Oct 22, 2020

Axios Cities

Jennifer A. Kingson

Hi, I'm Jennifer A. Kingson, and thanks for reading Axios Cities! Get a friend to sign up here, and please do reach out to me with feedback, story ideas, fulsome praise, etc. I'm at jennifer@axios.com or on Twitter: @jenniferkingson.

  • Get smart, 5G fast: Axios debuts a free, five-part video "short course" on 5G to get you up to speed on what it is, who's involved and why it matters. Watch here.

Situational awareness: As part of its $30 billion commitment to fight the racial wealth gap, JPMorgan Chase will allocate $7 million to each of five cities — Boston, Columbus (Ohio), Dallas, Indianapolis and Nashville — to prepare young people for good-paying jobs; $7M for Denver was announced in February.

Today's newsletter is 1,366 words, about 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Mayors plan multifront attack on census shutdown

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A growing number of mayors are banding together to fight what they consider to be an inaccurate and abruptly curtailed 2020 census, using an arsenal of legal, legislative and congressional efforts.

Why it matters: The outcome may determine whether President Trump or Joe Biden controls the redistricting process, which governs everything from congressional representation and reapportionment to funding for schools and Head Start.

Driving the news: Mayors from both parties — under the aegis of the U.S. Conference of Mayors — are putting on a full-court press to extend the Census Bureau's data collection work (which ended Oct. 15) and extend the data-processing work to next April.

  • They're backing a lawsuit filed by the National Urban League against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that sought to revert to an earlier Census Bureau timetable that set Oct. 31 as the deadline for data collection, and April 30, 2021, as the deadline for data processing.
  • The Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration and allowed the count to stop early — but the case still hasn't been heard on its merits.

The mayors are also lobbying members of Congress to take up their cause, supporting bills to extend the census deadlines.

The big picture: The mayors' concern is that people of color, indigenous people, poor people, young people and undocumented immigrants will be even more undercounted than usual.

  • Many of those categories tend to be urban dwellers, so omitting them hurts city finances and representation. (People in rural areas tend to be undercounted, too.)
  • They say that census workers were stretched so thin they weren't able to knock on doors six times to seek a response, as they're normally supposed to.
  • And they're dismayed by the heavy reliance on a protocol that's new this year: the use of federal administrative records — from the IRS, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Social Security Administration — to fill in many blanks.

Where it stands: At a news conference Wednesday, Census Bureau officials described the many obstacles they faced this year — the pandemic, hurricanes and wildfires — but said they finished the 2020 census on Oct. 15 and will "deliver complete and accurate state population counts as close to the December 31, 2020 statutory deadline as possible."

  • Those counts — which typically take five months — will take two-and-a-half months this year.
  • Asked how the bureau could achieve this, Al Fontenot, associate director of Decennial Census Programs at the U.S. Census Bureau, said, "Technology has advanced over the past 10 years. Computers are faster, technology is faster, and a lot of the processes can happen faster."

The bottom line: The Census Bureau says it has accounted for 99.98% of all addresses in the nation.

  • But longtime census consultant Terri Ann Lowenthal draws air quotes around "accounted for." She notes that the bureau "didn't say counted. They didn't say enumerated. They said 'accounted for.'"
  • "The percent of housing units counted, by itself, tells us nothing about the quality and accuracy of the data collected or the overall accuracy of the census."
2. Urban housing prices on the rise
Data: ATTOM Data Solutions; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Home prices are rising rapidly across the U.S., according to ATTOM Data Solutions, a property data provider that I've found valuable over the years.

Driving the news: ATTOM released its 3Q 2020 figures this week, concluding that 77% of metro areas posted "double-digit annual home price gains."

  • Profit margins rose in 86% of the 103 metropolitan statistical areas studied.
  • Top gainers included St. Louis, Missouri; Columbus, Ohio; and Salem, Oregon.
  • The biggest profit margin drops were in Honolulu, San Francisco, and Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • The biggest year-over-year increases in median home prices were in Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut, and in Detroit.
3. Cities brace for Election Day chaos

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Worst-case scenarios for Election Day: Illegal paramilitary groups show up fully armed at polling places. People are intimidated from voting. Extremist groups launch violent protests that last for days.

Why it matters: Mayors are playing down the threats — projecting a "we've got this" tone of reassurance — but some law enforcement officials and people who monitor extremists are telling them to be prepared for anything.

Driving the news: With the pandemic, the polarizing presidential race and the civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd's killing, cities and states are taking unusual measures ahead of Nov. 3. The word "de-escalation" is being used a lot.

  • In Albuquerque, D.A. Raúl Torrez tells Axios he plans to staff "a war room of senior-level prosecutors" who will be available on Election Day to help police officers handle specific disruptions.
  • Iowa just implemented a suite of cybersecurity measures to combat electoral fraud.
  • Michigan hired its first full-time election security specialist (and announced Friday that voters won't be able to openly carry their guns inside the polls).
  • Police forces across the nation are being prepped on local rules and laws; they're not allowed inside polls unless they're actually voting.

What they're saying:

  • Tampa Mayor Jane Castor: "There’s a heightened concern. We have heard about the possibility of having individuals at polling sites intent on disrupting the ability of people to freely vote, but we don't know if it's just an urban legend. We try to monitor in a preventive way. I don’t expect that we will have any issues."
  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler: "What people are more concerned about than anything else right now is the fear of things as opposed to an indication that the fears would actually be realized."

Go deeper: Most arrested in protests are not associated with antifa

Read the full story.

4. Where the office workers are
Reproduced from Kastle Systems; Chart: Axios Visuals

In what I'll go ahead and consider good news for my hometown, a running week-to-week tally of office space occupancy rates has found that New York City's rate keeps edging up, although the top rates are in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Austin, LA and Philly.

Details: Kastle Systems, which runs electronic card-swipe entry systems for about 3,600 buildings and 41,000 businesses (and has more than 1.3 million “cardholders”), has run the "Kastle Return-to-Work Barometer" since the coronavirus started hitting hard, tracking office occupancy rates in 10 big cities every week.

  • The numbers have been rising since the end of the summer, but still reflect differences in both public policy and community mindset.
  • "There are interesting disparities based upon cities, from a low of 14% in San Francisco to a high of more than 40% Dallas," Mark Ein, chairman of Kastle Systems, told me.
  • The 10-city average continues to rise, and it's now at 27% or above.

The bottom line: "The health of our downtowns is precipitous at the moment," Ein said. "Because if people aren't there, the whole ecosystem suffers."

5. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Urban flight seeded the COVID-19 pandemic across the U.S. (SSRN)

  • Three academics from the NYU Stern School of Business document how younger, whiter, wealthier people have disproportionately fled major cities during the pandemic — and how the places they moved saw big bumps in COVID-19 cases, "suggesting that urban flight was a vector of disease spread."

Police rethink policies as cities pay millions to settle misconduct claims (WSJ)

  • A WSJ analysis found that "the 20 U.S. cities and counties with the biggest police departments have paid over $2 billion since 2015 for alleged misconduct and civil rights violations," including excessive force and wrongful detention.

Your local bookstore wants you to know that it's struggling (NYT)

  • While book sales are up 6% this year (per NPD Bookscan), the American Booksellers Association says "more than one independent bookstore has closed each week since the pandemic began." Those bookstores tend to be a big draw for locals and tourists in college towns and other cities.
Jennifer A. Kingson

Non-cities recommended reading: The WSJ's "Shedding Light on the riddle of lefties and righties" describes a new study showing that "many genes, not just one as believed earlier, seem to influence handedness."

OK, we lefties have spent our lives bothering people seated to the left of us at dinner, getting our hands covered in pencil when we write with them, having an awkward time turning on manual lamps, etc. Now comes the news that nobody really knows why we're ... different.

  • Only about 10% of humans are left-handed, and the vast majority of them are male. (See? I am special.)
  • The word "sinister" is derived from the Latin adjective "sinister" (also "sinistra" and "sinistrum") which meant "on the left side" but gradually morphed in the Medieval era to mean "evil."
  • Meanwhile, the Latin word "dexter," or "on the right," turned into "dextrous" and other complimentary things.
  • "Sinistrophobia" means — in modern English — the fear of people who are left-handed. (I guess that refers to those of us who aren't tennis or basketball stars or Major League pitchers?)

Until next week!