What City Observatory did this week

1. This week, we were proud to release City Observatory’s latest report: The Storefront Index. The Storefront Index maps and tallies every “storefront” business in the 51 largest US metropolitan areas, showing where clusters of customer-facing retailers create vibrant, flourishing neighborhood and regional commercial districts. The analysis highlights the importance of this kind of amenity in building healthy neighborhoods and cities, and is a valuable tool for community advocates, planners, businesspeople, and map geeks alike. Click here to find an interactive map for your city.

2. To illustrate the connection between storefronts and the street-level vitality of public spaces, we went off of a February Washingtonian article by Greater Greater Washington contributor Dan Reed about two adjacent public parks in central DC. One, Farragut Square, is usually full of people, while the other, Franklin Square, often lies mostly empty, just a few blocks away. Reed suggests in his article that one reason is the larger number of retail outlets on Farragut Square, which draw people through and around the park, some of whom also stop and enjoy the scenery on a park bench or patch of grass. The Storefront Index allows you to easily see this difference, confirming a quick on-the-ground impression, and offering a tool for identifying other likely “hot” and “cold” public spaces.

3. Although the current Storefront Index is based off a point-in-time database of businesses, we hope to expand this to allow stakeholders and researchers to see how neighborhood commercial districts have changed over time. To demonstrate the power of this possibility, we performed a historical analysis on one corridor, Alberta St. in Portland, OR. The Index shows dramatic growth of storefronts in the area between 1997 and 2014; further data from the Census shows that total jobs in the area has increased from under 800 to nearly 2,500 between 2002 and 2014.

4. Are Millennials back into buying cars? Some recent report have claimed so—but, as with homebuying, a closer look shows that young adults today remain much less likely to take out auto loans or have driver’s licenses than previous generations at at the same age. In fact, every age group up to 50 has driver’s licenses at a lower rate than a few decades ago; for those aged 25-29, the license rate has declined from over 95 percent to 85 percent since 1983. Again, while counter-intuitive takes on Millennials’ urban living habits might make good clickbait—and ring sonorously in the ears of real estate agents and car companies—the fact is that today’s young adults really are significantly less likely to own homes or have a driver’s license than previous generations.

The week’s must reads

1. We tend to focus on local policymakers, but it’s worth listening to this interview with Obama HUD Secretary, and former San Antonio mayor, Julián Castro at theNew Yorker—what does the White House think are the major challenges for urban policy? How does it propose to deal with them? “I couldn’t think of any American city that has dealt well with that issue of gentrification and displacement. People in the neighborhoods want some of those amenities and some investment…and then you reach a tipping point where people can’t afford to live in that neighborhood…. The inconclusive part of this is there hasn’t been enough research on what happens to the residents who are displaced. Do we know definitively that on net the impact is negative?”

2. While progressive slogans have focused on “the one percent,” Thomas Edsall at the New York Times says that more attention should be paid to the top twenty percent of earners. Going off of new research on economic segregation from Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon, he argues that the geographic separation of the “truly advantaged” has profound effects on opportunity and politics. Edsall says this kind of segregation is especially dangerous when it puts the economic self-interest of egalitarian-minded wealthy people at odds with their professed values.

3. What is the intersection of urban planning and gender? A conference in Detroit looked to investigate that question, as reported in the Huffington Post. Speakers argued that in many cases, women interact with cities differently—for example, placing a higher priority on safety in public places, or having different trip patterns, as a result of having disproportionate responsibility for things like child care. With women underrepresented in urban leadership positions (less than 20 percent of US mayors are women), there has been an increase in organizing to broaden understanding of these issues.

New knowledge

1. Bloomberg entered every ZIP code in America into Amazon’s new same-day delivery service to map where the company is and isn’t offering the product—andthe resulting maps show some disturbing racial patterns. Even if, as seems plausible, these results came from a race-neutral algorithm, they demonstrate the dangerous power of racial and economic segregation: by sorting demographics with greater purchasing power into certain neighborhoods, they make it more likely that ostensibly race-blind policies will actually perpetuate discrimination. Some patterns seem particularly egregious, as with Boston’s predominantly black Roxbury neighborhoods, which is excluded from same day service despite being completely surrounded by neighborhoods that are included.

2. Previously, we’ve covered ways in which neighborhoods and segregation can affect the educational outcomes of children. But a study led by Laura Tach at Cornell University finds that neighborhoods have effects on the educational progress of adults, too. Recipients of affordable housing support in Philadelphia were randomly assigned to homes in various neighborhoods and, as a part of the program, were required to enroll in secondary education. People assigned to homes in block groups with higher levels of poverty and violence made less progress in getting college credits than those assigned to wealthier and safer areas.

3. As covered in CityLab, a new study looks at how, when, and why transit services affect property values. The meta-study of 60 earlier papers finds that the connection between new public transit lines or stations and increased property values isn’t as automatic as sometimes claimed. A number of factors help determine the impact, including the extent to which the new service actually improves access to the region’s jobs and amenities; the ease of other transport options, including traffic congestion and parking prices; and the land use around stations, with denser, mixed-use development and public spaces increasing values. This adds to the growing body of evidence that concentrated poverty amplifies the negative effects of poverty across generations.

The Week Observed is City Observatory’s weekly newsletter. Every Friday, we give you a quick review of the most important articles, blog posts, and scholarly research on American cities.

Our goal is to help you keep up with—and participate in—the ongoing debate about how to create prosperous, equitable, and livable cities, without having to wade through the hundreds of thousands of words produced on the subject every week by yourself.

If you have ideas for making The Week Observed better, we’d love to hear them! Let us know at jcortright@cityobservatory.org, dkhertz@cityobservatory.org, or on Twitter at @cityobs.