Category Archives: Oakland CA

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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)

Oakland Represented Variously: What We See When We Map Oakland’s Inhabitants

The range of ‘open’ online data that is available for a city such as San Francisco showcases the city’s clear definition of a public space.  Although there are plenty of spaces of local meaning and importance in Oakland, from the site of Occupy near the mayor’s office to nearby Chinatown and Lake Merritt, or from Fruitvale Station to west Oakland urban farms and on to Alameda, the fragmented nature of public space is difficult to map coherently.

When it comes to public space, the East Bay and Oakland–despite a rich variety of parks, an estuary, and increasing vitality of Jack London Square–is a polycentric sprawl, its former downtown interrupted by freeways, and open boulevards dotted with closed commercial centers, beauty supply zones, or dense interchanges.  This is in part due to how little the diverse areas and neighborhoods of the city know themselves.  How to map the inhabitants of Oakland, CA, given the considerable diversity across neighborhoods?  Does it exist as a unified social space, or what image of the city emerges?  By looking at some of the census maps of the city, and mining the range of information compiled in them by displaying their data in mapped form, we can process and digest the complexly variegated nature to view its population’s profile.  (Indeed, the problems of politically representing the complex composition of a somewhat divided city were revealed in the most recent mayoral election of 2014.)

The sprawling city challenges the abilities of the social cartographer as much as the post-modern space of Los Angeles, even in this real-estate view.  Maps of any scale organize social space by relevance, preparing a selective record of its inhabitation and revealing networks for ready consultation.  Maps of any scale create a simulacrum or construct of social reality, as much as simply orient their readers:  the city’s salient features highlighted and network of organization explained, omitting other spaces and residents. We might start by acknowledging how the below bird’s-eye view of Oakland from c. 1900, of unknown origin, celebrating the city’s settlement and early Bay Area Real Estate:  the engraving showcases an open urban grid as an area becoming future realtors to its shores:  if mostly green and largely uninhabited, presents a prospective view of the city-port as a commercial center, showcasing notable houses of prosperous residents that distinguished Oakland’s built environment, and beckoning viewers to its estuary and the man-made shores of its new Lake as if to shift our attention from the city of San Francisco.

Oakland 1900

Elevated or “bird’s eye” views praising urban identity and architecture such as this anonymous print had a long tradition.  Such imagined constructions that gained currency as encomiastic forms, often complemented by poetic paens to their social harmony.  If the artist who engraved and designed the elevated map is not known, the presentation of the city’s growing physical plant and street structure echoed the architectural elegance of earlier urban views, as the visual encomia to the elegance of architectonic form of Venice in the virtuosic perspective designed by Jacopo de’ Barbari circa 1500 of his own creation.  De’ Barbari exploited skills of perspective to craft a graphic and pictorial encomia to his native city’s architecture and burgeoning wealth to trumpet its social distinction; an earlier elevated view of Florence, sold by the cartographer and engraver Francesco Rosselli similarly celebrated and displayed the architecture of his native city.  De Barbari famously employed to evoke the harmonious order of his city, also lying in close proximity to surrounding wetlands, by displaying its distinctive harmony–vaunting its delicate socio-political balance figuratively by deploying his mastery of creating a previously unimaginable perspective to considerable effect, showing the density of its architecture in the watery surroundings.

Jacopo_de'_Barbari_-_Plan_of_Venice_-_WGA01270

Even if much of present Oakland seems a bit of a blank slate, whose territory expands from its port and the man-made lake built to beautify its urban estuary, the print of c. 1900 divides plots and settled acreage, as the surrounding images of buildings that testify.  This is not only a pictorial space, but an attempt–as the Rosselli and de’ Barbari maps–to show the social space as harmoniously mapped to a pictorial space of representation, and distinguish the city as a microcosm of the world.  Both maps offer  sophisticated visual glosses on the ancient notion of a “chorography” or qualitative view of a community, elegantly overlaying and equating their imaginary perspectival space with he social spaces of each city.

Can we create a modern chorography of Oakland that both displays and comprehends its dynamic heterogeneity, or would the city split into social divides?  Google Maps clearly fails to do so, but what would a comparable mapping of Oakland’s populations look like, perhaps mapped from the ground up–in the manner that Jacopo labored to achieve?

OAK Topographical

There was clear redlining of much of the East Bay’s residential areas in real estate maps for the East Bay cities dating from the Depression, in which Home Owners Loan Corporation rated neighborhoods for the refinancing of mortgages  that amounts to a reflection of the value of property in the East Bay, and reveal an odd mosaic of the city that privileged some regions, but also include a clear redlining of those regions by the Bay and the main arteries of transportation that continue to define Oakland’s port.  The red-lining of the city’s residential areas in the New Deal structured the city’s social geography in  imaginary construction ofways that reflect the continued exclusion of African Americans and blacks from the market of legitimate home mortgage in much of America through the 1960s, described so compellingly by Ta- Nehisi Coates, and in Oakland not only reflect the deep divides in residential ownership but created social disparities but record scars that make the city’s future harmony particularly difficult to re-imagine.  The zones of imbalanced opportunities for home ownership that long existed in the city created perpetuated deep social divides among its residents, often left without the chances of refinancing that were available to many other residents from the 1930s in the United States, as its port and low-lying areas became victims to a classic image of “blight” with roots in its deep abandonment by the public good in ways not yet overcome.

OaklandBerkeleyHOLCmap

From the first settling after the San Francisco earthquake of the Oakland hills, the demographic divides Oakland’s settlement seem to have been reflected in the value of residential ownership in its neighborhoods in ways revealed in the fractures lines of the map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, and which have continued to divide its neighborhoods even after a period of urban growth.  The absence of clear neighborhoods or community organizations around the major traffic arteries that Oakland has long been defined by at its port and older shipping canals created something like a social divide not only in this early HOLC map, but that has been perpetuated within the socioeconomic divisions that were so starkly reflected in the “red-lining” of urban real estate.

Redlining By the Shore

Even if Oakland has been billed a “livable city,” the “split personality” is revealed in the divides starkly illuminated by a map of social lifestyles generated by an ESRI tapestry charting dominant lifestyles–purple noting High Society; blue “upscale avenues;” teal “Metropolis;” light bright blue “metro trendsetters;” green “seniors;” and tan and brown “inner city,” “highrise,” or “up and coming.”

The map shows the city’s split personality:

esri dominant lifestyle est bay

In a year that boasted crowd-sourced mapping of the San Francisco Bay, organizing the demographic divides that continue to shape Oakland deserves our sustained attention–and the varieties of viewing the divisions and distributions in the settlement of Oakland’s space.  Unlike San Francisco, dominated by some 359 skyscrapers in its downtown and other regions, Oakland is far more geographically disperse and diffuse, with only a small number of buildings over fifty meters all clustered by Lake Merritt–including those noted in blue, under consideration or construction.
Skyscrapers in Oakland-  50 meters

The recent ambitious and brave investment intended to equalize these clear socioeconomic divisions and to prevent them from being perpetuated by public services from schooling to economic opportunity is a step in the right direction and, based on a back-of-the-envelop calculation, seems to have its priorities and direction of resources fairly straight in how it has decided to invest in Oakland’s neighborhoods’ futures.

OaklandOpportunityImpactOverview-1024x663Distribution of San Francisco Foundation’s Investment in Oakland

But how to frame and orient the viewer of a map of the city’s demographic divisions is fraught, given the difficulty of uniting Oakland as a whole, or even in abstracting an analogously unified image that connects its disparate inhabitants.  The network that bounds the city was advanced rather optimistically in a map that elegantly promoted the lost or abandoned system of Key Cars whose web linked downtown Oakland to the Temescal and Alameda–the infrastructure for the local economy that it did up until its complete dismantling by 1959.

Map of Oakland and Vicinity- Key Car System

The serviced networks that any map foregrounds, even one of transit routes, engage their readers by networks of inter-relationships.   The above map affirms a network of transportation for their rider, suggesting the ways that the infrastructure by which the Key-Car systems united downtown Oakland and the vicinity–much in the manner current BART maps promise to link everywhere in the East Bay in a radius to Point Richmond, Brentwood, and San Jose.  The current BART network may link the Bay Area, indeed, as Oakland seems to be forsaken as being the economic it was by transit authorities and Bay Area residents.

But Oakland is also a city whose social space was long both divided and eviscerated, as the network of streetcar transit was dismantled, the railroad stations that centered the town from the 1880s declined or closed, preparing for the razing of the West Oakland residences of many porters for the MacArthur maze, long before the collapse of the I-880 Cypress Freeway in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake–and the subsequent massive shifts in home-ownership as a large number of houses went underwater after 2007 led to a wave of foreclosures that was almost distributed across the city, and which redefined its social space once again.

FORE_MAP

The divides and diversity in Oakland make the mapping of the city of particular interest as tools to understand its social reality.  In a society where we are regularly mapped and surrounded by maps, the critical of reading maps is recognized as an important tool to negotiate and mediate lived social space.  What sorts of divides and continuities emerge in a city like Oakland, historically defined by considerable racial diversity and income disparity?  How to map so many variations in one place?

When Denis Wood and John Fels described the map as an ideological construction of space or territory, they took time to examine the surrounding ‘paratext’ to maps as keys or markers that revealed the ideological construction of the space within the “nature” of the map, created by interpretive legends and iconography, as well as the semiotic conventions of the map itself:  yet interactive urban maps provide much more of a creative cartographical conventions and treat the map as something like an open text.

In their critical examination of the authority inherent in the medium of the map, The Nature of Maps, Wood and Fels argue that the relation between a map and territory exists through how cartography–as much as cartographers–“constructs the natural world” in relation to other sign systems, construing the relation of a ‘map’ to ‘territory’ by how maps inescapably make their subject ideological.  Taking as their case in point maps of nature, they argue the order of maps demand assent from readers through what they call the ‘postings’ and the relays that the map creates to the world it ostensibly depicts, and the new understandings of space it creates.  Wood and Fels argue “relays” in maps, tied to the texts inherent in them or positioning in books or  paratexts, which uniquely promote the construction of meaning, effectively organizing complex mental spaces to understand nature in maps, whose structure demands assent to create truth-claims about nature, and transform the space of the natural world into a structure by which nature is spatialized as known.  The Barbari and Rosselli views assert an ideology of the local, spatializing the city as it is best viewed and encomiastically celebrated as a microcosm, even though the “paratexts” by which one reads a map are left tacit for their viewers.

Yet the map does not begin from an empty space, so much as it is rooted in a space that is inhabited:  it indeed tracks multiple networks of inhabitation.

Oak 1871 Birds Eye View

Tempting as it is to argue that social space fills in the empty space of a geographic region, the maps of Oakland’s inhabitants suggest a remaking of the city’s social space–and present an image of the remaking of that space viewed from the ground up.  For rather than providing a fixed or authoritative transcription of space that promotes “a standard scientific model” that creates a “mirror of nature . . . through geometry and measurement,” as Harley wrote was endemic to the discipline of cartography, or invest authority in a single map, the variety of Google Maps templates to plot data from the US Census for the years 2005-9 create a set of multiple maps in themselves each provisional, which they invite viewers to act by ordering their content.  It is perhaps no surprise that, in an age when maps proliferate, and we are both regularly mapped and surrounded by maps, the appeal of the website is that it provides tools to select variables and determine geographic parameters about the city that we can know:  indeed, their interactive nature provide a shifting notion of a map as a graphic fixity.  Wood and Fells primarily examined the organization of space within the printed map, critically reading map’s insertion in printed texts and their relation to the semiotics of written legends.

The compilations of maps based on census data offer, at a far greater granularity than other maps, to divide space by variable criteria of income, race, or level of education to offer what might be treated as elements of a composite picture of the city’s inhabitants–from the ground up–rather than demanding assent to a given cartographical record.  In a sense, the interactive maps below start a discussion about the nature of mapped space from which one can begin to examine the city’s social space.  The interactive map creates an open text whose variables and criteria users can create.

They provide a basis to question, critique and re-evaluate question the dominance of stereotypical categories of local violence or gangs as relevant descriptors of the city, but provide a bit more complex picture of its social composition.  For the interest of these maps lie in how viewers map them as simulacra against their mental maps, rather than in their mimetic claims:  ‘simulacra’ since all maps are both filters of information that parse the relevance of social space and embody a coherent order of space, providing deeply social tools for reading.   Rather assigning integrity to the map as a unique document, we can understand its ‘social life’ through how each creates and constitutes its own social reality for readers:  the Google Maps templates offer a basis to refract socio-economic distributions in the city, rather than fetishize the authority of the given map as a form that commands assent; the familiar templates increase the improvised nature of the comparative mapping exercise.  But Matthew Block, Shan Carter, and Alan Maclean are also particularly inventive graphic artists in how they use of Google Maps–especially in comparison to how it is usually used by others.

The interactive maps created from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey provide tools to track social realities across the nation, and filters to view specific variables in each zip-code and neighborhood.  I’m interested how maps embody Oakland as a coherent entity, and in Oakland a test-case to examine maps as embodiments of space and to illustrate spatial divides, as well as to filter different aspects of social space.  The interactive maps devised by Block, Carter, and Maclean employ Google Maps templates to invite viewers to process the coherence and divides within data from the US Census in spatial terms, using data for the years 2005-9 to create multiple maps, generated on demand, that refract or mediate statistical realities in visual formats which provide compelling ways to embody and understand social realities from the ground up. The statistical “maps” map at stunningly finer grain that reality–by “Mapping America: Every City, Every Block,” as they boast–that use tools of mapping creative interventions to analyze the Bay Area and its inhabited landscape; the mapping forms offer tools more than vehicles to demonstrate variables of race, income, education, or presence of recent immigrants, offering alternative models by which the region might both be mapped and, by extension, surrogate realities by which its composition might be known.  As much as surrogate realities, they refract pieces of that reality that we must juggle and assemble for ourselves, less attentive to the semantics of the Google Maps frame than their content. One might compare them to conventional maps based on skimpier data, to which their detail and agility provide a sort of foil–starting from the graphic charting crime-density in the Bay Area based on the police blotter.

Berkeley:Oakland Crime Density

The map is surprising for how the area immediately around the campus is a thick blotch of indelible red, bleeding into its nearby areas and along Telegraph Avenue like indelible ink.  Most of this “crime” is based on calls to the Police Dept., including a significant number of calls about problems of noise around fraternity row:  the impermeable barrier both around campus can be explained by the different policing agency that supervises the university’s campus, and the boundary of the Berkeley Hills to the East.  Crime is mapped not only indiscriminately, but distributed to reflect the contours of public complaints, as much as actual crimes.  Although the red splotches and streaks around much of Oakland and focused in its downtown seems in keeping with the difficulty of maintaining control over the dispersive city, while around UC Berkeley are dense stains of intense crimson that corresponds to the frequency of calls that the local police receive near campus.  It is interesting to contrast the map to that of San Francisco–where a huge amount of crime is clustered in the downtown, near the Embarcadero, Tenderloin, and Mission and some pockets around Van Ness–in a broad field of relatively crime-free green.

SF Crime Density

And so, if we shift mapping forms to a sort of heat-sensitive map of the violence committed and reported, the hot-spots of Oakland are more readily apparent–almost as a diffuse miasma of violence spread over neighborhoods like a viral form whose trajectory is difficult to explain or track:  heat-sensitivity is an apt cartographical metaphor of the subject charted:

eastbay_violent crime

The map of hot-spots of violent crime provides a different picture, if a tragic one, extending along the city’s major streets deep into East Oakland.  One might ask how this maps onto the city’s racial diversity. Given common predispositions, it might make sense to reflect on the city’s composition with greater granularity.  Does violence correlates to the complex ethnic or racial distribution of the city?  or to income?  or to gangs, as often suggested?  The interest of the interactive maps lies how viewers map these simulacra against their own individual mental maps, as much as in their mimetic claims:  ‘simulacra’ since all maps are both filters of information that parse the relevance of social space, providing deeply social tools for reading.   Rather assigning integrity to the map as a unique document, we can understand its ‘social life’ through how each creates and constitutes its own social reality for readers. Aside from the heat-spots in West Oakland, race is not a determining factor in a clear a way at all, although the ethnic diversity of Oakland–a historically African American city with a rapidly shrinking number of areas dominated by African American populations.  It’s in fact striking that the greatest mix of black and hispanic Oaklanders in any neighborhood occurs on the edges of Oakland:  and that the island of Piedmont is the only area that’s white.

oakland-racial-map

Census Block legend

The same data can readily be re-mapped to present a distinctly different picture of the city, emphasizing urban diversity, by using the US Census Bureau’s data from 2005-9, using the American Community Survey.  Block, Carter and Maclean exploit the Google Maps platform to embed Census data in color-coded terms, which shows small pockets of African American concentration by light blue, but relative integration with the greatest concentration of Asians near Chinatown downtown.  The below aggregates units of fifty people, rather than proportional composition, to provide finer granularity of the population and of each neighborhood in Oakland, if in a less than dynamic manner:

Race in Oakland Google Mapped

Oakland’s complex diversity might well be compared to the clearer clustering in other urban regions of the Bay Area, where whites are more concentrated in clearly bound neighborhoods, and Asians similarly concentrated in areas around Golden Gate park (Inner and Outer Sunset)–if with considerable overlap of Asian and Hispanic populations in the Mission:

Mapping Race across Bay Area

%22Greater Mission%22

Far more sharply defined geographies of racial separation define New York City, where property values create the starkly demarcated racial composition of  Manhattan, and concentrations of blacks in outlying peripheries in the Bronx, New Jersey, Queens, and Brooklyn, as well as part of Harlem:

NYC Racial Map from 20005-9 census

We see a different picture of Oakland if we look at outside racial self-identification, but examine economic diversity at a finer grain in its neighborhoods.

Back to the Bay Area, stark income divides define the landscape of Oakland in this map of median family incomes in the same dataset, more than race:

Oakland Household Income Mean

More specifically, the map reveals clear divides and income troughs where median incomes have sunk below $25,000, often reflecting food deserts and islands of an evil toxic brew of desperation, hungry desire, and distraction:

Below 25,000

For Oakland, the website Spotcrime employs catchy icons to track arrests (handcuffs); arson (flames); assaults (fists); burglaries (masked faces under hats); robberies (men running with money-bags); shootings (cross-hairs); thefts (purple silhouettes of men running); and vandalisms (green cans of spray paint spraying red), creating a detailed map to set off mental alarms in the name of a call to “know your neighborhood’s dangers”:

Assaults, Arrests, Arson, Burglary, Robbery, Shooting, Theft, Vandalism

Even if the violence and theft are predominantly in low-income areas, where the map dutifully foregrounds these impressive icons, doesn’t it remove a lot about what good happens in the same low-income areas?  After counting 1, 077 shooting incidents in Oakland in 2011 with 1, 594 victims of guns–the largest category among which (140) belonged to minors, and the greatest sub-group 16-year-olds (40) and 17-year-olds (38)–John Osborne used Google Maps to represent in a fairly schematic way the urban distribution of fatal shootings by neighborhood:

Shooting Map in Oakalnd 2012

The terrifying concentration of aggregates off International Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in East Oakland, past Fruitvale Avenue, the overwhelming majority of whose suspects are male.  In abstracting each as discrete, of course, the map is less successful underlying ties to both prostitution rings or drug deals, so much as a platform to make claims about gangs or organized crime.  The following map of victims of shootings reveals an even somewhat scarier density in the identical area of West Oakland:

Victims in oakland 2011

What kind of image of Oakland emerges?  It’s difficult to map it clearly.  One striking effect of the greater scale and definition of the maps based on the 2010 census is that the considerable proportion of resident immigrants in the city, which reveals a considerably high percentage–often more than half and up to 70% if not almost 80% in West Oakland, across from Alameda–of foreign-born residents, which demonstrates a considerable geographic mobility among residents that seems specific to the area:  Oakland has long been a cosmopolitan center that attracted the displaced to its margins.

Oakland Foreign Born Map

Immigration is not criminality, but suggests the margins of the city are where the displaced arrive:  displacement might be something of a thread in Oakland’s history, from the arrival of (far more wealthy) San Franciscans after the 1906 earthquake in Piedmont to the Chinese-American railroad laborers who settled downtown, the railway porters whose families created a large community in West Oakland from the 1880s, and workers for the shipyards, or rich communities of Eritreans, Africans, Native Americans (Lakota or Dakota), Hispanic, Hmong, Vietnamese, Somalians and Congolese who most live in cheaper housing and are likely to be taken advantage of in varied ways.  As of 2004, Oakland somehow ranked tenth in the US for the largest number of immigrants, according to the 2006 Census, despite a less vigorous local economy, and almost 30% of its entire population is foreign-born.   The margins of the city somehow remain greater and far larger than its center.

But Oakland remains known, despite this mobility, despite the presence of city gangs, a more deep-seated and almost endemic presence and prime descriptor of the city.  One can–and many do–blame gang-violence, or the competition for turf; but the violence is difficult to separate from prostitution and drug-related crime, not necessarily competition between gangs or gang-related activities, even though gangs do suggest a culture of violence.

Gangs in Oakland

Gangs are difficult to measure, although the intensity of turf-wars would seem to make it easy to use the map as an indicator of violence.

Yet if one looks at a broader map of “gangs,” the variables seem impossible to keep constant, even in a hand-drawn map of gangs in East LA from 1978 purporting to decode ‘insider knowledge’ about a topography of violence, but provides only the sketchiest of tools:

1978-eastlos-gang-map-oplg-300x224

The difficulty of attributing meaning to the mapping of gangs is more apparent if one notes their widespread presence, given this–perhaps unreliable–map taken off of a “National Gang Map” which reveals a dramatic concentration of gangs and gang members in the Westernmost states:

National Gang Map

Perhaps their presence itself reveals an attempt to make meaning from life or to carve it out of one’s social terrain to the greatest extent that is possible. One compelling map maps educational attainment–with the brightest yellow indicating an inability or difficulty to complete High School at 70%–with less than high school completion hovering around 40% among families.

Education--Less than high School degree

In the Bay Area at large, the failure of education in the Foothill-International area is striking, and is doubtless also some degree of failure in socialization if not of public education, and maps a continuing challenge for the city’s School Board and public schools.

70% no HS Bzy Area

And a corresponding map of college-educated Oakland reveals a bounded drop in below 20%, more roughly characterized at 5-14% with a BA, with large numbers of closely bordering districts hovering between 5-8%:  this might be one measure of the cultural insulation and isolation of the region, if not a clear barrier to what is often described as an ‘achievement gap.’

College-Educated Oakland

Those empty tan regions are a measure of the difficulty of shifting a divide between different Oaklands, because it maps a cross-generational or at least temporal divide in the given area over time.  The heterogeneity of Oakland is nonetheless striking even in its inequalities, to turn back to map racial diversity of Bay Area generated in bright colors on the NYT website of Block, Carter and McLean, since it suggests a picture of considerable promise.

Racial Composition OAK in Bay Area

But of course a map is not a picture.   It is a picture of variability, which can shift depending on one’s chosen criteria.  In the distribution of income levels in North Oakland, aggregating incomes of twelve families reveals a telling integration of an income-mix more striking and apparent than the in the above demographic models:  despite a scattering of upper-income levels across this North Oakland area from Emeryville, across San Pablo, and up to Broadway Terrace and Grand Avenue, lower income levels are present virtually throughout the region, with the exception of East of Broadway, although Broadway provides a clear dividing line of high incomes and lower ones, and the 880 corridor below MacArthur dotted with light blue markers.

my-neighborhood-income-map

The color-coded map of relative incomes provides us with some possibly meaningful correspondences to the hot-spots in crime.  But I wouldn’t advance the sort of argument that maps crime–or gun-violence–onto variations in household income.  The pictures of the city offer limited tools that suggest possible sites of research that might help to connect these dots.  But they offer useful, ground-up mappings of the city’s inhabitants.

Processing the relations among inhabitants of Oakland offers a way to renegotiate your relation to the city as a whole.  Mapping is about navigating, as well as processing, a surfeit of information, and about making the connections among it, grosso modo, that exist.  The fine grain of the census maps provides both a corrective to our preconceptions, and the start of something like a more fair–and illuminating–map of the city’s social space.

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Filed under Oakland, Oakland CA, open data, Racial Diversity, US Census

The World Once in Oakland

There are multiple layers of nostalgia in the antique map found in the marquee of De Lauer’s Super News Stand in downtown Oakland, California.  While the sign has long been an emblem of their comprehensive sales, the value of a map that so dramatically foregrounded the prominence of the United States in such an exaggerated fashion is both heavy with nostalgia of a past sense of the global centrality of north America in world news, and also of a time when the news was able to be mapped or derived from different fixed news bureaus, and bridged places otherwise removed from one another as proudly displayed on its magnificent if quite intentionally geographically distorted marque.

 
De Lauer's Globe

 

The black and white marquee of De Lauer’s Super News Stand seems a time-capsule of an earlier sense of Oakland as news entrepot, and of an era when newsprint provided a primary sense of immediate access to the wider world.  Amidst fluted pairs of caste-bronze gas street lamps in downtown Oakland, a kitschy illuminated globe marks a site of pilgrimage for newsprint, founded by a family who sold newspapers from pushcarts since 1907–both a mecca of the printed word and monument to past empires of print.  The intentionally distorted globe on Broadway carries maps, but uses the image of the US-as-world to boast of the breadth of its array of some three-hundred plus American and foreign newspapers and some 6000 magazines was a paradise of crumbling paper and glossy picture magazines, from fashion to crafts to hunting arts, complemented by comic books, triangular sandwiches and an array of cigarettes and cigars.  The magazines that often seem dog-eared from use are encyclopedic in variety, and extend back to the roped-off adults only area in the back, and are flanked by paperbacks.  (Rumors has it that incense from nearby Chinatown was burned regularly to disperse the smell of newsprint.)

The 24-hour round-the-clock schedule, before the news cycle contracted, doesn’t help the slightly worn appearance and feel of the store that might be at odds with its boast for such comprehensive news coverage.  But it symbolized a sense of easy access to news sources in an earlier era of print, as a venue to which anyone could obtain to at virtually any time of day.

 

delauers with papers at hand

 

Beside Oakland’s Tribune Tower, between 13th and 14th on Broadway, De Lauer’s Super Newsstand boasts a range of papers from round the world, and a wide selection of foreign magazines whose scope its patrons boasted did not exist west of Chicago.  Laid out in the sort of space usually reserved for a small supermarket or bookstore, its deep interior has the spaciousness of a sort of library and proud arcade of the quotidian, linking “your home town paper” to the world, back when newsprint linked the world.  And where else to buy books of superheroes than a super newsstand?

 

news marquis

 

Built beside the line of old streetcar lines and trolleys that formed an extended network across the city until 1958, De Lauer’s was a destination and a site of the distribution of news, whose papers from the Tribune Building next door spread across the East Bay–the dense business in the downtown area is evident in this Key Car Map of the old city center around the Broadway line and nearby Feeding Point by the Lake:

 

Oakland Key Car System

 

The site described as the best site of its sort west of Chicago was a survivor of downtown Oakland, whose own map had changed so much from the bustling department stores of the 1960s.  It was the site for comic books, foreign news, fashion magazines, and more, before gossip, cooking and craft magazines dominated the press.   The luminescent globe on its marquee carries the sense of global news coverage and the optimism of the early 1960s–before the 1968 riots or 1964 Free Speech Movement–that placed North America triumphantly stretched across and filling its parallels and meridians beneath the banner of the one-of-a-kind newsstand itself:  De Lauer’s Brings You the World, it still boasts, with a grandiosity of a world’s fair under a single roof, even in an age when newswires are readily accessed on the internet, and print seems a charmingly antiquated medium ill-fitted to the 24-hour news cycle.

But what about that map?  The globe on its axis is illuminated as something of a relic from an age of the Magazine Emporium; the marquee of the Super News Stand on 13th Street charmingly symbolizes the illusion of comprehensive coverage in an era of world news mediated by print, that occasioned the marked distortion of the prominence it gave North America:

 

 

De Lauer's

 

The prominence is more than a slight distortion of the prominence of America on the globe–

 

globe map

–but echoed the centrality of news that affirmed the connected place of America in the world, as well as the profusion of newspapers and sources in the United States.

The emblem of news funneling from all over the world into one newsstand was the premise not only of De Lauer’s, but of the world of print media that it nourished, now sadly an artifact quickly receded with the advance of on-line news, where we are less focussed on the global importance of American news, or, for that matter, the authority of one site to present world news.

 

cronkite

 

 

The ostensible focus on the world and actual depiction of North America on the marquee is not meant as a cartographical argument, but echoes the limited concern with other regions or territories in this uncredited map showing the “dependent territories” of the United States, from a classic 1904 manual of American history, which similarly foregrounds the United States as central to a global context and obscures other national boundaries in a uniform gray:

 

Uniteed States and Dependent Territories

But geographic knowledge was not the point of the De Lauer’s logo or marquee, so much as the comprehensiveness of their stock; De Lauer’s concentrated on all the nation’s newspapers, if it also expanded to include a range of those world-wide, in a gesture of cosmopolitanism of the city, and a complement to the grandeur of the Tribune tower, constructed in 1923 after Renaissance Venice’s bell tower of St. Mark’s–as UC Berkeley’s Campanile–as if to echo the grandiosity of claims to empire on the sea, and is inflected with a distinctive Moorish style.  But the grandiosity of the terra cotta apex of the Tribune Tower suggests the bold design of the storefronts of older buildings in Oakland’s once-grand downtown, several buildings of which are adorned by arte nouveau reliefs.

 

Tribune Tower

 

(The sense of Oakland as news entrepot was even more evident in the previous if less majestic tower on the building that resembled a transmission tower and recalled the early role of radio, long before broadcast news:

 

before

 

The subsequent expansion of the 20-story tower added to the building in 1923 reflected gave it a more elegant sense of keeping time for downtown.)

The newspaper store had grown rom a single outdoors newsstand, first moving into the Tribune Press building on 12th Street, the expanded 1301 Broadway store housed a wide range of papers and magazines, complemented by books, postcards, school supplies, maps, cigarettes, energy drinks and souvenirs, a repository of the news and arcade of daily communications from the newswires more than a 5 & dime store. De Lauer’s oddly became a bit of an intellectual hangout by the 1970s as a site of leftist magazines.  From the 1970s to 1980s, the illuminated marquee on Broadway was a sort of beacon of world-wide news sources and foreign magazines within Old Oakland’s downtown–where newspaper offices are still clustered in the city, encompassing the world’s news and leftist reviews, and, before the accessibility of world-wide news sources in online form, selling to a wide range of folks and providing a sense of open-ness which perhaps later led the store to permit homeless to camp out by its windows’ permanent 24-hour glow.

Charles De Lauer worked tirelessly at the stand seven days a week until his sad death at age 91, providing out-of-town newspapers, racing forms, and magazines 24 hours a day even in a declining market for news and the rise of USA TODAY.  The building consolidated a family business once represented in some forty newsstands and wagons across the Bay Area–albeit a Bay Area of far reduced size from the present–and earns wide praise for surviving an era of news streams in digital form, as well as providing a source for newspapers and glossier magazines hard to locate in papers , although it’s perhaps now better known for illuminating the  transsexual prostitutes who stand on Broadway below its night lights after the neighborhood closes down.

222751882_d43825178e_m

 

The landmark was rumored to be threatened with closure in 2008.  It was saved for a reprieve by an Oakland non-profit, but by he had reached his nineties the aging De Lauer was overwhelmed with fears that the time had come to close the curtains on a store from which over three hundred papers once circulated:  “This is a business that time is passing by because everybody has a computer,” he observed stoically, fearing the end of viability of his Catholic commitment to print.  As rumors circulating it was shuttered and provoked an outpour of support, just a month before the already retired De Lauer died of lymphoma and leukemia, the shop stocking 300 newspapers was bought by Citrine Advisors, and the store remains afloat, doing a brisk business of not only cigarettes but triangular cello-wrapped tuna fish sandwiches and soft drinks, energy drinks, adult magazines, paperbacks on world history–and range of local and state maps.

The wonderfully antiquated if imprecise cartographical crest of De Lauer’s that still illuminates Broadway 24 hours a day, by the BART and Civic Center was never so much an actual map as an emblem which celebrates the promise of the all-embracing content stored in the magazine racks of the print arcade; the sign declares the US the information center of the world, and the world as existing and refracted through the US press–contemporary with the  Pan Am logo, say, or other images of inflated optimism.  The map was hung, perhaps not coincidentally, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and panic about Soviet missiles located in that island, itself notably absent from that map above the Super News Store’s storefront.
The departure of even the map that was once so central to the store’s image in recent years left the logo the long adorned the now sadly stripped marquee and abandoned wall–
sripped-of-marquee
as if yet another casualty of the internet economy, which has transformed the store into only something of a mecca for glossy magazines.
marqee-facade
It was, after all, only the range of magazines stocked gave a new sense to the global map that hangs outside the store.
It was long a hub from which newspapers once flowed through the East  Bay, and from which you can obtain all seven papers distributed by the Alameda News Group, as well as a range of out-of-town newspapers that are hard to obtain from the few vending boxes that still dot the streets.  The illuminated-globe logo of this 1960s emporium announced  a cross between a library and entrepot of world news, and the store, still surviving in the digital era, now survives by selling food and porn, like a steadfast guardian of the printed word and random convenience store.  It remained more than an icon, but an active center:  open in the 2010 riots at the same time that all other Oakland stores were boarded up, and doing  brisk business at the same time as the 2011 Occupy movement led to more shuttering of stores in July and August, when the store provided Occupy protesters with an unending supply of sandwiches, power drinks and cigarettes as they made headlines in the news.  Yet after years of running in the black, the store now run and by Fasil Lemma, who had long helped De Lauer keep the business afloat, with his partner Abdo Shrooh for over four years, is feared to have found a new tenant–and a 7-Eleven had already leased the site in 2011, although their permit was still awaiting pending city review.

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Filed under De Lauer's, De Lauer's Super News Stand, History of Oakalnd, Key Car Maps, maps and advertising, News Maps, newsstands, nostalgia and maps, Oakland, Oakland CA, Tribune Tower

The Density and Habitability of Urban Space

How to map the compelling question of urban livability?

The journalist, blogger and economist Paul Krugman sought to qualify exactly which pressures drive the costs of urban housing recently in “Conscience of  a Liberal.”   Krugman qualified how population density effects urban housing prices, by noting the importance of mapping density in new ways.  Scarcity of space or land constraints might seem to shape prices from a point of view of supply and demand, but Krugman argued that we can attend to a new urban geography by looking at aggregate rather than standard population density alone:  in response to Noah Smith’s argument population density was less relevant than proximity to economic centers, he argued that the rise in the prices of extra-urban areas across America, and “hiving off” of exurban areas in such cities as Phoenix or Houston, where the relative scarcity of land does not determine prices and population density in cities’ centers can change independently from the prices on its peripheries.  Following  Richard Florida, the mapping of “population-weighted density” of census tracts that can capture the way that Americans tend to be moving toward less densely weighted areas of habitation, even if the population, nation-wide, is rising.  (While population rose 10% in the US 2000-2010, it also spread out across urban areas, which became less densely weighted over time.)

This new picture of the United States that has cultivated a “lifestyle” of a less dense mode of living seems to be based on the increased valorization of “inhabitability” as a metric for home ownership in ways that are for more widespread than the movement to the suburbs in the 1970s:  we are all moving toward less weighted centers of population.  The hiving off of new suburban regions on the map that Krugman describes have not only pumped-up real estate is a reaction, in part, of voting with one’s feet against the over-density of urban space.  To be sure, although New York City property values are high, if we all lived in at the amazing density of New York City, the entire 7 billion inhabitants of the globe could fit into a geographic space similar to Colorado–a state which currently has a low density in much of its expanse, but whose pockets of population density are interestingly clustered close to adjoining regions of medium density.

Colorado_population_map

One thinks of the much-circulated infographic, repopulating the world within the United States at the density of global metropoles, that suggests the exceeding density that urban cities have come to acquire, and the continued density that a city such as New York or Paris holds, in comparison to San Fransisco or Houston:

the-worlds-population-concentrated-small

The variation of cities suggests some reasons for, say, the greater “livability” of certain places, as well as the distinct nature of the urban experience in a broad selection of cities across the world.

So what does this “hiving off”–distinct from suburbanization, as it suggests an exurban experience even outside of cities with relatively low population density, entail?  The 1970s phenomenon of widespread suburbanization, allowed by the creation of major highways and arterials that fed by commutes to urban centers like New York or Los Angeles, which served as an endangering withdrawal from many public schools in cities and urban centers, reacted to the intense pace of urban growth and in-migration.  Rather than based on suburban homes, the hiving off of communities echoed a similar demand for “habitability,” but was now about creating new spaces where exurban communities could be created, and how we could use the concept of aggregate density to measure them.

Krugman offered a more specific updating of James Kunstler’s compelling critique of urban sprawl.  when it was launched in the 1993, Kunstler decried the unwarranted expansion of suburban housing and malls in a manifesto that responded to America of the late 1980s, The Geography of Nowhere, as “the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known”–what he called “dead spaces” that he saw as produced by the new attitudes to space that the automobile allowed, stripping vitality from urban centers, and creating the rise of quasi-spaces of strip malls as suburban heterotopia, displaced amusement parks of purchasing, lined with unproductive spaces of parking lots.  This partly architectural perversion of lived space, for Kunstler, led to an evacuation of vitality.  Krugman focusses rather on the place that “habitability” has gained among the economic forces that shape the prices of urban homes:  his argument begs to be mapped, or graphically modeled as well as understood by statistical indices.

Economic thought might be playing catch up with cartographical modeling here:  the critical mapping of density, after all, began right after the 1870 census, when Francis Amasa Walker, superintendent of the census, offered a new model for mapping the population density of the nation not according to county, or electoral districts, but according to the actual contours by which the citizenry inhabited space:  dividing each square mile into its relative density of inhabitants, Walker distinguished those zones with less than 5 inhabitants/sq. mile from those with 5-15, 15-40, 40-75, 75-125, and over 125 inhabitants/sq. mile in 1872, and from that year undertook a number of projects with congressional funding that mapped that distribution against wealth  per capita, to create the first map to record the distribution of wealth in the nation’s geographic space, revealing the dynamics of income distribution along spatial axes–in what Susan Schulten aptly described as the nation’s first example of an infographic.  (Never one to not consider the uses of mapping populations, he created similar maps for the US Congress that mapped population density against disease, illiteracy, public debt, ethnic groups, and the birthrate.)

Desnity of Population [of US]

Such a clear figuration of density does not correspond to actual urban areas, given the former density of rural populations–or have fine enough grain to distinguish property value in them.  But it roughly reflects property values in the nation.  But its generalization of density across each county provides a useful metric to understand variations in the generation of income, tax revenues, and birth rates.  While a model of density-independent population growth may be applicable to animals–plants, insects, mammals, and other seasonally reproducing species, population growth is rarely independent from density in human populations:  and with the increasing segregation of age cohorts in contemporary America–and the graying of some cities, and lower age-level of others, the metrics of growth are especially not uniform.

A more contemporary, but less statistically exacting, version of the infographic–stated in the bluntness of th modern infographic, might provide the following portrait of the relative density of individual states in the union:

sq kilometer

At a finer grain, we find a density map as the following, which provides far more refined detail:

specialreports_2edb.population density usa

And we can zoom in for density of regions, in ways that provide a clearer picture of the Southwestern states in terms of how they broke down by counties, over time, around metropoles:

popanim

To be fair, such a general level of density is not that relevant to the points that Krugman addresses in this specific issue, where he advocates the need for moving away from such generalizations of state-wide population densities, which are less meaningful for microeconomic questions, to examine the organization of the city as a unit in ways that will allow us to distinguish the changing character and economics of urban areas.  Krugman considers how changes in urban geography across the US reflect a new paradigm or model of population density, he asks us to consider new tools to map where ‘average’ Americans live by the “weighted” density of population distributions similar to the sort of maps Walker first innovated, and focus attention on the relative density of different zones not of the nation but individual urban areas.

He argued that overall ‘density’ means less today than ‘aggregate density‘ or the relative density of neighborhoods or sectors of new urban growth, and used this as a dynamic structure to  map population density according to weighted density to better  understand how the “average” American lives.   He does so to offer a critique or assessment of how his fellow-economist Bill McBride suggested attending to population density as they were correlated with housing costs his competing finance blog, Calculated Risk.  Does overall ‘density’ mean less as a measure of housing cost, Krugman wonders, than ‘aggregate density’ (or relative density) within selective regions of cities?

Like Paul Krugman, I would question the meaning of density as an index of value, but I would suggest we need to develop tools to understand the dynamics of density that involve a more fuzzy or less quantifiable variable of habitability, which I would argue if less easily quantifiable becomes more evident in maps.   And in the remainder of this post, I’d like to show how maps offer a measure of the fuzzy value of ‘habitability’ as well as its inverse, a perceptions of ‘uninhabitability,’ might be loosely understood as a way to map the increase or the radical diminishing of property values rather than density alone–or understandings of how density drives demand.

We might  use these maps to include other variables that shape density, and use maps  to do so.  The question of how we can try to map habitability, both in terms of access to open spaces, access to markets, and attractive environments, might create an even better index of value.  In San Francisco, for example, where property rates have risen dramatically in the past several years, and whose neighborhoods are confined to a small area of land:  Oakland is itself much less dense, if also confined by similar topographic limitations, notably the mountains:  but four of the ten most expensive housing markets in the country, including Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, and Marin, are in the Bay area, according to the recent March 2013 Report of the National Low Income Housing Coalition–and in the state that requires the greatest hourly wage to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

out of reach hourly wage per two bedroom

To be sure, the variations of real estate and population in a state like California are closely tied, given the huge variations of density across the state.

California_population_map

Yet the profound variations in the Bay Area, to take one example that is clotted with a red of high density, indicates profoundly striking differences in desirability:

sanmap1

And such dramatically differing variations across the region seem to be distorted by the demand for living near a not-densely populated area such as Silicon Valley, where real estate prices are suggested in this Kwelia map of 2012 which illustrates the relative geographic distribution according to median incomes–and suggests the very real distortions in real estate that can occur independently of actual or weighted density.

screen shot 2014-01-17 at 9-2.14.13 am.pngKwelia


Whereas the debate between the economists turned around the measure of density, it’s unclear why in an age of complex data visualization Krugman omits variables beyond density or to map determinants of urban spaces.  As an economist is wont, Krugman tends to confine himself to contrasting the relative value of alternative models of housing markets in urban space.  If we accept the model of scarcity as the motor of rapidly escalating real estate prices, it’s hard to explain the rise of attraction to less densely populated urban areas in urban areas, however, or the re-use of less inhabited areas as new areas of density.  If we might assume rising population means rising housing costs, as Smith has since noted in an update to his post, transit policy and presumably other public policy issues related to urban infrastructure can influence or shape housing costs–issues that introduce habitability as much as density as an influence on housing costs.

If we weigh models of density and populated-weighted density as models of urban environments, population-weighted density might help explain the social geography of urban spaces at a time when average American increasingly live in somewhat less dense neighborhood:  during the first decade of the century, population has broadly “spread out within metropolitan areas” and brought a “hiving off” from cities and led many cities to abandon the model of a vital urban core is often associated with  “quality of life.”   But the generic term does not reflect how urban space becomes mapped as habitable to different populations and demographics:  for just as cities are mapped in new ways by public projects of urban infrastructure, people map areas of settlement around the contours of urban space by preferring zones,  in turn attracting further interest in them.  An interesting liberal strain of response to Krugman’s post bemoans the end of Jane Jacob’s model of the city as constituted by local communities and the positive sense she gave density as causes of the community and vibrancy of individual neighborhoods, which she valued as the basis for urban life.  (Many also critiqued his argument as not acknowledging the economic models of different cities, from how the absence of economic vitality thins cities like Detroit to how hi-tech creates a new geography of work.)  But in mapping population-weighted density only in numeric terms, Krugman may ignore the appeal that the neighborhood–as much as geographic location–has on real estate, and the increasing flexibility with which a neighborhood–even of different but overlapping socioeconomic backgrounds among their residents–is redefined in particularly flexible ways.

Less attention is paid in both models  to the constraints by which people map their own living spaces, even when constrained by a city’s complex and often unfair geography.  Parts of urban environments are recast as more habitable based on different criteria, often in response to the made or ‘created’ geography of the city–or fail to be recast in habitable terms.  The growth of desirable land in Los Angeles responds to the constraints with which freeways have sculpted urban space, and indeed in ways bound by the 405 in a sort of deterministic way, and the creation of the former Cypress Freeway shaped–and in cases destroyed communities in Oakland, California.  Vice versa, patterns of urban settlement and housing prices helped the investment in an urban infrastructure as transportation in Boston or New York, because they led populations to map their lives in urban space.

Does density alone shape market prices?  In a sense, yes:  but density is a reflection of deeper indices that one might better term ‘habitability’ given their manifold causes and considerable variations.  Changes in workplace practices and locations encourage a shifting relation to the urban space, as more people work on-line, of course, and live and work in isolated archipelagos around cities:  the vitality of neighborhoods that Jacobs celebrated has become far less important as a unit of economic meaning with increased geographic mobility and more dispersive work environments, including telecommuting. As a result, the framing of a debate between population-weighted density or the availability of “space” as determining land value omits the notions of habitability shape urban space: rising land prices in LA, for example, reflect the shifting attitudes to space created by a system of freeways that shaped land values–rather than scarcity–and defined a map of urban settlement outside corridors of transport that, more than mountains, shape Los Angeles neighborhoods.

This reflects the desire for a way to maps how areas become understood as habitable:  and in Oakland, where property values have risen not only in response to the rising rents in SF, but as the city has been defining new notions of habitability by restaurants, urban gardens, and public spaces like farmers’ markets.  By trying to identify a model for urban settlement, geography of population density becomes a stick of measurement rather than the remaking of urban spaces:  multiple complex constraints on the habitability of urban environments limit the development of urban land values.  In  the recent recouping of housing prices in the Bay Area, for example, areas of recent price increases were mapped based on data from Zillow.com–and metadata from Google Maps–to find a considerable recuperation of costs in San Francisco and Fremont alike, despite their quite different density, and a mild recuperation in many of the low-density areas of Berkeley and Oakland, as is rendered evident in the regions of light rose coloration below.

 

Bay Area Property Map

Conversely, if much of Richmond, Brentwood, Antioch, Union City and Hayward remain selling at a far lower price than in the prior boom, many Oakland properties sell at a brisk price, and hi-tech areas like Mountain View–and some areas near Walnut Creek–are positively booming.  To some extent this has to do with access to economic centers:  the less populated but also less desired and more removed Daly City is nowhere near recovering its boom prices, while Mountain View has surpassed boom prices.  But the widespread recovery speaks to issues of habitability, as much as density.

As a counterfactual, let’s look at some actual urban environments where the question of habitability responded to a striking lack of investment in creating a habitable urban space with adequate infrastructure or access to green space–one crucial measure of habitability.  Consider, for example, the considerable distances at which less valuable property lie from green spaces or urban parks in Los Angeles, creating an endemic that led the “LA Streets” Blog Santa to bring the city more green spaces last Christmas.  (African American neighborhoods enjoy .8 acres per thousand people, in contrast to the recommended 10 acres per thousand inhabitants, or the median 6.8 in high density American cities.)  Pink regions here map a distance from park exceeding the LA average, most of which are concentrated away from the shoreline or surrounding national forest:

Access to Parks in Los Angeles

 

The value of land responds to how we map urban spaces as habitable often shapes property values, as much as the questions of the availability of space. Something like the new Stamen map that focusses on the readability of mapped space by watercolor tiles, pioneered by Zach Watson, provides a new resource to look at urban space to analyze questions of habitability without being distracted by data overload, in what was intended as a visually simpler and pleasurable alternative to the tedium of Google Maps, provides a manner to differentiate neighborhoods in San Francisco–albeit a region whose high real estate prices don’t need much explaining:

 

SF Greenspace Stamen

 

Krugman provoked an interesting comment that advances in GIS could provide new tools to include aggregate densities in urban spaces.  Indeed, working with the above Stamen map, or with a time-lapse model of aggregation might provide tools to show the shifts in how space became ‘habitable’ or worthy of inhabitation.  These tools offer the ability to map a new geography of work:  one could model of the shifts in economic redistribution of wealth in urban space, or relative distance of residents to workspace, that might map the relation of neighborhoods to space beyond their relative income or real estate costs.

Flexible GIS models might also help reveal the different maps people create within a city as an environment in powerful ways.  In juxtaposing the alternatives between two models of urban life–the metric of population growth, which  creates competition for limited resources of land in a somewhat Malthusian fashion, or population density, or urban settlement informed by how agglomerations understood in terms of population-weighted density shape demand in extra-urban spaces or urban peripheries for land that changes land prices–the mutable map of the urban fabric is either dramatically oversimplified or ignored.   When land is constrained, the first train of thought goes, rising populations increase the price of land faster than inflation; the questions of how people map land as habitable–and desirable–more informs the second proposition, pointing to the rise of “edge-cities” on extra-urban space that become desired centers of population.

That choice between population and weighted density seems a bit artificial,  because both are abstracted from how people make concepts of neighborhoods out of open space–by mapping it as their own, or by not being able to do so.  Today, New York has of course become the model of a high “population-weighted density” city, based on the average land density of its inhabitants, or the relative density of its populated areas.   But whereas in the 1970s suburbia gained value in the 1970s around greater New York, leading them to abandon a city that became defined as less “habitable,” and to define preserves away from commercial activity, we now value habitability as a relation to a neighborhood, or something like one.

The remapping of the urban core as economically vital paralleled a shift in the understanding of its “inhabitability”– mapping not only its density, but what makes it conducive to habitation or less appealing as a living space.  Could we map the shifts in aggregate population density to investigate patterns of land value, to examine the rise of prices in New York and in regions of uneven density of population spread out within large cities?  One point here would be to chart the spaces made and created in individual cities over time that informed property prices by creating new models of the habitability of the same spaces and of urban life.   To do so, I’ll use maps to illuminate shifting attitudes to space.

Before considering urban geographies, it’s interesting to map a distribution of the predominance of bars to grocery stores in a cute map that I can’t resist–with surprising concentration, the number of bars exceeded grocery stores in urban areas clustered in the Midwest and parts of New England, and areas of the plain states and spots of the Southwest.  It would be interesting to pursue this map into urban areas–does the prevalence of bars over grocery stores suggest a greater role in serving neighborhoods, or a preference for the social function that bars serve in specific urban or rural regions?

Grocery Stores v. Bars

The map may tell us about a culture of sociability–in the colder midwestern north, and New England, bars are important sites of aggregation.  The map speaks about how folks create habitability in urban space in response to different constraints.  We can use this model, more importantly, and this will be the end of the post, to expand the criteria by which we look at urban spaces beyond density that can help raise new questions about the relationships between property value and urban milieu.

Others might reveal the increased livability of different spaces within the city, as this map of the green spaces in New York City, perhaps the city that possesses the densest urban core, in ways that map urban resettlement outside the region of its greatest densities by the foundation of community gardens and urban agriculture, discussed in an earlier post, which notes those places that accept volunteers by blue dots:

 

Community Gardens NYC region

 

The map reveals not only an expanding urban green-space, but the re-envisioning of densely occupied areas as of more livable urban spaces, in ways that mapping population density or aggregate density alone don’t suggest.

Still other maps of urban environments reveal the constraints on the very maps we make of urban space that are so central to housing prices–a process perhaps missing from Krugman’s discussion of two attitudes to the analysis of land-value.    Maps are a central tools of real estate to attract attention to  property and shape urban space into neighborhoods, and fit notions of habitability into existing spaces.  Many structures define these spaces of habitability, not necessarily understood in terms of weighted density alone.  Los Angeles is not, as Krugman’s piece suggests,  “hemmed in” by mountains that constrain city’s sprawl; its low density seems to run out to the Valleys, as freeways define the urban space and create  anew map of property values and more habitable and valuable land.  It almost seems land properties rise in their remove from the freeway, where the relation of land to freeway is more easily mapped, much as much of the value of land in Santa Monica seems to recede in value from the Pacific. Freeways or overpasses divide urban space and help structure maps of habitability; freeways of easy commute may, conversely, increase the value of hived off aggregations of “edge” cities, by improving connectedness to other environments.

We can map moreover habitability in different ways.  Cities like Oakland CA offer a sort of counter-example of a space where habitability set off a rapid rise of real estate values and the price of land:  there is no clear confine to urban space, but the spread of restaurants, green spaces, farmers’ markets, urban farms, and open public spaces fashioned a new notion of the inhabitability of distinct areas of its urban space in successive districts, earlier shunned, even when considerable crime continues to plague nearby parts of the city and the city hears the screaming sirens of police racing to the victim or scene of a homicide.  (If some would say real estate prices derive from the flight from the property values of San Francisco, that only seems to be the icing on the cake.)

The value of land is not a simple calculus of limited supply, but of the mapping of urban space–first taken up by real estate agents who sculpted Oakland’s neighborhoods, but informed first by a shifting sense of the habitability of the land, whether in the middle of an old port-city or the more trendy area of the Temescal.  Demographics prefer different models of habitability; the age of the population of Oakland seems exceptionally low, for example, as they might first define the city as more habitable.  The shift of populations toward less densely settled urban areas reflects this shift in how we have come to map habitability, one might say, even if aggregates of population density reflect land value; without numerical data to show for it, I  offer that the value of land reflects the relative scarcity of habitable areas in urban space, but also shifts as notions of habitability emerge.  In New York, the premium on habitability drives the growth of new neighborhoods, from the allure of Soho or the East Village to Brooklyn Heights as more habitable than more crowded urban environments.  Imaginative ways to map public spaces create habitability in urban regions; the lack of parks in Los Angeles fuels a somewhat undifferentiated urban expansion and settlement.

But there are huge obstacles to mapping the habitability of space in the very regions and cities that habitability might be encouraged, as we find habitability to become, in much of California, the preserve of the wealthier few, and urban spaces constrained by barriers to their physical improvement.  Take a simple map of the distribution of parks in the state, and reveals radical differences between the parks/inhabitants: the polemic map ties park-poor areas to income, contrasting darker greens to show greater availability of acreage/thousand inhabitants in the San Francisco than Los Angeles areas:

 

map-save-state-parks-for-all-Park-Income-Poor3-790x1023

 

Income variations allow the possibility of a flexible and inventive relation to maps of habitable space–as the clumping together in aggregates or scarcity of desired urban lands reveals.   As we become more movable in our work, and develop a more flexible notion to workspace, this shifts the relations of local routines of personal and work space, and there is considerable choice about the spaces where we live:  workspace is less dense in different cities, to be sure, as silicon valley or other IT belts like the Research Triangle around Durham NC, but the premium on the flexibility of defining one’s own model of habitability seems to determine the new urban geography Krugman describes.  Further anecdotal evidence, beyond the United States but in North America, might point to the shifting geography in urban Ottawa, where the residential Glebe was distinguished by rising residential real estate.   Within the shifting infrastructural map of the city, one maps one’s own personal space.  Indeed, the bizarre settling of San Francisco’s sky-rocketing real estate prices is partly driven by the arrival of highly paid executives working in Silicon Valley, shuttled to their work in select buses whose routes allow them to select an alternative to public transit, as discussed in an earlier post.  The paths of flights into San Diego, to use another example, skirt more select residential areas like Mission Bay, create a zone marred by the rumble and whine of overhead airplanes.  And the organization of urban space no longer reflects how we map and understand urban geographies as habitable–or come to dismiss them as simply uninhabitable and worth less.

Only by balancing what maps tell us about how an urban region gains value for its habitability can we effectively broaden the discussion and use maps to measure inhabitability against degrees of uninhabitability and will we be able to extend the critical evaluation of value beyond questions of supply and demand.

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Filed under human geography, infographic, mapping density, Mapping Park Poor Neighborhoods, Oakland CA, relative density, urban geography, urban growth, Urban Livability