Social Equity

It’s a Feature, Not a Bug: Inequality in Liberal Cities

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Republican Presidential DebatersAt the November 10, 2015 Republican presidential debate, candidate Rand Paul said that inequality in cities — the gap between the rich and poor — “seems to be worst in cities run by Democrats.” His comment received rousing applause from the audience, and much media attention.

To be fair, Paul got the data right (for the most part). Liberal cities do have worse inequality than the national average, and the largest, most dynamic cities are the most unequal. But not for the reasons Paul thinks.

Inequality is a feature of liberal cities, not a bug, Emily Badger explains for the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog. Big cities, those most often run by Democrats, simultaneously welcome the poor and attract the wealthy, leading to inequality. Badger writes that, on the other hand, “Exclusionary suburbs that keep out the poor and working class appear, on paper, awfully egalitarian (everyone makes $100,000!).”

Simply Put, Paul’s implication — that Republican policies are better suited to address inequality or bring people out of poverty than Democratic ones — are hogwash. Thankfully, his comment is receiving the attention it deserves, and a myth about cities that Paul sought to perpetuate is being dispelled instead.

When ‘To Protect and Serve’ Becomes ‘To Shame and Ridicule’

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NYC HomelessThe disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” is perhaps nowhere more striking than in New York City. One end of the economic spectrum is best symbolized by the array of new condominium skyscrapers reshaping the city’s skyline (top price, $95 million). Pan down 1,000 feet or so, and the economics shift just as precipitously. At street level, huddled in doorways or sleeping on park benches, are the city’s poorest of the poor. New York’s homeless population is at an all-time high, at around 59,000. New Yorkers’ reactions have ranged from concerned to outraged.

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has been the recipient of most of the ire over this issue, since homelessness spiked on his watch. But it is the recent actions of the police that have come under fire of late. In a bizarre attempt to draw attention to minor law infractions or signs of disorder (the so-called “broken window” theory of policing), police in New York posted hundreds of photographs of homeless people onto a Flickr account (since removed) titled “Peek-a-Boo.”

The New York Post seems to be the only news outlet that reacted positively to the police’s actions, calling the city’s homeless, many of whom are mentally ill, “vagrants” and “bums,” and intimating that their “quality of life crimes” were deserving of public ridicule. The rest of the sensible media recognized the police’s actions for what they were: an insensitive shaming that further ostracizes a marginalized class of people, and another misstep by police who are quickly gaining a reputation as bullies rather than protectors.

Photo by Flickr User Paolo Margori

The Good and the Bad of the Capital Bikeshare Member Survey

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Capital Bikeshare

Capital Bikeshare’s 2014 Member Survey indicates that even as Washington D.C.’s bikeshare service has grown by leaps and bounds, its users have become older, whiter, and wealthier.

Most company executives would be happy enough with these demographics. Wealthy customers? Yes please.

Washington’s business community, in fact, was a tough sell on this new transit option. Many businesses were initially leery of bikeshare stations located near their retail establishments. Their fears were: What kind of customers — if any — would bikeshare provide? Would they scare away my “real customers,” who drive cars?

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Cash Bikeshare Memberships as a Way to Address Equity

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]

CaBi-cash

The new year is seeing a new way for Arlington County residents to obtain Capital Bikeshare memberships: with cash.

The pilot program, called Arlington Resident Cash Membership, begins this week. It is intended to bring the membership service to the “unbanked” residents of the county.

Despite Capital Bikeshare‘s huge success — it routinely competes with New York’s Citi Bike for the mantle of largest bikeshare system in the United States — Washington D.C.’s regional bikeshare system has suffered from the same problem as others around the country: namely, a dearth of minority and low-income members. (The most recent survey of Capital Bikeshare members shows that the system’s riders are about 80 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent African American.)

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Shared-Use Mobility and Low-Income Americans

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]

shared-use

The past decade has seen an explosion in shared-use mobility.

Bikeshare, carshare, and rideshare services have become welcome transportation options for Americans. They are even leading people to rethink the need for car ownership altogether.

But how well do these new services connect low-income Americans with jobs and opportunities? They could do better, according to a new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in collaboration with Living Cities.

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Transportation Costs Not Considered Enough in Housing Decisions

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on November 25, 2013]

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The 2010 Census shows that the D.C. metropolitan region has the highest median income in the country, at more than $84,000. In fact, a popular Wall Street Journal article recently touted the “New Gilded Age” of the nation’s capital.

So it is perhaps not surprising that no one seems too eager to talk about affordable housing. Mobility Lab hasn’t been so complacent, discussing the issue recently at one of its Lunch at the Lab series of meetups.

First of all, the topic of affordable housing isn’t code for subsidized or low-income housing. The issue of housing affordability is one that impacts a region’s economic viability and competitiveness. It is also an issue that affects vast swaths of the middle-class, not just the poor.

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Strategies Detailed to Remedy DC’s Affordable-Housing Crisis

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on January 30, 2013]

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Lack of affordable housing is an unintended consequence of a region’s success, and can certainly be seen in the Washington D.C. metro area.

As the public demand for walkable neighborhoods has increased, low- to moderate-income residents are being priced out of those neighborhoods. And unfortunately, the public policy regarding housing affordability in the United States remains “drive until you qualify.”

Thus began Chris Leinberger of the Brookings Institution at a recent seminar entitled “Walkable Neighborhoods: How to Make Them for Everyone,” sponsored by the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

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