Jan 22, 2020

Axios Cities

Greetings from Scott Rosenberg, Axios managing editor, sitting in for Kim Hart, who is recovering from an injury. Kim will be back next week!

Today's newsletter is 1,516 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: The U.S. neighborhoods where opportunity doesn't knock
Expand chart
Data: Brandeis' Institute on Child, Youth, And Family Policy; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Nearly 10 million American kids live in low-opportunity neighborhoods, with limited access to good schools, parks and healthy food, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

Why it matters: Simply being born in these pockets put these kids at a stark disadvantage. The neighborhoods in which children grow up shape many aspects of their adult lives, including how long they'll likely live, how healthy they'll be and how much money they'll make.

The big picture: In a new report, researchers at Brandeis University used several factors — such as poverty rate, employment statistics and acres of green space — to assign opportunity scores (ranging from 1 to 100) to all 72,000 neighborhoods in the country.

  • The worst place to grow up is Bakersfield, California, where more than half of residents under 18 live in low-opportunity neighborhoods. The best is Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Cities in the South generally have lower scores than those in the Northeast.

There are whopping disparities even within metro areas.

  • Cities with the greatest opportunity gaps include Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
  • In Detroit, there's a neighborhood with a score of 95, among the best in the country for kids, as well as one scored 2. A kid born in the better neighborhood will likely earn much more and live up to seven years longer than another child born a few miles away.
  • Opportunity is distributed far more equally in other cities, like New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

There's also "an extremely clear and disturbing racial divide," says Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, the lead researcher and director of Brandeis' Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy.

  • Of the close to 10 million kids living in low opportunity neighborhoods, 4.5 million are Hispanic and 3.6 million are black.

What to watch: Some city leaders have turned Brandeis' child opportunity index into a guide to address inequities at home.

  • Albany, New York, the city with one of the highest proportions of black children living in poverty, used the 2014 data to pinpoint which parks needed to be expanded and renovated.
  • The Boston Medical Center built an app that tells residents in its most distressed neighborhoods where to find affordable, nutritious food.

The bottom line: "We've grown very complacent and grown used to seeing our metro areas so starkly divided," says Acevedo-Garcia. "But the fact that some kids live in these neighborhoods that have much, much, much worse conditions hurts all of us, as a country."

2. Mayors' strategies for graying cities

Rapidly aging populations are set to challenge U.S. cities, five mayors told a roundtable yesterday.

The big picture: The median U.S. age jumped from 28 to 38 between 1970 and 2016, per CityLab. As cities get older, their mayors are tasked with creating policies and building infrastructure to adapt, Erica reports.

Details: The mayors, who are in D.C. for the U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering this week, spoke with reporters before an event organized by The Hill. They identified affordable housing and access to transportation as two urgent issues affecting seniors.

  • Rochester Hills, Michigan is holding information sessions on autonomous vehicles for its seniors. Some older people might think "this is 'Jetsons'-type stuff that won't affect me," said Mayor Bryan Barnett. But when he tells seniors they're likely to live 10 years beyond driving age, and that AVs could improve quality of life, "they start to pay attention," he said.
  • Kansas City, Missouri offers some public bus rides for free, and the bulk of riders are older adults, Mayor Quinton Lucas said.
  • Fort Worth, Texas is infusing its city infrastructure with tech (such as cashless parking meters). To ease the transition for older residents who might be unfamiliar with the changes, the city organizes lessons at local libraries, said Mayor Betsy Price.

What to watch: Some cities are aging faster than others, CityLab reports. Communities in the Midwest and Appalachia are getting increasingly older as younger people move to the coasts, and managing aging populations will be an even more acute issue there.

3. Big city papers face headwinds

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The local news crisis is hitting major cities across America, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Financial woes have shut down hundreds of local outlets across the country. Now, bigger metro and regional newspapers and outlets are finding they're not immune, either — and in some cases, their problems are harder to solve.

Driving the news: Two investigative reporters at the Chicago Tribune, in a New York Times opinion piece Sunday, told of receiving buyout offers that foreshadowed major cuts at the 173-year-old paper following its acquisition by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund known for cutting journalists at local papers to maximize profits.

The trend is spreading across the country. Just two days before the Tribune staffers' op-ed, a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel also detailed similar buyout alarms. The Orlando Sentinel is also owned by Alden Global Capital.

The big picture: Cuts to big-city papers around the country are happening as more faltering newspapers are acquired by hedge funds and private equity firms aiming to slash costs and boost profits.

Between the lines: Large city and regional papers often compete for subscribers with national papers, like the New York Times or the Washington Post, that cover topics appealing to their readers.

  • The New York Times, which is publicly traded but family-controlled via a dual-stock structure, and the Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, offer two recent success stories.
  • For example, the Times said last week that it surpassed its goal set in 2014 of doubling its annual digital revenue to $800 million by 2020 a year ahead of schedule.

Be smart: Even some national titles owned by billionaires or well-off families are struggling.

  • The Seattle Times, which is majority-owned by Frank Blethen and his family, is facing dozens of layoffs as the paper prepares to close its main printing plant this week.
  • The Los Angeles Times, purchased by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong in 2018, hasn't been able to find digital success. The L.A. Times missed its subscriber goals for the first half of 2019, with only 170,000 digital-only subscribers as of July.

Go deeper: Cities are turning into news deserts

4. The rise of testbed cities for autonomous vehicles

Computer image of Woven City. Photo: Courtesy of Toyota

In China and Japan, high-tech cities are being developed as living laboratories to test automated vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

Why it matters: The real-world incubators could help accelerate the development of infrastructure and systems needed to support self-driving cars, at a pace the U.S. will find hard to match.

  • Private AV testing facilities exist in places like Michigan, Ohio and California, and some companies are even testing AVs on public streets in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Miami and other cities — but only in small numbers.
  • The U.S. has no large-scale testing environment on par with what the Chinese government or even Toyota are planning for the integration of humans and robots in daily life.

Yes, but: It's a different story elsewhere in the world.

China's Xiongan New Area project, near Beijing, is part of the central government's ambitious drive to lead in new technologies like AI and 5G communication.

  • Announced by President Xi Jinping in 2017, the mega-city is being built in a rural area about 60 miles southwest of the Chinese capital, at a potential cost of $300 billion, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
  • As part of the vision, every car would be self-driving by the time the city is completed in 2035.

Woven City, near Japan's Mount Fuji, is a much smaller project — just 175 acres — led not by government but by one of Japan's leading industrial giants, Toyota Motor Corp.

  • The master plan calls for dedicated streets for AVs, personal mobility vehicles and pedestrians.
  • Only fully autonomous, zero-emission vehicles like Toyota's e-Palette shuttles would be allowed on the main thoroughfares.

If the U.S. were to build a similar prototype city, it would need to invest or direct billions of dollars in advanced technologies like 5G, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, electric charging infrastructure and vehicle automation in an area with a high population density.

  • Cities like New York and Los Angeles need such innovations, but it's impractical and disruptive to rip up existing infrastructure and start over.

Go deeper: Keeping expectations for self-driving cars in check

5. Urban files
6. 1 bus thing: Car-free and carefree on Manhattan's 14th Street

Is America ready for car-free cities? Not yet — even if the example of Ghent, in Belgium, shows just how successful banning cars can be. Still, America does seem to be ready for car-free streets, which is a good start, Axios' Felix Salmon writes.

Driving the news: New York City released data this week showing that crosstown bus travel times plunged from 16.8 minutes to 10.4 minutes after cars were banned from 14th Street, a major thoroughfare. Meanwhile, bus ridership rose by 25%, to exceed 30,000 riders per day on a single line.

  • Coming up: San Francisco's Market Street will be car-free starting Jan. 29.

Why it matters: Banning cars is great for more than just bus riders. In New York, 14th Street has become a bicyclist's paradise — and retailers in places like Denver and Minneapolis have also learned to love being located on bus-only streets.