Monthly Archives: December 2014

How to Get Lost?

In the age of the globalized compass of GPS, where the world is ringed by thirty-two satellites that download continuous feeds to our mobile devices as if monitoring our every move, it’s hard to imagine how we can get lost.  Yet the ease with which AirAsia flight QZ8501 disappeared, as its pilot lost contact and communication with ground control over the waters of the  Indonesian archipelago, poses problems of how a direct flight suddenly vanished from the monitors of controllers, as much as how contact was lost, in an era when we mostly imagine flight paths as discrete itineraries.

 

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Gone seem the days when weather systems led ships went astray, and the merchant steamship Archimedes driven wildly off of its course in the summer of 1929, when it was swept wildly off course for four days, overloaded with goods, inside the vortex of hurricane winds while preparing for a tobacco run to China.  The drama that Richard Hughes narrates in In Hazard about the event that prompted Joseph Conrad to write Typhoon described the limits of modern engineering–an challenge between engineering and the environment–as the modern steamship, aptly named the Archimedes, lost all of its forward thrust in the high winds of a hurricane while it was laden with goods.  Such meteorological challenges seem anachronistically removed, despite the still compelling nature of the narrative of the struggle to send steam to pumps to right a sloping deck, an impossible challenge in the eye of the storm for even the finest engineers aboard the ship.

The struggles of being swept off course described in In Hazard resonate with the unexpected disappearance of AirAsia flight QZ8501, however, which somehow disappeared near Borneo after it lost contact with air traffic controllers while carrying 162 on route to Singapore.  So do the problems of its loss of all propulsion and, apparently, orientation due to possible electromagnetic interference in a fateful–in this case, also tragically fatal–storm.  The crash of the Airbus airplane into the sea provoked a range of fears about the possible causes for its captain and co-pilot’s sudden disorientation, but rather than pose problems of engineering, the loss of the plane in severe thunderstorms raised questions of how it disappeared from the map.  Even given very limited radar coverage over so large an expanse of water prevents adequate tracking of the plane’s actual position by radar over the South China Seas, the loss of contact in an increasingly interconnected world may pose problems both of communication and of envisioning overcrowded flight paths on a map.  The increased crowding of flights over the archipelago in recent years poses problems of allowing safe passage over ocean waters, and indeed across the high winds of an inter-tropical convergence zone, long known for unpredictable weather systems but, we must ask, perhaps inadequately accounted for in the increasingly crowded flight corridors around Indonesian airspace.

How could the plane have gotten lost?  Airlines do not stream geolocation data in real time, partly since they use voice-to-voice communication, but no doubt  because the notion that the plane would be “lost at sea” seems so small a possibility or likelihood:  yet the difficulties in establishing communication with the plane are puzzling in an area of apparently continuous monitoring.  It is especially eerie since no actual witness’s voice survives to narrate what happened after it lost all contact with air traffic controllers shortly after having requested to change course.  After having vanished from radar screens quite suddenly, and exiting the map of monitors, the interrupted path of AirAsia 8501 is difficult to explain:  no “black box” has survived or may be ever found.  It seems the airbus carrying 162 people vanished at a time when we rarely if ever leave the map, however: the mystery of how it did strains common credulity, but some answers seem to lie in the maps of the crowded scene in which the pilots charted their plane’s actually otherwise ordinary path.  Even as dozens of bodies have been recovered, none wearing life jackets, we are left to imagine the complete panic that ensued as the plane went off its course, only to plummet and be engulfed in the sea below.  Is it possible that the tragedy of losing contact with air traffic controllers over ocean seas might be more important to map than the point at which the flight mysteriously abandoned its planned flight path?

 

2-10 after take-offNew York Times

 

The shocking density of the air traffic levels among different flights is closely tied to rapidly increasing air-traffic off the coast of Indonesia.  Several aircraft were in close vicinity of the airbus when its signal was suddenly lost.  The refusal of a request from its captain, Iryanto, to ascend course from 32,000 to 38,000 feet to avoid worrisome weather conditions from AirAsia QZ8501 was not quickly granted to the captain, we suspect, partly on account of the difficulty of balancing how many flights were in transit in the crowded airspace flying to Singapore or easterly through Indonesia.  Exactly what happened to the plane’s flight path is not clear, but it seems the pilots’ orientation or sense of what the flight path was seems to have been lost as their plane was steered into the clouds they sought to avoid, and their own navigational systems and magnetic compasses seem to have been disabled or adversely affected as a result–perhaps by a lightning storm in the vicinity.  The request air of traffic controls at Soekarno-Hatta Airport was sent to Indonesia’s Changi Airport and approved, but was asked to only ascend to 34,000 feet; when the pilot was notified at 6:14 a.m., no reply was ever received.  Jakarta’s air traffic control, AirNav Indonesia, contacted flight control in Singapore, in an attempt to accommodate the request:  “It took us around 2 to 3 minutes to communicate with Singapore. We agreed to allow the plane to increase its height but only to 34,000 feet, because at that time AirAsia flight QZ8502 was flying at 38,000 feet,” explained the state navigation operator, Wisnu Darjono, but the limited space allowed did not meet the pilot’s request.  (The recent announcement by Indonesia’s transportation ministry that AirAsia QZ8501 in fact flew on a schedule that was unauthorized reveals an additional possible reason for this delay, but has not been confirmed.)

Was the apparent hesitation of response due to the appearance of an otherwise unscheduled flight within the increasingly crowded corridors of flights over the South China Seas, or to the difficulty to predict weather systems in rerouting of flight paths?  The challenges of mapping air traffic seem considerable, as are challenges of using judgment to offer pilots with the quick responses that they require: the returning flight seems to have already obtained the increased elevation that Iryanto had requested.

 

traffic-720New York Times; flight path data from  FlightRadar24, rendered by Gregor Asch

 

Iryanto did not specify the reasons for the change in path.  But the region was dense with cumulonimbus clouds, associated with heavy precipitation, if not thunderstorms:  both the pilot and copilot are presumed to have become disoriented in what may have been severe thunderstorms–as would be typical for such a “convergence” region, it seems, where tropical trade winds from two hemispheres regularly intersect and create poor conditions for navigating not only ships but airplanes.  News Agencies and television networks have faulted poor weather conditions and thunderstorms in the area, weather systems explain only part of the mechanics of the terrible failure; but the ability to avoid such storms by a margins of twenty miles depends on a system of clear communication with air controllers after leaving Surubaya.

The sense of ‘getting lost’ is hard to communicate on the map, and few further stories will probably be told, like Conrad or Hughes, about the Airbus A302 jet and its 162 passengers and crew.  The young, low-cost airline, which flies some rightly planes across South Asia, is, according to the Times, operates more Airbus A 320’s than most firms in the world and large providers of flights in the region; the plain was. ominously, piloted by a captain and first officer may have had relatively few flying hours–some report that it amounted to only 8, 375 between them, as AirAsia earlier noted in a press release, although Tony Fernandes, the AirAsia CEO, claimed considerably more for the pilot (20,500)–7,000 with AirAsia for him alone.  Both lost contact with ground control, as the plane suddenly vanished–hours of fuel in its engine some forty-five minutes after take-off, in ways that left folks staring blankly into a map, as they would when monitoring search efforts.  While news networks invoke unforeseen weather conditions, is that even a satisfying or responsible answer?  The possibility that AirAsia was potentially regularly flying aircraft that had not been cleared for permission with Indonesia raises the fears of sort of vigilante flying to meet market demand one would rather not consider.


30indonesia-hp-jumboDarren Whiteside/Reuters

 

There are many such narratives in maps suggesting increasing congestion of airline flights above the South China Seas.  If, as first suggested in a tweet by Archie Tse, #AirAsia8501, and seems increasingly likely, the airplane’s disappearance was preceded by how local air traffic control prevented the plane from changing not only its flight path but altitude as requested in the face of changing meteorological conditions, responsibility may largely lie in poor preparation for an increasingly over-crowded density of flight paths.  For the ability to get lost in unexpected weather systems is greatly intensified in an area where the rerouting of flight-paths might be so problematically constrained–and where air traffic has recently so intensified that its paths are not easily rerouted in to accommodate the need to avoid or circumvent volatile weather systems, and where the plotting of a clear flight path might more accurately perceived from the cockpit–and needing to be adjusted through clear communication with local airports.  In such conditions, monitoring and mapping air traffic seems especially fraught.  An image of those planes run by AirAsia by FlightTracker on January 2 reveals the increased expansion of flights across the archipelago–

 

flight aware flights of airasia over archipelafgo jan 2 10-20 amFlight Aware’s live Flight Tracker, Jan 2 11:41 a.m.

 

And when the request from the airplane not only to ascend an additional 6,000 feet to avoid terrifyingly dense cloud cover was denied by air traffic controllers, the Indonesian newspaper Kompas reported, “because of air traffic,” the liabilities of readily plotting safe courses of travel in an area where air traffic has rapidly expanded with a proliferation of low-cost airlines–along a business model with which we are today unfortunately all too familiar for most Americans, AirAsia adopted the “no-frills” model of customer relations, charging for luggage, snacks, and choice seating, that paralleled a threefold expansion from 2003-11 of unfettered growth in the density of air traffic above the archipelago, already a region of increasing unstructured expansion and transportation congestion.  The seven years of uninterrupted growth of domestic airlines in the skies above Indonesia rapidly accelerated in recent years, meeting a growing demand for local and international travel in a region that is expected to see a huge and unchecked growth in urban expansion by 2030, at steep economic and ecological costs of growing carbon emissions across the region that is the fourth densest population in the world, or only shortly behind the United States.

 

Domestic Indonesian airlines Source: Innovate weekly average April 2013; Anna Aero

 

In the ambit of air travel, the unstructured expansion of flights around the Indonesian archipelago seems to have become particularly acute in recent years as the region is served by networks of cheap flights across the Indonesian archipelago, including such growing airlines such as Citilink, Tigerair, and Valuair.  For these airlines, whom the problem of mapping congested travel parallels better known problem of airlines pushing pilots to run repeated flights on no rest, asking air traffic controllers to work for low pay, and adopting practices of poor overall management inadequate to expanding congestion of airways over one of the most inhabited areas of the world, as the archipelago’s oceanic expanse is increasingly covered by a web of short- or long-distance commercial flights.

 

Air Asia routes map

 

The apparent failure to chart routes among planes adequately–and provide a communication infrastructure to map the course of planes to map routes in a way sufficiently flexible to allow pilots to avoid weather systems like thunderstorms, from which planes are required to maintain a distance of at least twenty miles, must have become intensified as AirAsia alone rapidly expanded service in the Archipelago and to India and Japan–intensifying air traffic by a huge degree in a region where radar often works poorly to track planes with precision, and communication between airports may lag.  The flat blue field over which so many miniature plans of different sizes swarm conceals the weather systems and winds that tragically interrupted the expected trajectory of the AirAsia plane as it passed Southern Sumatra, where it lost all contact with air controllers.  Imagine flying an unannounced plane within such crowded skies and being surprised by dangerous weather conditions.

 

airasia8501Flight path and last known position of AirAsia Flight 8501/www.flightradar24.com

 

Was the airplane in fact lost because it was not granted permission to ascend, and was hemmed in by the existing flight paths of other planes?  That rather terrifying possibility would show the difficulties of accommodating the explosion of air travel in the region, and the need to create a more comprehensive system of mapping air travel across the region’s skies.  If our own air-travel experience seems increasingly suggests a market-driven decrease in quality-of-flying experience that has stratified the experience of flying with surcharges galore, the expanding free-market of the friendly skies in South Asia that led air traffic controllers to refuse to grant the possibility of climbing 6,000 feet “because of traffic” is revealed in the map of the density of air-traffic that Flight 8501 needed to navigate at the time of its disappearance, and to whom it had to offer each other adequate berth, and the reluctance of granting climbing such a height may reflect the difficulties of negotiating multiple flight paths stacked and superimposed upon one another.   (It is striking that the South China Seas were a notoriously dangerous area for maritime travel, especially in the particularly unpredictable area near the equator of an ‘intertropical convergence zone’ (ITCZ) where trade winds of both hemispheres intersect–as was well-known to sailors in the same region over a century ago.

Have we actually forgotten to adequately integrate meteorological conditions in the very maps of charting and planning airline routes on which we now increasingly rely?)  Since even at a low altitude, the plane was probably flying through clouds containing ice or supercooled water, the need to chart such shifting weather conditions in maps seems particularly complicated by questions of overly crowded skies.

 

traffic-720New York Times; flight path data from  FlightRadar24, rendered by Gregor Aitch

 

The flight seems to have landed in the water but two miles from the site of having lost contact with the AirNav controller, as the plane’s forced entry into storm clouds provoked an icing of the engine that led the Airbus A320-200 plane with 162 people aboard to crash into the Java Sea.

 

map-showing-the-area-in

 

Debris and Plane

Although the comparisons between two recently disappeared planes which took off from the same region of the world seem inevitable, the proliferation of news maps in the media about the lost Air Malaysia Flight 370 that departed from Kuala Lumpur, with a destination of Beijing, only to take a U-turn in the South China Sea, is different from the mapping of the flight path or trajectory of the lost AirAsia Airbus A302–and not only because the path of the former could not be traced by pings, while the airbus took the path of flight that had been planned.  But the sudden disappearance of AirAsia 8501 seems especially tragic because of the record of the pilot’s apparent failure to avoid the meteorological disturbances and potential thunderstorms in which the flight may have lost orientation and been lost.

The map of the AirAsia flight also reveals the intense crowding of skies, no doubt prioritizing profit and driven by a free-market, to create the most economically efficient process for filling the skies with flights, without allowing space for variations in meteorological conditions, that seems oddly similar to the noted decline in attention to passengers or consumers in a near-monopoly of merged airlines in the United States in its discounting of the experience of the quality of the passenger or preparation of the plane for flight.  Independently from the navigational experience of the pilots at hand, the incredible lack of attention to planning paths of flight or airspace in a region where flight has so markedly expanded in recent years suggests that market forces in and of themselves are not so easily or clearly guided by the proverbial invisible hand.  In the case of an approaching lightning storm, the invisible hand might be more likely to pluck a passing airliner and its up to 200 passengers from the sky some two hours and ten minutes after take-off.

 

2-10 after take-offNew York Times

 

The ability to get lost in weather systems is dependent on experience, to be sure, but increasingly on incomplete or inaccurate communication–and on the difficulties of accommodating to weather–in ways that can become an unspeakable if not incomprehensible tragedy for all.  One cannot ask what might have been, but must untangle the liabilities of our increasingly crowded airspace.

When Malaysia’s Chief of Navy tweeted an image of the surface sectors that are still being searched for the plane effective as of 30 December, he seemed to acknowledge the broad reasons that are in need of patrolling for signs of the plane that seems now, sadly, to lie beneath the ocean waters.

 

B6D65GSCQAETVtN.jpg-large

 

 

The commonalities between the painful interrogation of air flight maps in the search and that for the Air Malaysia 340 flight and the AirAsia 8501 disaster lie in the déjà vu quality of viewers’ complete disempowerment before the map of air travel, and the unknown worries that the devastating disaster provoked.  And as governments are beset by the need to respond to increasing preoccupation of the dangers of air flight, we need to calm our own sense of air safety, a deep need to try to resolve the reasons for the tragic death of so many people echoes as we scurry to see how such a catastrophic outcome of an air freight might be explained.  It is in fact unclear what maps will tell us about the search for the plane at this point.  But given that airplanes are required to stay some twenty miles from thunderstorms, it seems incumbent to ensure that all flight paths can be granted the necessary latitude to be rerouted to guarantee that planes safely maintain such precautionary distances from one another.

The hurry to grant available flight pathways in a particularly crowded corridor of flight-paths seems likely to leave many staring, without hope of clear answers, at the actually quite limited information about flight conditions in given locations that can be presented in a paper map.  The delayed response–the wrenching grieving–only leads us back, uncomprehendingly, to contemplate the mute maps of the flight paths.

 

Indonesia Plane

 

The tragedy provokes a reflection on problems of engineering and extreme weather with an unexpected twist:  for rather than presenting a story of being blown off course, showing nature challenging the best practices of engineering, as symbolized by the very name of the steamship Archimedes, the AirAsia flight less faced the limits of engineering, than problems of communication and planning:  it may be that problems of re-routing the airbus were forestalled because of broken off communication and inadequate of coordinated planning to oversee congested air-corridors or most flexibly coordinate the supervision of regional flight paths.  Rather than being caught in a drama of problems of mechanical engineering, like the passengers of the Archimedes, the 162 passengers and crew seem to have suffered from inadequate oversight of an almost unfettered expansion of the marketplace for air travel in the region.  In fact, despite well-founded calls airlines uniformly adopt “real-time” tracking of their aircraft, such as the system that is sold by the Canadian company Flyht, this would be more helpful in locating the plane, rather than maintaining the security of flight paths, although the equipment would stream cockpit voice recordings and flight data in ways that would primarily be to help investigators understand the causes of the aircraft’s loss and determine where it is located.

The problem may well lie in how we collectively continue to envision flight paths as discrete ones.  In an age when we too often imagine the itineraries of air-travel to be disembodied, point-to-point trips plotted in isolation from their surroundings, we might do well to reconsider the imaginary construction by which we map airplane flights for passengers, and its possibilities of almost intentional obfuscation of isolated images of travel shown over the face of the globe.

 

Viewfinders imagine

 

 

Many basic questions still demand to be answered.  But itineraries are preserved in the images of mapped routes that we still use as a basis for understanding airplane travel, and indeed for planning the routes of travel that we make in increasingly crowded skies. Yet do they allow us to describe the shifting experience of flown space, in an era when the relations between flights seem as important to map as the relation between points of departure and a destination?

 

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Sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik completing his sculpture of the two missing jet aircraft, the AirAsia airbus QZ8501 and the lost aircraft Malaysia Airlines MH370, on the Golden Sea Beach at Puri (India) on December 29, 2014

 

The questioning view from the shorline doesn’t understand the crowded itineraries of the sky, but in rendering two jets, upward-tilting nose facing upward-tilting nose that ascend as if through the clouds, Pattinik’s sand sculpture links the two flights on allegedly guided paths to ask how could have gotten lost.

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Filed under AirAsia Flight 8501, flight navigation maps, Flight Radar, mapping commercial flights, mapping flight paths

Arctic Circles

On our annual northward migration to Ottawa this December, we gathered around the unused fireplace in an unheated living room during the warmest Canadian Christmas in personal experience–as well as in the public record for Atlantic Canada, where local records for rainfall have surpassed all earlier recorded years.  Perhaps because of this, discussion turned to ownership of the North Pole for the first time for some time, as what was formerly a featureless area of arctic ice has become, as a receding polar ice-sheet exposes possible sites of petroleum mining, to become an area of renewed land grabs and claims of territoriality, as their value for nations is primarily understood in a global market of energy prospecting.  The story of the new mapping of territorial claims around the arctic ice cap goes back decades, to the exploration of offshore polar drilling, but the exposure of land raises new questions for mapping because boundaries of polar sovereignty are contested, even as oil companies have speculated by modeling sites of future exploration for petroleum deposits.

Although one assumption circulated that the place was Canadian by birthright—birthright to the Arctic?–since it is so central to national mythistory.  But there’s as much validity for its claims as the more strident claim the explorer Artur Chilingarov made to justify his planting of a Russian tricolor in the murky ocean bed 2.5 miles below the North Pole, during the 2007 polar expedition of the Mir submarine, with the blunt declaration that “The Arctic has always been Russian.”  Canadian PM Steven Harper did not hesitate a bit before decrying these claims to territoriality, warning his nation of the danger of Russian plans for incursions into the arctic in his tour of Canada’s North, thumping his chest and professing ongoing vigilance against Russia’s “imperial” arctic “imperial” as a national affront in addressing troops participating in military maneuvers off Baffin island as recently as in 2014.

Harper’s speech might have recalled the first proposal to carve pie-shaped regions in a sectorization of the North Pole first made by the early twentieth-century Canadian senator, the honorable Pascal Poirier, when he full-throatedly proposed to stake Canada’s sovereign claims to land “right up to the pole” and transform what had been a terra nullius into an image of objective territory seemed once again at stake.  Poirier claimed jurisdictional contiguity in declaring “possession of all lands and islands situated in the north of the Dominion.”  Poirier’s project of sectorizing the frozen arctic sea and its islands, first launched shortly after Peary’s polar expedition, has regained its relevance in an age of global warming, arctic melting and climate change.  But the reaction to the expanding Arctic Ocean in a language of access to a market of commodities has inflected and infected his discussion of the rights of territoriality, in ways that have obscured the deeper collective problems and dilemmas that the eventuality of global warming–and arctic melting–broadly pose.

 

Arctic Teritorial ClaimsEncyclopedia Brittanica

 

The question of exactly where the arctic lies, and how it can be bounded within a territory, or, one supposes, how such an economically beneficial “good” that was part of how parts of the north pole might get away from Canada, has its roots in global warming–rather than in conquest.  The dramatically rapid shrinkage of ice in the Arctic Sea has raised newly pressing issues of sovereignty; the widespread melting of arctic ice has made questions of the exploitation of its natural resources and potential routes of trade has made questions of the ownership of the Arctic ocean–the mapping of the territorial rights to the seas–increasingly pressing, as some 14 million square kilometers of Arctic Ocean have emerged not only as open for exploration, but as covering what has been estimated as 13% or more of total reserves of oil remaining to be discovered world wide.

 

20141220_IRM937 The Economist

While it seemed unrelated to the ice melting from nearby roofs, or large puddles on the streets of Ottawa, conflicting and contested territorial claims that have recolored most maps of the Arctic so that its sectors recall the geopolitical boardgame RISK, that wonderful material artifact of the late Cold War.  Rather than map the icy topography of the region as a suitably frosty blue, as Rand McNally would long have it, we now see contested sectors of the polar regions whose borderlands lie along the Lomonosov Ridge (which runs across the true pole itself).  The division of the pole so that it looks like post-war Berlin is an inevitable outcome of the fact that the arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, resulting in the opening of an area that was for so long rarely mapped, and almost always colored white with shades of picturesque light blue to suggest its iciness.

The lands newly revealed in the northern climes have however led territorial claims of sovereignty to be staked by a four-color scheme of mapping.  The uncovering of arctic lands–in addition to new technologies for underwater oil extraction and sensing–have complicated the existing maps of ocean waters premised upon expanding existing territorial waters an additional 278 kilometers beyond what can be proven to be an extension of a landmasses’ continental shelf–expanding since 1984 the rights to Arctic waters of the United States, Denmark, and Canada, according to consent to the United Nation’s Law of the Sea Convention (UNICLOS) which sought to stabilize on scientific grounds competing claims to arctic sovereignty.

 

 

Arctic Boudnary Disputes

 

The issues have grown in complex ways as the melting of Arctic ice has so dramatically expanded in recent years, exposing new lands to territorial claims that can be newly staked on a map that unfortunately seems more and more to resemble the surface of a board games.  Even more than revealing areas that were historically not clearly mapped for centuries, the melting of the polar cap’s ice in the early twenty-first century has precipitated access to the untapped oil and gas reserves—one eight of global supplies—and the attendant promise of economic gains.  Due to the extreme rapidity with which polar temperatures have recently risen in particular, the promises of economic extraction have given new urgency to mapping the poles and the ownership of what holes will be drilled there for oil exploration:  instead of being open to definition by the allegedly benevolent forces of the free market, the carving up of the arctic territories and disputes over who “owns” the North Pole are the nature follow-through of a calculus of national interests.  The recent opening up of new possibilities of cross-arctic trade that didn’t involve harnessed Alaskan Huskies drawing dog sleds.  But the decline in the ice-cover of the arctic, as it was measured several years ago, already by 2011 had opened trade routes like the Northwest Passage that were long figures of explorers’ spatial imaginaries, but are all of a sudden being redrawn on maps that raise prospects of new commercial routes.   New regions assume names long considered but the figments of the overly active imaginations of early modern European arctic explorers and navigators in search of the discovery of sea routes to reach the Far East.

 

20120616_SRM980The Melting North,” Economist

 

On the one hand, these maps are the end-product of the merchant-marine wish-fulfillment of the eighteenth-century wishful mapping of the French Admiral Bartholomew de Fonte, whose maps promised that he had personally discovered several possible courses of overcoming a trade-deficit caused by British domination of the Atlantic waters, allowing easy access to the South Seas.  The imagination of such routes proliferated in a set of hopeful geographies of trade which weren’t there in the late eighteenth century, of which de Fonte’s General Map of the Discoveries is an elegant mixture of fact and fiction, and imagined polar nautical expeditions of a fairly creative sort, presenting illusory open pathways as new discoveries to an audience easily persuaded by mapping pathways ocean travel, even if impassable, and eager to expand opportunities for trade by staking early areas of nautical sovereignty to promise the potential navigational itineraries from Hudson Bay or across the Tartarian nation of the polar pygmies:

 

arctic1772-full-1

Open-ended geographies of land-masses were given greater credibility by the dotted lines of nautical itineraries from a West Sea above California to Kamchatka, a peninsula now best-known to practiced players of the board-game RISK:

0078em

 

As well as imagine the increase potential shipping routes that can speed existing pathways of globalization, in fact, the meteorological phenomenon of global warming has also brought a global swarming to annex parts of the pole in confrontational strategies reminiscent of the Cold War that tear a page out of the maps, which give a similar prominence to Kamchatka, of the board game ‘RISK!’  Will their growth lead to the naming of regions that we might be tempted to codify in a similarly creatively improvised manner–even though the polar cap was not itself ever included in the imaginative maps made for successive iterations of the popular game of global domination made for generations of American boys.

 

 

pic324841 RISK (1968)  

1 living room, dining room, kitchen IMG_1319 Risk!, undated  

risk-1 Risk–current gameboard

Will future editions expand to include the poles as well, before they melt in entirety, as the ways that they become contested among countries percolate in the popular imagination?

We must await to see what future shorelines codified in the special ‘Global Warming Edition’ of RISK–in addition to those many already in existence in the gaming marketplace. If the game boards suggest Christmas activities of time past, the ongoing present-day game of polar domination seems to be leading to an interesting combination of piece-moving and remapping with less coordinated actions on the parts of its players.  We saw it first with Russia’s sending the Mir up to the North, which precipitated how Norway claimed territoriality of a sizable chunk of Arctic waters around the island of Svalbard; then Denmark on December 15 restocked its own claims, no doubt with a bit of jealousy for Norwegian and Swedish oil drilling, to controlling some 900,000 square kilometers of arctic ocean north of Greenland, arguing that they in fact belong to its sovereign territories, and that geology reveals the roots of the so-called Lomonosov Ridge itself as an appendage of Greenland–itself a semi-autonomous region of Denmark, upping up the ante its claims to the pole.

While the Russians were happy to know that their flag was strategically but not so prominently placed deep, deep underwater in the seabed below the poles, the problem of defining the territorial waters of the fast-melting poles upped the ante for increasing cartographical creativity.   Recognized limits of 200 nautical miles defines the territorial waters where economic claims can be made, but the melting of much of the Arctic Ocean lays outside the claims of Canada (although it, too, hopes to stake sovereignty to a considerable part of the polar continental shelf), by extending sovereign claims northward from current jurisdictional limits to divide the mineral wealth.  Were the Lomosonov Ridge–which isn’t moving, and lies above Greenland–to become a new frontier of the Russian state, Russian territory would come to include the pole itself.

 

 

LOMOSONOV RIDGE.pngBill Rankin/National Geographic

 

The actual lines of territorial division aside, the diversity of names of the single region indicate the competing claims of sovereignty that exist, as if a historical palimpsest, within an actual map of the polar region:  from the Amundsen Basin lies beside the Makarov Basin, the Yermak Plateau beside the Lena Trough and Barents Plain, suggesting the multiple claims of naming and possession as one approached the North Pole, without even mentioning Franz Josef Land.

 

 

LOMOSONOV RIDGE

amundsen basin dotted lines of contestation?.png

Contestation of the Pole

While the free market isn’t able to create an exactly equanimous or impartial division of land-claims, the new levels of Denmark’s irrational exuberance over mineral wealth led the country to advance new claims for owning the north pole, and oil-rich Norway eager to assert its rights to at least a sixth of the polar cap, given its continued hold on the definition of the northern lands.  The increasing claims on proprietary rights of polar ownership among nations has lead international bodies such as the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Seas (UNICLOS) to hope to codify the area peaceably by shared legal accords–presumably before the ice-cover all melts.

The maps of speculation of the “Arctic Land Grab” is economically driven and suggests an extension of offshore speculation for oil and gas that has long roots, but which never imagined that these claims would be able to be so readily concretized in terms of a territorial map as the melting of the ice cap now suggests.  But as technical maps of prospecting are converted into maps with explicit territorial claims, planned or lain lines of pipe are erased, and the regions newly incorporated as sites of territoriality in ways that earlier cartographers would never have ventured.

rankin polar maps

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Bill Rankin/Guerilla Cartography

The existence of laid or planned pipeline by which to pump and stream oil across much of Upper Canada from the Chukchi Sea, North Slope, and MacKenzie Delta have long been planned by Canadians.  Similarly, the Russian government, echoing earlier claims of Russian stars to straddle the European and Asian continents, have claimed the underwater Lomosonov Ridge as part of the country’s continental shelf, even if it lies outside the offshore Exclusive Economic Zone, as is permitted by UNICLOS–so long as the edge of the shelf is defined.

Canada has taken the liberty to remap its own territory this April, in ways that seem to up the ante in claims to arctic sovereignty.  In updating the existing map of 2006 to make it appear more ice exists in the Arctic than it had in the past,  the Atlas of Canada Reference Map seems to augment its own sovereign claims to a region in ways clothed in objectivity:  even as arctic ice-cover undeniably rapidly melts in a decades-long trend, the ice-cover in the region is greatly expanded in this map, in comparison to that of 2006, and the northern parts of Canada are given a polemic prominence in subtle ways by the use of a Lambert conformal conic projection and a greatly expanded use of aboriginal toponymy to identify lands that even belong to different sovereignty–as Greenland, here Kalaalit Nunaat–in terms that link them to indigenous Canadians, and by extension to the nation.  Both tools of mapping appear to naturalize Canadian claims to the Arctic in a not so subtle fashion.  Moreover, the map stakes out exclusive economic zones around Arctic regions:  even as the Arctic rapidly melts, for example, disputed islands near Greenland, like Hans Island, are shown clearly as lying in Canadian waters.

Canada with Polar Claims, Parks

Perhaps what exists on paper trumps reality, creating an authoritative image of an expanded Arctic–a white plume that expands the amount of Arctic ice beyond the rendering of the Arctic Sea in its earlier if now outdated predecessor.

What exists on paper, once officially sanctioned, seems to trump the rapidly shrinking extent of arctic ice.  The map trumps reality by blinding the viewer, ostrich-like fashion, or keeping their head deeply buried in the proverbial sand.  The decision to show the thirty-year median of sea-ice extent in September in the years between 1981 to 2010 brings the map into line with the way that Environment Canada computes sea-ice extent.  And the augmentation of Inuit toponymy for regions near the Arctic recognizes the indigenous role in shaping Canada’s toponym.  But it would be hard to say that either would be advanced if they did not have the effect of expanding Canadian sovereignty to the arctic.  The reality it maps clearly mirrors the shifting interests of the state at a time of the shrinking of Arctic ice due to climate change, more closely than it shows the effects of global warming on the ice-cover of the northern regions, let alone in the Arctic itself.  With more maps that diminish the effects of global warming, the orienting functions of the map seem to be called into question in themselves.

Merry Christmas indeed!

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Filed under arctic, arctic melting, climate change, Global Warming

Alternative Metrics of America’s Divided Economies #2

The ballyhooed shift of the economy from the industrial to the technological and financial sectors seems like it conceals the deep shift in the geography of the working male:  while the anthropocentric focus of the data is not meant to be gender-biased, it reveals a steady decline of the “working man”–an astounding tripling of men not working since the late 1960s.  The expansion of those not working reflects in roughly broad brushstrokes parallels a decline of the industrial workforce, but is also an interesting metric to map the transformation of the nation in ways that concepts of the Recession or failures of job-production cannot describe.  The terrain of men between twenty-five and fifty-four without work–a rough measure of adulthood and able-bodiedness, of which even setting traditional parameters, provide a contrast with the categories of a landscape of the past,  and suggests the shifting place of the working age man in American society–if not the relation between man and work, and the absence of work’s spatial distribution in the United States.

Recent visualizations of the decline of a national workforce seem more like conversation stoppers from which there is little prospect of relief or escape than invitations for thought.  While what we talk about when we view a data visualization is dictated by the parameters of the snapshot it declares, the landscape of the out of work in America is on the front burner of most data visualizers, who have been competing, in the manner of so many actuaries, to present the best picture of American decline.  Fear grips the visualization of the drying up of work, which seems extracted or deflated in ways that create a new sense of hills and valleys in the topographic maps of the country:  what were once centers of the economy are transformed in the economic landscapes of unemployment that they present, providing new contours that we are asked to assess as if it is time to assess the place where we are at through the effects that the arrival of the “Great Recession” from Sea to Shining Sea–and the centers of work that continue to exist across the Home of the Brave.

Before examining the maps of those out of work in America, the contours of such a map suggests one of the backgrounds for the reception of the internet economy and digital revolution that may reveal the special appeal of the somewhat illusory notion that the web promises the coming generation of a wave of new jobs.  While the internet has been blessed as a solace to the out of work, transformed by alchemy of the world wide web into blissed-out surfers putting their time into online betting and social networking sites, net advocates insist on potential economic benefits of the new cultural commons of “prosumers” that lies on the horizons of our backlit lives.  The foreseeing of a massive expansion of the DIY economy as part of a “Third Industrial Revolution” that is to be unleashed on the internet will not only provide a basis for reunderstanding the energy grid; for many, new sites of trading and commerce–on Etsy or other virtual marketplaces–has spontaneously generated claims for the benefits of such new platforms for marketing creativity that will work to make folks feel valued and great about both their “work” and themselves.  Yet Sue Halpern found these claims quite creepy in their unstated underside, not often mentioned by enthusiasts such as Jeremy Rifkin who prophesies a Third Industrial Revolution of clean energy and renewable resources across the globe:   for the link between the internet and a new “energy paradigm” in the new industrial revolution of an “energy internet,” may well augur a day when workers may not only be increasingly replaced by machines, as the internet decouples productivity from human work, but, more insidiously, e-commerce creates the illusion of productive engagement:  “a do-it-yourself subculture is thriving, and sharing cars, tools, houses, and other property is becoming more common, [but] it is also true that much of this activity is happening under duress as steady employment disappears.”  (While 60 million consumers interact with Etsy, Amanda Hess found that 65% of sellers made more than $100 last year.  Compared to the 5,000,000 jobs that Slate‘s Associate Editor Chris Wilson mapped as vanishing from 2008 to 2009 presented a devastating picture of job-loss, barely compensated by talk of the growth of online sellers and small-scale Amazonians.)  This new sense of “work” is not only based on the distractions of web-surfing and the rise of private activities completed during working time in offices, sometimes up to average time spent on private activities at work is between 1.5 and three hours a day., and even the conclusion that 70 percent of internet traffic to pornographic sites during what seem working hours, and the majority of online purchases (up to 60%) from a similar 9-5 timeframe.  But the illusory jobs and increased appearance of engagement that the internet nourishes seems as important to acknowledge in describing the radical redefinition of work in America.  The apparent addiction to such “involuntary slacking” seems to demand attention as an important counterpart to the shifting geography of work in the United States.

What happened in the dire picture of a loss of five million jobs that he presented of national decline that began from roughly when, in what one can’t feel is a coincidental metric, President Obama took office, and we faced our greatest threat of economic downturn in many years?

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The image of economic implosion, or decline in job growth in 2008, two years after the Recession had officially begun, offers a map of the points of local vulnerability to job losses that contrasts with the earlier maps of job growth, and seems like a job-loss virus, spreading from centers of past urban growth, in ways that augur something like a national decline:  the northeast and northern California are deep red, as is the former industrial midwest around Detroit, and the Northwest doesn’t seem to be doing better.  Texas, almost alone with Vermont, for some reason, has spots of blue.  It is not surprising that the Wired map was quickly taken up by Fox News:  the spread of scarlet sink-holes of job-depletion across the continent, radiating out into its surrounding waters, offers a vision of apocalypticism that “others” the continent from a geographic land mass.  The medium of the data visualization offers a snapshot of the status quo sending shivers down one’s spine, jointly suggesting a draining of jobs from the national economy and raising questions about its future.

The image is striking, and drowning in large circles of red, denoting job loss, with small spots of bright blue standing like beacons of hope, but a larger scale image of the shifting growth of unemployment rates over the decade from a Public Policy research team, Mathematica, using statistics from the Census and Dept. of Labor, crafts a far more finely grained picture of national losses from 2000 to 2013, less mired in a feeling of depression and more legible both it int texture and county-by-county specifics that might tell us more:

County Unemployemnt Rate

even if the snapshot map taken in a single year, as 2010, when unemployment was high, revealed a dire deal indeed:

2010 USA

The flat opacity that these data visualizations track, rather than inviting us to contemplate a graphic prospectus of the future, provide a snapshot of relative poverty before which we stand aghast.

The internet has arrived not only as the time-suck from productivity that we’ve all, unconsciously, suspected, but with the promise of a possibility for fashioning new jobs that would lift us from the Great Recession.  Despite the deepest claims that internet commerce provides the opportunity to unleash a new level of contact with consumers and wave of independent sales, it may well be, although it is quite hard to confirm, that the amount of time spent online is something somewhat correlated to the new appearance of folks who are taking steps to leave the workforce, and find solace online, removed from the workplace environments that can provide a somewhat comforting cocoon.  The hope of Jeremy Rifkin that Halpern wryly characterizes as a “vision that people will occupy themselves with more fulfilling activities like making music and self-publishing novels once they are freed from work” exposes the possibility that the internet offers an odd outlet for dropping out of the marketplace.  For while it may be but a coincidence, the shifting geography of being out-of-work, the long-term decline of the American workforce found an interesting outlet for self-promotion and self-fashioning on the internet that Jeremy Rifkin, Lawrence Lessig, and others promise.  But including this image of the economy, or even its economic potential, is almost seems inversely proportioned in its difficult to map compared to the trumpet its benefits.

For the expansion of such self-made businesses or “trade venues” on the web parallel a search to innovate by folks who have been marginalized from or forced to leave the labor force in ways that our statistics of unemployment as reported widely do not fully capture–we must begin by taking stock of the fact that a broad measure of unemployment rose .  To begin to get a handle on our national quagmire of the out work, we need to compute alternative measures of unemployment, however, noting the depressing picture including a broad measure of unemployment computed by the Labor Department to include marginally attached workers–which rose far more than official unemployment rate defined as those looking for work, as Brendan Saloner noted in 2010–even if that rate has now declined to below 6% once again, rather than not budging from 9.6% as was then the case.  The distribution of such a broad measure of underemployment (or unemployment) had striking national variabilities in 2010, focussing on metropolitan areas alone.

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Moving a bit forward in time, the New York Times and Economist noted the importance of considering regional disparities in the “Great Recession” by 2011, noting areas where unemployment crested to 20%–

Geograph of a Recession

–which boasted marked declines in unemployment across much of the country for the first time, save in those places deeply effected by the housing bubble, including California, Florida and Nevada, and those regions whose ingrown unemployment was brought by declining industry, such as Pennsylvania or Indiana:

from June '10

New York Times

The picture of relative discrepancies in the specific areas where national employment rates crested above 20% in some areas, or unemployment stubbornly refused to decrease, presents a picture can be interestingly fit into the long-term decline of the workforce in America, the journalist and historian Yoni Appelbaum has argued.  The long-term decline matches a growing share of the male population who need help or are paying taxes, Appelbaum found, which has wrought considerable social changes in our attitudes toward work and workplaces, independently from the “Great Recession.”  Indeed, the shifting geography of the out of work between the ages of 25 and 54 across the nation  provides a similar distribution of deep valleys.  The nation-wide rise in the numbers of out of work men raise interesting questions about what folks are doing with their time, and what sustains attention at a time of disengagement from the economic marketplace.  Men are not, here, taken as the metonymy for human, but describe a deep change in the status quo which may well suggest the feeling of remove from those technological sectors where the economy has grown, and goes beyond a decline in job creation in specific areas across the United States, that may reflect a geography of desperation and alienation independent from the creation of further jobs.  While the prognosis is not warranted from the map alone, the rise of such out of work men, who either elect to leave the workforce or adopt the classification as disabled, creates a distinct culture in specific cities and regions unlike one of competition for existing jobs, that may pose deep threats for the economy and indeed for public health.

While somewhat like the long-term unemployment rates in its complexure, the distinct nature of the pockets of out of work men are removed from the labor market, and present a topography of what might be called disengagement, if one would not rather use terms without moral judgement. While the two issues are closely tied, the specificity of the map of men out of work map seems striking in its greater demographic specificity.

Men Not Working Map

New York Times/Yoni Applebaum

In ways that seem paralleled by the number of women who are leaving the workforce of the same ages, and to illustrate a deep shift of the culture of work, “working, in America, is in decline,” as Appelbaum put it.  Is this major and ongoing shift in how we relate to work, deeply linked to the rise of the disaffection of many from an existing labor market sen too removed from one’s own self-valuation, or perhaps below one’s competence, the expansion of those outside the workforce, male and female–the non-employed, including disabled or with compensation, make up over an eight of the entire adult US population, include students and those retired, but only 25% are classified as unemployed.

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Almost independently from “unemployment” per se, the sector of such non-employed between ages 25 and 54 seems particularly unhealthy for the nation, and difficult to explain–as is their apparent geographic clustering.  Only just over half say that their jobs ended with the last recession of December 2007 (61%), but an eighth (13%) claim never to have had a full-time job, suggesting that they are probably on the younger end of the age spectrum.

Why not work, despite the clear adverse psychological and personal effects of such an apparent decision or perceived inability to change one’s condition?  Greater risk for substance abuse, alcoholism, depression–widely recognized as both costly and debilitating–and documented difficulties to create stable relationships.  The choice that men make not to work–or to join a workforce which is still looking to hire–indeed raises questions about families and psychological health, and about the perceived place of the individual in the social world.   But the geography of this decision or lack of apparent incentive to join the workforce that Appelbaum found particularly striking, almost approaches a collective paralysis or depression, if with distinct underlying causes, that in aggregate particularly plagues specific areas of the country–areas associated, to be sure, often with economic decline, but also which seem swamps of unsuccessful stories and narratives, and invites new narratives to be told about maps.  But the poverty of information in the data visualization, whose focus on the present status quo offers only a concentration on the short-term, seems something of an evacuation of information from the map, and demands to be supplemented by greater detail to better grasp the distribution it seeks to define.  Looking for further dimensionality of the data it presents, one is tempted to seek correlations in the flat colors of comparable datasets to find what narratives might emerge from the flat visual surfaces that are presented in the amnesiac surfaces of the data visualizations.

One might start from comparing, for example, to the short-term snapshots of depression according to a Behavioral Risk Surveillance System.  Although the broad geographic parameters of this 2010 map issued by the CDC doesn’t offer comparable fine-grained detail, and both leaves many interesting areas without data (Kentucky) and shows significantly elevated rates of depression across the Old South, it suggests contours of depression across the country, particularly dense in spots of long term out-of-workness from West Virginia–if data lacks for Kentucky–Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee, where it crested above 10%:

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But the map unsurprisingly more closely correlates in select regions with the recent Newsweek “Health Gap” that combines mental health and college attendance with other variables of 2014, which uses data from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute–even if that map is not really surprising, and seems to square with a remove from health care, in its clustering on the Mississippi, western Kentucky, and parts of northern Floridam with the Nevada part of the Four Corners and northern New Mexico:

3.26healthoutcome_0

The distribution of the out-of-work male offers a fascinating new subject of mapping, since its distribution seems defined distinctly from the mapping of areas of economic growth, unemployment, or taxation, and suggests a local acceptance of the very demographic category of being out of work.

While we’re at it, of course, we might ask to parse the national distribution of unemployed men along both socioeconomic background and ethnicity, if only to see the results–but these seem to be beyond the point, which is the disquieting nature of the prominence of the category of not seeing oneself as a part of the workforce.  For if there are slightly more non-employed who are African American (14 percent versus 10 percent) or Hispanic (20 percent versus 15 percent), a majority (above 54%) have only a high school education or less, and seem as if our society has failed them–only one fifth have graduated from a 4-year college, in contrast to almost 40% percent of full-time workers, and the disconnect between work and education seems a clearer metric than all else, and their health, as self-reported, is predictably bad–suggesting the possibility of looming considerable social and personal costs, and a great crisis in public health, even if among the non-employed, some 74% affirmed that they have health insurance.  Yet it is conspicuous that one-fifth of non-employed have completed a college degree–even if, perhaps, only recently.

This relatively large number of college graduates who are not able to find work casts a ray of light at the deep depression that might result of being without work, and a paralyzing uncomprehending sense of inadequacy.

The below map offers a compelling mirror of society, and of the long-term difficulties we face.  For the distribution “men not working” is laden with both deep levels of depression, anxiety, and economic despair difficult to process fully, whose apparent uneven distribution and pockets of deep concentration that amazingly surpass 33% suggest the seriously impacted problems of how we define work and occupation today.  The concentration of select areas of dark blue seem swamps of something akin to despair–located around the “Four Corners” and border of New Mexico and Arizona; Southern Oregon; western Montana; northern California; Appalachia; and areas of the Deep South; southern Florida–that seem sights that are sinking, if not almost disappearing, as if potholes of personal futures, off the road map of the common good. These darkly colored regions, off the main highways of America, are less traveled areas, but inescapable parts of our nation’s economy.  Unlike the map of of unemployment for metropolitan areas, some of the most difficult regions of the persistence of men out of work appear at a remove from cities–although the maps use different indices. they suggest similar pictures of the difficulties in the topography of job creation.

Men Not Working Map

Percent Legend

New York Times/Yoni Appelbaum

The local dips in sectors of the nations reveal dark spots in the national economy that can only haunt us.  The metrics of not working men is striking, particularly as the dark green blotches in southern Oregon, northern New Mexico, Appalachia, or parts of Idaho convey a grim desperation of economic displacement, and almost communicate a sense of being left behind.  Is there an odd acceptance of a dark status quo in these areas, where with something like almost half of adult men not at all working leads to a labor market that can almost never be met, and a paralysis of looking for jobs, or actually imagining alternative signs of success?

The region in Northern California, for example, suggests a desperation at the lack of employment opportunities that leads a hazy air of diminished expectations to hang over the land.  The SAMSHA map of sub-state variations of substance abuse using data available online maps a picture disconcertingly parallel in several of its pockets, particularly much of northern California and the Florida Panhandle, but also the Four Corners and Colorado, and LA, although what, exactly, “abuse” is here needs to be examined defined:

NSDUH-Short-Report-113-StateSubUseDisorder-2012-fig2

We can see a raging 5.1% dependence on or abuse of alcohol in south-central Kentucky, abuse of drugs in Western Massachusetts, on the level of Washington DC, and similarly high levels by the Mexican border in Arizona.   Each of these areas is to some extent echoed in the map of the men who are out of the labor market and not working:  only North Dakota and Iowa seem to be showing low levels of abuse in the years before 2010, which can’t make one feel great about the country, even if the bright red spots in Oklahoma and Idaho come at considerable surprise.

Alcohol dependency seems to be more striking in Northern Central California, Idaho and Montana, and northern states like South Dakota and Minnesota, although Utah is very dry.

NSDUH-Short-Report-113-StateSubUseDisorder-2012-fig1

But the relation to the out-of-work seems particularly keen and in demand of excavating from the staid surface of the data visualization of local variations in the sustained spread of substance abuse.

Applbaum’s county-by-county visualization offers an inviting grounds for exploration, due perhaps to the appeal of the palate he uses to denote the out-of-work by deepening shades of green and dark blue to denote those men who are out of work, and the apparent narratives that the resulting distribution offers one to spin out of it:  the often opaque surface of such data visualizations seems sensitive to discrepancies in quality of life and the changing ways to spend time that result from such a lack of work.  For example, the rough terrain near to Mendocino, land of spectacularly stupendous ocean views, conceals a growing desperation among numbers of the of sustained employment in several inland areas in California, if not along its coast.

Men not Working Mendocino

Percent LegendNew York Times

Such troughs across the county suggest  a dramatically diminished range of expectations that poorly communicate a future life.  This might be increasingly true of urban areas, where lack of employment seems often endemic in some neighborhoods of Los Angeles, which pop out of a broader map of the city.

LAPercent LegendNew York  Times

Moving to a broader geographic area, however, the region of the Four Corners together with spots from the Central Valley seem similarly pock-marked with diminished hopes and lowered expectations of arriving at a permanent job, creating what seem swamps of underemployment in parts of the Southwest, where low numbers of working men in large stretches of the country create a striking culture of unwork:

four corners and central valleyPercent LegendNew York Times

the number of men who are not working creates pronounced disequilibria of employment across the economy, and indeed a radically diminished expectation of one’s sense of an active life, let alone retirement.

While rural Appalachia seems one thing, the pockets of men outside the workforce across South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, as well as parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, presents a dire image of a lack of available jobs that correlates interestingly with the refusal to accept National Health Care, and extend to the coast of the Florida panhandle.  Concentrated communities of men not looking for work along the shoreline of the southern states in the Carolinas raise questions of the geography of the out of work.

Appalachia?

Percent LegendNew York Times

While we are only tracking men, such potholes of local employment suggest something like low-income clusters, and support groups of the economically alienated, which have no clear or immediate resolution in sight, but seems somehow, one worries, to perpetuate its own existential condition.

The notion of being left behind by a job market, or not being able to integrate within an existing workplace, with little way out, seems to be a central issue in the landscape of heightened disparities that remains.  While it demands far further study and individual local examination, the terrain often seems interminably bleak.  There is the prospect that we are in the process of a broad redefining of work, and of the working landscape, but there are plenty other areas lying outside that changing landscape of work that seem to be left out.  Our changing landscape of employment may be left at the doorstep of a changing national character, but suggests a deep divergence across the country in seeing oneself as a head of households, and of realistic economic expectations.

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Filed under data visualizations, Great Recession, infographics, mapping men without work, mapping the "Great Recession", mapping the not working, unemployment, Unemployment in America, unwork

A Newly Divided City? Ranked-Choice Voting and Urban Affluence in Oakland, CA

The recent election of the new mayor in Oakland, California, raises interesting questions of political pluralism, because it is an unexpected outcome of the relatively recently adopted institution of ranked-choice voting.  Although the hope of the practice of ranked-choice Voting–hence RCV–of inviting voters to select their top three choices in a given election, rather than confine their choices to but one, has been an attempt to address a crowded field of candidates for national and state-wide positions, the institution somewhat unexpectedly led to the front-loading of the recent Oakland Mayoral Race, and the feeding of a predictable media frenzy, as well as to the blurring of several of the candidates’ messages in a media haze.  Indeed, the front-loaded race, when combined with the elimination of a primary, risks featuring an expanded cast of characters invited to declare their candidacy in order to jockey for the position of assembling alliances across a diverse very diverse city in ways that may have consequences that are practically, as well perhaps also as psychologically disenfranchising in unintended ways, as they serve to disguise the deep social and economic divisions to which the city.

While the concept of “ranking” multiple votes in a local election has been historically promoted as a means to express choice and produce a more equitable way to determine the winner based in a tight race, the crowded field of candidates and tacit alliances of sharing constituencies reapportionment may effectively compromise the fraught place of minority rights in contemporary America.  For though the candidates were ranked in ways that seemed to bridge economic divisions between neighborhoods and districts within the recent mayoral election, the relatively new practice of ranking three top choices stands to further distance the electorate–pyschologically or actually–from the candidates they might choose, and rather than ensure the flexibility that the policy of such “ranked” voting is intended to afford, creates both a splintering of constituencies across a diverse city such as Oakland as a consequences of attracting a broad slate of candidates to represent different constituencies–in cases when no single candidate is able to bridge constituencies–and indeed table the issue of bridging constituencies rather than assembling alliances of more propertied groups that could exacerbate existing social divides, and encourage long-term disenfranchisement to a degree that is toxic to healthy participatory democracy.  It may be that the record decline in turnout across California was due to the lack of compelling issues that were brought to the table or seen as realistic by Oakland voters, but the distribution of the votes also suggest the degree to which RCV allows a candidate who was only the first-place vote of a decided non-majority share of the electorate both to campaign most extensively on a platform for those candidates most likely to vote, and to represent the interests of several sectors of the city.

Whether Mayor Libby Schaff-the victor of the recent race, will be able to continue to represent the entire city, or feel it sufficient to respond to the needs of the constituents who she was elected to serve.  Mayor Schaff’s first mayoral actions, both of boosting the police force–and calling law enforcement “the highest priority that is in Oakland–as well as outlawing night-time protests in the Oakland streets, in response to complaints of protesters’ violence from shop-owners, suggest priorities not geared to representing the whole city–as does her dedicating her first day as mayor to visit the city’s police force.  The share of the $2.4 billion budget Schaff has allocated to policing closely adheres to her mantra that “Oakland is very short on police”–but difficult to square with the economic problems so many city agencies face.

Looking closely at a detailed interactive map of mayoral votes crafted by Jeremy Dupuis of the Registrar of Voter, what divisions are revealed between different first-choice votes for Oakland mayor present of the city and its social composition?  The question is striking if only because of the sophistication with which the recent RCV mayoral ballot created of the city’s changing demographic composition.  How the ranking of candidates in a ballot of fifteen choices seems to orient the viewer not only to voting preferences but the contrasts of the changing social composition of Oakland as a whole–and raises questions of how minority interests and deep social and educational differences can be adequately registered in any election.  Indeed, in a city like Oakland, recently deemed by the centrist Brookings Institution the seventh most unequal city in the United States, as a result of its recent gentrification, the jury is out as to whether Ranked Choice Voting has unintentionally increased the city’s increasingly pronounced social fissures.  With RCV having elicited some ten candidates for mayor in 2010, leading to a nail-biter of a conclusion in which the lead vote-getter of first-place choices lost in the final tally of ranked ballots, the list of candidates grew to fifteen by 2014.  The havoc of the unique post-Ferguson climate, in which massive protests closed the freeway in Oakland, echoing Occupy, and increased anxiety through city streets about urban security, may have hastened the fears about safety on the streets and police security that had already played so large in the early November election, where she won 62.8% by ranked-choice voting with all precincts reporting.

Based on not-yet-certified but complete numbers, the distribution of first-place votes for Libby Schaff was concentrated in the hills and surrounding areas–Districts 1 and 4–was clear.  Low voter turnout shaped the closeness of the race, and lack of information about the voting system may have increased suspicions that mirrored the persistence of deep social a divisions, whereseparate constituencies offered few credible challenges, and consensus unclear.  While Libby Schaff was the top vote-getter by far, her deeply limited contact with many residents in some urban precincts suggests a division around lines of prosperity that’s particularly troubling to the city’s future.  Did RCV unintentionally encourage an already deep divisions in the electorate, or exacerbate the divisions between neighborhoods of an increasingly economically divided city, eager to protect and consolidate its newfound prosperity?

A Divided CityCandidates for mayor--legend

Tom Dupuis/Oakland Registrar of Voters

The division of votes reflects a divided urban tapestry, in which the reassigning of votes led one candidate to blossom in ways that reflected the strong second-place finish among similar candidates, as this visualization of Dave Guarino shows, by tracking the increasing share of “extinguished” votes first cast for other candidates that Schaff gained–and the great proportion she gained from pro-business candidate Joe Tuman, to consolidate her victory and garnering over twenty percent of votes cast for mayor, which were probably cast from similar geographic regions of the city–sensitive to his message of being strong on crime.  The streams of Tuman’s 9,000 plus votes ran to over three candidates, but three profited from them, and Schaaf drew more from this pool of votes than any other extinguished ballots.

Although the process of the reassignment of “extinguished” votes in successive rounds of recounts that confirmed the plurality of votes for Libby Schaff (16.433%) in four rounds of reassigning ballots confirmed the election of a candidate for whom consensus seems to have exited, the foregoing of any primary in the Mayoral race may have created an oddly stacked ballot, where a large field of candidates allowed Schaff to assemble a plurality by drawing heavily from Tuman’s supporters after repeated rounds of reassignation of votes’ second choices.  (Although the votes were not geotagged, the apparent combination of votes for Tuman and Schaff seems to replicate a distinct economic division of the city.)

Guarino maps votes extinguished

The streams of votes that created the Schaaf victory, with still less than 30% of the vote, may call into question the best means of giving Oaklanders a place in the selection of a new mayor, and developing the city’s poltical voice.  Does the replacement of the open debate of a primary with a Ranked-Choice scenario allow the best presentation of ideas, or does the strategic timing of endorsements in a crowded non-primary election help manipulate the vote, creating a distorted picture of voters’  selections, combined with a historically low turnout, that doesn’t reflect the concerns across the city?

The interactive version of extinguished votes suggests only part of the picture in a race were few votes, not long before the election, were even decided–and less than half of the voters seem to have been ready to select all three of their votes.  Does the apparently low level of selecting more than one candidate suggest that voters who chose to identify multiple candidates could more easily effect its outcome, in which a rump essentially votes for the city as a whole?

Number of Candidates for Voters in RVC

1.  The selection of a mayor by RCV ballot was a fascinating opportunity to forge consensus across the city’s diverse but clearly segregated neighborhoods, long divided by different vested interests and politics of fear.  While RVC provides a way of resolving a crowded field in ways that reflect a large number of voters’ choices, is it the most democratic way of encouraging open debate about mayoral candidates?

The divisions between candidates orients viewers to a social topography that speaks volumes to the difficulty of imagining a relation to public space in Oakland, CA.  It indeed speaks to the increased withdrawing of urban neighborhoods from a shared public space in the city:  despite the assembly of a strong victory by a former City Council member who attracted just under 30% of first-place votes in a very crowded field, Libby Schaaf, the distribution of what regions chose Schaaf first suggests something of the difficulty voters faced in coming to a consensus, or collectively get behind one candidate to address the city’s interests, although RCV was adopted to elect the mayor of Oakland since 2010 as a way to make all votes heard in the city–and prevent voters from worries that candidates would cancel out each other’s votes.

One of the salient issues about which Schaaf and a crowded field of fourteen other mayoral candidates jousted was the question of how to reconcile the presence of poorer neighborhoods–40% of whose residents live below the poverty line, and are traditionally less likely to express their voice at the ballot–and the high (perhaps highest in the country) per capita rate of recorded robberies.  Indeed, the daunting unemployment rate of 11%, substantially higher than the national rate of 7%, and markedly greater than the region rate of 5% in a metropolitan area with San Francisco and Fremont, in ways that mirror a tendency to find more long-term unemployment in western states and urban areas since 2007.  (Given the substantially greater chances of long-term unemployment among blacks and those without high school diplomas, and as underemployment among blacks hovers at 20%, according to the National Urban League, Oakland seems a tempest waiting to occur.

Even a Google Map distribution reveals drastically developing disequilibria in the correlation between families living in poverty and death rates in Oakland–

Deaths:Poverty in Oakland

or Oaklanders’ statistical life expectancy, according to statistics of the Alameda County Office of Public Health–

life expectancy

How likely does the notion of creating common grounds within a city of such drastically divided life-situations, and does the expansion of possible mayoral candidates in fact give most Oaklanders a clearer political voice?  By reading the screenshot of the interactive map released by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters shown in this post’s header in relation to a range of open data on the city’s population, and specifically to fear of crime in the city’s affluent areas, this post tries to suggest that deep divisions in fact continued to animate the ways that candidates courted votes of precise demographics, and indeed how RCV reveals that the city broke behind candidates in distinct socioeconomic groupings.

The concentration of better health and high employment in specific areas and neighborhoods of the city poses steep challenges for creating common political priorities for the city.  If income inequality have expanded in urban areas across the nation–

CityInequality2012

–the question of how our political systems will best accommodate or respond to these inequalities poses a dilemma of national import:  will the voices of poorer voters be marginalized from elected offices, or better leverage power in a simple majority vote?   and what candidacies and platforms can our electoral system work to best foster?  Particularly striking is the clear parallel–unintentional, no doubt, on the part of the Registrar of Voters or the mapmaker, Tim Dupuis, of light pea-green first-place votes for Schaff, and the deeply engrained social divisions that remain from the HOLC map of Oakland residences, dating from a very different historical era which, in today’s society, one would not like to remember, but whose historic persistence continued effects on the city’s economic division cannot be denied.

Oakland Votes 2014

Oakland-Berkeley HOLC

Despite the clearer lines of dominant voter preference the Dupuis’ interactive map reveals, the echo of the divisions in the historical HOLC map of Oakland, indicating regions regarded as being of worthy investment and refinancing suggests a record differentiated attitudes to the role of local government.  Indeed, the persistence of these divisions in voting tendencies, level of education achieved, income, and home ownership in the East Bay contrast dramatically to the recent rewriting of the historical topography of regions of redlining in much of the downtown area of nearby San Francisco–even if the city shares its own dramatic inequalities around Hunter’s Point:

SF Redlining

The apparent parsing of the vote along lines of demographic difference in Oakland’s recent RCV mayoral election enabled the historical splits in the city to be placed in prominent relief, as the dominance of hills’ voters, buoyed by a broader urban prosperity, fragmented the interests of a divided electorate in the city’s lower-income areas.  Despite some measured analysis of “how complicated the election’s outcome really was,” the splintering of votes that it reveals suggests deep fault lines that further public data can help to unpack–and suggest the deep role that fear and fears of the need of greater policing played in determining the voter turnout in an election that was long close in the polls, and even at some date deemed a “toss up” with almost 40% undecided, and Schaff in third place, before she received Jerry Brown’s October endorsement.

What can the division of voting preferences in the Registrar’s map tell us about how voters’  selections were made to create the appearance of a landslide among fifteen candidates?

2.  Dupuis’ interactive map breaks into the first-place votes that dominated individual neighborhoods of the city in ways that raise questions about how individual candidates addressed  the needs of the city as a whole.  The “nuanced glimpse” it has been vaunted to offer of Oakland might be best analyzed through an exercise  of “distanced reading” of the trends in the urban populations it helps unpack. The geographic distribution of local consensus is communicated to a great extent in the division of first-place votes for mayor of Oakland in the recent mayoral election of 2014.  While we often discuss ‘data scraping‘ as a way of extracting information from computer files in a format that is easily readable and interpreted by human readers, the point of this post is to “scrape” the  screenshot of first selections of candidates in ways that read its results in more problematic ways in relation to a variety of open data already compiled about Oakland–and often translated to readable visual form.

Much as “web-scraping” aims to transform unstructured data on the web into structured data able to be more readily analyzed and examined, this post tries to unpack the screenshot of voters’ preferences as a guide to orient viewers to the city’s changing social topography, and ask what the striking homology between voting preferences and urban fears means for Oakland as a city.  For a distanced reading might constitute “screen scraping” the distribution of votes, without querying its actual data, statistical basis, or programming, to analyze the image of the city’s divisions that the screenshot captures and even the visual modes by which it presents voters’ primary choice for mayor in 2014 as a reflection of the new social character of Oakland’s urban space.  Although the symbolic forms by which it reveals what seems to be a decisive electoral victory, the data that it offers can be usefully situated in relation to a range of sources of open data on the city’s changing character.  Rather than adopt the practice of “scraping” the image as a metaphorical strategy alone, such “screen scraping” aims to render more legible the data overlays that the screenshot of voting choices suggests by placing it in relation to other images based on open data.  For whereas most city maps celebrate harmony, indeed, the screenshot reveals deep and clear rifts–and oddly lends  prominence to the very socioeconomic and cultural divisions which voting seeks to mask or symbolically elide.

Geographical maps create diverse texts for viewers, the distribution or data visualization of first-place votes across the city provides an opportunity to read the particularly challenging question of representing the political priorities and preferences of different districts in the city in a single elected official.  As much as the distribution of Oakland’s first-place votes have provoked insights into Libby Schaaf’s popularity, it deserves to occasion further considerations of how the plurality she assembled, if numerically far beyond the vote counts of other candidates, is based on the new divisions by which the city may be plagued.  The big “light green doughnut” overlay in the screenshot of the ‘map’ the Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tom Dupuis called a “treasure trove for anyone interested in examining the nuances of the election outcome or Oakland’s current political landscape” reveals less of a stable landscape, than reflects uneasy relations among Oakland’s inhabitants and divisions in education, economic well-being, and access to safe housing with which the city struggles.  Dupuis’ carefully upbeat rhetoric belies the deep rifts that political representatives of the city will need to address.

Schaaf’s strong finish marked something of a swing back along the pendulum between Oakland moderates and progressives.  The distribution registers a new direction for the electorate, based on the selection of someone who defined herself apart from local interests in Oakland:  Schaaf’s candidacy attracted a unique clustering stretching from the districts in the hills to the area around downtown and Lake Merritt but reflects the rising home values in Oakland geography which have radically redrawn its political geography.  As the below maps reveals, ongoing processes of rapid gentrification has occurred not only in the Lower Hills of Oakland, but in North Oakland, and “early stage” gentrification has begun in much of the city, even as “Middle Stage” is noted in the Dimond district and areas formerly rundown.  The below 2013 map of “Stages of Gentrification” in the Bay Area is worthy of attention as of 2013 is perhaps most interesting for how it orients us to levels of gentrification from San Francisco to the East Bay.  But the consequences of such steep demographic changes have effectively shifted the political topography of Oakland in ways that bring to the surface new stresses on attitudes to public space–and of politically confronting the deep socioeconomic problems of infrastructure, prison recidivism, low high school graduation and high truancy rates, and placing other urban issues on the front burner of local politics, all visible in the American Community Survey.

Gentrification Map of 2013

The issues that dominated the recent mayoral election were not any of the above, but rather “public safety”, which became a central issue along which candidates strove to distinguish themselves:  the hot-button issue provoked the fears of a growing section of the voting population about living in an urban space, indeed, and revealed an increased desire to retreat from public space in ways that seemed to underserve the city as a whole.  The long, green corridor spooling over the complex contours of the districts that ring the polity of Piedmont reveals how support for Schaaf rested in the Hills regions, migrating to the more affluent areas of Oakland, where residents were drawn by her positive trumpeting of a focus on crime–without raising the spectra of criminality and its containment, as the more moderate candidates, or addressing the low rates of graduation from the city’s high schools, the impact of prison recidivism and the revolving door of incarceration, or poor health.

The annulus of light pea-green first-place votes cast or Schaaf crest around the independent city of Piedmont, a tree-lined residential area separately incorporated since 1907,  over 75% self-identifying as white, suggest a division between hills and flats that is not absolute, but indicates a troubling story about the difficulties of bringing a range of necessary issues to the forefront of the mayoral election–and the problems of finding a mayor for the entire city–and suggests uneven values of urban realty, more than a basis for civic concord.  The districts in the hills around Piedmont–one; four; and two, in clockwise order–created a growing division in the city’s districting that

Crest of Green

Piedmont,_California

The colors chosen to designate those areas where Shaff won a first-place finish oddly echo the semantics of the USGS coloration of the topography of the city:

Oakland TOPO USGS

OAK TOPO

But while both these maps show the green areas of Redwood Regional Park on the cit’s borders, the suburban leafiness of the park captures the areas where Schaff’s candidacy did best raises questions of growing divisions among the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

Oakland’s uneven economic topography creates distinct problems of forging political consensus of its own.  But does the proliferation of political perspectives that the alternate selections encouraged by Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), used to elect the mayor of Oakland since 2010, but still occasioning considerable confusion at the polls, demand that voters familiarize themselves with a range of candidates in ways that tend to further segment and sectors its voters?Despite the well-intentioned hopes to allow all votes to “speak” at the polls, the deep fear that RCV has narrowed the expansion of political involvement of voters, and increased the appeal to local constituencies to create a clear plurality, bodes badly for the cultivation of the city’s public space.  Selecting Oakland’s mayor has followed guidelines adopted with a range of California cities since 2006, but may do a deep disservice to expressing the public interest:  rather than selecting one preferred candidate, voters are invited to list their top four preferred choices.

But we lack a suitably adequate legend legend to read first-place votes distribution in the mayoral election.  Even as we’re compelled to acknowledge that even with just a hair below 30% of the first-place votes–at 29.43%–Schaff won almost twice as many first-place votes as the second-place current outgoing mayor, Jean Quan–a former school board member and community activist, whose local image as a leftist was tarnished both due to budget shortfalls and as both soft on crime and too ineffective or just nervous in allowing a police crackdown of the Occupy Movement (in ways she would regret).  (The response of collective dissatisfaction led the former community activist to move toward the political center, and to so vilify Quan to organize a recall effort that long stymied the end of her term, and divided the city’s politics with considerable vitriol and dissensus to levels which almost obscured serious political debate in the mayoral election.

3.  The difficulty of building political consensus in the city was however also not served by Ranked Voter Choice.  Indeed, the encouragement that it gave multiple politicians to declare their candidacy not only obscured the major issues facing the city, but seems to have effectively allowed a relatively small share of the electorate to choose the election’s result, which damaged the possibility for the mayor to forge close ties to the city’s diverse groups.  In ways that seem perilous for the public good or city’s representation, the contraction of issues at stake in an RCV election may have increased the splintering of the city into separate constituencies, ill-suited to meet its varied needs.  As a result of the division in the electorate, it often seems that issues as growing prison recidivism, public maintenance, poor health care and high drop-out rates or the public transit system and housing seem to be abandoned or suppressed, and the issues of crime assume a prominence as “public safety” issues that it’s questionable that a mayor can address:  the odd circumlocution, claimed to be the focus of multiple candidates and several forums, and redefined as a prominent top issue with the prominent emergence of multiple private security firms across several city neighborhoods, have used the construction of “public safety” to divide the city’s public good in profound ways.  For did the circulation of the issue of “public safety”–a term bandied about in the election a sort of code name for urban fear–create the decisive geography by which districts that lent their first-place votes?

To be sure, the division of political interests in Oakland tend left collectively, even more than in other metropolitan areas, but the city is also an odd microcosm of the sort of schizoid politics that have come to characterize California as a whole, which, rather than a reliably “red” or “blue” state, while voting Democratic in presidential and national elections, tends much more deeply blue along its semi-urbanized coast, and turns deep red in its interior.

Deep Blue Coast
But the process of “Ranked Choice Voting” was intended to ensure that in the deep blue of the Bay Area, no candidates would effectively cancel one another out, by dividing the ballot, by allowing each voter who fully grasped the system to cast three ranked votes for a single office.

The adoption of the practice of “Ranked Choice Voting“(RCV) was approved in 2006, when Oaklanders approved the electoral law  to involve the electorate and prevent the eventuality of a splintering the vote.  The measure was introduced after considerable frustration that voices of the electorate were not being heard when the example of Al Gore and Ralph Nader competed for votes against George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential election:   although California’s northern coast is solidly Democratic in voting, the deep debates about what counts as progressive is particularly heated in the Bay Area.  The combination of a dramatic expansion of declared candidates for mayor–ten by 2010, rising to fifteen in 2014–combined with historically low voter turnout in a city of uneven education and political mobilization–creates problems of not increasing a field of candidates who are linked to districts’ specific interests–and indeed to the competition for scarce resources by city districts. Although RCV was blamed for how the majority first-choice candidate of 2010, Don Perata, was upset by the preponderance of second-choice votes for Quan, as ballots were reallocated after the candidates were eliminated.  The strong number of second-place votes cast for Schaaf in 2014 cemented her recent victory in ways that legitimated the first-place choice of a small, and socio-economically distinct, sector of the city.

The election of 2000 raised the fear that one’s vote would not influence the final tally, as well as encourage the unwanted election of a Republican President, and fed a deep frustration at single-candidate voting and  led folks to search for mathematical alternatives to count votes that would both to preserve every voter’s voice and prevent a “wasted” vote.  But the institution of RCV is still being assessed, and its implementation demands to be considered in how it plays out in different situations.  For the practice demands a literacy with the new form of the ballot, unclear in a city like Oakland, where its adoption moreover does not seem to have helped to manufacture consensus, plagued by both deep divisions of interests difficult to reconcile and dercreased involvement of voters in elections, both magnified by fears and by growing socio-economic divides.  It seems to create a problem of mapping the social space onto a political space of representation, complicated by the fact worst turnout for a November mayoral election since they started in 1990, about 14% lower than in 2010, and an estimated 55.7% of residents’ registration in time to vote.  Oakland has been long, divided, to be sure, by special interests and local constituencies, as well as by corrupt politicians who have manipulated these divisions to their benefit.  The move away from the city’s divided path will be long.  But compelling questions are raised of healing exacerbated socioeconomic divisions, as well as reducing special interests, by the very fact that so small a portion of the city’s residents decided the election, where lower than 35% voted for the current Mayor-elect, can represent a small part of the city and the city as a problem in microcosm of the alienation from American politics.  (Dissatisfaction with how a hiving off of some neighborhoods from others led many to try to remap Oakland’s districts to create a greater ethnic and racial–and economic–balance led local journo-cartographer Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor to try to puzzle out a more equitable proportional mapping of districts based on the 2010 Census by shifting boundaries to cross hills and flatlands.

Whereas district topographies work to preserve specific enclaves in some fashion, and partition hills from what were predominantly urban areas–

Seven Districts in Oak

–the proposal to expand districts bordering Piedmont to embrace more of the area of West Oakland and to shift East Oakland to embrace parts of the hills stemmed form an attempt to gain districts of better ethnic and economic balance:

JDAT-Socio-Economic-Plan

The perception of clear tensions among the city’s districts leads to direct competition for schooling, policing, and other resources, but the proposal was not adopted, and the economic growth of districts 1, 2 and 4 create a new division of property in the city.

Did the adoption of instant run-off voting, which places a focus on a general election in which candidates compete to be individually ranked by all voters, best respond to the steep socioeconomic divisions of the city?

Oakland 2014 mayoral

Does the institution of RCV, which invites a plurality of candidates to declare themselves for individual interests, encourage political fragmentation in a city long-known for its moderate-leftist divides?  Does RCV invite a more democratic process or accentuate a proclivity to create distinctly self-interested voting blocks?  The light-green ocean that seems to float over the city in the above screenshot encircles the hived-off city of Piedmont, long separate from the city, defining the range of districts where Oakland’s mayor-elect of Oakland became the first-place choice; their uniformity contrasts to the range of candidates that appealed to specific sectors of the city.  The expanding slate of mayoral Democratic candidates reflected the scuttling of the primary in favor of a system of selecting three top candidates out of a field, progressively eliminating those candidates receiving the least votes from a final tally, reassigning votes based on second- or third-choice selections.

The coalition Schaff successfully assembled across select neighborhoods primarily seems to have responded to a narrative of increased policing and of maintaining “public safety”–as well as a compelling promise to sustain increased government transparency of ‘open’ government to relieve a city long plagued and divided by special interests.  But addressing a distinct sector of Oakland may come with costs.  What can the divided nature of first-place choices tell us of the challenges that any future mayor will face in assembling local consensus across the city?  While the practice ensures all voices of voters are expressed in the final result, the almost topographic variations of elevation along which the city vote split raises questions about how RCV encouraged the city’s votes to break along interested lines, and if it offers the be the best way of creating consensus in the field.  Oakland’s rapidly transforming economy–much of which has driven the current economic boom–created unintended synergy with the possibility to elect the mayor by a plurality which, while thought the best path to create consensus in a diverse city, may exacerbate the deeper and more salient divisions in the city’s economy.  The division to an extent creates an apparently legible manner that the city divided along partisan lines in casting its first choice votes, based on the different interests that each candidate reflected and with which local residents identified, raising questions of how Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods translate into a coherent political space.

4.  Before investigating the above screenshot of how first votes were cast tells us about the division of Oakland’s votes on clear lines, and lets us examine how the institution of Ranked Choice Voting decided the mayoralty on second- and third-place votes, and unpack the fracture lines in the above map by a range of open data of the election, and of the shifting political topography of a city riven by educational and economic divisions in ways that make consensus difficult to define in the city across the bay.

Boland's Oakland Transit Map

The innovative institution of Ranked Choice Voting , or RCV, asks voters to select their top choices, to be counted in rounds of successive elimination of candidates obtaining the fewest votes–forgoing a preliminary two-party primary before a General Election.  By inviting voters to consider all candidates to select three top choices, the adoption of RCV tacitly encouraged a broad range of candidates to declare their candidacy, and helped five candidates continue their races until Election day–ranked voting had been decisive in the results of the 2010 election, and polls were hesitant to predict how the selection of second and third choices might alter a field where candidates hovered around 20% commitment.  But the mechanics of reassigning votes in RCV became problematic in a year of historically low voter turnout–when the approximate percentage of Oaklanders turning up at the polls of 45% seemed consistent with a dramatically low turnout statewide of only 46%.  The institution depends on familiarity with its practice:  voters who stay home from Ranked Choice ballots not only find their votes discounted, but voters fail to complete the selection of three candidates, find their first choice is eliminated and vote effectively discounted–creating potential difficulties of silencing voters unfamiliar with the system, or seeking to use it in the most advantageous manner.

But the importance of receiving broad responses for the ballot–shown here with instructions– depends on the voters’  close attention to the candidates, essentially a good thing, and overcoming the possibility that a new ballot alienated some.  The likelihood voters treated their ballot strategically as an opportunity to cast a symbolic or sympathetic vote, reserving their more practical vote for second-place vote,  created a the possibility of a distinct difference in how voters approached their ballots across the city’s different economic classes and view the ballot as making a calculated selection corresponding to their interests.  It also means that the variety of candidates create a unique opportunity to look at how Oakland votes, which the remainder of this post will try to examine, comparing a range of open data visualizations to examine the underside of the distribution of the vote.

920x920

In inviting voters to select four top preferences among the candidates.  By dispensing with a primary, it opens up the possibility of a ballot of expansive choices, and potential alliances.  But does Ranked Choice Voting create the best consensus in a city of widely economically varying populace or divided demographics?  This post skeptically interrogates the mapping of the results of RCV, and raises a question of how Ranked Choice intersects with low voter turnout that increasingly plagues the state.  The distribution of the vote suggests that as much as to best preserve a conclusion of consensus across lines of neighborhoods, the possibility that a plurality offers a victor in RCV may encourage pre-existing divides, and indeed echo an earlier geography of urban division in Oakland, although it was adopted to conserve individual voters’ voices by asking candidates to present themselves collectively to the city’s voters.

Yet a clear consequence of its acceptance that was perhaps unforeseen is to encourage candidates to compete for all voters and compete with each other in ways that appear more democratic than a system of top-heavy primary elections.   The institution of RCV has effectively created strategies for seeking a plurality of votes, rather than a majority, by rewarding the possibility of the reallocation of votes, and elimination of candidates not able to assemble a coalition:   if the fielding of ten candidates in 2010 created the opportunity for a competition for second-place votes, the reallocation of “exhausted” ballots allowed a clear majority to be assembled in 2014.  An unforeseen effect may obscure its democratic process, and allow candidates to create coalitions with each other, and give greater electoral weight to sectors of the population who craft apparent consensus through a plurality, or who constituted the most effective voting block.  Some evidence might be found of the limits of creating actual consensus in Tom Dupuis’ elegantly colored and cleverly designed an  interactive map too read voters’ choices across a crowded field of fifteen candidates.  It reveals social divides and the effective symbolic sectorization of votes in a crowded field of fourteen candidates.

As much as the map gives viewers a “nuanced glimpse” of the results, as the Registrar argued, it reveals the distillation of  the steep competition for votes in a real roller coaster of an election which enjoyed multiple front-runners at different times, with polls suggesting narrow gaps and alternate eventual outcomes.  Did competition among fifteen candidates foster a fracturing of the city’s first-choice votes, hamstringing the crafting of consensus in ways reflected in the socio-economic rifts revealed in the Registrar’s map?  Did the division of voters’ preferences that emerged, more to the point, serve the public good?  It might be that these lines not only offer evidence of the city’s continued growing socioeconomic fragmentation, but are encouraged by the procedure of reallocating the votes for candidates who received fewer votes according to the institution of Ranked Choice Voting:  such a model of reallocation of votes encourages us to accept these divisions as a reflection of the division of multiple interests in the city, in ways that almost make us throw up our hands at the idea of arriving at a clear consensus within the sort of crowded field of candidates, and leave us wrestling with how a winner could be anointed to represent Oakland.

The difficulty of involving the city in a process of voting where sectors of the city seem already–given low turnout–disenfranchised seems particularly grave; RCV may well disenfranchise those less literate with ballot choices.  The levels of turnout across the city demand to be mapped more clearly, but the screenshot of the map provided by the Oakland Registrar of first-choice voting already demands analysis in relation to a range of other open data maps for the clear topography in attitudes that it reveals.  Although issues of being tough on crime and promoting public safety dominated the recent 2014 election, it is striking how effective a pro-policing strategy came to be in pulling out the vote for Schaaf–although it was first articulated by Joe Tuman and followed up on by Jean Quan and Bryan Parker–in those neighborhoods bordering the regions of the city where the highest number of homicides were most historically prominent and densely concentrated in prior years:

Oakland 2014 mayoral

homicides_2008-10_map-1

In the overlays that distinguished the neighborhoods in this post’s header, color-coding distinguish districts by which candidates received the greatest share of first-place votes:  the fractured mosaic reflects the city’s current economic divisions as if they are tacitly concealed in the legend that accompanies it, in ways that raise pressing questions of the winner’s ability to truly speak for Oakland, when the districts seem divided around the I-880/I-580 corridor.  Despite Schaaf’s clear ability to win many votes outside the hills areas, and around  Lake Merritt, this post suggests that these may show the topography of urban wealth to which her candidacy appealed.

Oakland Votes 2014

This magnified map of voters’ first choices in Oakland’s recent election was effectively shaped into a majority vote for Libby Schaaf after six repeated rounds of re-assigning second- and third-choice votes and eliminating candidates.  Despite the considerable (if unwarranted) fears RCV would delay its final outcome, as it had in previous years, one winner was winnowed from fifteen candidates, as over six rounds, Schaaf acquired a clear plurality of the popular vote and appeared a veritable landslide whose pea-green flood appears to flow from the hills across neighborhoods without ambiguity:  this, it says, is Oakland today.  As viewers habituated to similar infographics that present conclusive images of the status quo as if had transparency, and had no history, it might make sense to consider how RCV encouraged considerable fragmentation of voting in the city, and to note the different perceptions of the city’s needs expressed in the division of the electorate between larger and often less-densely inhabited districts in hills and more compressed districts in urban flats.

Although the below map of first-choice votes in the race conceals the quite considerable courting of different populations and vigorous contestation of the vote’s outcome–Rebecca Kaplan, who made a strong showing in 2010 mayoral race, was for a time favored over Mayor Jean Quan; strong polling was common for other candidates–an intense competition for voters concealed in the final tally.  Of course, in opening the field to so many candidates, the practice of RCV presumed the ability of the voters to distinguish the varied platforms of each candidates–something that was increasingly blurred in the increasing emphasis many paid to crime that won votes of more monied voters, and the upbeat narrative she provided of an Oakland that was doing well–and one whose residents deserved better law-enforcement.

The compelling division between sectors of the city grew in how to confront the question of urban crime, and its high robbery rate–judged by the FBI to be the highest in the country.  For as crime has grown, the police force has shed some 20% of its staff since 2010, the date of the last mayoral race, in ways that have led police to bemoan a failure to respond to high crime rates by adding more patrols.  Although Quan has instituted community patrols, the recent rise of private security firms in Oakland has led to a growing distrust of the status quo or office of the mayor to protect many urban neighborhoods–and created a deep quandary over what sort of expenditures will best serve the city’s residents.

5.  A narrative of failure of local leadership has elided the decline in crime that occurred during Jean Quan’s tenure, and the benefits brought from the rise of the effectiveness of the neighborhood community policing in Oakland that Quan had long championed–and the aligning of districts to encourage community policing.  While both changes contributed to a significant drop in homicides and robberies, as well as residential burglaries across some fifty-three Neighborhood Councils within police beats already, the increased density of Neighborhood Policing Beats and focussed nature of Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils in Districts 3 and 5, in East Oakland did not address all residents.  Indeed, the areas that felt they needed more policing prioritized a narrative on public safety–and where the narrative of cementing the Oakland Police Department with neighborhood committees actually appeared to have been less effective.

66a379ca8d4da84b9db567cef897b2f4@2x

The notion of a need for containing “crime”–and the linkage between “public safety” questions defined by widespread criminality–“economic” and “property crimes” rather than homicide–and seen as a basis for economic growth”–forged a specific argument that is directed to a demographic which could be expected to be reliably turnout in the election.  Despite the difficulty of one candidate attracting a clear overall majority, the data visualization barely conceals the divides across the city, and conceals the huge divides in voter turnout across districts in 2010 helps reveal deep fault-lines between individual districts.  Such a divided voting populace clearly favors the candidates who raise issues that resonate with the divided darkly-colored demographic of the city–and don’t even need to compete for over half the city–or two-thirds the physical plant–from West Oakland, East Oakland, or the area near the Port, whose turnout was already known to be less than half in 2010.  With turnout declining city-wide by 2014, does the Registrar’s map reveal a coalition of propertied voters who have come to speak for Oakland as a whole in an increasingly fragmented city, where the interests of mayoral candidates address “property crimes” that almost seem code for urban fears, removed from the models of community policing Quan helped introduce.

Oakland Voter TurnoutCourtesy Ofurhe Igbinedion

Such significant if predictable disparities most probably grew by 2014, and were known to all candidates.

Despite the validity with which the above map illustrates the predominance Schaaf’s choice in first-place across much of the city, it also reveals clear divides.  In an era when the infographic seems a sort of speech act, having an enunciatory value bordering more on the declarative, than inviting analysis, the map demands to be unpacked for what it tells us about Oakland, however, rather than the degree it depicts a consensus that invests a mantle of authority on Schaaf as mayor.  For the map begs questions of what sort of consensus was created around the Oakland mayor–and with what authority was Schaaf effectively anointed representative of the entire city is a crucial question worthy of consideration, especially in relation to the practice of Ranked Choice Voting.

6.  In a city as ethnically and economically divided as is historically the case in Oakland, the dynamics of Ranked Choice Voting create complicated questions of political representation and the best means of investing local residents in elections, of far more interest than mechanics of tabulating votes which have received so much attention in Oakland’s most recent mayoral elections.  Such questions might be best considered in the analysis of what sort of coalition was created in Oakland’s Ranked Choice Voting system.  Does the map that shows the pea-green flood of first-choice votes for Mayor-Elect flowing down from the hills to meet a mosaic of districts show a city divided or reveal consensus for the entire city, or in fact echo the deep historical divisions within the city?  It threatens to resuscitate some of the city’s darker specters and deepest divides, as the segregation long supported and effectively encoded by the “racist housing policy” of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, long accepted across America as a tacit form of racially-based housing discrimination in housing that classified neighborhoods as worth real estate investment or not.

Although the pea-green hue that designates the block of districts who selected Schaaf as their first choice resonates with the leafy green of the many trees that still line Oakland’s streets, how closely does the map map onto the the socioeconomic boundaries of a newly divided city?  In a city that is still scarred by the mortgage market dictated in the still-notorious HOLC real estate maps which date from the Depression, but shaped American cities like Oakland until the 1960s, the valleys of economic growth that long characterized Oakland continued to inform the way that echoed how the electorate divided across the city’s property lines–if only in how they note the “best” areas for investment in light green, a hue that is quite eerily analogous to the Registrar’s coloring of the districts who listed Schaaf as their first choice for mayor:

HOLC Oak-Berk

Legend

The clear family resemblance of the color-scheme of this “Residential Security Map” transmitted from the days of the HOLC’s authoritative voice suggests that RCV may not create the most open new space to define an open political space in Oakland’s future–and indeed the recuperation of a somewhat analogous five-color scheme of coloration in the Registrar’s map, albeit with the expansion of the hills area of “First Grade” residences,  seems to augur a new civic divide.  This return of the long-repressed seems hardly a coincidence, but indeed suggests the scary persistence of a policy of segregation underlying current Oakland politics, from which debates over the need for political “leadership” distract.  The constraints that such HOLC ranking of regions introduced in the local housing market provide a scary point of entrance into the distribution of different mayoral candidates across city neighborhoods:  for their distribution reveals the deep division between “left” and “moderate” in Oakland’s election, already familiar from the 2010 race between the moderate pro-police Don Perata in the hills, and his distancing from the more left-wing candidates who won other areas of the city.  Oakland’s real estate market is, to be sure, not similarly divided today, but the curious comparison of these visualizations of the divisions of the city’s populations provide something of a starting point to analyze the divisions of corridors and regions within how Oakland broke for different mayoral candidates in 2014.  Jean Quan quite awkwardly strove throughout her term to distance herself from her community-organizer origins, and embrace more moderate creds, but her failure to unite the left in ways led to the fracturing of a large body of votes between herself, Rebecca Kaplan, CIty Auditor Courtney Ruby, and ex-Quan appointees labor lawyer Dan Seigel and former Port Commissioner Brian Parker.  The odd resurgence of the sectorization of Oakland by antiquated real estate “codes” exposes the underside of its economic growth.

The practice of federally mandated redlining created strong obstacles across neighborhoods to being serviced by insurers or equity loans that prevented many of the same urban areas from developing, effectively skewing the mortgage market against neighborhoods in ways that were engraved into the city’s physical plant.  The divisions that the color-coded map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation pictured above caused a deep disinvestment in areas judged to be “hazardous”–“D,” shaded in red–or “declining”–“C,” shaded in yellow– obstructed loans or insurance to poorer areas that effectively discriminated on racial lines, and prompting a suburban outmigration at the expense of Oakland’s poorer urban areas.  While these sectors were not exactly the same as the economic fault-lines that structured the 2014 mayoral vote, but they clearly chromatically echoed its essential contours, and in an almost eery manner resonate with the demographic alliances that determined the election’s results.   One wouldn’t want to suggest reading the distribution of first-place choices for mayor in the 2014 election against a redlining map of the 1930s, but that map set a basis for home-ownership and settlement of the city which left a strong imprint on its socioeconomic fracturing, even before freeways were built through its heart.

That boundary lines of that big green doughnut of first-place votes that is situated in the hills in the screenshot of the map of the Registrar of Voters, and balanced around Piemont,  gives special insight to a city demanding to be explored by open data available on the city’s population . . .

Green Doughnut in Oakland

7.  This post seeks to examine the distribution of votes in specific neighborhoods.  For while the sectors of redlining were not exactly the same as the economic fault-lines that structured the 2014 mayoral vote, the divide among current Oakland voters clearly chromatically echoed the Home Owners’ Lending Corporation’s essential contours, and almost resonate with the demographic alliances that determined the election’s results.  This post suggests the benefits of an exercise in “distant reading” to unpack divides among first-place votes for Oakland’s mayor, less in terms of the following the contours of proportional voting than to distinguish the varied interests that might have motivated–or be accentuated by–the expansion of an electoral field to multiple candidates.  The comparison of the map of the Registrar might read against a range of maps of the city’s demographic divisions to better  a contextualize the visualization of first-place  choices in relation to the issues that drove the recent election, and the different degrees of involvement of such a radically diminished electorate.

To start to unpack this division of electoral preferences, some substantial GIS-spadework might allow one to read the vote against the city’s shifting demographic.  For the electoral splintering can be read in relation to the shifting terrain of property valuation that has recently transformed the East Bay.   A recent map–of somewhat questionable accuracy, which RadPad engagingly imagined by mapping costs of renting one-bedroom apartments after a BART map to suggest that migration from San Francisco rentals (where $1 million now gets a home-buyers just over 1500 square feet) drove up demand for East Bay rentals in ways that pushed monthly costs of one-bedroom units beyond what many residents could afford.  It’s unclear what sort of data the map uses, but its hope is to take the very icon of interconnectivity across the Bay Area that BART creates to reveal the intensifying the relative sectorization of an already economically fractured city.  The new market for living East Bay, shown as surprisingly more expensive than one might have imagined, prominently placed significantly high rents around Oakland’s “downtown”–19th and 12th Street–as well as in Lake Merritt and Fruitvale.

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The emergence of strikingly similar divides across the city that the BART system links is foregrounded in  a map showing the steep gaps between life expectancy in areas on the same public transit lines–from a slightly earlier period–so clearly linked to the huger divides in average income at different stops in the East Bay, and the huge increase in rates of asthma in Oakland’s City Center and Fruitvale, in contrast to the outlying areas outside of the urban pollution, and the far lower educational levels of what “Oakland” consists.

BART Health Map:Life Expectancy at BART stops

Such a demographic spread suggests the steep challenges of creating a representational unity across the city, although it only starts to reveal the fracture lines of economic wealth and urban affluence that have emerged within the economic growth of Oakland in recent years, but were reflected within the shifting constituencies that existed for different mayoral candidates in 2014.

While not offering the best screen or field conducive to electoral analysis of the vote distribution, given its lack of continuity or coverage, the pointed map that pushed rents for a one-bedroom that of $1,100 or $1,200 to the far corners of Hayward or Richmond, our outside Oakland itself.  While not necessarily accurate, and omitting parts of the city, the map suggests a relatively rapid redefining of the profile of the East Bay.  For a huge range of Oakland where the BART offers an increasingly crowded morning commute, renting one-bedroom has increased to over $2,000/month, only declining below $1,400/month outside of the Oakland that exists on major traffic arteries, with quite a considerable depression along the same transit line that stops at the Coliseum, Bay Fair, or Hayward, and a notable peak in downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt–and few one-bedrooms in Rockridge are available for as low as $1,775/month, or the availability of rentals Fruitvale at the same rate as Lake Merritt.

OAK

Yet indeed the BART map in any of its iterations offers little basis to map or represent “Oakland,” both because of its clearly non-representational nature, and in the clear original intent to bridge the Bay Area, and amalgamate its space, irrespective of water and land divides–a point that was most strongly made in its original version of 1972, or in the more expansive map that blurs Oakland into a web of regional transit.

BART_OriginalMap

system-map

8.  For a snapshot of the city’s economic divides–divides extending to the completion of High School or life-expectancy, one can more easily map a microcosm of the “wealth-gap”  Thomas Picketty has described.  A similar map of variations in home-prices reveals the steep challenge of creating consensus across the same city in even greater detail and relief.  More accurate and more illuminating is the most recent landscape of the listing house prices Trulia generated for Oakland as a heat map in Google Maps, which reveals far deeper rifts between desirable neighborhoods and valleys of undesirability that makes the divided terrain all the more legible than the cute distribution of rentals along BART commute rail.  It offers a more effective vehicle to understand the topography of voting, and indeed contrasts with the image of high-priced rentals in Oakland, by illustrating the deep drops in realty prices across a large swath of the city:

Truliaized landscape, listing price

As does a heat map of houses’ valuation raises similar questions of common grounds, and of the geographic limits of Oakland’s economic revival, which provides a worthy preface to re-examine the stark differences that regions of Oakland selected their first-choice in mayoral candidates:

Trulia-ized landscape, house valuation

The electoral map of mayoral choice must be viewed through the lens of these landscapes, and of framing consensus across a shifting economic terrain, where propertied interests are increasingly primarily opposed to and fearful of a growth in property crime.   By excavating the electoral map through a public data, the results of the election might be better analyzed in relation to the changing composition of Oakland’s neighborhoods–even independently from the multiple reasons for the strikingly low turnout in the city–with only some 55.7% of eligible voters registered in October 2014 and voting some 14% lower than 2010.  Of the 47.4% voting turnout the election inspired, in a system of Ranked Choice Voting, where votes for some candidates are eliminated, fewer than 35% of actual voters decided the election’s results.  The map in the header suggests where they lived.

Rather than accept the short-term record of the divisions of electoral preferences, this post tries to mine the Registrar’s data visualization and create a set of maps that offer a deeper context for the election as a whole than the layering of electoral choice show.  The point is not to naturalize the divides in Oakland, indeed, but to see how they can be worked with and overcome.  And the goal is not to unpack economic bases on which vote divided, or suggest the increasing economical inequalities across the city, but entertain questions of how Ranked Voting, in a strikingly low turnout, helped candidates manufacture consensus around what almost seem non-issues, by increasing the increasing strident and oppositional development of  political debate during this year’s mayoral election and by encouraging competition for votes speaking for only a part of the city, in ways that might deepen effective disenfranchisement across the city.

9.  The practice of ranking candidates sought to keep consensus among voters–in a city which long lacked a serious Republican candidate, the idea of choosing three alternatives appealed.  But in manufacturing consensus by an effective collapsing of the urban electorate, RCV created a narrowing of political debate, by minimizing the impact of those who don’t decide to select a full panel of three candidates or erroneously select the same candidate for three posts or listing only one choice in the erroneous belief they would benefit the candidate, although the reverse is the case.

Far more crucially, the victor of Ranked Choice Voting raises questions of the legitimacy with which the entire city feels their presence reflected in the mayoralty in a race that was as narrowly contested as that between Schaaf, Kaplan, Quan, Siegel, Tuman and Parker–who indeed often had trouble distinguishing their own voices for voters.  The conferral of victory by reapportioning votes belies the fact that they are often only supported by a plurality in a crowded field such–as that of the choice of fifteen candidates for mayor in Oakland CA, where the newly adopted system of RCV also makes it virtually impossible to win a majority mandate–or to organize their campaign in ways that curry specific constituencies.  In an age of increasingly low turnout, moreover, the costs of RCV in creating an imagined consensus among many candidates may outweigh the benefits of giving a voice to all:  for unless more voting can be encouraged across the city, is the ranking of individual choices really a means of enfranchising the city as a whole?  Although the opponents of RCV often point out that its main danger is to dilute the effects of a party’s endorsement, the intervention of the California Governor and one Senator tilted the balance in Oakland voting, even late in arrival, to Schaaf.

Unforeseen costs of RCV may lie in the low turnout that it can unintentionally provoke, as candidates curry actively voting sectors of the population, instead of confronting the issues that confront the city as a whole. If the election was celebrated as lacking without ambiguity, based on the “genuine connection” with Oaklanders, the rapid tabulation of votes reveals that her victory of the popular vote, although both evident and created without ties to unions that have so heavily influenced local Oakland politics in the past, despite the great success she had in transcending easy type-casting as “from the hills,” and, not contented to rest on her base of support, reach out–leaving her as the favored second- and third- choice alternative for many, mostly who were well-off but tired of a perceived lack of leadership.  Schaaf’s deep victory was in many ways a victory for the status quo that benefitted in her ability to move “beyond the hills” as a result of RCV.

The fractured terrain in the mapped electoral results of what candidates districts selected as their first choice raise questions about the possibility of asserting the symbolic authority of majority–and demanded six rounds to be decisively resolved.  Despite aiming to increase all votes’ significance, there are some indications RCV did not encourage learning about choices, but may have helped instituted an uneven distribution of how voters selected three choices–and an attempt to appeal to specific and indeed increasingly distinct demographic constituencies, and out of desire to form a plurality of votes.  Whether or not all voters indeed complete three choices, there is the danger that some votes counted more than others as rounds of the tally eliminated candidates, and that the list encouraged a fragmenting into camps of consensus–and that the victor is invested with a symbolic legitimacy that does not in fact reflect the true magnitude of their support–and create the inevitability of a non-majority victor, whose legitimacy is in a sense, as it was recognized since the system devised in 1871 by an architect in Massachusetts, William Robert Ware, and it was adopted in Australia since 1918:  the system has only been adopted in local elections, there is support to use it to “break the two-party [system’s apparent] deadlock” on voter-choice in America, and respond to an increasingly partisan polarization of politics in Washington.  How its results might be mapped–and what sort of coalitions or political practices it might encourage–demand attention and consideration.

The uneven adoption of selecting three ranked choices by “instant runoff voting” may, for one, privilege the voice of certain voters who select three choices in a crowded field.  in the eventuality that not all exercise the option to select three choices, as requested in the ballot, RCV “counts” votes in potentially disproportionate ways.  And in the case of close competition between multiple candidates–as the fifteen candidates who announced in the recent race, of which at least up to five were considered polled credibly–the collapsing of the electorate around a set of candidates could manufacture an effective landslide majority victory of the sort that instant runoff voting is able to stage.  There was shock, to be sure, at the election of Jean Quan in a startling upset victory over favored insider Don Perata, when his apparent lead of almost 10% among first choice votes evaporated after the tabulation of second- and third-choice votes in later days directed the vote to candidate Quan–in ways that may have brought an ebb in its adoption after some seventeen Californian municipalities embraced it after 2000.  But the sort of manufactured victory by which Libby Schaaf arrived at a “landslide” victory of  63% created a sense of consensus as other candidates dropped out of the pool in successive rounds, and their votes were redirected to second choices.  Schaaf attracted as many first-choice votes as her closest competitors, Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, combined.  The mapping the distribution of votes Schaaf gained reveal what Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tom Dupuis rightly called a “treasure trove for anyone interested in examining the nuances of the election outcome or Oakland’s current political landscape.”  Yet rather than reveal a stable landscape, the overlays of dominant voting preferences suggest a surface whose content needs to be excavated to reveal its deep divisions.

For rather than picturing a coherent landscape, the conceit of transparency Dupuis adopted belies how the distribution of votes mirrors the city’s fractured social divides, and the economic fault-lines and lack of a single political vision.  If the notion of a landscape itself expands the metaphorical definition of the map, the conceit of how votes map Oakland’s political landscape acknowledges that districts’ different first-choice candidates mirrors the city’s clear socioeconomic topography.  Laying electoral returns over neighborhoods masks the persistent uneven levels of income, educational completion, or ethnic composition in the city, but translates its inhabitants to a register of political allegiance among the fifteen candidates in ways that suggest the distinct demographics each courted–and the fault-lines that the results of the election were intended to mask.  The social landscape of the last election is striking–Schaaf clearly captured the well-off hills, whose properties have considerably higher values, and the other candidates crisply divided the social mosaic across Oakland’s other neighborhoods.  Although RCV was not statistically central in shifting the proportional division of first-choice votes in this election, the expansion of the field of candidates RCV both encouraged and enabled each candidate to identify with a demographic or interested community that echoed and opened the fault-lines of interestedness across the city.

The quite fractured “landscape” revealed in the electoral map of Ranked Choice Coting conceals the underlying narratives that shaped the election–and the alliances and allegiances that developed during the campaign around the fears of public safety, as much as issues of Oakland’s economy, jobs, or public sector.  Such narratives were not about RCV, but seem unleashed by ranked voting:  the color-coded Registrar’s map  reveal salient splits of allegiances near the port of Oakland that do map onto the city’s social landscape: the more irregular boundaries of districts for Schaaf, hued pea-green, contrast to the rectilinear bounds of the city blocks in East Oakland, reflecting property values which voting works to resolve.  The resolution of a majority in RCV is difficult because of the ability it opens for candidates to address a distinct demographic, and reap benefits from a self-selected regional consensus, and not the consensus of the city at large, so that the candidates’ policies oddly refracted the city’s needs.  Indeed areas of the city more removed from BART lines that promise to cut commute times to San Francisco, the results of the voting remained in stark contrast to the plurality who voted for School.  (They were also no doubt plagued by lower turnout.)

E OakEast Oakland electoral districts, color-coded to reveal first-choice votes

One of the hidden narrative that the visualization of first-votes in Oakland’s districts effectively masks is the question of prioritizing public safety by expanding policing that a distinct demographic demands.

Considering the massive media blitz on the sometime scandal of the triumphal victory of outgoing mayor Jean Quan–defying electoral predictions and received wisdom, considerably less attention has been paid to how RCV affected the recent election of Libby Schaaf.  Attempts to map the distribution of Schaaf’s recent victory over a crowded field may reveals the complexity of its claims for equal political representation, and the effectiveness of a narrative of increased policing–and mayor Quan’s relations with the police–that became so central in mayoral debates.  Schaaf’s selection raises questions of how ranked voting translates into a system of political representation and the political liabilities of ranked ballots as a political institution.  In ways that suggest a sophisticated marketing to a select demographic, Schaaf’s team successfully cultivated an interesting demographic constellation of hipster and suburban voters based on a Brown-like campaign that particularly appealed to this group for updating the image of Oakland as city–as much as addressing its social problems.  Even as newspaper articles poked some fun at the institution in blaring “not even ranked voting could save [mayor] Jean Quan this time round” against Schaaf and several old competitors from 2010 who competed for left or moderate votes, Schaaf’s victory revealed a surprisingly distinct geographical grouping of votes.  Schaaf attained a majority of votes after redistributing the votes of supporters of “lower-ranked candidates” receiving a smaller share of first-place votes–and rapid tallying an impressive 63% of the vote and the immediate impression of a groundswell of support for a candidate who was in fact only the first choice of less than a third of voters.

10.  The map of voters who split for Schaaf in their first ballots is moreover troubling in suggesting how strongly her support was based in the more economically well-off areas where she gained a clear majority of votes that weren’t splintered in effective suburbs of the city–rather than the poorer “downtown” areas and the flats, and the increasingly vibrant areas of Grand Lake, North Oakland, and Lake Merritt, as well as the suburban Trestle Glen, Glen View and Montclair:  the coalition is a non-majority grouping which built a huge amount of momentum in the election’s final two months.  It’s creation is striking not because of how it mirrors a wealth divide–though it largely does–but because of how clearly it seems to have grown in reaction to perceived needs to contain personal and especially property crimes, and reject apparent insufficiencies of the current mayor’s crime policies–as much as a vision of governance.

Even as the electoral map showing Schaaf’s victory is abstracted form the city’s complex social topography, the windy lines of the electoral districts Schaaf carried as primary choice indicates their far greater property value.  But the point of this post is to suggest that the issues that came to the fore in this campaign–issues of containing crime and increasing policing, rather than less attractive ones of urban blight or a crisis in public education, youth truancy, and social welfare–drew together an increasingly economically prosperous electorate who felt threatened by the criminality in the city, and on the edges of the demographic of the flats.

Oakland 2014 mayoral

11.  The choice of color by which to color districts with a majority of first-place votes for Schaaf clearly echoes the green of the City of Oakland’s new inclusive oak-tree emblem, if not the leafy region of the hills–but will it invest Schaaf with authority as the selection of the entire city?

OakLogo

800px-Flag_of_Oakland,_California.svg

While Ranked Choice Voting gave broader participation to voters and allowed a range of candidate would would not “draw votes” from each other, there was some anger at the 2010 victory of Jean Quan.  The recent expansion of candidates complicated questions of arriving at an accurate outcome, or a conclusion able to accommodate the diverse interests of communities across the city.  For one, the result depends on understanding and selection of alternate choices:  for at crowded field that divides without a clear majority winner gives strikingly significant roles to second and third choices to create a final tally of votes that elected a mayor, and assumes that all voters are included in the subsequent rounds of dividing the vote.

Candidate Schaaf benefited from associating herself with the image of a young, hip Oakland, whose economic development is clear in a range of high-end restaurants, boutiques, galleries and hip locales.  But actual  enfranchisement was something at odds with the expanding role that policing played in the competing visions of the mayoral candidates, and the clear appeal that policing seemed to gain for voters.  On the tail of the late-arriving but dramatically delayed joint endorsements from Governor Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer, sporting semiotically-charged and sophisticatedly hip wooden oak-tree earrings–that recuperated the stylized swirls of the curling branches of an oak tree adopted as an urban icon during Brown’s tenure, intended to improve the city’s image, and emblazoned on its street signs at considerable cost, to match Brown’s vision for renewing the city’s downtown: Schaaf promised an analogous message of growth with environmentalism, even if she fell short on policy plans.

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Libby Schaaf/KQED

The wooden oak-tree earrings inconspicuously flaunting the icon, first introduced by Jerry Brown to update the city’s flag and suggest its vibrancy and inclusiveness, the tree became adopted as an emblem of the campaign.  It almost presented a manicured vision of transcending the problems that faced Oakland and seems tailored to a precise demographic, even if its branches suggest an embrace of the city’s diversity.  Schaaf’s candidacy, long rooted in the hills, compel one to map the coalition she assembled in the context of RCV; the layers of electoral voting the Registrar provided might be better read less by contextualizing the voting block she assembled–and the narrative of public safety that animated the last months of the campaign–in the range of open data maps to explore the actual diversity and divides in Oakland’s neighborhoods’ relation to property crime.  But the mechanics of ‘Ranked Choice’ must be reviewed in relation to the recent mayoral contest to examine the narratives of political representation that unfolded in the election and framed the electoral divisions of the city, rather than letting the electoral map speak alone.

12.  Yet the openings RCV allows in Oakland’s political debates and future should be the central topic of this post.  The mapping of what districts preferred individual candidates in the recent mayoral election this November also suggests the prominence of clear coalitions created by such “instant run-off” voting to allow non-majority candidates to assemble a majority.  The map can only be read with a review of how the practice of such “instant run-off” voting expanded the field of candidates so widely to dilute their effectiveness in assembling a consensus choice.

While the goal of Ranked Choice Voting was to increase each voter’s enfranchisement–especially in a situation where first choices may be filled without a second choice being made–the result is often to capitalize on the system:  much as Kaplan and Quan had asked their supporters to use the ballot by listing each other as second choices, a dominant power structure to be able, in such a crowded field, to assemble sufficient votes in surprising ways, moderate candidates like Courtney Ruby, Bryan Parker, and Joe Tuman invited their supporters to rank one another, at the last minute, in an unsuccessful attempt to stave off Schaaf’s rise in the pools–she received more votes than they did combined.  If the secondary choices can determine the election, however, RCV also presumes both that all voters will select three choices for mayor; if all do not make three choices, but leave the remainder of their ballot empty, their voices will count less than those enumerating three choices.  For if Ranked Choice Voting was designed to eliminate the need for run-offs and their cost, Ranked Choice Voting has provided a mode of amassing consensus, it gave far greater say to those who complete their full three choices:  as candidates with low percentages of votes were eliminated in successive rounds, and their constituents’ second and third choices are tabulated and reallocated, instant-runoff voting allowed Schaaf, whose plurality as first choice (29.43%) to gained the necessary majority (63%) as the field of fifteen candidates narrowed, and second- and third- choice votes entered her column.

This November’s mayoral race provided less of a surprise victor in a deeply contested field in previous years: RCV was not nearly as critical in this year’s mayoral race.  But ranked choice voting provided a curious way of refracting how a plurality of the city’s population mirrored the city’s social divides.  If voting is increasingly tied to different expectations of what Oakland’s communities could most hope from a mayor, in the low-turnout election statewide–46% statewide–attracting more anti-Quan votes than strong backers of candidates, anti-status quo candidates may have attracted voters to the polls in ways that propelled the late-rising candidacy of Libby Schaaf, a special assistant to Jerry Brown when he served as Oakland’s mayor.  Belied by the apparent dominance Schaaf held across the hills, the election was in fact a roller coaster of a vote for several months:  many early polls had favored City Council at-large member Rebecca Kaplan by over 50%, with a majority ready to not re-elect Mayor Jean Quan, but for the past two years, significantly over 50% of polled Oaklanders have named “crime” as the major issue the city faces–63% this year, down from 70% last year–with fewer folks citing the economy or education, though these factors seem closely linked.

As may become too common in future urban elections, fear of inadequately addressing public safety emerged as a showcased compelling issue in the recent election, increasingly overshadowing other issues from unemployment to eduction, and propelled by Quan’s cycling through four police chiefs and city administrators in four years, and the parallel grassroots growth of ‘Neighborhood Watch ‘ campaigns.  As Trestle Glen resident Tuman showcase effective “crime-fighting” in a “five-point plan” for reducing crime and the causes of crime in Oakland, from placing more police on the streets, improving response times and developing crime-prevention strategies, Schaaf picked it up and ran with it by asking voters to “reject that crime is a tax you have to pay to live in Oakland,” in April.  With crime, community-police relations, and hiring and training more police, Quan’s forced lay-offs of officers issues of that odd neologism public safety led candidates to promise rises in the police force–if Oakland’s police include some 665 officers, candidates have promised to increase the current 707 officers currently funded to 800 (Parker), 836 (Kaplan), or 900 (Tuman).  Even before the recent decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown August 9, increasing Oakland’s police force would have been unpopular to those marching in solidarity with Ferguson in Oakland–as elsewhere in the nation–to demand an end to the increased militarization of local police whose targeting of specific groups was felt to endanger safe neighborhoods.

No one, surprisingly, asked if more police is actually what Oakland needs–and few pointed to the fact that the reduction  of the police force by Mayor Quan actually mirrored a reduction of crime in the city, rather than creating conditions for its increase in a city that long resisted police presence.  One might have had good reason to question whether the increase of policing equates to a growth in public safety.  And in the face of recent conflicts with police from Ferguson to Staten Island, and from the protests at the police’s killing of Michael Brown (hands raised) to protests at the killing Eric Garner (“I can’t breathe“), the increase of police presence is by no means popular thing citywide.  The historic downturn in crime in the first years of Quan’s tenure was however obscured as candidates piled on the mayor in blaming her for an inconsistent relation with building a trained body of police in Oakland since an April debate–and leading both Quan and Joe Tuman to enlist the none other than the once-not-popular former LAPD Chief and current NYPD Commissioner and national strongman William Bratton to burnish their images.  Framing the election around policing re-dimensions the mayoral race by focussing the electorate on issues that appealed in selective to specific demographics, and perhaps relegated other, more immediately pressing issues–education; unemployment; the local economy–to the back burner, bestowing public prominence to policing in ways that cannot but alienate another demographic, and make them less likely to vote.

Candidates’ increasing appeal to the containing of crime spoke primarily to more affluent propertied Oaklanders, and may have alienated much of the electorate, as much as educating them to the city’s broader needs.  One might indeed ask if a future scenario of police violence is only waiting to arrive in Oakland’s streets.  In a city which spends some 40 percent of the general funds budget on police, the notion of expanding the police force means and policing equates to augmenting the already large share of funds on policing, raising questions of the future budget of the city that only recently emerged from the threat of receivership.  The complex narrative of a reduction of policing at the same time as a rise, albeit followed by a recent reduction, in urban crime, and fears joint specters of receivership and compliance since the Occupy movement have detracted attention from a mandate on public safety.  But even in the recent police responses to post-Ferguson protests, the sort of response that increased policing and confrontation with police would generate–tear gassing; containment by batons, rubber bullets or tasters and other practiced tactics of policing; almost inevitable racial profiling–whether a growth of policing is what Oakland needs to spend money on deserves to be debated.  Before looking at some maps of crime in the city, let’s begin from the electoral map of first-ranked votes to suggest how the narrative of preserving public safety and containing crime appealed to specific demographics in Oakland, and how specific sources of fundraising supported this narrative of the need to restore public order and contain crime.  Does the presence of more police, in short, which presage a force equipped with military arms that suggest far greater expansion of possibilities of confrontation with protestors or civil unrest actually bode well for the city?

10850109_418141448339423_604459649808786156_nEmily Robinson

13.  At the same time as each candidate drew on different levels of discontent with the status quo, candidate Schaaf most closely identified herself with the project of continuing Oakland’s recent economic growth–and gained significant support from monied interests in a field of fifteen.  The image of growing Oakland distinguishing herself within the five front-runners, including outgoing Mayor Quan, at-large City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, Port Commissioner Bryan Parker, or labor lawyer Dan Siegel–rather than a focus on crime.  But although Schaaf’s victory cannot be attributed to Ranked Choice Voting in ways that brought the current mayor to office, she emerged as victor from a contest in a crowded field of those who sought to claim the left of folks more moderate than Mayor Quan, her tacit championing of a law-and-order narrative.

The consolidation of consensus indeed emerged with relatively rapidity over a short period of time around the mayor-elect, distinguishing the moderate Schaaf not only from a wide field but two former front-runners, Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan.  Schaaf emerged to defeat a crowded field, including the city’s current mayor, although the first choice of less than 30% of the popular vote–by the final count, however, she had pulled ahead by over 60% in the policy of Ranked Choice Voting described above.  And in a policy where voters who were more likely to chose a full range of candidates–there doesn’t seem data to see how many folks didn’t select the full list, or how many ballots were disqualified by selecting the same choice three times–this created something of an artificial mandate to be the mayor of the whole city, even if her support was clearly concentrated in demographically somewhat specific areas.  And in a year when turnout was so low to barely approach 40%, it is hard to say that her candidacy ever reached the broadly based support that her ostensible majority victory portends.

The electorate was moreover informed by what issues attracted folks to the polls in a low turnout year.  The paradox of how Ranked Choice relies on attracting more voters to the polls–and works best when voters take advantage of the ability to make all votes count–a very uneven turnout gives somewhat disproportionate voice to selective constituencies as well as to support second- or third-choices.  And here is where the effects of Ranked Choice Voting may have been somewhat different from intended, and somewhat skewed the vote in the favor of those who would be more likely to select a full range of three choices, and to respond to a candidate who claimed to be able to reduce urban crime in ways that appealed to more suburban areas of the city.

Although ranked voting is intended to increase the and prevent competing candidates from extinguishing each other’s candidacy, and it has fulfilled both ends to a great extent:  Schaaf clearly won the coalition of the Hills outside Piedmont, Crocker Highlands, and North Oakland, with most all of the Lake Merritt area.  But she will soon find herself enmeshed in negotiations with the big unions in the city (including SEIU and police), the city’s notoriously fragile infrastructure of old roads, bridges, and highways, and school system, which may break the back of her trumpeted fiscal conservatism.  Did the coalition that backed her so strongly–and allowed her to raise more money than any other candidate–create a powerful enough Montclair–Hills-North Oakland-Adams Pt.-Glenview alliance to address the city’s urban problems?  In the face of low turnout throughout the city, the plurality that Schaaf assembled suggests a model for envisioning alliances outside of a political party.

It’s not the best omen that the city split in her election–with many greater-income, whiter neighborhoods going for Schaaf, who represents the wealthiest region of Oakland–but even a worse one that the divides represent a social split that is all too evident in Oakland’s communities.  And while the map that reveals Schaaf’s strong victory suggests a continuity of green supporters that ran down from the Oakland hills, whose squiggly roads almost correspond to greater property values, the distrust that went for Schaaf tended to peter out when they encounter the straight-lined districts of the lower-income formerly working class urban areas, or so-called “flats,” where the demographic is distinctly different.

The far whiter and economically better-off neighborhoods that cluster around Piedmont and East of Lake Merritt, neighborhoods of relatively lower crime and less density, as well as lesser diversity, went collectively for who seemed the most familiar candidate, endorsed by Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.  This is the same region, one might note, where  CommunityCam allows us to chart one of the most sensitive indices for fear in an urban setting:  how closely residents of the city monitor its public spaces or finds it necessary to survey itself:   the 272 known surveillance cameras that are placed specifically in downtown Oakland and some 810 cameras city-wide reveal a map of monitory insecurity that is indeed amazingly dense for a relatively small area, where video monitoring is particularly diffuse.  The placement of such video cameras in the neighborhoods form Lake Merritt to the estuary and Jack London Square, a downtown nestled by I-980 and I-880, registers a notably dense topography of suspicion and fear that gave great appeal to the promises of increased policing both Schaaf and Tuman offered, and provides interesting insight into the underside of Oakland’s plans to develop downtown area as a commercial center.

WATCHING Oakland

The benefit Schaaf drew from voters of other moderate candidates in growing the plurality of less than a third of voters who chose her as their first choice–29.35–to put her over the top arrived with in ways that gave an unsurprisingly rather homogeneous demographic.  While amassing just under a third of the votes in a field of 15 is a considerable achievement, each of the five candidates among whom the field long seemed contested and surprisingly up for grabs in recent polls before Schaaf received the endorsement of former Oakland mayor and Oakland resident Jerry Brown’s early October.

14.  This post began form examining the interactive datamap released by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters of which the distribution of first-place votes for candidates.  Although it has been presented as revealing “complexity” in the election’s final victory, rather than there reflecting the “landslide” suggested by final tabulations, it shows the city split in perhaps predictable ways around who could best serve the public interest.  Strikingly, districts that backed Schaaf for first choice are curiously contiguous and of higher property values; districts dominated by Quan’s supporters were contiguous with those won by Schaaf’s fellow council member Rebecca Kaplan, and raise-the-minimum-wage advocate Dan Siegel won districts that also gave large numbers of votes to Kaplan.  Kaplan, Quan, Parker, and Siegel offered distinctly viable alternatives to Schaaf in the flats, it appears; Quan and Kaplan combined received more first place votes than Schaaf, and the voter turnout was often extremely low.

The narrow margins of victory in areas outside District 1 and District 4 also made those districts decisive, and suggests her victory needs to be seen as far less decisive.  (During the 2012 mayoral election, riding on the get-out-the-vote drive of the Presidential election, Oakland voters turned out at 76.4%, and the high turn-out helped tap an electorate that put Quan over the top over the polls’ favorite, Don Perata–in ways that gave RCV a bad name, and led no jurisdictions to adopt it after Quan’s victory.)  Yet the visual jiujitsu of the infographic created an impression a majority of electoral districts selected her as first choice, even among a wide field of candidates, privileging the pea-green expanse in the less densely populated hills.

Oakland 2014 mayoralRegistrar of Voters/Alameda County

A close-up reveals Schaff’s “sea of pea green” stopping around the hills and City of Piedmont and those districts distinguished by equilateral bounds:

Hills for Schaff

Is the economic transformation of the city the grounds on which Oakland has elected a white mayor?  The area of the Oakland “hills” were those where Schaaf clearly won by her greatest margin, extending from North Oakland to San Leandro, where curving roads indicate elevations–including the wealthy Montclair–while her competitors were far closer in those areas associated with the “flats,” where Kaplan and Quan were closely behind in the tally–or in fact won the district.  With far less than a third of the total votes so far–29.43%, a number not yet able to be officially verified–the segment of the city that she represented was quite socio-economically distinct, in ways that a simple map of winners of districts cannot depict, for all the interest.  With four candidates receiving over 10,000 votes for first place in the second mayoral election organized by “Ranked Choice Voting,” in which voters select three ranked candidates, consensus is difficult to define as it often broke along electoral districts.

But the existence of clear corridor in the above map selecting Quan, Kaplan or Siegel as first-choice votes suggests an absence of strong connections to Schaaf in poorer areas of the city near the I-580/I-880 corridor.

Quan:Kaplan:Seigel Corridor

Is the failure of Schaaf to appeal to this swath of the city a bad omen for facing its unique problems, or sense of being left behind Oakland’s temporary economic recovery?

Further examination of the map would require excavating the layers of RCV and margins of Schaaf’s victories–higher in the hills; narrower in the flats–her dominance in two hills districts (District 1 and District 4) made her campaign quite hard for a crowded field of mayoral candidates to defeat.  Endorsements from Brown and Boxer were perhaps less the point than the hope inspired by the message of renewal, and deep concerns for safety that she seemed to echo.  For all the discussion of the “nuanced glimpse” that the electoral map provides into Schaaf’s victory, the divide it draws seems all to familiar–and the division between folks it excludes of the political process clear.  A clear advantage that emerged for Schaaf within the process of ranked voting only as she picked up the votes of those who had supported economist Tuman, who had finished fourth in the initial ranked-choice tabulation, picking up over 4,000 votes which gave her the absolute advantage of 49.5% of the popular vote in the penultimate round of reticulations of the popular vote, leaving Kaplan with 26.69 percent and Quan with 23.76% of the votes, and neither with a real chance–unless no voters who listed them first had chosen Schaaf second.  Yet if as much as 15% of the electorate selected only one candidate in the election–and less than half actually allocated all three votes in the election, the effective voting imbalance that RCV creates demands investigation–if only to map where those districts where ballots that did not enumerate three choices were cast.

oakland-chamber-of-commerce-2014-mayoral-poll-35-638

Tuman–the only candidate who did never held a political or governmental post, but the most vociferously in favor of increased policing, who went so far as to associate his plan with NYPD chief and LAPD vet William Bratton in his search for burnishing this image–had focussed on crime, economic growth, and parking enforcement, and had finished fourth in the mayoral race of 2010; a communications professor at San Francisco State and paid political commentator, he seems to have bolstered his own career, as much as being a credible candidate, and carried no districts.  “Tuman’s vote” was undoubtedly a central means by which Schaaf obtained a decisive victory; his popularity was based in wealthier parts of the city, including Crocker Highlands, and a central platform was putting 300 more police on Oakland’s streets, and to boost the local economy by relaxing parking restrictions downtown.  And when his own ballots were exhausted, a considerable number were transferred to Schaaf’s column, putting her far over the top–and creating the appearance of the elegant alchemical transformation of a “tight” race into a “landslide.”

tuman to schaaf

15.  The question of whether the recent success of much of Oakland’s economic transformation over the past two decades, which culminated in the he growth of the Quan years, has led to an atrophying and lack of engagement with the huge area of East Oakland, and what consequences that will bring for the city as a whole.  The area we might do well to concentrate upon–the more dispossessed region of East Oakland, which gets less coverage and was less affected by Oakland’s recent economic growth or real estate boom, destined to be sandwiched between two interstate freeways that serve as obstacles to urban renewal, provides both the greatest statistical source of Oakland’s criminality as well as the site less well served and most in need of help–and seems to have tended to Kaplan and Quan.

%22East%22 Oak

This is the region where the highest numbers of shootings have been concentrated:

Shootings map

The victory by a candidate who was named first choice by less than a third of the electorate–as of now, 29.4%–suggests that she cannot be a choice of the entire city, but her constituents break on a clear divide.  Libby Schaaf has been argued by some to represent the area of the hills, an accusation she has strongly and effectively resisted in a strong campaign.  But the electoral map strikingly almost echoes a division between income, evident in how a mapping of what Oakland families lived below the poverty line in 2012, though the current distribution reaches from Adams Point to Lake Merritt, traces the boundary of thee light green districts which selected Schaaf as first-choice–and echoes Oakland’s racial divides:

Percent below poverty line, up to 40%PCT

Put another way, the poorest areas of Oakland are crammed between its two largest interstate freeways that run across the city, and this area did not tend to select Schaaf as a primary choice:

Poverty in oakland

PCT

The voters did not make up their mind about this election with conviction, to be sure:  if Quan was the first woman to be mayor of the city, Kaplan, Schaaf and Quan had been regarded as front-runners, although in a poll taken only three weeks before the election, 21% of Oaklanders polled hadn’t yet decided on their first choice, and 55% had yet to select first choices in the ballot.

The folks who seem to have been most committed to voting, however, seem to have disproportionately voted for Schaaf, distrusting Quan and attracted by Schaaf’s message of being hard on crime.  And the nasty ill-spirited sentiment that high-crime areas supported Quan because of her current crime policy, content with the status quo, and that “some groups would like to keep incompetent leadership like Quan in office.”  Although anecdotal, the mean-spirited sentiment indicates a deeply single-minded animosity filters the reading even of the distribution of the popular vote–and a deep ignorance of the attitudes on the streets to a police force that, in seniority and salary, the predominance of whom hail largely from out of town as of 2012-13–creating a particularly unbalanced topography of law enforcement as well as political economy that plays out on the ground in interesting ways.

opd_staff_residency

In mapping the residences of police against commensurate salaries, a troubling picture emerges of the demand to ‘put more officers on the street’ that has unique resonances, as it seems to run against the very notion of community policing.  The deep antagonism of many Oaklanders to the police that existed before its militarization had heightened long before recent protests at the disproportionately increased attention to the testimonies of police officers in both shooting the unarmed Mike Brown in Ferguson and suffocating Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, or cutting off the flow of blood to his brain.  The below map both raises questions of how Oakland’s expenditures on its police is effectively directed toward surrounding suburban areas, and about the disconnect between neighborhood areas and the cops who police them.

Oak cops from where

opd legend

Oakland Police Department Officers’ Residency mapped by salaries/Financial Year 2010

The disproportionate share of cops retired or active that live outside of the city–and the amounts of money that is directed to pensions of retired officers living outside the city–has long received much criticism as a means of extracting urban wealth.

OPD EXTRACTION from Oakland

The accusation that some folks would prefer fewer police on the street also betrays deep ignorance of the uneven distribution of a poor voting turn-out:  even at the high turnout of 2010, the threshold was not above 45% for many of the poorer areas of the city, and was dominated by districts in the hills and the San Pablo corridor, according to this map from public data made with TileMill by GIS Analyst Ofurhe Igbinedion.

Turn-Out 2010

The deep gray trough of low-turnout along International Blvd., and below I-580, even in a high turnout election, mirrors the remove of many Oaklanders from the mayoral election.

OAK Detail

Of course, whether RVC is understood by the electorate unfortunately seems to remains unclear:  former Mayor Jean Quan was successful by asking voters to choose her as their second choice in 2010, and the difficulty with predicting the election lies in a difficulty to predict how second- and third-choice votes are decided.  But the uneven readiness to select three choices in the current election may leave many votes disproportionately counted.

16.  Returning to the present race, the comparative investedness of Oakland neighborhoods in the recent race is evident in a map showing which areas were dominated by which candidates–what regions of the Bay Area were dominated by donors to candidates–that helps track how over one million dollars of campaign money was raised in the race among the four most successful fund-raisers, Schaaf ($421, 267), Quan ($357, 284), Parker ($348,882), Kaplan ($280,876), Tuman ($261, 665) and Siegel ($206,882), which raise pressing questions about the equity of campaign finances–and shedding some light on the disproportionate amount of money spent on votes in this election.  Indeed, the close ties that this suggests of Schaaf both to vested monied interests in Oakland and in nearby areas which invested heavily in a vision of a well-governed and -policed Oakland–from Alameda to Pacific Heights Marin to Orinda, Walnut Creek and Pleasanton–suggest a considerable inflow of money from outside of Oakland.

Although Schaaf spent “least per vote” among the top candidates, her amount spent was far higher than almost all her competitors.

Screenshot-2014-11-13-12.39.41-e1416273438577

The deep ties of Schaaf’s campaign to a monied interests in wealthier regions around Oakland, as much as they depended for donations on the communities in the Oakland hills.  The geographic distribution Open Disclosure offers is striking since it suggests a distinctly uneven distribution of the fundraising economy that has come to drive the mayoral elections, from Marin to the Peninsula to Orinda, Pleasanton and Walnut Creek.  It shows the disproportionate role of neighborhood fundraising in determining Oakland’s elections, lest one was not aware of it, even in the face of campaign contribution limits per individual of $700 or $1400.  For a range of wealthier regions of Marin, San Francisco, and Oakland’s hills enriched Schaaf’s treasury, drawing from the Marin and Pacific Heights lands of Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, while Tuman, Ruby, Kaplan and Siegel largely enjoyed their own very local constituencies, and Quan and Parker drew from several areas in Oakland and San Francisco.

Where candidates raised $

The candidate who raised the most money in the end in each ZIP code suggests a deeply uneven distribution indeed, with Quan increasingly edged out by Tuman and Seigel downtown, and Kaplan eating into some of Schaaf’s core hills constituency, in ways that were not evident in first choice votes on election day–and Courtney Ruby reveals similar support (the colors, confusingly, are switched for candidates here, though the scheme reflects most successful fundraising):

Final Campaing disgtributrino for fundraising

The differences where candidates were most successful in raising money reflects the final distribution of votes, though the votes were concentrated in Oakland alone, of course, and do not follow a division by ZIP.  The calculations of contributions mirrors, unsurprisingly, some of the electoral data, although Schaaf’s contributors seem to translate into more votes.  But these do not clearly mirror a picture of how Oakland looks.  Put another way, Schaaf’s contributions were clustered not entirely but primarily in north Oakland and the hills–


L-Schaaf-Map

and were not nearly as evenly distributed across Oakland neighborhoods as, say, those of Rebecca Kaplan

R-Kaplan-Map

What differences existed between the folks who supported Schaaf, both by donations and first choice selection, and other areas of Oakland that selected other candidates as first-choice?

Unlike the hills, much of Oakland is a renter-majority city, in which many residents struggle to find affordable housing.  A range of community-based organizations formed to respond to issues of low-income renters offer data indicates that upward of a third of these renters are regularly confronting issues of habitability and substandard housing, despite government efforts to the contrary–many of whom voted, when they turned up at the polls, for other candidates.  The same divide also maps loosely onto Oaklanders who face habitability issues–such as mold; lead paint; cockroaches; disrepair; lack of heating–in the dwellings that they rent–one index of renters v. homeowners that remains starkly geographic in Oakland, as do contentedness with the habitability of their residences:

habitability

or emergency visits to hospitals for asthma over the past year, which are compared here to the county rate:

asthma emergency visits

Those areas significantly above the county rate did not tend to select Schaaf as their first choice, raising questions about how these neighborhoods view her as mayor.  (While Schaaf was a preferred candidate in many, the low voter turnout needs to be mapped for the last election.)

around lake merritt

The unanswered question such data maps place squarely on the table–the elephant lurking in the room–is how well Schaaf will represent the city as a whole.

17.  It is too early to raise such concerns explicitly, but the large number of eligible voters who did not even cast a ballot in the city speaks volumes.  “East Oakland is a part of this city that really needs investment and love,” Schaaf noted more appeasingly, in somewhat touchy-feely tones that one wonders what they actually mean. For the city remains split in interesting ways, with many working-class sections solidly for Jean Quan, who was rejected by those in better-off areas, and Rebecca Kaplan fielding many votes in other areas, and Dan Siegel, a pro-labor lawyer and long-time strong-armed Oakland lefty, getting others; Bryan Parker, an African-American business man and director of the Port appointed by Quan, did well only in those areas closest to the port.

Mayor Quan’s rocky tenure over the last four years alienated many for different reasons, but partly through no fault of her own:   she had upset the favored candidate in 2010, after he was associated with political corruption and police unions, allying herself with a range of candidates who were, unlike their rivals who were less firmly rooted in the city, dedicated to improving Oakland.  But subsequent her performance in relation to the Occupy movement tarred her candidacy, even as the cuts and lay-offs she sanctioned in human resources, social services, the City attorney, parks, zoos, and museums had fomented Occupy protestors–and led to a recall effort.  Mayor Quan had notoriously won the 2010 election because of the system of Ranked Choice Voting:  voters selected her as second-choice in ways that elevated her above conservative democrat rival.

Schaaf, the occupant of the District 4 seat that Quan vacated, in her own campaign stressed not the problems of the city but its “awesomeness” in her campaign, celebrating the city’s newfound economic, and emerging as the anti-crime candidate able to uplift Oakland.  But Schaaf was never the populist grass-roots community-organizer Quan had been, however, and the ties that Schaaf holds to middle-class voters suggests some degree of potential working class alienation.   (Don Perata had won the hills, promising to put more police on the streets; but Quan claimed much of downtown.)  An increasingly salient index of a crisis in public confidence lies, as Michael Sierra-Arevalo has noted in October, is the growth of private security firms in the hills-areas of Oakland.  Indeed, the hiring of private security firms reveals growing distrust of the city police by literally taking policing into one’s own hands in crowd-sourced ventures, and a writing off of the ability for Oakland’s police department to provide necessary security.  Oakland seems to suffer, almost endemically, from an almost chronic absence of officers patrolling the streets.  Unlike most of the rest of the country, Oakland has indeed experienced dramatically rising crime rates in recent years–even as a significant part of the city enjoys an economic revival and an inflow of new monies and rising property values.  The external sign of such a revival is the blossoming of high-end restaurants in the Temescal and Downtown, from Lake Merritt to 51st Street, but the growth in crime in nearby areas.  Indeed, Oakland was touted as “robbery capital of America,” and the below mapping of police beats in the city didn’t help Quan.

Districts bordering on high-crime areas were not strongly against Quan, although Quan did not win Redwood Heights or Fruitvale–but the image of the mayor as soft on crime was most dangerous for her in the outlying areas of the hills.  Even though she pulled a surprise in 2010 by winning as a non-career politician who upset the popular pro-union candidate Don Perata by a margin of just 2,000 votes.  Quan’s promise to focus on revitalizing Oakland by using her skills at working in local issues–and improving Oakland as a city, she gained a bad image first with an unseemly waffling in response to the Occupy movement and then in unpopular reductions in the police and social service and never really emerged as effectively combating a rising tide of crime or able to claim a mantle of urban renewal in 2014.

18.  The search for choosing candidates that might better address questions of public safety suggest the benefits of reading such a demand for more policing of the city against recent maps of crimes in Oakland, and reveal a growing expansion of criminal activity beyond the poorest areas of the city between I-880 and I-580, stretching to San Leandro.

The striking rise of crime areas–if not focussed in Montclair, Mills College, Trestle Glen, or Redwood Heights, was too close to be comfortable for folks to stand behind Quan’s anti-crime performance as mayor:

Robbery Capital?

Yet the recent rash of robberies in Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods seems unquestionably to have been on the minds of voters because crime had moved beyond the region between the I-580 and I-880, and began to appear in critical ways in voters’ consciousness in North Oakland, Trestle Glen, the Dimond District, and Glen View or near Mills College for the first time:

20130507_075733_eoak0508OAKROBS92web

Even as the real estate market has been brisk, the presence of police is precarious, and the growth of neighborhood crime has led to a blossoming of private security firms in direct response to the distrust of the police:  the growth of such firms from Skyline-Hillcrest to the Dimond district, from Crown Hills to Claremont, from Lake Merritt to Crocker Highlands, has escalated across Oakland’s middle class neighborhoods in response to fears about crime.  It would be interesting, and opportune, to map the diffusion and establishment of such private security details in Oakland over time, which extend from Glenview to the Dimond district, as well as Kings Estates, Temescal, and Maxwell Park, and Crown Ridge near Merritt College.  In large part, this has mirrored how a growth in Oakland’s economic health since 2009 has paralleled a decline in officers on the street–from 830 officers in January, 2009, 615 officers currently patrol the streets of a city of roughly 400,000 people, according to city police records, or about 167 officers per 100,000 citizens.  The recent spate of crowd-funding for private security patrols in Oakland, unified in their common charge to “take back” one’s neighborhood, united  “like-minded folk” to disaggregate from the city’s common protection.  Rockridge City Council Member Dan Kalb hopes that the rise of such private security details will never be taken as a substitute for police, but only as a supplement.  But it will be hard to turn back the spread of such local details in many areas, which reflect on the nature what sort of public spaces we want to create–and might cause us to be more introspective on our community movements.

The narratives that such private security patrols trumpet may have played a large role in the race for mayor.  They certainly stirred strong pubic emotions and debate.  By promising investigative professionalism and more patrol cars, such private security companies claimed to offer an ability to “meet both your security needs and your budget” when police seem discredited.  Local security patrols are hardly viewed as a substitute for police–and may create underlying conflicts or communications problems with police–but they are nonetheless accepted as a necessity and, increasingly, crowd-sourced to respond to fear about decreased neighborhood patrols and low police protection with rising robberies (up 54%), burglaries (up 40%), and car theft (33%).  (San Jose has, however, rejected the idea of such crowd-sourced private patrols.)  And they cite the following Property Crime Index to bolster their points, by the specter of the rise in property crimes in Oakland’s neighborhoods in ways that seem far above either California’s or the nation’s as a whole–although one would expect so much of an urban setting of endemic poverty, high truancy, and unevenly funded public education:

oakland-property-crime-rates

There is, to be sure, a regional rise of such security firms.  (In Latin America, the opportunism and collusion of police has increasingly led them to be less trusted as keepers of the peace or security, private security firms have started to comprise a growing part of the local economy:  the AP has recently described how private firms fill “security gap” across Latin America, ensuring the transport of cargo that is coveted by criminals in northwestern Mexico by international firms, or protecting wealthier clients:  in places where “people don’t necessarily trust the cops.”  Private security officers outnumber local police 2 to 1 globally, and 4 to 1 in Brazil, 5 to 1 in Guatemala, and 7 to 1 in Honduras.  Such firms employ some 4 million agents across the region, creating an industry that, if it keeps up with 9% annual growth, is projected to become a business generating $30 billion by 2016–offering private protection to those who can afford it, and asking fellow-citizens to fend for themselves.  This can have unintended consequences not yet seen in Oakland, but perhaps foreseeable:  in Venezuela one private security worker estimated that 25% of his fellow-guards commit violent crimes during off-hours.)

The neighborhoods in Oakland where crowdsourced funding has been used to create private security firms are increasingly employed are on the outskirts of the downtown, rather than in those areas.  These more monied areas such as Rockridge, Trestle Glen, or Crocker Highlands are of course in essence divesting from their trust in public government and transferring money out Oakland–while paying low property taxes, and not wanting to raise them, they are playing off of an image of a city that is ineffective in fighting crime or dealing with criminality.  The image of ineffectual city government that this practice perpetuates instills and distrust of existing government, and creates an image of a need to contain crime and criminality in Oakland’s poorer areas, and indeed to better police those areas that lie on their margins.  And indeed by looking at the crime statistics in Oakland as a whole, one can add a needed layer of information to the emotions of the electorate that lie beneath the Registrar’s interactive map, peeling back the color overlays to reveal some of the deeper fears that not only motivated the election results, but also perhaps a paratext that demands to be considered beyond the map of the election’s results.

19.  Libby Schaff’s appeal beyond the crowd who inhabit the hills may largely lie in her clear focus on the perceived dangers of public safety that are increasingly of concern in many areas outside of Piedmont or the hills, where property crime appears on the rise.  How did this appeal make her so much more successful in attracting votes within a precise demographic of the population that we don’t often identify with Oakland itself?  (And how can we not think that she was elected as white Oakland’s mayor?)

A persuasive answer may lie in her focus on crime.  The outpouring of support derived partly from endorsements, and what the city council member advocated for improving the performance of police.  The mayor-elect trumpeted a “laser-like focus on public safety,” a code word for crime, an increasing concern for the city as a whole, but the complex relation between the mayoralty and the police, and a move to a candidate who had a less apparently oppositional relation to police; Quan had not only suffered poor relations with police during the Occupy Movement, but had faced the resignation of two police chiefs one after the other in 2013.   The desire to contain an apparently growing level of criminality–at times, rampant criminality and property crimes–into the area between the I-580 and I-880, and diminish its spread in Oakland as a whole, played a large role.

Oakland 2014 mayoral

The large support that Schaaf won from District 4 and surrounding hills areas suggests a reluctance to recognize Schaaf as one of their own across a large range of some of the less privileged and lower class areas of Oakland, and indeed raise a challenge for Schaaf’s mayoralty.  Perhaps one might look more closely at the rise of crime over Quan’s tenure, and indeed the longer view that would provide a needed perspective on the situation in Oakland that Quan first confronted when coming to office in 2012.  These slightly antiquated maps of simple or aggravated assaults and violent crime (noted in brown) and property crimes (green) by which ever-versatile Michal Migursky mapped in Oakland by open data in 2008, which were so clearly concentrated between 880 and 13 freeways, or the non-affluent urban areas, and preponderantly in those that lie below the 580 freeway that formerly bisected the city’s neighborhoods.

880 and 13

The distribution of hotspots of automobile and residential burglaries in 2012 reveal a strikingly similar concentration, although the dispersion of crime through the city, although a low density of crimes–marked by circles or triangles–clouds the entire city, in ways that made hills residents quite conscious of an apparently expanding impact of robbery in their neighborhoods:

oakland-crime

And the fairly terrifying clustering of 290 robberies and homicides over a months between September and October, 2013 reveals a concentration in those areas where Schaaf did not carry the vote so clearly:

RObberies and Homicides 2013 to now

The larger picture shows an even more specific concentration over that month:

y24iytf

The month mirrors the Trulia Trends Crime Maps, which created a compelling heat map of the region of the Bay Area for 2012, with a similar focus on areas west of the line created by the I-580 freeway which bisects the city east and west, and almost seems to have its epicenter in Fruitvale and Seminary:

heat map violent crime

The Oakland Police Department’s own community crime-mapping website, CrimeMapping, reveals a strikingly similar, if less legible, distribution of 275 crimes in Oakland over the last month, with a preponderance of automobile thefts (purple mini-icons) and scattered robberies (blue masked face mini-icons), and a broad smattering of assault crimes overwhelmingly focussed between the I-580 and I-880 during the first week of December:

last month Oakland Crime

Assault Crimes

But burglaries, for example, were spread far more widely over the same period of December 4-10:

Burglaries 12:4-10

and a still somewhat broader distribution of automobile theft:

OAK auto theft

These areas of crime are the areas that the Schaaf supporters want to contain, and trust Schaaf to be able to contain from the city’s other half.

20.  These maps  underscore the somewhat slightly schizophrenic identity of Oakland, CA as a city.  They reveal the steep challenge that the mayor will face generating a sense that, as a woman born in the Oakland Hills, will be able to direct needed economic intervention in:  though most any American city has its slums and poorer neighborhoods, this is an area that is almost neglected, as i as a result of the freeways that cut across the city’s communities and revealed its deep rifts.  Put in the best light possible, the election of the mayor might be an occasion for introspection on what we want Oakland’s mayor to seek to work to achieve.

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Filed under gentrification, Oakland CA, open data, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)

Alternative Metrics of America’s Divided Economies #1

We’ve become increasingly accustomed to how data visualizations divide the nation.  But the proliferation of such visualizations almost carries the danger of introducing multiple metrics of diminishing effect.  While we have become so used to how they divide the nation into groups, their multiplication tends to erase the past that lies beneath them, and creates something like a parlor game of contemplating explanatory bases for divides, even indulging the  visual pleasure of parsing the nation that obscures the public good.  In cultivating a period eye of the infographic, a somewhat terrifying occurrence perpetuated now by federalist states’ rights, whose genealogy extends back to efforts to oppose desegregation, we readily consume such rapidly produced images of the nation’s divides.

Organizing the overlooked role nonprofits play across the country create an extremely sensitive marker of how we inhabit the nation, and the varied micro-cultures and economies it retains, even in an age of globalization.  The value of such a map lies less in the image that it presents of the nation as a mirror of a status quo than as a stimulus to reflection and self-examination, as well as an interrogation to the benefits that nonprofits continue to bestow on the public good at the same time as the ongoing and impending contraction of the public sector of government fails to meet those needs.  For the place of the nonprofit in our society provides a way of thinking about their relation to public needs not often met and productive ways of reshaping the status quo.  The very unevenness of the distributions of employment at nonprofits suggests questions of levels of education and legal or financial training, to be sure, as well as necessary capital for forming boards, to make us reflect on the uneven existence and acceptance of nonprofits’ roles in public life.

But if the reasons for such an uneven distribution of nonprofits across the country are unclear–as is the proportional number of positions that nonprofits hire in private-sector employment–it seems especially rewarding to parse and challenging to unpack:  for while the environments that help nonprofits remains a topic for sociological research and scholarly inquiry, the demonstrably different economies and cultures of charitable giving that encourage nonprofits suggest divides in a range of services across the nation–as does the strength of belief in the worthiness and need for the attention of nonprofits to specific issues.  The economic needs of nonprofits presents an image of the national economy that prompts more investigation of the lay of the land–and the national economy’s variegated landscape, that cut to the heart of how maps illustrate spatial divides, far more effectively than the often untrustworthy distributions of votes or political affiliations.  If we have come to privilege difference and map national divides, the landscape of nonprofits demands close scrutiny for what it tells us about the uneven nature of how nonprofits play a public role across the nation–roles with indeed might be encouraged by something as simple as the availability of both open-access on-line data, which still widely varies across America, and indeed the availability of broadband.  (The uneven distribution of the first is pictured in the header to this post.)

A quick initial compare-and-contrast between the most recent snapshot of the percentage of employment in nonprofits of all total employment to the recent metrics of “Where Men Aren’t Working” across the country suggests an almost inverse relation between employment and the landscape of employment in nonprofits–which, with local exceptions, reveal increased economic health.  But the nonprofit landscape in America is more than that, and cannot be reduced to a healthy economy alone.  The reduced presence of the nonprofit across many states mapped below must no doubt have provoked a deeper rippling effect in local and regional economies, which we will be increasingly feeling over time.

 

non profs in 2012

Men Not Working Map

1.  The multiple socioeconomic factors lead to such steep variations in employment at nonprofits are unclear, and can’t be reduced to single metrics since they are based on synergies.  But the uneven nature of their distribution seem to respond partly to the culture of the availability of a trained demographic, allowing possible professional donation of time, and a distinctly well-trained workforce, as well as either charitable giving–although boards are clearly important–and social needs.  The presence of nonprofits themselves also clearly impact the environments that encourage and allow the vitally important roles that they play in the local society, and generate clusters of nonprofits, with experts and legal teams, that greatly facilitate their growth in ways that meet important local needs–as well, often, as the existence of a number of trained individuals (from former teachers to health-care professionals) able to service the functioning of the nonprofit and its specific needs–a number of which were created during the recent Recession.  The importance of mapping this human geography of the public sector seems especially important in the face persistent attempts to parse, and effectively essentialize the country’s apparent political divides.  Indeed, the topography of the nonprofit provides an interesting way of illustrating differences across the nation–and the map of the spatial distribution of nonprofits addresses interesting questions of how maps illustrate spatial and cultural divides.

The uneven geography of non-profits partly responds to the uneven familiarity with the varied roles nonprofits can fill in local economies–and the existence of evidence of the benefits a nonprofit can bring to local communities.  Clear inequalities within the employment nonprofit organizations can offer mapping of the economic inequities and inequalities of public life.  The role of nonprofits in America is primarily understood as meeting a large and needed social good that would otherwise not be served–and providing a legal infrastructure for private investment to flow in ways that will benefit the public good, extending from preserving the untrammeled nature of public spaces to the effectiveness of our health needs, schools, parks, and the large artistic communities that our nation is able to foster, as well as the monitoring of the continued safety of drinking water or protection of its coasts.

The multiple roles of nonprofits deserve special consideration and hold particular import as an index of social health.  But nonprofits can also be understood as providing some 11.4 million jobs in America, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s recent measurement.  Clearly, a culture of non-profits tends to reinforce itself, and give needed momentum for the expansion of further boards, endowments, and dedication–in ways that permit a culture of nonprofit organizations or 501(c)3’s to gain legitimacy as a source of employment and indeed an effective public actor in a region.  But telling divides are evident among regions of the United States in a map that discriminates between those states that foster nonprofit activity in the country–both as a means of distributing local wealth and directing public attention to public needs.  How much does this divide show a shifting awareness of the role that nonprofits can play within the economy–not only in purely economic terms, and by providing some 5.5% of the GDP and employing some 13.7 million people, or, in 2010, about 10% of the workforce, distributed over a range of business areas including health, education, human services, environmental groups, and international affairs, as well as varied public society benefits, in 2010 and 2011–with most being quite small.   While about 2/3 the income of nonprofits came from private sources in 2010, they offer a crucial role in identifying sites for charitable giving and areas for volunteer work, as well as tax-deductible contributions.  Even despite the recession, giving grew considerably from 2000 to 2009, by 32%, but the geography of the growth in employment was considerably segregated between north and south, in ways that suggest a distinct shift among two qualitatively different sorts of economies, given the sizable contributions that nonprofits are poised to make to local economies.

 

2.  A clear divide had emerged by 2007, when the majority of employment at nonprofits were based largely in the northeast, it seems, as well as in the less-densely populated states of the midwest, in ways that oddly mirror a North-South divide which inexplicably extents the Mason-Dixon line across the lower forty-eight before the Recession began:

 

non profit employment in 2007, USA

Perhaps revealing a Scandinavian influence of Minnesota and social conscience of Wisconsonians that has begun to migrate across the country, the northern states not only have a huge edge on non-profits that employ a large number, but a different effect on local societies where they’ve grown.The percentage of non-profits has clearly solidified in the central US during the following year, which revealed something of a sizable growth of states employing over 10% in nonprofits in the year that the Recession began:

 

non profits 2008 in usa

 

What’s striking in the statistical distribution released by the US Department of Labor is its difference from the map of the over two million in the nonprofit universe among the disaggregated states in which they exist, which dismembers the nonprofit from the territory in ways that rank those states possessing the largest aggregates of nonprofits–shown here in a rainbow spectrum–without discriminating relative size.

 

ViewCmsImage.aspx

 

This “pro-performance map” crafted by Guidestar in 2014 tracks the number of nonprofits alone as if this was meaningful.  To be sure, it shows a somewhat important picture of the “nonprofit universe,” which warms at the coasts, but whose topography betrays noted dip in wealth in North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, somewhat able to be reconciled with the above, but a huge number of nonprofits in Texas and Florida, as well as New York, Pennsylvania, and California, in a far more disparate topography, but little sense of its topology.  The view that it affords of on the ground of the terrains in which nonprofits operate seems intentionally rendered opaque and misleading; it is perhaps designed to be more celebratory or illustrative of variations than deeply informative.

The high number of nonprofits based in both Texas and Florida, however, inversely reflects the relatively small number of employees in nonprofits in either state compared, say, to New York–which hosts a similar number of non-profits–or to California–though the huge number of nonprofits in that state greatly exceeds that of Texas.  But true variations exist on a more local level.  The numbers of nonprofits are not ranked by population density, or nonprofits’ size and volume of business or effectiveness, although the nature of this funny animal–the nonprofit–also seems to resist clear classification enough that grouping their number in aggregate may be of questionable value save for tax reasons.

 

3.  However, the deep disparities among regions where nonprofits might meet compelling social needs–witness the wide trough of bright yellow in the deep south, or the orange of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Idaho, more than a decreased degree of available capital, needed boards, or philanthropy.  The map of philanthropy in America interestingly reveals that the decrease in the presence of nonprofits is not necessarily in clear correlation with giving alone:  indeed, according to a recent study in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the proportion of income that wealthy Americans gave to charity as a whole steadily declined as the recession began to lift from 2012, even as middle class Americans, interestingly, gave more readily to charities, as did the poor, either  as they seem to have more disposable income and cash, or as they developed more empathy–the generosity of giving among those earning $200,000 or more declined some 4.6% from 2006-12, while those earning below $100,000 annually increased the share of their income given to charity by 4.5%–creating a sizable spread–and meaning that charities and nonprofits are by no means looking only to the wealthy for support. Moreover, the map of giving across the country revealed some truly striking differences–with greater generosity existing throughout many states where somewhat fewer numbers of nonprofits tend to exist, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado and parts of Arizona and Nevada, as well as North Dakota and South Dakota; Georgia experienced a huge growth in its giving ration.  (Strikingly low records of giving exist in New York, measured in this way, as well as California.)

 

mapping philanthropy

Giving Ratio

 

Such an image of the “Giving Ratio” across the nation–and the sharp declines that it reveals in charitable giving in New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia–as well as the generosity that it reveals in cities across the Sun Belt from Memphis to Birmingham–conceals that wide variations in economic wealth across the country, as well as the variations in the local presence and intensity of poverty or topology of need.  It also does not unpack what the charitable giving was destined to do.

It is also true that local variations in giving are difficult to classify by state alone, however, and have, as this map of Giving in the Bay Area reveals, a distinctively varied topology.

 

 

Bay Area Giving

 

Nonprofits depend on defining one’s vision and values, as well as the cash-flow so fundamental to making a nonprofit organization work–or attracting the needed funding and board needed to clarify philanthropic goals as the Recession lifted.  The ties to an audience before whom one is able to define both specific goals and best practices are especially critical.  The issue of employment within nonprofits might be placed in the context of total private employment (excluding federal, county, or local jobs, in other words).  But it seems to have most strikingly and stably grown in the northern states through 2012, even in the Recession–which is fundamentally a very good thing.  But the absence of a larger than 6% employment in non-profits within the private sector in a number of needy states or states with large income disparities–first and foremost, Texas–is however striking.  What makes the difficulty in defining the goals of nonprofits seems deeply tied to the sorts of settings where philanthropic projects can be effectively sold.

The proportion of those employed in nonprofits continued to grow steadily during 2012 both in Virginia and North Carolina, as in California–at which time as such employment stagnated in states like Wyoming, Texas, Alabama and South Carolina, the few without a sizable number of nonprofit employment; states in the SouthWest like New Mexico and Arizona, in ways that suggest the changing political temperatures of those regions, at the same time as Indiana grew larger in the number it had of jobs with nonprofit organizations.

 

non profs in 2012

The national landscape of nonprofits seems decisively tilted to the north and Blue states, or at least to exclude Texas, Wyoming, and much of the Deep South, as well as a few Red states such as Idaho and Arizona. These are places where few would ever go to work for a nonprofit organization, and probably one couldn’t imagine a well-paying job with a nonprofit, given the lesser amount of money in circulation for the public good.

 

4.  Shifts in employment in nonprofits charted in the above maps from the U.S. Bureau of Labor suggests several hypotheses that demand to be investigated in the future.  The data visualizations clearly show, it seems, the increasing growth and consolidation of the viable employments among nonprofits in those areas where a critical mass of non-profit works exists and circulates, informed in both best practices and opportune models of structuring of such valuable public entities, to fulfill roles not provided by government services.  To be sure, they also show the local consolidation of nonprofits’ advisory boards–not geographically limited, to be sure, but greatly informing the viability of a nonprofit community, matching congruent interests.  But they also reveal the consolidation of a perhaps incremental awareness over time of the visible results non-profits play, and the supplemental benefits that the community can draw from them:  and it is this final factor that seems most dismaying in the maps of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, because we are approaching–or seem to be–a nation in which the divided perception of the role played by non-profits might be becoming naturalized in ways that run against all of our better interests.

While one wouldn’t want to suggest that specific areas have an over-abundance of the nonprofit, there are increasing deserted stretches of the absence of employment by nonprofits, “nonprofit wastelands” where the possible public roles that such entities could play are absent from public debate.  Although the differentiation of the country is increasingly isolating the same southern states for which the Voting Rights Act stipulated “pre-clearance” for changes in electoral laws or practices in order to mitigate segregation from political involvement, the map that results suggests a distinct business culture, less directed to joining boards, providing public involvement, or being encouraged to foster communities of giving across much of the Old South.  This suggests, more than anything, a shifting topography of those states where there primarily don’t seem to be evident social concerns that command attention, or where organizations such as credit unions are needed, and the most dramatic disparities in wealth can not only be found.  One could associate these distributions in interesting ways to areas where there is less hope–both because of persistent poverty, divided here into metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, and less interest in investment or giving back–that seem endemic to Alabama, Mississippi, and sectors of Texas and South Dakota.  What is at stake is not only those areas where one can best communicate one’s vision, but where the pitch for philanthropy can be sufficiently effective to gain a sufficiently broad body of a workforce to attract works to one’s cause.  And in many sites of more persistent poverty, the requisite sort of cash flow might have dried up if it existed in recent times.

 

persistentpoverty

 

(Looking at the distribution of non metro poverty across the south, we might re-evaluate Rand Paul’s ill-spirited observation in Time magazine that “The failure of the war on poverty has created a culture of violence” in Ferguson MO that put police “in a nearly impossible situation”:  a population no longer feeling itself served by a system of justice seems the result of a persistent disenfranchisement, as much as poverty:  instead of blaming “moral codes that have slowly eroded and left us empty with despair” on politicians who have betrayed trust by encouraging the “poverty trap,” we might do well to look at the deeper causes for neglect of social inequalities.  Deeply ingrained questions of unemployment are clear in tabulating the geographic distribution of folks with income lying below the poverty level state-by-state, using the American Community Survey of 2010, a synthesis from disparities in economic wealth synthesized in censuses from 1980 to 2011.

 

PovertyByState

 

Although Wyoming does not appear a site of significant populations below the poverty level, and only a fairly conspicuous region of large non-metro poverty rates–

 

povmap200812high

 

the 2010 Census revealed Wyoming’s three counties with high poverty rates, removed from a swaths of green.

 

map_poverty

 

The inverse relation can be expressed by charting the degree of income inequality at the county-by-county level, using the Gini index, which provides a far more finely grained view of inequality.  By organizing the distributions along different quintiles of income-equality, where a zero value expressed full or complete income equality or parity, the persistence of gaps in income inequality–and increase in need–can be mapped county-by-county.

To be sure, only a small range of the nation approaches much above .6, but such peaks of inequality are, somewhat terrifyingly, not only clustered contiguously, but quite clearly localized and concentrated in several specific areas of the nation’s landscape, from the tip of the Florida coast to the deep souther  sates to ares in the Dakotas to rural West Virginia:

 

Acs GENI

 

 

The very areas of the south and southwest where income inequality is most pronounced int he 2011 American Community Survey suggests a distinct social topography, one where the incomes of workers at nonprofits are unlikely to congregate or be as visible parts of the local economy, creating the precedents and models for nonprofit action in public life.  Not only are  non-profits less likely to have as high or elevated a social profile, but the sorts of jobs done by the nonprofits and services that they render, often designed to supplement the shrinking presence of federal government in public life or engagement in venues from public education to the environment, invisible or rarely present.  What sort of map would be devised to better illustrate this uneven topography of the nonprofit?  Perhaps a map of the layers of individual sort of nonprofits across counties, that would comprehend the variations in the range of causes that nonprofits might address–which would better show the lacuna or absences of the work of nonprofits, from hospitals to credit unions to afterschool groups to environmental watchdogs, that fill increasingly needed roles across the country.

Does this relate to the distribution of nonprofits, those engines of the redistribution of capital and distributors of benefits of social wealth?  The goods and services that nonprofits generate would be made more visible, in short, integrated into the sort of OpenStreetMap template to chart the relative dearth or multiplication of nonprofits as the very services that nonprofits provide society–often not only supplementary but complementary to the services available in a purely for-profit firms and contractual arrangements, as Hansmann suggested (Hansmann 1980) but also, as economists David Easely and Maureen O’Hara classically argued, as providing activities not offered or able to be contracted in a purely for-profit economy.  Illustrating the diverse ranges that their services fill across the country would be a start to generate a picture of the topography of the needs filled by and goods contracted through nonprofits that individual state statutes allow.  If such a map could be correlated with the local topographic variations across the country’s landscape reveals the varied constraints that nonprofits face and encounter in providing these needs, the different cultures that are created by nonprofits, as much as that nonprofits simply reflect, might be mapped.

The improvement of social welfare that are often among the outcomes of nonprofits might be evened out or at least comprehended as a result, rather than be naturalized or written off as part of the status quo, and the shifting rules in which nonprofits work better understood.  Indeed, working toward the articulation of a clear vision and mission depend on a possibility of finding a believable middle ground which may not readily exist in several states.  They make us want to start to ask what sort of society in which we want to live, and how we might best attend to the severity of the range of economic  inequalities and inequities of access to education that persist across the country.  In an era of increasingly uneven access to technology–and the areas of technological expertise from which nonprofits can benefit–we are, moreover, increasingly in danger of perpetuating the uneven distribution of opportunities for nonprofit employment across the land.  Which would be not only a shame, but have deep consequences for the country’s future political debate.

For while we pretend that the political space of the country is uniform, it is not, and the unequal basis of national infrastructures starts from the basic inequalities in access to broadband, still mostly concentrated in the northeast and region around Lake Michigan, as well as the larger megacities on the west coast from Los Angeles and San Diego to San Francisco and Seattle, with Denver thrown in.  An attempt at evening the ground for the development of nonprofits in different areas might be to reduce extreme variations in the maximum advertised speed and availability of broadband across areas of the country, 3 – 6 Mbps to 1 Gbps+–evident in the near-absence of high-speed broadband in a state like Wyoming–

 

Max Download Speed BB

 

or the troughs evident in the number of broadband providers available across different regions, and the clustering this creates, not to mention the deserts in Arkansas:

 

Served-Unserved # providers 2 to 6

 

 

or the numbers of providers offering broadband access

 

Nubmer of Poviders offering access

 

or national variations in typical download speeds:

 

Download speeds

 

download speed legend

 

The relative lack of broadband providers in high Gini coefficient regions of persistent poverty unsurprisingly align with those where relative opportunities nonprofit employment is lowest–if the roles that nonprofits might play perhaps most prominent.

 

BB Providers, 2-12

 

While such maps, available for further scrutiny at far greater local detail courtesy the Federal Communications Commission’s interactive Broadband Map, may seem far removed from the differences in non-profits, high-speed downloads and access provides one of the crucial channels to jumpstart nonprofits’ activities and provide something of a level playing field in which–pardon the laissez faire rhetoric–nonprofits can grow.  Recent debates about ensuring national net neutrality allow an equality of broadband access that is the basis for preventing further divides from becoming more exacerbated–with deep consequences for the future of political debate and discussion in the United States, as well as institutions of social welfare, in the immediate future.  Allowing corporations to gain privileged possession of a “fast lane”–and shunting all others into a “slow lane”–would leave the country with a two-tier system of access to and availability of resources that are not only individual, but would effectively discourage the growth of nonprofit work in many areas that need it most, and have to deal, as a result, with the lacuna that are embedded in a purely for-profit marketplace.

The crowd-sourced responses of FCC Consumer Broadband Test reveals where the ISP speed was regarded as insufficient used responses to a deeply relative question, but compellingly shows–in a map where red is used to note a negative, and green a positive, a mixed message about the availability of services in some of the areas where it is perhaps most needed to exist as a framework for needed social services:

 

Crowd-Soruced feedback on ISP

 

The FCC’s Consumer Broadband Test informatively measured reported download speed-tests for broadband across the same regions, with those at the lower end of the spectrum indicating the lower speeds of delivery in ways that indicate a typical for poorer regions of the country.  Doing the best to increase internet service to level these uneven levels of service provides a needed corrective to the relative absence of nonprofit entities.

 

Speed-Tests v. Advertised:Typical

 

Speed Tests:Legend

 

 

One might profitably measure not only the speed of downloads, however, but the vitality of open access data across the United States, however, to arrive at a better metric for the data-sharing that is not only necessary but important to conduct business for non-profits–and measures the culture of open data across the land.

The image of the repository of open source addresses Michal Migurski compiled provides a neat map of those places where municipal governmental data is online and available in the US, creating a database which folks can readily use and build off of in their work:

 

render

 

 

While this rendering can include state-mandated municipalities and not be that illuminating of some regions without open data online, available open data provides a basis for the work of many nonprofits on a large scale, and is conspicuous by its absence save for around fifteen points of light in a large region of the south where markedly lower numbers are employed in non-profits–as a reverse-color illumination maps reveals.

 

OA data

 

While we usually use the metaphor of the “shadow economy” to describe the black market, and we have come to refer to “black sites,” since the administration of George W. Bush, as those secret sites at which the National Security Council of the Bush presidency permitted the CIA to build, in order to torture those suspected of ties to terrorist organizations.  But the true areas of the economy that must remain ensconced in shadows are the areas without nonprofits, where the service due sectors of the economy is absent or less actively attended.  This reverse-color mapping is meant to suggest the dark that is left in nonprofits’ void.  To be sure, many centers of nonprofits attend to areas and regions outside of their immediate vicinity:  they serve forests, or legal services, or open waters.  But there is a lack of a sense of that service in areas which remain in the shadows in the above map.  There is, in ways that suggest a deep divide needing to be remedied, that persists in the new Deep South, where one looses one’s orientation on much of the land between Houston and Atlanta, or Dallas, Memphis, and Jacksonville:

 

OA data US South

 

The dense bursts of light that cluster around the coastlines of California and hug the shore cede to a vast open expanse, it seems, in the Western states, with stretches of empty space between, as one moves from a concentration dense with nonprofit works to stretches where this would be poorly understood as a line of work–or maybe even as a set of services that goes unmet.

 

West Coast

 

 

The dark spots and even more dark regions across the nation map a desert of non-profits, where social services go unmet, water safety less monitored, literacy tutoring in low profile, after schooling limited, hope diminished, parks untended, and wildlife not preserved.  The critical role of nonprofits in the economy is absent, and both the economy and the society feels the deeply deleterious effects.

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Filed under American Community Survey, data visualizations, mapping the nonprofit economy in America, Non-Profits in America, nonprofit economy, nonprofits, persistent poverty, Recession, statistical maps