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About Those Inversions

» Democracy Journal: Suburb Slickers (Ben Adler)

Stop me if you've heard this before ...

If you live in the suburbs, you may have noticed a totally different demographic trend: the diversifying of suburbia. Maybe it’s the Vietnamese nail salons and pho joints that have filled up the old suburban strip malls, or the sudden emergence of Latino pedestrians walking home along busy roads or congregating in convenience store parking lots. Immigrants and minorities, from the working poor to the affluent, are arriving in suburbia. Some are following job opportunities that have been dispersed around the urban perimeter. Others are priced out of the city. Many are seeking the same virtues—space, good schools, low crime—that drove whites to suburbs throughout the twentieth century.

Alan Ehrenhalt’s new book ties these threads into one common phenomenon that he calls demographic inversion. Our metropolitan areas, he argues in The Great Inversion, are being turned inside out, with the wealthier white people living in the cities, while those who aspire to be the first generation in their family to achieve the American Dream—frequently immigrants and African Americans—move to the suburbs. Ehrenhalt argues that this constitutes a return to form for the modern metropolis, pointing to nineteenth-century Paris and Vienna as cities that invented the template. Major cities in developing countries, such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, already fit this mold. In fact, the United States, with the poor in cities and the wealthy in suburbs, has largely been a global exception. But that is ending. “The roles of cities and suburbs will not only change but will very nearly reverse themselves,” he predicts, in about 20 years’ time.

No doubt, I'm curious to read Ehrenhalt's book, but I tend to be as skeptical about some of the details offered by proponents of the trend. With that in mind, it's refreshing to read some of the critiques offered further into this review.

As for the Houston case, I tend to think that too much gets made of the small growth patterns we see in Downtown, Midtown, and EaDo while the real inversion has obviously been underway in the Heights. You could definitely stretch that out to consider the Heights as "inner city". But I think it's a definitional stretch and also confuses the causality since much of what we see in Houston's inversion related to legislated price spikes in home values due to historic districts being created. Simply pricing out a good chunk of population from the market doesn't do great things for diversification unless income distribution correlates with demography. And at present ... it does not.

Still, I think it's worthwhile to look at some of demographic patterns in other places and hear out some of the theories that hold those together. I've got the sample loaded up on the Kindle. But a fuller reading will likely have to wait until I'm done with Woodward's latest.


Primary Mapping: Dem 215th District Court

Continuing on with some old Dem Primary mapping ....

Next up is a look back at the contentious race for the 215th District Court nomination between Elaine Palmer and Steve Kirkland. In this contest, Palmer would go on to win, 61.5% to Kirkland's 38.5%. There was obviously a lot more going on in this contest besides where each candidate went from their respective starting point demographic bases.

That said, Kirkland's areas of success don't extend too far beyond the Anglo Dem and Dems-among-Republican voters on both the westside, Clear Lake, and Kingwood areas. Palmer did very well in Hispanic areas, which is something a bit counter-intuitive. I'm not sure how much activity Palmer's backers put into Hispanic neighborhoods or if the flood of anti-Kirkland mail that every Dem voter got just clicked with those voters.

The most obvious missed opportunity that I think I see for Kirkland are those Dems-among-Republican voters in the northwest part of the county. Why they'd vote differently than similar voters on the westside or Clear Lake isn't immediately clear to me. It might not have been enough to swing the vote significantly closer, but it's a healthy reminder that Democratic voters outside of city limits probably deserve more attention.

full page - Google Earth


Last Week of Early Voting Aggrepost

A few quick thoughts while the dayjob occupies me 24/7 ...

» Off the Kuff: Early voting after one full week
I'm obviously less interested in the overall, final turnout for the Dem Primary since I'm working in one small slice of the county. The big question with only guesstimates for answers is "What % of the vote comes early and what % comes on the day after a holiday?" I'm not going to engage in too much thought on it, other than optimistically hope that its somewhere around the 50/50 ballpark. If that's the case, then my little corner of the county could see a relatively healthy showing in terms of turnout. Of course, I should add that "relatively" is the operative term here. More on this after the votes are counted.

» Chron: Early voters have hot-button issues on their minds
This is a generic, catch-all newser on the mood around Early Voting in Harris County. One tidbit of interest is that it picks up on a GOTV rally that happened at Bayland Park Community Center (which is where I also spent my Saturday getting sunburn).

» TX Tribune: UT/TT Poll: Runoffs Loom in U.S. Senate Race
I'm not one to put a great deal of stock in the UT/Trib polls, but it seems to be fitting in the pattern that's out there: a runoff between Dewhurst and Ted Cruz. If only the extra bloodletting were a boost for a Dem candidate.

» Wash. Post: Can Obama win Iowa?
It seems like forever since I've been able to give much attention to Presidential politics. But the swing state mood still piques my interest and how this year compares in places like Iowa compared to the 2008 returns will be a topic of serious study after the votes are counted in November. The brief video segment for this serves as a teaser for now.

» NY Times: The Beginning of the End of the Census?
I'm as shocked as you are that the American Community Survey is to 2012 what flourescent light bulb was to 2010. And you've just got to admire the statistical incoherence of a comment like this:

“... in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

» A trio of follow-up items on the recent Stryper show.

Back to electioneering. See you on the other side!


Sugar Land’s War on Apartments

» Chron: For some in Sugar Land, apartments leave a sour taste

Strange things are afoot in Sugar Land ...

The planned development of the city's last piece of open land would turn the abandoned Imperial Sugar site - the very genesis of the city - into an $800 million urban space with museums, parks, luxury apartments, restaurants and a theater.

"It represents our evolution," said Doug Adolph, a city spokesman, "where we've been and where we're going."

Yet the project has stirred vocal and passionate opposition. More than 2,000 residents signed a petition against part of the plan and homeowners formed a committee - complete with study groups, a website and an email distribution list - to track the project's progress since 2007, fighting various components. Tuesday, before the City Council tentatively approved the project, many among the crowd of about 150 residents voiced emotional appeals against it.

The crux of their opposition: No more apartments.

Not surprisingly, comparisons to Alief and Gulfton are included in the story. And if anyone thinks that the development in question is approximating either, I hope there's a 12-step program for stuff like that. If you want to see one of the more successful town square concepts in action, Sugar Land's has been a pretty hopping place every time I've been there. I'm sure that there are issues with trying to replicate that concept in an area currently without a large, pre-existing population immediately surrounding it. But I'd be willing to bet on the success of the new project, as well as the evaporation of the NIMBY concerns once they realize who moves into apartments that rent north of $1,000/mo.


In my absence …

A minor bit of aggreposting to help alleviate the backlog of stuff I'm otherwise missing out on as I catch up on work:

- Rick Perry triples down on Social Security. Expect him to quadruple down tonight at the debate in Florida.

- Of all the 9/11 rememberances offered up over the weekend, this one was my favorite.

- The Chron starts off their coverage of the city council elections here in Houston.

- The Kevin Kolb era is finally here. Dude starts off with a win and all everyone can talk about is the opposing team's rookie QB. Whatever. W's count for more.

- My Coogs win, my high school wins. Even the Trinity alum in college win at Montana State and Holy Cross. That's a good enough weekend right there.

- My church took over the House of Blues for a couple of church services on Sunday. I had the glorious task of assembling the big screen for the projector. Aside from making use of my IKEA work experience, my body still aches from the experience. Get to do it all again next week, too. The artwork created during the service is one of my favorites since it has my favorite skyline in the whole world:

- I'm not sure why, but I feel deeply compelled to include some quality 80s music video whenever I'm behind on blogging. I'm sure there's a 12-step program for it somewhere. In the meantime, here's some quality John Waite with Earl Slick on guitar. From the first time I saw that guitar, I had to have one. Only thing close I can find in the way of a new model is a cheap Dean version in day-glo green. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ruling it out.

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Surprise! Rocket Scientists are Employable in the Private Sector.

» Chron: Jettisoned NASA workers launch new careers in energy

It's amazing what happens when you no longer operate a federal jobs program for highly educated, skilled, multi-degreed engineers ... other employees find them appealing, too!

Some of the several thousand former NASA contractors being put out of work by the termination of the space shuttle program are finding a soft landing in Houston's vast energy sector.

After a couple of lean years, local energy companies are hiring again — and many like what they see in the large and highly skilled pool of jettisoned space workers.

Among companies that have hired or are recruiting former NASA contractors are major oil producers, oil field services providers, chemical makers and firms that build large-scale energy projects.

Obviously, I've never bought the argument that we need to maintain a space program just to keep Clear Lake afloat, nor to keep some of the most employable Americans employed when they would otherwise be best situated to find jobs elsewhere or create new companies in a more privatized space industry.

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Aaron’s Choice

» Rio Grande Guardian: Peña: Texas Democrats face decades in the wilderness

There's no telling how fast the impending round of party-switching will make this article old news, but it's worth reading regardless of which party State Rep. Aaron Peña considers himself a representative of today or tomorrow. The reason is that Peña's criticisms of the party are as valid today as they are from several years ago. And they should still be heeded even if Peña does switch.

Honestly, when I initially read the story, my reaction was along the lines of "well good luck to all of that." There's nothing particularly new about the critiques raised by Peña, save for the context added by the November 2 shellacking that should certainly raise doubt about any great demographic save in the works. So my thought was that nothing eventful would happen in the following week as an offshoot of it.

The only thing that makes sense for Peña to switch is that perhaps a Redistricting chair is being dangled as a carrot for doing so. Hidalgo County is set to be the core of a new Congressional District. And while the Valley is not monolithically Democratic, it is possible to draw something that may be under 65% Dem, and at least viewed as competitive by someone a current officeholder.

For years, I've pointed out that rural Hispanics aren't the same as urban Hispanics. My sense is that Aaron would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican in Hidalgo County in 2012. But it's not as far-fetched as it used to be. And for precisely the reasons that Pena highlights.


Previewing the Mandate Ruling

» NY Times: Administration Is Bracing for Court Setbacks to Health Law

Due by year's end ...

As the Obama administration presses ahead with the health care law, officials are bracing for the possibility that a federal judge in Virginia will soon reject its central provision as unconstitutional and, in the worst case for the White House, halt its enforcement until higher courts can rule.

The judge, Henry E. Hudson of Federal District Court in Richmond, has promised to rule by the end of the year on the constitutionality of the law’s requirement that most Americans obtain insurance, which does not take effect until 2014.

Of course, as we all know by now, it's not really a question of whether the individual mandate is constitutional or not. It's whether a majority of Supreme Court justices think it is. Granted, I still think it was a bad idea to include it. And the point I made prior to the 2009 debate about whether it warranted the political price I felt voters might inflict because of it is certainly an open question.

The article notes that a Michigan judge has ruled the individual mandate provision constitutional. WebMD's blog has a bit more of the case-by-case detail involved in the Times' story.

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Gone Fishin’

As stated earlier in the month, I'll be hitting the big pause button for this little corner of the internet until Election 2010 is put to rest. I could probably go a good, solid 10+ months while dancing around the election season like it didn't exist, but a closer reading of the archives here will probably give you a truer indication of the importance I place on it. In short, the coming months aren't a time to write about the work to be done ... it's a time to do the work that's to be done. At least for me.

I'll take the opportunity to sign off by at least reminding myself of why I ever started this nasty habit of blogging. There's no telling what happens at the end of this election run, so I'd hope that someone out there might pick up one of the better habits or lessons learned in case they pick up the blogging trade in my absence.

So, in closing down things for the hiatus, I'd like to extend a very grateful "Thank You" to those of you who read, who added to the conversation, and those who I've had the good fortune to get to know either in person or by trading the occasional email with over the years.

I'm sure I'll be going through some massive blog withdrawal symptoms whenever another story I was meant to blog encroaches on the news cycle. Alas, the world will have to spin on, without me thinking that I'm somehow keeping it in motion. For the one or two cross-cultural readers out there, I will maintain a bit of blogging over at, so the withdrawal won't be complete.

The mission I had with this fair blog, 7 years and 4 months ago, was to elaborate on how someone with a more-or-less moderate worldview declares a natural home in the Democratic Party. More importantly, I think, is to point out that there usually are at least a few others out there who relate to whatever story we all have to tell - even those that don't match up perfectly to mine.

At some point in the past few decades, there have been efforts to proclaim an era of perfect ideological alignment: one where the liberal left and conservative right have been perfectly delineated into the Democratic and Republican parties. There have since been those who proclaim a "Big Sort" ... which is to say that we all now live next door to people who think and vote just like we do.

I know both of these to be false ... not just from research, anecdote, or insight, but from firsthand experience. Sometimes the quickest means of explaining away how someone cannot advocate for the rights of an unborn life and vote Democratic most of the time is to simply raise one's hand and announce their own presence. Likewise, a decent way to highlight that a massive geographic/demographic sorting has not taken place is to describe one's own voting precinct ... or to point out a number of similarly-changing areas that serve as counterexamples.

To the extent that there's a "grand" design of the way I've blogged, that's about it - to merely describe what I see around me and explain myself. That others care to read about that strikes me as remarkable, so I'll once more add a very humble "Thanks!"

We'll see where we are on Election Day, 2010. Whatever grand plans I have for returning to the blogosphere will wait until then. If there's a need to get in touch with me, email usually does the trick ...

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Two Points, Before I Go

A word before I sign off for the next 312 days ...

As awful as the reading agenda has been for me this year, it seems to have ended strong with two books I'll recap. There have been a handful of others I've made it through despite distractions and other demands on time. But these two seem to offer a bit more usefulness looking forward to the 2010 elections. At least from my perspective.

The Audacity to Win - David Plouffe
This is probably obvious in terms of applying anything to politics. But my sense of the book around the midway point was actually one of disappointment. Plouffe had promised to write a book that offered lessons of the 2008 Obama campaign and how they could apply to businesses and other organizations. But after the first two chapters, the book seemed to denigrate into a reading of "Here's what happened ... and if you watched CNN relentlessly during 2007/8, you probably already knew this." The formula Plouffe stuck with for this portion of the book was as follows:

a) we had a tough decision to make
b) we stuck to our guns and took a gamble
c) we won ... scoreboard

There are a few fairly minor tales of "unforced errors" that created a blip of friction between Obama and staff. But nothing that really made this part of the book more entertaining than ... say, the quadrennial Newsweek campaign book, or the more old-school Elizabeth Drew version. Needless to say, the book falls far short of the Ted White standard.

What this part of the book has going for it, however, is that it at least gives an insider view of the most covered, entertaining, and exciting Presidential campaign in decades. There's also a nice setup of the blow-by-blow campaigning in the first two chapters. The book's epilogue reads as if it were the first thing Plouffe wrote for the book, as it tracks with his original goal of offering some added meaning from the campaign experience.

Combined, the three chapters offer some insight into the decision-making that goes into running for any office, the setup of a functioning campaign, and an overview of how the day-to-day work of a campaign flows from the organizing principles established at the outset.

The Fourth Part of the World - Toby Lester
I haven't even finished this one yet, but it's already moved high on my list of favorite books. The book is, ostensibly, about the Waldseemüller Map of 1507 - the first to give identity to the American continent. But that map didn't simply exist in isolation ... it was an outgrowth of the maps that preceded it and the explorers who pushed the understanding of those maps one step further. It's a tale told over centuries and Lester gives a very readable narrative to all of the history involved.

What's of particular interest to me from this is a point that I've made to others in the process of showing various political maps. Essentially, a map displaying political results can be viewed for one of two reasons: to understand what the heck just happened, or to understand what could happen next. As a matter of personal practice, the former has rarely been of interest to me. The latter, on the other hand ... very much so.

A couple of cases in point:

1. It was probably the 1988 election where I started taking out some blank maps and coloring them in. I remember having some down time at UH-D and there was one reference book that showed election results by county for a host of different elections. Whether it was understanding how William Proxmire did in Wisconsin, or how Dems in Texas were winning my home state, I definitely think that my steady flow of dimes into the copier warrant having one named in my honor.

It was out of this that I recall looking at two points of interest: what was the difference between Texas Dems that did and did not win statewide; and (nationally,) where were the opportunities that would need to fall into place for a Dem to win the White House in 1992.

For the latter, Dukakis' loss in 1988 might have made this a bit of a challenge. But I remember noticing that a lot of Bush counties along the Mississippi River could very well swing the other direction for a candidate who appealed to those voters more than, say ... Michael Dukakis. Four years later, Bill Clinton would manage that very feat.

For the former, it meant a preview of where the Dem coalition would fall apart as those areas where Phil Gramm proved popular would eventually coalesce around the GOP even more in the years ahead.

2. After deciding to pick up the habit again and putting together a statewide precinct map of the Moody-Willet Supreme Court contest, a very different view was evident. There was now, very visibly, an opportunity to put together more of an urban/suburban coalition than in the past. The rural areas we had spent decades losing was becoming less populous and their electorates were nearing the point of diminishing returns for the GOP. Urban areas were still growing and increasingly Dem-friendly. And the suburbs had approached the early point of a dramatic shift.

Going into the 2008 cycle, there were numerous precincts in the western and northwestern part of Harris County that I felt were ripe for swinging in favor of Dem candidates. Part of those were used in targeting opportunities for the Skelly campaign and I'm a little proud to note that every one flipped blue for the first time in eons. Outside of CD7, there were several precincts east of Katy I noticed that went over 40% for Bill Moody in 2006 and might be ready to flip, at minimum, for a strong Dem Hispanic candidate. Fortunately, those precincts didn't just flip for Adrian Garcia. They apparently got enough of a swing that Dr. Murray thought enough to take note of them.

It remains to be seen whether 2010 will be a year in which candidates exploit those shifts, or even if those shifts hold. But the broader point in connecting my own pastime with Lester's book is the realization that maps aren't beneficial just for their accuracy of location ... but also for what the possibilities that they inform us of.

Simply showing someone what happened in the past tense with shades of red and blue may very well be informative for a large number of people. But seeing a map for the opportunities of what can be added to the previous effort strikes me as far more meaningful. That's roughly what Lester describes in the exploration and mapping of the world at a time when it was not fully known.

I'd hoped to spend some time in January sharing what little I've learned over the past few years about creating some of the maps I've posted on this blog. The recent job change seems to put a crimp in those plans. But I do hope to see a few others take up the habit and discuss those areas around the county and state (and beyond) that they know better than anyone else.

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