Grow the Wealth of Poor Neighborhoods From the Bottom Up

A new report spells out how to move from the top-down, grant-based model for community development to a more localized, entrepreneurial approach.

Richard Florida

Why London Has Stripped Uber’s License

The ride-hailing company could be banned from its largest European market after passenger security concerns trigger a new crackdown by Transport for London.

Feargus O’Sullivan

Yellow Scorpions Are Invading Brazilian Cities

Hotter conditions and urbanization trends have made cities like São Paolo prime habitat for the deadly stinging creatures.

Peter Yeung

Oslo Wants to Build the World’s First Zero-Emissions Port

The Port of Oslo is electrifying ferries and taking other steps to slash emissions: “It’s what is necessary if we are going to reach the Paris Agreement.”

Tracey Lindeman



What We’re Reading

What Amazon costs its warehouse communities (New York Times)

One city’s plan to combat climate change: Bulldoze homes and rebuild paradise (Washington Post)

Want to get people to fly less? Stop funding airport expansions (Curbed)

Is it time to take highways out of cities? (Forbes)

3 kids. 2 paychecks. No home. (California Sunday)


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Where Flooding Is Most Affecting Property Values

Ankle-deep in the overflow of the river that drew her here two decades ago, Calinda Crowe looked across her land, envisioning the future. She didn’t like what she saw.

“You wake up to this,” she said, gesturing toward the water submerging everything but the concrete foundation of her raised home. “It upsets you, you know, because it’s supposed to be ‘dream home’ type stuff. Not with this.” A turtle floated to the surface near the bulkhead dividing her yard from the bayou.

Crowe bought her home near Mississippi’s Pearl River 17 years ago because of its proximity to the wilderness and its stunning views. With no buildings bordering her to the north, the wetlands and the river feel like extensions of her property.

But she says if she knew then what she knows now, she wouldn’t have bought it. She understood the risks of hurricanes and storm-driven flooding, but she didn’t anticipate the persistent inundation of water that even a stray breeze off the Gulf of Mexico can bring.

Unfortunately, her home has gotten harder to sell. Crowe lives in a region of southwestern Mississippi that includes Bay St. Louis, which has experienced one of the most dramatic losses of flood-impacted real estate value in the United States, according to an analysis by Nexus Media in collaboration with CityLab. The city, population 13,000, lost out on more than $122 million in real estate appreciation due to the impacts of flooding. While that’s a smaller total than coastal areas like Jacksonville, Florida; or Charleston, South Carolina; the losses in Bay St. Louis likely hurt more in relative financial terms, because the median home value in Bay St. Louis is just $136,700.

News coverage of coastal real estate damage has tended to focus on high-dollar losses, often near big cities. To explore the nuances of property values and coastal flooding, Nexus Media News created a tool that identifies where people have felt the effect of flooding most acutely based on research by First Street Foundation. The tool shows the ratio of flood-related losses to median home value in each of the areas studied. It describes that places have taken the biggest hit relative to the value of their homes.

Navigate home value losses by highlighting on a city on the left, or selecting a state on the right and hovering around on the map.

Some of the highest relative losses are in smaller communities with less-famous coastal zip codes. One reason for this dynamic is that areas with smaller housing inventories may find it harder to attract developers to invest in new construction when flooding effects make it hard to predict future values. Another reason is that flooding insurance costs for more modest homeowners represent a great share of their annual housing budget, which would make them more likely to buy homes outside the flood-prone areas.

In all, research by First Street Foundation found that between 2005 and 2017, flooding erased nearly $16 billion of real estate appreciation in coastal areas from Maine to Texas. Put another way, were it not for flooding, coastal properties would be worth $16 billion more. (Researchers did not calculate losses in Louisiana due to the complexity of the coastal plain and the high degree of coastal engineering in the state.)

But a closer investigation of Bay St. Louis shows that not all properties are losing value equally.

Ironically, in a place under constant threat from the water, it is the properties right on the water in that seem to be in the highest demand—obscuring the larger reality about struggling properties in the area.

Waterfront homes in Bay St. Louis. (Nexus Media)

Jason Chiniche, an engineer who helps homeowners navigate the complexities of building in an extreme flood zone, said he wouldn’t have predicted the demand, given the flood risks.

“You would think it would be a detraction, but this area is the fastest-growing area in Hancock County,” he said. “Probably along the whole Coast [of Mississippi].” He said new homes overlooking the water can go for $400,000 or more—several times the average in this area.

Amy Wood, a realtor who’s been selling homes in coastal Mississippi for decades, said she has been pleasantly surprised by the sustained demand. She said buyers are even plunking down deposits as hurricanes form in the Atlantic.

“Years ago, you would never sell a house during hurricane season, and now it seems like people don’t care,” she said.

It’s not that people don’t care, but rather they have enough confidence in the strict building codes and government-backed insurance policies that the risks posed by mother nature seem manageable. Buyers are willing to put up with persistent flooding if they can purchase a home with a view of the water.

When asked if climate change or sea level rise ever comes up in her conversations with homebuyers, Wood said, “No, not really. Not in my world. It hasn’t come up with any of my clients.” Climate change is making hurricanes more intense, increasing the odds of more high-velocity storms in years to come.

After Katrina laid waste to much of the Gulf Coast, Bay St. Louis’s future was at first uncertain. But then came an explosion of construction projects backed by taxpayer-supported insurance policies. The guarantee of insurance has given banks, mortgage companies, and homeowners reason to build in a region that is exquisitely vulnerable to flooding. The building boom has coincided with a revitalization of the downtown area of Bay St. Louis, which now bills itself as a more laid-back version of New Orleans. A line of lively bars and restaurants overlook a waterfront promenade built upon a massive, post-Katrina storm surge barrier. Each year the city hosts its own Mardi Gras parade and advertising campaigns feature music invoking the soundtrack of the Crescent City.

Strict building codes require many homes in southwest Mississippi to be built more than 20 feet in the air. (Nexus Media)

“I think now we’ve been long enough that people are now moving back closer to the water,” she said, adding that the mayor likes to say that water got the city into a mess during Hurricane Katrina, but that water will rescue the city now, as people are drawn to the beach.

This corner of Hancock County has been spared another major hurricane to date, but persistent flooding is still a problem. Janyne Crapeau, owner of the Turtle Landing Bar and Grill, said her property is frequently inundated. The constant flooding means lost revenue.

“A lot of times when the parking lot is [flooded] people that were planning on coming here just keep on going. We’re on a scenic highway. They don’t want to pull into a muddy parking lot,” she said.

A neighborhood in Bay St. Louis, immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and in 2019. (Google Earth)

She has put the business up for sale. Crapeau says the bar has a loyal customer base that a new owner could inherit, but she warns potential buyers that frequent flooding comes with the territory. She doesn’t think she will be able to sell to someone in the area..

“A lot of people are just selling out and getting out,” she said. “They don’t want to have to put up with [the flooding] anymore.”

Tim Blackwell is among those who opted to leave. He said his former insurance company declined to pay for repairs needed after the last flood they endured. The company then discontinued their policy. That’s when Blackwell and his wife decided to move.

“I contacted a real estate agent, and he said, ‘Nobody’s going to buy this,’” Blackwell said. He said that since the tax bill for the year was more than the property was worth, he and his wife had little choice but to walk away.

A house built to withstand a storm surge and hurricane-force winds. (Nexus Media)

“Out of pocket, we probably lost half a million dollars, with what we paid for the house and the property and the improvements and all the things we did,” he said. “We got nothing.” He said the whole affair was heartbreaking.

“We really liked it. We were going to be here until we died,” he said. “I had plans to be buried nearby.”

Blackwell isn’t the only one feeling the pain. Jeremy Porter, a data consultant for First Street Foundation, said that while frequent flooding costs homeowners, they’re not the only ones who pay a price.

“Everybody experiences [flooding] one way or the other, whether it’s disrupted commutes, closed roads, closed schools, whatever it might be, it ends up impacting the entire community.”

Calinda Crowe said that, for now, she will live with regular flooding because, despite the nightmares, there are days when hers is still a dream home.

“I love it. Love it,” she said, looking at the receding waters. “Wish it was different. What do you do?”

This work is supported by a grant from the International Center for Journalists funded by Microsoft News.

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Where Tech Companies Spent Millions in Municipal Elections—and Lost

How much political power does $1.5 million buy?

That’s how much Amazon donated to a Seattle Political Action Committee that aims to swing the city council towards a more pro-business agenda. The company, which is headquartered downtown, has influenced the council successfully before, donating $25,000 to a campaign to kill a per-employee head tax that would have gone towards funding homelessness initiatives in the city.

This time, according to early voting results, Amazon didn’t win.

To be fair, it didn’t quite lose, either. Out of the seven city council candidates Amazon supported, four appear poised to win their elections. (One of the four, Jim Pugel, is only leading by a tiny margin.) That’s not quite enough to secure a majority on Seattle’s nine-member council, but enough to move the needle.

Another of the pro-business candidates, Egan Orion, struck a key blow, likely defeating Kshama Sawant, a pro-labor city council member in the Socialist Alternative Party who’s long been a thorn in the side of Amazon and other large corporations. She branded the head tax the “Amazon tax,” and called this week’s election a fight over the “soul of Seattle.” (Supporters note that Sawant came back from a more than seven-point deficit during her last election, and that her fate won’t be assured until all the votes are tallied at the end of this week.)

Framing the stakes of the election, Sawant told the New York Times recently: “The question is: Is Seattle going to become a playground for only the very wealthy, or is it going to be a city that serves the needs of ordinary people?”

Amazon wasn’t the only business that spent big on city campaigns. From San Francisco to Jersey City, tech companies poured money into nudging the outcome of ballot questions on whether to regulate, tax, or expand their power, in some cases contributing to new spending records at the city level. And despite million-dollar campaigns launched by companies like Juul and Airbnb, Amazon wasn’t the only one to see voters defy them.

In San Francisco, a measure that would have overturned the city’s e-cigarette sales ban lost by an overwhelming margin, meaning the moratorium will hold. Initially, venture-backed vape pen company Juul spent $11 million on a campaign to overturn the ban, but it pulled its support before the vote amid public health concerns.

In Jersey City, a bill to regulate the 3,000 Airbnb rentals that locals complain are flooding the city with unruly tourism passed, despite a $4.2 million campaign by the short-term rental platform to defeat it. Airbnb blamed the hotel lobby, which spent only $1 million.

And also in San Francisco, Uber and Lyft took a different strategy: They both supported a small tax of 3.25 percent on most Uber and Lyft rides, introduced as an alternative to a more punitive tax that could have been levied without voter approval. The ride-hailing companies contributed comparatively modest amounts—according to campaign finance records, Lyft donated $400,000 and Uber $300,000—and the initiative was leading slightly as of publication.

Tech-money-fueled campaigns aren’t new in San Francisco. Last year, a tax on businesses to support affordable housing and homelessness not unlike Seattle’s was on the ballot, inspiring entities like Lyft, Stripe, Square, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey to donate hundreds of thousands each to the effort to defeat it. But in that case, Salesforce and its CEO Mark Benioff also dropped almost $5 billion to pass it. Though the measure was approved by voters, it won by less than a two-thirds margin, and is currently tied up in court.

Amazon’s spending in Seattle was part of a particularly notable phenomenon: The council race was the most expensive in the city’s history, even as it tested the strength of a new initiative intended to curb big money in politics.

Under a “democracy voucher” program that came into effect this year, all registered voters in the city were sent four $25 vouchers to spend on any candidates they wanted to support—but only those who agreed to spend less than $150,000 on their general election campaigns. When business interests in the city banded together with the Chamber of Commerce to start a PAC called Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), and the cash started pouring in, candidates who had initially opted into the program asked to opt out, worried they wouldn’t be able to compete without hustling for more money.

By Election Day, the New York Times reported that “11 of the 12 general election candidates who participated in the voucher program had been released from the limits.” CASE pulled in more than $4 million, with a quarter coming from Amazon, and the rest from other companies with Seattle-area offices, like Google, Expedia, Starbucks and Microsoft.

M. Lorena González, one of two council members who represents the entire city and wasn’t up for reelection this year, is sponsoring a bill that would tighten campaign finance restrictions even more, limiting the amount corporations can donate to PACs, and effectively abolishing super PACs like the Chamber of Commerce’s CASE.

“We operate in an environment where corporations like Amazon can make unlimited contributions, because there are no regulations,” she told CityLab. “As a result you saw them put a fistful of cash on the scales of democracy to tip the city council in their favor.”

Even presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren condemned Amazon’s spending. “In a city struggling with homelessness, Amazon is dropping an outrageous amount of money to defeat progressive candidates fighting for working people,” Sanders tweeted.

CASE argues that the candidates it endorsed will not only be good for business, but for the city: Its website says they all “demonstrate a strong commitment to improving the quality of life and economic opportunities for all Seattleites,” particularly when it comes to easing traffic congestion and improving transit, instituting systemic reforms around homelessness, and supporting local business growth. Polls conducted by the Chamber and local newspapers showed that residents were disappointed with the current council, and ready for change.

González noted that what aligns several of the CASE-endorsed candidates is also an emphasis on maintaining Seattle’s “regressive tax system,” “using punitive criminal justice system tools to address homelessness,” and “not tackling criminal justice reform as a whole.” (CASE didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

With Amazon achieving less than a majority hold on the council, the takeaway some Seattle progressives left with Wednesday was that it could have been worse. “Imagine the Chamber and Amazon honchos this morning looking at City Council strategy for next year,” Seattle’s former Democratic mayor, Mike McGinn, tweeted. “Those business honchos are not sitting there clapping each other on the back saying ‘We killed it last night!’ They’re saying ‘crap—how the hell do we get to five votes on anything—we have completely lost control of the council.’” He added that during his term as mayor from 2010 to 2013, the Chamber of Commerce held seven of the nine seats, giving it a stronger pro-business bent.

But Amazon’s intervention shows that its interest in—and impact on—politics is only growing in the wake of the struggle over the head tax. On city council candidates, Amazon only spent $130,000 in 2015, according to campaign finance records, meaning their spending increased by more than 650 percent this year. (According to WUSA9, Amazon also spent almost $300,000 on Republican and Democratic house and senate races in Virginia, the state where it’s planning another large campus.)

And its spending is not always in opposition to funding public initiatives. This year, the company contributed $400,000 at the state level to join progressives in opposing a cut to car registration fees that would slash transit funding precipitously (Microsoft spent $650,000). Despite their opposition, it looks like the measure is going to pass.

This spring, the power of big spending will likely be tested again. California’s bill reclassifying gig workers as employees—which could pose an existential threat to sharing-economy companies like Uber and Lyft—could be challenged in a ballot measure funded by the two ride-hailing companies and Postmates, a fooddelivery app. Together, they’ve already contributed $90 million to the effort. That’s 60 Seattle city councils worth.

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The Fight Against Gun Violence Depends on Where You Live

The year before last was awful for Topeka. In 2017, the small city in northeast Kansas saw a record number of homicides. Nearly all of those 29 deaths were the result of lethal shootings, and in every one of the incidents involving guns, the victim was a person of color.

Topeka Mayor Michelle de la Isla points to gang violence as the spur behind those deaths, but that isn’t the only kind of gun problem that has wracked Topeka. She recalled a text alert she received from her daughter about an active shooting at her school.

“When you talk to children, to youth, absolutely—with college students, they’re concerned,” de la Isla says, referring to attitudes in Topeka around guns. “I don’t think that the adults are quite as keyed in as our young people are to this issue,” she said during a panel at the CityLab DC conference.

With Congress punting year after year on passing any significant gun legislation, it falls squarely on governors, mayors, and county executives to do something about guns. But the gun problem isn’t a monolith. Local leaders are facing not one crisis but many, and what that crisis looks like can vary considerably by place.

De la Isla was joined by two other mayors, San Jose’s Sam Liccardo and Louisville’s Greg Fischer, who are just as pressed as de la Isla to deal with the rising toll of gun violence in their own communities. But while San Jose is pursuing innovative legislation to ban straw purchases and even require gun owners to carry liability insurance, Louisville can’t do much more than wave the bloody shirt. During the CityLab panel, Fischer held up a bleeding-control kit from the University of Louisville Hospital that he frequently carries with him.

“People are like, ‘This mayor’s crazy,’” Fischer says, scary hospital kit in hand. “It is practical, but I want you to be outraged, to the point we demand outrage from these elected officials [in Kentucky and in Congress]. What’s radical is that nothing is being done when we lose 100 of our citizens [nationwide] every day.”

In Kentucky, a state with a Republican senate, house, and governor, there’s no chance for Fischer to pass the kind of legislation in Louisville that Liccardo is pursuing in San Jose. Fischer says state law preempts local government from passing most forms of gun regulations, and in that position, the best thing a mayor can do is fight for education and take a moral position.

De la Isla, who faces similar political currents in Kansas, registered a pessimistic note about how effective local governments can be on guns. “At the national level, we have a very powerful arm lobbying for nothing to happen,” she says. “Until we’re able to remove that barrier, I don’t think anything’s going to happen.”

California has a favorable political climate for passing aggressive legislation to control guns, and Liccardo is determined to press this advantage. In August, the mayor proposed an act to require every San Jose gun owner to carry liability insurance. Insurance would bring market pressure to bear on the crisis by adjusting premiums to account for risk. Instead of the public subsidizing the costs of gun carnage—costs that take the form of hospitals and police but also the psychic toll on schoolchildren and victims’ families—gun owners would be forced to pay out for these harms.

A California strategy isn’t feasible in many places beyond big California metros. Indeed, a proposal for firearm liability insurance recently failed in Maine, among other gun-control bills; and New Jersey’s governor banned insurance for gun owners with an executive order. Despite some setbacks in relatively liberal states, Liccardo sounded an optimistic note about the role that even local leaders in red states can play.

“As cities, we can be a force multiplier,” Liccardo said. “What we’re able to do individually, Congress can’t much do in cities across the country. If we’re collectively engaging them, they can’t fight us all.”

To that end, Everytown for Gun Safety, the national nonprofit organization, is rolling out a new tool this week to help cities figure out how they can deal with gun violence as it manifests where they are. The City Gun Violence Reduction Insight Portal, or CityGRIP, is a research clearinghouse that yields different options for a range of communities. Users can select characteristics from a series of dropdown menus such as population, demographics, and types of gun violence. Ticking off different boxes yields a custom set of best practices, case studies, and recommendations.

Michael-Sean Spence, director of policy and implementation for Everytown, says that the organization talked with mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs, and other leaders from more than 60 municipalities. CityGRIP comprises data-backed strategies from a range of urban, suburban, and rural jurisdictions. The tool is an effort to help communities grapple with a nationwide crisis that doesn’t look the same from one place to another.  

“You can define your community and the type of violence you’re concerned with, and generate a blueprint of solutions,” Spence explains.

“One thing we know about gun violence within cities is that it’s concentrated within pockets of those cities,” Spence adds. “Those cities have clustered violence. In suburbia, what we find is that the gun violence is more spread out. It isn’t as concentrated. The nature of the gun violence is different.

“In cities, we see it as primarily as community violence as well as police-involved shootings. In suburbia and rural areas, it’s more suicides and domestic violence.”

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CityLab Daily: The Cities Where Emissions Are Dropping

What We’re Following

Going global: This morning at the C40 Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, a group of 94 mayors around the world announced support for a Global Green New Deal. Together, those cities represent 700 million people (about 1 in 12 people worldwide) and one quarter of the global economy, according to the C40 website. The press conference at the World Mayors’ Summit also announced that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will be the new chair of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, replacing Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has led the group for the past two years.

Both mayors have more good news to bring home: Their cities are among the more than 30 member cities in which emissions have “peaked,” per C40’s analysis ,and are now declining, along with cities like New York City, London, and Tokyo. CityLab’s Linda Poon has details on which cities have reached this milestone, and how much each city reduced its emissions. Read her story on what that means for tackling the global climate crisis: The Cities Where Emissions Are Dropping

Andrew Small


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An Activist Architecture Stirs in Chicago

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I’m L.A.’s Map Librarian. But I Didn’t Love Maps.

And then I found Joseph Jacinto Mora, California’s king of pictorial mapmaking.

Glen Creason

Barred From Removing Their Confederate Monuments, Cities Try Adding Context

When state laws block the removal of statues, some cities are adding plaques and launching educational initiatives to put Civil War memorials in a new light

Emma Coleman


What We’re Reading

PG&E, the largest utility in California, could cut power to about 800,000 customers (San Francisco Chronicle)

What’s driving California’s emissions? You guessed it: Cars (Grist)

Uber will let pets ride in some cities—for a fee (The Verge)

The dream of New York’s forgotten elevated subway (Jalopnik)

What desert cities can teach us about water (JSTOR Daily)


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