New Work with Census Data in GIS

NHGIS, one of the digital efforts of the Minnesota Population Center, is totally wonderful. Since I learned about it as a graduate student, it has been an essential source when I need demographic data from the U.S. Census and to help me think geospatially.

As a 20th century historian, and an urban historian in particular, I have run up against its limitations several times, which are really the limitations of the U.S. Census. The Census Bureau created the Census Tract framework and began implementing it in New York City with the 1900 census (augmenting and really replacing the Enumeration District). In 1910 it expanded to several other, slightly smaller cities and kept expanding to new cities every ten years. During the course of my masters thesis research on Ann Arbor, I was frustrated by the lack of Census Tract data before 1960 — the same goes for Berkeley in my book project.

In the course of my research on Austin, Texas, in the 1930s and 1940s, I realized that new digital methods and Census privacy law would allow me to break out of those limitations. Austin was tracted by the Census in 1940, but not in 1930. I realized that, because the 1930 manuscript Census — the individual-level records — are publicly available, I could plug them into 1940 Census Tracts and push the boundaries of the Census back in time. Here is how:

Google Fusion Tables

Just checking out the capability of a Google data tool using a dataset I have. It’s pretty nifty, but it seems to have a few bugs. The project at the University of North Dakota was completed in 1936, for example, not 1932. This is correct in my original table, but not in the Google table. The location in Jamaica is actually an institution in Arkansas. So this will take some tweaking, but it has some real potential.

More Urbanism, Not Less

As Murph and I are fond of touting, people want more urbanism than is currently available. This is why big, dense places like Portland, OR, or small, upscale places like Seaside, FL are frequently more expensive than their less dense counterparts. For example, research by U-M professor Jonathan Levine compared demand and satisfaction for housing types in Boston and Atlanta with somewhat surprising results. In the two cities, demand for dense housing types like row houses was roughly comparable, while Bostonians were far more likely to be able to satisfy their housing preferences for density. Atlanta’s development patterns had made density impossible for almost everyone who wanted it. (Citation).

Imagine my pleasant surprise that the first weekend of service for a new rail system in Charlotte, NC, exceeded the official capacity of the system.

CATS expects the state’s first light-rail line will handle 9,100 passenger trips on an average weekday in its first year. Saturday, it handled 34,000 trips in the first four hours — well above capacity — and 60,000 by evening, CATS estimated.

Trains rolled into stations with people standing nose to shoulder, often allowing only inches for new passengers to board. Riders waited as long as two hours at the I-485/South Boulevard station for free rides. And the Charlotte Area Transit System began driving rail passengers back to their cars on buses because the lines for return train trips were so long.

Despite the crowds, passengers gave the Lynx Blue Line rave reviews.

Anna Katz of Cotswold said she was thrilled to ride light rail. When her southbound train began picking up speed as it left uptown, she smiled as though she were riding a roller coaster.

“It’s about time,” said Katz, who plans to use the train to get to Panthers games. “We have needed something like this for a long time.”

As northeasterners and midwesterners move to Sunbelt cities for work and weather, they bring with them the preference for the urban amenities of rail, walkability, diversity, etc. This no doubt adds to the growing interest in mass transit (coming from a variety of causes). While this weekend’s success was in good part aided by the novelty and free fare, if this route is halfway decent I’d anticipate it will be something of a success (despite the common overprojections of rail usage).

Mapping Out My Dissertation



BerkeleyVALUE1980
Originally uploaded by urbanoasis

I don’t rightly remember if I ever explained what I’m doing for my dissertation. Once my dissertation proposal is approved I’ll put it up here, but until then suffice it to say that I’m conducting 4 case studies of city-university relationships in the 20th century to illustrate the effect of federal student housing subsidies on campus-community relationships.

In terms of methods, I hope to combine what I’ve learned from history, planning, and architecture to develop a multifaceted consideration of the design, planning, economic and political aspects that shape the built environment, as well as how the built environment affects those structures in turn.

Right now I’m doing background research and reading on a few of my case study communities, including mapping demographic and real estate changes. Pictured here is a map showing the changing value of owner occupied units in Berkeley, CA, from 1970 to 1980. Almost everywhere, they’re going up (even more than inflation, which was significant). Feel free to check out some more of my maps on Berkeley. These are mostly for reference right now — I’ll improve upon them once I get into the more detailed and grimy archival and geostatistical work.

Ann Arbor Human Rights Party, 1972


I’m currently writing a paper for the planning history conference (SACRPH) on housing and the transformation of the Ann Arbor New Left. As part of the presentation, I put together this map, which shows the election returns from the 1972 city elections races with HRP members’ residences.

HRP candidates won in the 1st Ward (Jerry DeGrieck) and 2nd Ward (Nancy Wechsler), comprising a swing vote on council for a year, where Republicans held 5 seats and Democrats 4. Both winning HRP candidates beat university professors running as Democrats in the 1st and 2nd. In 1973 Republicans picked up another seat, giving them a council majority, marginalizing the HRP. The HRP won the 2nd ward again in 1974, but that was the extent of their wins in Ann Arbor.

I argue that the housing shortage of the late 1960s oriented campus radicals to economic and political marginalization within their own communities. The creation of the Ann Arbor Tenants’ Union, the rent strike of 1969, and, indeed, the Nixon price controls of 1971 served to mobilize students and create a broader coalition for community activism, which culminated in the creation and subsequent victories of the Radical Independent Party/Human Rights Party.

UPDATE: Same info, slightly reformulated. Sex is no longer differentiated, but if there is more than one person living at an address, the dot is larger and visually expresses the concentration of support better.
AnnArbor HRP 2

University Housing Premium



Housing Graph
Originally uploaded by urbanoasis.

Just a note from my studies for my minor exam. A study of land values published in the Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics illustrates something related to one of the points I make in my research, particularly my masters thesis. Land and housing within walking distance of a university comes at a premium disproportionate to its quality and unrelated to any other feature of the good. In Dallas, property cost 10 percent more (on average) because it was within walking distance of Southern Methodist, the University of Dallas, or UT-Dallas.

Hyde Park & UofC



HydePark & UofC
Originally uploaded by urbanoasis.

As noted, I’m starting on new research that will eventually become part of my dissertation (and career-making book!). Arnold Hirsch first wrote about the University of Chicago’s role in urban renewal in Hyde Park in his book Making the Second Ghetto: Race & Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960. In my current project, I’m looking at this same process but focusing on the role of student housing in segregating the university from the neighborhood. In addition, my study of Hyde Park-UofC will run roughly 1940-1970. This is because the process of campus building and neighborhood redevelopment was still ongoing in 1960. In fact, only in the last few years have the UofC presidents’ files after 1960 been opened and they have not been fully processed, offering the potential for a good deal of new discovery. Finally, I intend to use several different types of sources from Hirsch to illustrate how these planning efforts played out, as I did in my MUP thesis.

At any rate, I offer for your pleasure a composite Sanborn map of Hyde Park in 1925-26. I put this together (rather quickly) from several small pdfs, but Sanborns are of course the best friend of an historian of the urban American built environment over the last 120 years. Feast your eyes and compare it to the contemporary image above.

Politics, As Usual

For my next trick, I will be providing Excel spreadsheets of the public campaign finance data on candidates running in the upcoming Ann Arbor Democratic primary and then mapping them out with GIS (hopefully before the August 8 primary). I’d get started on it now, but the 2006 documents aren’t up on the county Web site yet. To show you I’m serious, check out my first file for historical comparison on Mayor Hieftje’s 2000 campaign. You can search and sort by name, address, date (find out who was at what fundraiser together), and, in the case of people who contributed more than $100, occupation and employer. This is all public (if crappily written and sometimes nearly illegible) data.

With a little more work and some help from the city’s GIS people (I want precinct shapefiles, dangit!), I might do something with the county’s election results information and city census information to get some interesting maps and start myself a nice little political consulting business (if I don’t get lynched by candidates accustomed to having little or no scrutiny of their financing).

I’m a junkie for local politics and it always annoyed me that politics, campaigns, etc., was so often inscrutable in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. It doubly annoyed me that there was all this data lying around and nobody did anything with it. Let’s see if my newfound facility with GIS can do something to change that.

(UPDATE: Easthope 2000 and Lowenstein and Hauptman ’02, as well.)

Descriptive Statistics

Having just completed my 5% sample of students from 1920, I can offer the following descriptive statistics:

N=385

M=299, F=84, No Info=2

UG=348, Grad=11, Medical=12, Special=8, No Info=6

Fr=128, So=72, Ju=82, Sen=66

In-State=230, Out-of-State=146, Int’l=7, No Info=1

Off-Campus=372, On-Campus=11, No Info=2

Not surprising to me, but this last demonstrates how significantly federal intervention overturned the existing private-public balance for the provision of housing. 97.1% of students lived off campus. (MoE 5.1%) Just as importantly, the city, the students, and the university expected the private market to provide student housing, with only special exceptions like Martha Cook and Helen Newberry for a handful of women. Indeed, the office of the dean of students conducted an annual inspection of off-campus housing to certify whether buildings were suitable for students to inhabit. (Data from the 1919-20 U-M student directory). I should have the sample geocoded and available in a map lickety-split.

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Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Here it is — not for attribution, but open to commentary (even you, Curious Observer) — the first draft of the introduction to my planning thesis on student housing in Ann Arbor. I know some people advocate diving into the chapters and writing the the intro last, but I want to set out my argument and narrative and make sure that I am at least reckoning with it if I deviate from it. If I stray in the writing, as usually happens, I’ll be able to go back and rewrite the intro. Without further ado (longish):

(NOTE: This does not yet contain my literature review and methods.)

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