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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Frames of Reference, cont.

Following up from the last post, I want to address some of Alec Baldwin’s specific claims regarding the Upper West Side. It turns out, by the letter of the law, he’s generally not really that far off. For instance, his claim that "The Upper West Side, particularly above 86th Street, has a lot of public housing,” is pretty accurate. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) houses about 7,500 people between 86th street and 106th street on the West Side. This is about 1/12th of the slightly less than 90,000 people total who live in the corresponding area. To provide some perspective, NYCHA houses about 500,000 of the slightly more than 8 million New Yorkers, or about 1/16th of the population. (NYCHA has an interactive map of developments here).

But his main contention involves the class composition of the Upper West Side. To his credit, he’s not trying to claim that he himself is middle-class, or his building is middle-class, just that “the Upper West Side is the most middle class part of Manhattan where I have lived.”

Now, given that Baldwin later goes on to state he’s lived between Central Park and the Hudson River for the last 25 years, I don’t really know what he’d be comparing it to, so instead let’s take his other claim, that “in terms of what I see, day to day, in Soho, TriBeCa, Upper East, Chelsea, the West or East Village, Flat Iron, the UWS is more middle class than any of those areas.” As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m going to give Baldwin the benefit of the doubt and extrapolate this to mean Manhattan including and below the Upper East and Upper West Sides.

There are six Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) that make up this geography: 3805 (Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island), 3806 (Upper West Side), 3807 (West Side and Midtown between 14th and 59th) 3808 (East Side between 14th and 59th), 3809 (East Village, Lower East Side, part of Chinatown) and 3810 (The rest of Manhattan below 14th). And the Upper West Side, in terms of income, is smack dab in the middle of these – two PUMAs (3809 and 3807) have lower median incomes, two (3805 and 3810) have higher, and one (3807) is not different in a statistically significant way. Average per capita income and median family income are much the same, except that in each case there’s one PUMA that’s higher and two that aren’t different in a statistically significantly way. So I suppose, in the data set Baldwin’s using, the Upper West Side could be considered middle-class. After all, the median family income for the area is just $169,815 as opposed to the hoity-toity Upper East Side’s $180,289.

The Median Income for “212” – the island of Manhattan – is $79,522. For the United States it’s $62,363. For the Five Boroughs of New York it’s $55,562.

So is the Upper West Side the most middle class of the Manhattan neighborhoods Baldwin is referring to? Sure, insofar as it’s also the most suburban, and most Mormon, and most Senegalese of these neighborhoods.

At the heart of this whole thing though, is that it really seems like Baldwin somehow wants props for not living in Scarsdale or Greenwich or the Upper East Side, or maybe the 7th arrondissement, even though he could afford to - instead opting for the "middle-class" Upper West Side. OK. But he should realize that even if the Upper West Side were middle-class, this is still the equivalent of buying a Rolls-Royce to drive to work and then noting he's chosen to take the "middle-class" way to the office because hey, he could have flown there in a helicopter.

All income numbers are from five-year (2005-2009) American Community Survey Data.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Frames of Reference

Over on the Huffington Post, Alec Baldwin attempts to make the argument that where he lives (The El Dorado, located between 90th and 91st on Central Park West) is in a middle-class neighborhood. In doing so he uses a lot of phrases like "appears to have" and "seems to me" and not of lot of actual evidence (to his credit, Baldwin does admit to not being "an expert in the field of the economic and social demographics of NYC").

I'll be examining some of his specific claims up close in the next post. But for now, I want to address his frame of reference. Two quotes are telling:

"While I have lived in the area from CPW to Riverside Drive and 96th Street to 72nd Street, the Upper West Side appears to have a more visible diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, diversity of income, and age than any other part of 212."

" terms of what I see, day to day, in Soho, TriBeCa, Upper East, Chelsea, the West or East Village, Flat Iron, the UWS is more middle class than any of those areas."

First off, what Baldwin "sees from day-to-day" is the much different from "212." I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume a broader definition of what he means when he says "any of those areas:" namely Manhattan south of and including the Upper East and Upper West Sides. 1,040,938 people live in this area, which is two-thirds of the 1,577,385 people eligible for a 212 area code. I encourage you to visit the other third and see for yourself if it has more "visible diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, income, and age."

Second, and more importantly, if Alec Baldwin was considering a run for Manhattan Borough President, I would say his take on the "212" might be worth half a Huffington Post column. But Baldwin is not considering this office - according to the NY Times "Mr. Baldwin seemed focused on the mayor’s office but allowed the possibility that he would consider other positions. He is clearly aiming high, however, dismissing the idea of serving as a local judge or in the House of Representatives." Being the Mayor involves being elected by the 8,175,133 people who live in the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Would you vote for someone for mayor whose frame of New York City was limited to the Bronx north of the Cross Bronx Expressway (population 1,010,751)? Or the swath of Brooklyn from Bed-Stuy down to Canarsie (1,078,524)? Or Queens east of Flushing Meadows Park and the Van Wyck Expressway (929,404)? Could you imagine how the media would treat someone who said " terms of what I see, day to day, in Douglaston, Hollis, College Point, Flushing, Jamaica or Jamaica Estates, Rosedale, Bayside is more middle class than any of those areas?"

Or to put it another way, how about someone whose frame of New York City was limited to Non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islanders (1,030,914)? Or people who drive to work (1,049,396)? Or women over 55 (1,084,349)? Or kids in Brooklyn and the Bronx (1,021,836)? Or people making less than $25,000 (1,054,140 - wait a minute, I probably would vote for this person).

Baldwin is considering enrolling in a master’s program in politics and government. I think this is a great idea. I'd like to also suggest a parallel educational path for the next two years. Go get to know the places where the people whom you're asking to vote for you live.

All data is from the 2010 Census, except journey-to-work and income date, which is from the 2000 Census.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Walking from Heathrow

Last month I flew to London, landed at Heathrow, and started walking. 19 miles and 8 hours later I reached the center of town. You can read about the walk over on Polis.

Afterward I met a bunch of weirdos and spent the night in a storm drain under Hyde Park, where I finished second in the first-ever Bazalgette pull-up challenge (photo by Luca Carenzo).

But that's another story for another time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tract 1237

Following up from my last post, out of the 16,000 new white residents that have arrived in Bed-Stuy in last decade, which this NY Times article references, 4,569 (28.5%) - of them are concentrated in just one census tract: Brooklyn Tract 1237. 1237 is bounded by Taffe Place, Nostrand Avenue, Flushing Avenue, and Myrtle Avenue.

View Bed-Stuy and Tract 1237 in a larger map

Take a walk through this area. You will find a lot of new apartment buildings with scores of small balconies jutting out awkwardly. You will find a lot of signage written in a strange, but somewhat recognizable alphabet. You will find a lot of guys dressed in black suits, a lot women dressed in long skirts, and a lot of children running on the sidewalk. You will not find very many people like the Jazz musician Arthur Kell, or Lawyer and Coffehouse owner Tremaine Wright, or anyone else the Times references in the article.

The Times quotes four white residents who have moved to the city in the last decade, one black resident who they imply, but don't outright state, is a lifelong resident, three academics (one of whom is also a resident of the neighborhood who is black, although it doesn't say when he moved there), a local real estate agent, the Community Board chair, and the neighborhood Assemblyperson.

There are no quotes from longtime white residents, or new black arrivals, or any other type of resident. There is no mention of the quarter of the people in the neighborhood who are neither black nor white. While this could perhaps be forgiven, given that the article is specifically about the growth of the white population and the decline of the black population, there is not even a passing mention of the role the Hassidic Community played in this, much less an attempt to interview any about the changes in the neighborhood. When you only talk to certain people, it's not a surprise when you construct a certain narrative. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

What's Really the Story?

Two NY Times articles:

Under 18 population in NYC is becoming more white

Bed-Stuy is becoming more white

As I've written here before, I appreciate Sam Roberts and the NY Times' demographic coverage, which is much more intensive and in depth than you find in most other large papers. That being said they very, very often report with a strange set of blinders on.

First of all, the Times completely misses a gigantic factor in both these stories, which is the growth of the Hassidic population Brooklyn (and in Northern Bed-Stuy between Myrtle and Flushing as it specifically relates to the Bed-Stuy story), in favor of their general gentrification narrative.

But more importantly, the Times seems to think the story of the city is that of young, white people with disposable income and their varying migration patters, and the impact of these migration patters on the rest of the city (the flaws of which I wrote about here). While this is certainly A story, it is not THE story. It is not even a large story.

Check out the map showing white population change in the last decade. The areas where there is high growth of the white poplation are small and very specific parts of the city, limited to about half of Manhattan, a quarter of Brooklyn, the south shore of Staten Island, and a few other isolated census tracts. And many of these have nothing to do with the Hipster/Yuppie gentrification pattern - they're growth in the Hassidic, other religious Jewish, Eastern European, Central Asian or other populations that are pretty far from the MacLaren stroller-pushing couple or fixie-riding hipster that the Times seems to think are so important.

I would love the next story about Demographic change in the city to be about the growth of the South Asian community in Ozone Park and East New York, or the Korean population in Bayside, or the diversification of the North Shore of Staten Island or Jamaica Estates or Bensonhurst. Or just something other than this same old story.

Sometimes you have to look at the NY Times more like one of New York's ethnic newspapers - their ethnicity being, essentially, "Yuppie." Once you look at it like this, the biases in these types of stories become understandable and less frustrating. Still, if you're going to call yourself the "New York" Times, you should try to focus on the citizens of "New York," about 3/4 of whom live well beyond the geographic and social confines that the Times' demographic reporting has been limited to so far.