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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Community leaders are concerned that historically hard-to-count residents will be even harder to count in this year's census, thanks to technological hurdles and increased distrust in government.
Why it matters: Inaccurate counts mean that communities don't get their fair share of $1.5 trillion in federal money allocated to cities and states.
By the numbers: Nearly all adults (95%) have heard of the census, and 78% say they'll definitely or probably submit a census form, per a recent Pew survey.
Yes, but: A sizable number of people aren't sure how to participate (i.e., they don't know it can be completed online), or they're mistaken about what information will be collected.
Factors complicating this year's count:
New York City, which had low response rates in the past two surveys, is spending $40 million on outreach and education materials and has provided $19 million in grants to combat disinformation, NYC census director Julie Menin said.
The National League of Cities is providing materials that local officials can customize, and it's working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provide $1.6 million in grants to help cities with the process.
The good news: "I've never seen elected officials taking the census so seriously," said Clarence Anthony, CEO of the National League of Cities. "It seems like there’s a greater commitment to reach the historically hard-to-count residents."
What's next: Most households will receive mailings in March asking them to respond online, by phone or mail.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Tiny cottages in backyards and apartments above garages — also known as granny flats or in-law suites — are gaining popularity in cities desperate for more, smaller housing options.
Why it matters: About 75% of the land in U.S. cities is zoned for single-family housing only. Proposals to build multifamily housing often run up against stiff NIMBY-ist opposition.
"A lot of homeowners can see themselves wanting to build an ADU, whether it's for a family member to stay in or for guests or a short-term rental, or they may see it as a tool to make the mortgage more affordable," said Emily Hamilton, research fellow and director of the Urbanity Project at George Mason University's Mercatus Center.
What's happening: Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have made it easier to get permits for granny flats.
The other side: Critics say these units allow development too close to property lines and reduce street parking.
What they're saying: Jenny Schuetz, a fellow with Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program, said, "gentle upzoning" — allowing for ADUs, duplexes and triplexes in neighborhoods currently zoned only for single-family housing — is only part of the solution.
"ADUs are like the scooters of housing policy — they're flashy and cute and everyone loves them. Scooters are good at getting people thinking about other ways to get around, but inherently they don't scale. Even if we put an ADU on every single-family lot the U.S. — which of course won't happen — we wouldn't solve the problem."— Jenny Schuetz
With the opening of its first large-format cashier-less grocery store in Seattle on Tuesday, Amazon is on its way to further expanding its physical footprint across U.S. cities, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.
The big picture: With its own network of stores, Amazon could attract shoppers looking for cheaper prices than Whole Foods and dramatically grow its brick-and-mortar reach.
Background: Walmart has long been the dominant player in the grocery business, with 50% of greater market share in 203 American cities and towns.
Now, Amazon has figured out how to scale its cashier-less technology to work in a new Seattle location that — at over 10,000 square feet — is five times the size of a typical Go store.
The bottom line: Grocery stores are essential in every city. Walmart's ubiquitousness in American life is thanks to the relationship it has built with its shoppers through groceries — and now Amazon may begin to shake that dominance.
Meanwhile, other tech headlines worth noting today:
1. Google pledged to spend $10 billion this year on top of the $13 billion in 2019 it spent expanding its footprint across the country, targeted to operations in 11 of the 26 states in which Google has a facility. (Axios)
2. San Jose approved the first batch of community grants as part of the city's Digital Inclusion Fund — formed during negotiations with 5G providers —intended to connect unserved residents to broadband. (Axios)
The growth of small businesses has been concentrated in big cities and urban suburbs since the Great Recession, while nearly all rural areas have lost businesses in the past decade.
Why it matters: "Firm growth is a crucial part of economic development, and business creation has been critical in the aftermath of previous recessions. But policies geared toward encouraging startups have not been effective in rural areas, leading to a growing regional divide," per a new report by the Center for American Progress.
Yes, but: Some pockets of rural America are seeing business growth, even though it pales in comparison to larger cities.
What's needed: Policymakers should consider expanding business-development corporations or co-ops to support rural towns, which are also dealing with other problems including opioid use, hospital closures and unemployment, per CAP.
Go deeper: The disappearing startup
Photo: Penguin Random House
Axios' Felix Salmon reviewed "Golden Gates," the new book by New York Times economics reporter Conor Dougherty examining the housing crisis:
"Golden Gates" is not a book of policy recommendations with a tidy if improbable solutions chapter at the end. Instead, it's a messy yet deeply human story of how our democracy has evolved — so very imperfectly — to create a massive shortfall of housing, especially in and around San Francisco, and how a varied cast of characters are seeking to address that crisis.
The book's conclusion: "There's no way to rectify a housing shortage other than to build housing, and there's no way to take care of people whom the private market won't take care of other than subsidies or rent control, or both. The details are democracy."
Go deeper: Dougherty was a guest on Felix's podcast this week for a special housing edition.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
America's rundown roads add to farmers' struggles (Axios)
As Seattleites and their money flow south, Tacoma residents grapple with changing neighborhoods (Seattle Times)
Investors see value in urban parking lots — as future multifamily buildings (National Real Estate Investor)
Why black businesses and homeownership won't close the wealth gap (CityLab)
Cracking the city code (Exponential View)
A tourist wears a protective mask at a Milan restaurant amid coronavirus fears. Photo: Valeria Ferraro/Echoes WIre/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
The spread of the novel coronavirus has prompted the cancellations of conferences, local events and vacations, putting big dents into some cities' tourism revenue.
Why it matters: The lost revenue is a blow to cities that count on the spending at local hotels and restaurants.
Skittish vacationers are postponing trips, particularly cruises, the Washington Post reports.
The big picture, per MarketWatch's Jon Swartz: "Facebook’s canceled marketing conference typically brings about $11 million in spending to San Francisco, with about 5,000 attendees expected to stay at 10 hotels, according to San Francisco Travel Association, which also lamented other losses. Mobile World Congress, by comparison, is estimated to be worth about $540 million to Barcelona and provides 14,000 part-time jobs for local workers."
Have a great week!