Sunday, March 30, 2014

Looking Back at Two Years (almost) of Home Ownership

Welcome to our house
Two years ago Susan and I were about to embark on the adventure of home ownership. We began searching in April 2012, and put an offer down on a house in late May 2012, and closed in mid-June 2012, two days after a massive hailstorm smashed up our Prius and most of East Dallas. Luckily, our house was untouched, and we moved in with little drama.

As many of you have seen on Facebook, we have done some projects on the home over the past twenty one months of home ownership. When we purchased the house, we had a home inspection done that found a few repairs that were wanting. These included replacing the existing electrical panel (which was a Federal Pacific model that had a reputation for catching on fire in other neighborhood homes), doing some foundation repairs, replacing the rotting siding on both ends of the house and on the rake between the two levels of the roof, and replacing electrical outlets in the kitchen with GCFI outlets.

The new electrical panel
These sort of suggested repairs are hardly the ones that one sees on the cover of home improvement magazines, and often are expensive invisible projects. We had the electrical panel replaced before we moved in, as well as having the kitchen outlets replaced. Our foundation repairs were done over a two week period in March 2013, and we got our siding replaced a year later in 2014. In the midst of these major repairs, we have worked on stocking the house with craigslist finds and smaller projects.

The future native plant strip
Front and Back Yard
We have doubled our front flower bed and put in a number of native plants. As you can see from some of the photos we dug up a portion of yard in the front strip between the street and the sidewalk and will plant in some native plants later in April.

In the back yard we have had limited success in getting the grass in a shady back yard. We have two creep myrtles, two live oaks, and one fifty year cedar elm, and there is no more than four hours of sunlight in the back yard during most days. Our attention had been focused in other areas, but we’ll probably need to plant some native ground cover that can grow in the shade.

Front Living Room

This room has probably seen the most changes since we moved in. Originally we had our television and recliner in this area, as well as our main couch. However, this arraignment left half of the room essentially unused, and a good Dutchman does not like badly arraigned space. Therefore, in January 2014, we rearranged the room, moving the dining room table and buffet from the family room in the back portion of the space, while moving television out and the piano to the spot where the television once was. With this re-positioning of the furniture, we made the front portion of the room into a formal living area that is great for reading and playing the piano, and the back portion into a formal dining area.

Kitchen
The previous owners had done a great job with this area, and therefore our changes have been minimal in this room. Besides adding a shelf back to the area above the refrigerator and putting in a craigslist cast off container store shelving until, our impact on this space has been limited. Susan did do some nice rearranging of the cookware items last year, our pantry always has animal crackers on hand (thankfully). The two forthcoming projects in this room is repairing the cupboard by the stove top that has some visible water damage, and to replace the existing back entry door, which is original to the house, leaks like crazy, is starting to show signs of deterioration.



Family Room
As mentioned earlier, this room is now the home of the television, our old couch, and recliner. As you can see from some of the photos, there are speakers in the ceiling, but when I tried to hook them up to a receiver, I found out that the there was nothing in the speakers themselves, and they are pretty much useless, negating any reason to invest in a high quality sound system in this room. We got a nice rug from Overstock.com, and we’ll probably look for a smaller coffee table on craigslist in the months to come. Finally, we've had our existing slipcover since 2004, and will probably get a color that matches the room’s colors a bit closer.


Front Hallway
Very little has been done in this area, although we will get a new energy efficient entry door to replace the front door (which, like the back entry door, is old and leaks).

Study
We got an IKEA desk that uses this space quiet well, and also added a file cabinet to replace our flimsy file boxes. We need to repaint the corners of the ceiling that have been painted poorly, and we also need to repaint the closet down the road, as it had a horrible paint job that is chipping and failing off at odd times.

Guest Room



We got an IKEA bed frame and painted it and our old nightstands to match the white trim in this bedroom. You can’t see from photos, but this room has six electrical outlets, which were among twenty that we replaced throughout the house in January 2013. I am still looking for some new white book cases to line up on the exterior wall to replace our existing shelves that are currently on the interior wall. I need to do some touch up painting and caulking along the front window to seal some minor leaks.

Bathrooms


The previous owners did a great job on both of these rooms, and the work in these two rooms has been minimal over the past two years. Perhaps the biggest thing has been the re-caulking of the shower in the master bathroom.

Master Bedroom




The biggest changes in this room has been the addition of new furniture from craigslist for a bedroom set. One of my favorite home ownership adventures this past year was driving with a 78 inch dresser in our Prius with my knees touching my chin as I drove down Central Expressway. In January 2013 we install recessed lighting, and did some minor painting touch up work in November 2013.

Attic

Perhaps the ignored area of the house, the attic was already in good shape. I spent some time last month cleaning out trash from the attic, and after our siding was replaced, I was able to repair some gaps in insulation to reduce heat/cooling loss. Last week I created an attic door “coffin” (with an R-10 rating) to reduce the energy loss through the attic door. Future projects in the next few months before it gets too hot is to add a float switch for the AC unit, as well as putting in two sofit vents by the front room to reduce the heat trapped in this area during the summer.

Exterior










Perhaps the biggest amount of work has come from the exterior of the home. Cleaning out the gutters on a weekly basis in the later summer and fall has not been fun. I’ve replaced some rotting fascia boards behind the gutters, and also did some touch up work on a poor exterior paint job. Now that the siding is up, I’m scrapping and prepping the trim wood surrounding the siding before priming the wood. We still haven’t decided on whether to paint the new siding the same cream color as the trim, but would appreciate some advice. I hope to have the exterior painting done by the end of April, and to have the new doors installed by the end of May.

Future Projects
As we enter our third year of home ownership, I’m trying find ways that we can further reduce some of our housing expenses, namely our electrical, gas, and water use.


The previous owners put in new energy efficient windows in the summer of 2011, and they also put on a new roof. We have an average of 499 kwh per month, and you can see the brutal Dallas heat in the summer really drives a great deal of the use. We have ceiling fans in four of the rooms (family room, and the three bedrooms) that we run continuously, but nothing in front formal dining/living room which has a south facing window. We run our dishwasher three times a week, our washer and dryer twice a week, and have the air conditioner set at 79 during the day and at 75 during the night, and the compressor was added in 2010 and has a SEER of 14 (we have a natural gas powered heating system, and have the heat set at 60 during the day and at nights, and at 65 when we are home during the evenings). We have loose insulation in the attic that provide R-19 insulation. Our appliances are all energy star (fridge, washer, dryer were all purchased in 2012, computer and television in 2010 and are on anti-vampire power strips), and all our non-recessed lighting is CFL. We have two clock radios plugged in all day, but both use minimal energy.

I am trying to think of ways to improve our household energy efficiency and to reduce our energy bill. I had a free energy audit done back in December 2012, and the consultant recommended replacing the two entry doors, which are original to the house and obviously leak energy regardless of the season. We have 8 halogen recessed lights (70 W each) that I believe account for 34 khw per month (we have these lights on for two hours a day), meaning that it is about 10% of our total energy use when the AC isn't running. These were replaced with Philips LED bulbs in April, and they should use 5khw per month. Perhaps the final step consider is to install a programmable Nest thermostat to replace our 10 year old non-programmable thermostat, but given the price, I don’t know if it will pay for itself any time soon. Perhaps if the Nest Corporation sent me a free one, I could check it out. I will be curious to see what will happen the energy use with the improvements that will hopefully be completed by the end of May. From a quick read through of our energy bill, half of our annual use goes to air conditioning.

The first two years of home ownership has been really a great experience. I have found out that I really enjoy manual labor projects after sitting at a desk all day, and it is satisfying seeing various projects get completed. I also am amazed a what one can get on Craigslist at a significantly lower price that what is listed at the store. Who knows what future projects will happen over the next few years? Hopefully this watchman at night and laborer during the day does not do these projects in vain.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Michigan Counties Report


I've finally finished up my Magnum Opus from 2013-a research project looking at Michigan's county level races and 622 county commission seats since 2006. There are lots of maps in this presentation, and a great amount of data as well. You may access the report here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013: Books I Read

Happy New Year Everyone! I hope that 2014 is a good year for you!

In 2013 I read only 73 books, a much lower number than in 2012 (when I read 113 books) and in 2011 (91). I blame a busier work schedule in 2013 than the previous year, and I think that owning an iPad makes me much more likely to read shorter works. Here is hoping that I read more in 2014.

If I had to pick three books that I would consider my favorites in 2013, I would single out Lawrence Wright's In the New World, a memoir on growing up in Dallas in the 1960s, which really proved to be much more revealing about the Dallas worldview in 1963 than anything else I read this year in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy Assassination. John Allen's The Future Church was a timely read with the election of Pope Francis in 2013; the southern church is not more conservative or liberal than the northern church, but is rather focused on issues near and dear to the gospels, especially the poor and evangelism of the world. Finally, Last's What to Expect When No One is Expecting provides a great perspective about the coming demographic decline of much of the world's population and what impact this will have in the next 50 years. A must read, even if it was written by someone at the National Review. Can anyone else recommend some good books that they read this past year?

Greenfield, Then Everything Changed
Greenfield, 43*
Douhat, Bad Religion
Hastings, World War II
Howe, House of Velvet and Glass
Millard, Destiny of the Republic
Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Collins, Catching Fire
Collins, Hunger Games
McClure, The Wilder Life
Collins, Mockingjay
Petersik, Young House Love
LeDuff, Detroit: An American Autopsy
Warren, All Your Worth
MacDonald, Who Stole My Church
Allen, The Future Church
Garrett, Plants of the Metroplex
MacFarlane, The Old Ways
Spec, Walkability
Wright, Going Clear
Goldhill, Catastrophic Care
Binelli, Detroit City is the Place to Be
Wolfe, Back to Blood
Stahr, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensible Man
Johnson, White House Burning
Burman, Taxes in America
Raboteau, Searching for Zion
Last, What to Expect When No One is Expecting
Folett, Pillars of the Earth
Euginedes, The Marriage Plot
Grisham, The Racketeer
Baxter, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World
Horne, Seven Ages of Paris
Winspear, Leaving All Most Loved
Michener, Texas
Mak, The Village
Heller, Ed Bacon and the Politics of Planning in Post War Philadelphia
Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign
Nadea and Barlow, 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong
Sorkin, Too Big to Fail
McClelland, Nothing But Blue Skies
Packer, The Unwinding
Martin, Dangerous Men
Wright, In the New World
Bizzinger, Friday Night Lights
Bauerville, The Sea
Reisner, Cadillac Desert
Jenkins, The Jesus Wars
Tough, Why Children Succeed
Nutting, Tampa
Howard, Living Large for the Long Haul
Merry, Where They Stand
Penide, Lawn Gone
Biggers, State Out of the Union
Kolker, Lost Girls
Tmoskey, Heads in Bed
Wuthnow, After the Boomers
Russell, Doc
Clark, The Sleepwalkers
Miner, Lessons from the Heartland
Jenkins, New Faces of Christianity
Jenkins, God’s Continent
Waldman, Love Affairs of Nathaniel P
Hastings, Catastrophe 1914
Katz & Fey, Metropolitan Revolution
Townsend, Smart City
Sides & Vareck, The Gamble
Hotta, Japan: 1941
Wasburn, The Nature of Urban Design
Helmreich, The New York No One Knows
Grant, Hope & Despair in the American City
Frank, Dick & Ike: A Strange Political Marriage
Minutalio & Davis, Dallas 1963

Monday, February 25, 2013

Errand Into the Wilderness: Michigan Democratic Party’s Competitiveness in County Level Races: 1968-2012

“Building the party” is a mantra often heard around Michigan Democratic Party circles these days and it is easy to understand why. Looking at national election data, Michigan is as blue as you get in the Midwest, having been in the Democratic column since 1992, with two Democratic senators in office since the 2000 elections. Indeed, the last two Republican presidential candidates didn’t make much of a serious effort in Michigan in the last two months of their campaigns. Naysayers might mention that Michigan has had a majority Republican delegation in five of the past six sessions of Congress, but one could make a case that state Republicans did an excellent gerrymander in 2001 and 2011 to make this possible.

Michigan’s national reputation as a Democratic bastion does not apply to on the state level. Indeed, Democrats have performed quite poorly in recent years. Democrats have not controlled the State Senate since 1984 when two Macomb County Democrats were recalled in their support of James Blanchard’s budget policies. While Democrats controlled the State House through 1992 election, they have run the chamber only six years (1996-8 and 2006-10) in the twenty two years since. The Michigan Supreme Court has had a majority of justices supported by the Republican Party since 1998, although Democrats gain a court majority from 2009 to 2010 with the support of Republican Justice Marilyn Kelly. Only in statewide races have Michigan Democrats performed anywhere close to their national reputation, yet they still have largely fallen short with the exception of the State Board of Education and Regent elections. Republicans have won four of the past six gubernatorial races, five of the past six Secretary of State races, and the last three Attorney General elections.

Democrats continued under performance in Michigan’s state politics since 1990 has come at a time when Michigan transitioned from the era of Fordist manufacturing to a post-industrial landscape where the state’s became more dispersed. In 1960, Michigan’s 20 largest communities were home to more than 3,309,313 people, or 42% of the state’s total population, but by 2010 these same 20 communities only were residences to 22.3% or 2,208,322. Figure 1 shows just how drastic the population decline was. Detroit accounts for 86.8% of the total population loss, but only six of the 20 subdivisions gained residents and of these only Ann Arbor and Warren added more than 40,000 residents. With the exception of Detroit and Flint, communities that lost residents overwhelmingly did so between 1960 and 1980, and stabilized somewhat in the thirty years that followed.



Communities that gained the most residents between 1960 and 2010 tended to be communities in metropolitan southeast Michigan that captured Detroit’s fleeing residents. Only two communities outside of metropolitan Detroit were among the top twenty (Georgetown Township in Ottawa County and Kentwood in Kent County).

Michigan’s population dispersal has reduced the state’s population density. While Michigan’s overall population density increased slightly from 138 persons per square mile in 1960 to 174 by 2010, the addition of 2,115,250 new residents during the same time period meant that much of the population growth went into new development on the outskirts of the urban fringe. The table below shows communities with the highest population density back in 1960. When viewed next to the 2010 population density figures, you can see what a beating the urban core of Michigan took in the past fifty years. The dispersal reduces the economic and transportation networks possible with high density. In 1960 Metropolitan Detroit could have arguably supported a dense commuter rail network, as numerous communities had population densities greater than 4,000 people per square mile minimal density needed for effective mass transit. However, the de-densification of communities such as Detroit and Highland Park in the decades since makes the implementation of mass transit much less cost-effective.

The dispersal of Michigan’s White population from urban areas was matched by two smaller-sized migrations of Black residents. The first relatively minuscule migration was from historic rural Black areas of western Michigan (such as Lake, Van Buren, and Cass Counties) into other urban centers in Michigan, especially Benton Harbor, Flint, and Detroit. The second and larger migration was the movement away from core urban centers, especially in Detroit and Flint, to the surrounding suburbs. Most of the Black population movement has flown to working class suburbs on the periphery of established urban centers. Suburbs such as Harper Woods and Eastpointe literally changed overnight, while other communities such as Oak Park and Lathrup Village have steadily attracted new Black residents over decades.

In contrast to the movement of Black Michiganders, Hispanics have concentrated outside of Southeast Michigan and are spread throughout Michigan. Only 10% of the total Hispanic population resides Detroit and only make up 6.8% of the city’s total population. While county subdivisions with the greatest increase in the Hispanic share of the total population are listed below. Interestingly, rural communities in western Michigan are home to large sizable Hispanic populations, largely due to the reliance farming communities have on migrant workers who have historically been Hispanic. However, large Hispanic communities have moved to urban centers and suburbs in western Michigan, including Grand Rapids and Holland. Kent County in particular has a large Hispanic population that is just under 10% of the total population.

Michigan population dispersal since the birth of modern Michigan politics points to a larger failure of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) to win county level races since 1964. While this failing transcends the tenure of Mark Brewer, the continued inability of the MDP to perform well in areas with growing numbers of Democratic voters testifies to the party’s weakness on the local level. This local weakness will hinder the party in the coming decade, especially as it seeks to win crucial races in 2018 and 2020.

The 1970 gubernatorial election provides an example of this population dispersal. In this election incumbent Republican Governor William Milliken beat Democrat Sander Levin by a 45,000 vote margin, winning 49.2% of the two party vote. Leven pulled a 103,000 vote edge out of Wayne County and 17,000 vote lead in Genesee, but Milliken countered this edge with a 31,000 vote lead in Oakland County and a 27,000 vote edge in Kent County, as well as winning Washtenaw and Ingham Counties by 21,000 votes. If one assigned a Democratic candidate the same county level vote percentage with the 2010 population, the Democratic share of the total vote drops from 49.2% to 47.3%, and the vote deficit increased from 44,409 to 222,022. The steady population decline in Wayne and Genesee Counties in the past few decades has drained the Democratic candidates of the edge they need to win statewide races.

Winning local partisan races is crucial to building the state party for two reasons. First, voters identify with their local candidates, who often use their first race as candidate for township office or the county board as a stepping stone for higher elected office. If a party doesn’t recruit candidates for local races, it becomes much harder to find good candidates for higher level races, and the absence of local candidates to identity with allows the opposing party to portray the absent party in broad stereotypical terms. Secondly, local partisan races are crucial for determining county level redistricting of the county board of commissioners.

Michigan state law (MCL 46.401-46.408) requires that each county must create a county apportionment board following the release of US Census data in years ending with a “1”. The Apportionment Commission consists of the County Clerk, County Treasurer, Prosecuting Attorney, and the county chairpersons of the Democratic and Republican parties. State law requires that each county have five County Commissioners (depending on each county’s population state law requires more commissioners), and that the districts must follow traditional redistricting standards as established by state law. The plan must be approved by a majority of the members, and since each party receives a vote from their party representative, winning two of the three countywide races for the Prosecuting Attorney, County Treasurer, and County Clerk generally determines who draws the map and the number of county commissioners.

These three races also provide an indication of the county party’s strength. Candidates for these positions run in presidential election years, and those that run above national and state level candidates should be identified as rising stars. A Democrat that pulls 45% of the vote in Allegan County while running for a county level position will have loss the races, but have also ran 9% above the Democratic baseline in the county in 2012, and should be considered other races. County level candidates that trail national Democrats or the Democratic baseline point to a decline in the county’s historical Democratic identity, something that has happened throughout the Upper Peninsula over the past four election cycles.

Unfortunately for the MDP, the dispersal of Michigan’s population has not resulted in Democratic gains in county level races since 1971. As shown in Table 1, following the 1968 election Republicans controlled county level redistricting in 63 counties, compared to 18 for Democrats (2 had split control). In 1981 and 1991 Democrats controlled 22 counties, while they controlled 23 in 2001 and 2011. Figure 2 shows that Democrats controlled 12 counties in all five redistricting cycles between 1971 and 2011, with seven in the Upper Peninsula and the remaining five in metropolitan Detroit; in contrast, Republicans controlled 51 counties in all five redistricting cycles (including Oakland County, which saw its Democratic control of county level positions usurped by a Republican State Legislature) located throughout the state. Of the twenty remaining counties, ten are slipping away for their Democratic roots and have been controlled by the GOP in the past two redistricting cycles, while six are becoming increasingly Democratic (including Ingham and Washtenaw). The remaining four counties of Muskegon, Jackson, Calhoun, and Menominee are bellwether counties that are difficult for either party to pin down firmly in one camp or the other.

Tables 2 through 6 show partisan control of County Prosecutor Attorney, Treasurer, and Clerk offices in each county in the election that determined which party controlled the office for redistricting. For the 1971 redistricting cycle, this was the 1968 election, for the 1981 cycle the 1980 election determine control, the 1991 cycle was established by the 1988 election, the 1998 election determined control of the 2001 cycle, and the 2008 election set the state for the 2011 cycle.



Many county-level Democratic organizations have largely left Republicans unchallenged in these races. Page after page of research notes show Republican candidates being unchallenged, and this a trend that has continued to county commission seats throughout the state. Much of Michigan remains hostile political territory for Democratic candidates, as Table 7 shows that the Michigan Democratic Presidential share of the two party vote has always trailed the Democratic Baseline share of the vote in these elections.



More relevant to long-term strategic thinking is the Presidential/Gubernatorial and Baseline data shown in Tables 8 and 9 respectively. Each table looks at the county level Democratic share from nine elections from 1996 to 2012 and calculates an average share from the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections to determine an average Democratic share of the vote. The counties are listed from the highest average Democratic share to the lowest. Of the counties under Republican control, perhaps the most vulnerable to a Democratic takeover in the coming decade are Kalamazoo (52.0% Pres/Gov and 52.7% Baseline) and Isabella (50.5% Pres/Gov and 51.2% Baseline) counties. While more of a stretch, Eaton (48.3% Pres/Gov and 49.2% Baseline) and Calhoun (47.2% Pres/Gov and 50.3% Baseline) Counties are also tempting targets for Democrats to target in the next four election cycles with the hopes of controlling these counties by 2020.





Consider the impact of targeting races in these four counties. In Isabella County, Democrats currently have a 4-3 majority on the county commission board. Winning county level races in 2016 and 2020 would help make Democratic more competitive to take the 99th State House seat, a prize that has escaped the party for years. In Kalamazoo County, taking a majority on the county board of commissioners is plausible in 2014, but winning the Clerk and Treasurer races that were narrowly lost in 2012 would provide Democrats with a redistricting majority in 2021. Building the county party would make Democrats better positioned to win State House District 61, and to win the open 20th State Senate District in 2014. In Eaton County, Democrat Theresa Abed won the 71st State House seat in 2012, and could be a strong Democratic candidate to run for the open 24th State Senate seat in 2018 once Rick Jones is term limited. In Calhoun County, Democratic gains could help further put House District 63 in the play, and keep District 62 in Democratic hands once Kate Segal is term limited. In both Eaton and Calhoun Counties, Democrats control the Treasurer seat of the three county-level positions, and would just need to win one more seat in 2020 to control the 2021 county level redistricting. Winning partisan control in these four counties and a county commissioner majority in Oakland County would expand the local Democratic presence in local races, and help the party expand its base outside its historic core areas.

Mark Brewer’s leadership of the MDP over the past 16 years is very much up for discussion. Michigan has increasingly become Democratic for national elections, even while its population has become increasingly dispersed since 1992. However, during this time frame the MDP has been unable to build its infrastructure on the local and county level, a failing that explains in part its inability to win races at the state-level. Significant and targeted investments of financial resources and voter targeting, along with candidate recruitment are needed to make the MDP more competitive in future elections, especially in 2016 and 2020.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Great Inversion

One of the pleasures of taking mass transit to work is that I can read. Quite a bit. While my commuting reading routine varies, I generally read the Economist on Mondays, the New Yorker on Tuesdays, and books on the remaining three weekdays. It has worked pretty well, and I’ve kept on top of my reading load this year, mixing up fiction with non-fiction regularly.

This past week I read Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City. The Great Inversion came out last month, and is as readable as his other major work (The Lost City: Discovering the Virtues of Community in the Chicago of the 1950s, which looks at three distinct 1950s neighborhoods in metropolitan Chicago). Ehrenhalt’s readability is due in part to his career as a journalist and editor of Governing magazine, an excellent periodical which yours truly subscribed to for a number of years.

The Great Inversion argues that some American cities are becoming much more like European cities in terms of their spatial structure. That is, affluent elites live in the urban core and enjoy cultural amenities and easy commutes to their jobs, while poorer people live at the periphery of the metropolitan region, enduring long commutes to their jobs, and have few of the comforts that many of us take for granted. Ehrenhalt also argues that many immigrants are skipping living in historical gateway communities located in the urban neighborhoods surrounding downtown, and are instead living in exurban communities that generally provide excellent schools and readily available employment opportunities.

However, the inversion of American cities is dependent on three crucial prerequisites. First, any successful core city needs to limit the amount of employment sprawl and steadily increase the overall number of jobs in the metropolitan region if it is to control its destiny. Ehrenhalt notes that cities such as Chicago and New York have been able to do this, and this is due in part to the massive size of these cities. Both dominate a large geographic region, where cities such as Detroit and Baltimore cannot throw its weight around in the same way. Secondly, while transportation beyond the automobile is not a must, cities that give people an additional option to their use of a car are far more likely to succeed. The second prerequisite is why I don’t consider Philadelphia to be as doomed as Ehrenhalt does. Neighborhoods on the outskirts of Center City (such as University City, Northern Liberties, and Graduate Hospital) are well positioned for continued revitalization. Finally, strong central cities must have a local government that provides services in a cost-efficient manner. Philadelphia faces many problems on this final requirement, as its pension structure and archaic governmental institutions make its tax load enormous for residents and business to bear. The same would apply for a city like Detroit, which is perhaps the most fiscally pressed large city in the United States today.

Ehrenhalt also looks at how many suburbs are trying to change their existing spatial form to one that is more urban. I’d simplify things by saying that many communities are trying to increase their residential density, but have had limited success, in part because nothing has been done to improve job density. There are many factors that impact employers locating to one particular geographic region, but two of the major reasons are transportation accessibility and tax benefits extracted from various local governments.


I really enjoyed The Great Inversion, and immediately thought of how lessons from this book might apply communities past and present that I have lived in. Thinking about my hometown of Grand Rapids, the location of the Michigan State Medical School in the downtown core has gone a long way to improving the livability of the city. The same goes for the expanded mass transit network around the city’s core; while rapid bus transit is not as sexy as trolleys, they will do a better job at providing public transportation at a fraction of the cost. Downtown Grand Rapids (which I define as bordered by Leonard Street to the north, College Ave to the east, Wealthy Street to the south, and Seward Ave to the west), can easily handled another 50,000 residents, especially if new residential developments are done at a human scale that supports mixed use development and also includes the expansion of the city core’s existing greenway network. While it would cost a bit, moving the city’s Amtrak Station to drop passengers near the Grand Rapids Community College campus would also improve intermodal transit networks.


Like Grand Rapids, Dallas’s downtown could support many more residents. I will defer to Patrick Kennedy on the actual number, but I would think that the area within the Interstate 30/Interstate 35/Interstate 45/Highway 75/Woodall Rodgers Freeway loop could add 75,000 people and function quite well. The number of surface parking lots that could handle eight-story residential buildings that have retail on the ground level are simply astounding, and as Patrick recommends, setting up a split tax on land would improve the odds for developers. John Kromer’s Fixing Broken Cities showcase’s Philadelphia’s experience using property tax abatements to revitalize the downtown residential housing market. Dallas could certainly try to do the same, although it might not have as much financial flexibility as Philadelphia, as property tax revenue provides a much larger share of Dallas’s total revenue. Just converting every vacant parking lot into eight-story residential buildings would go a long way to revitalizing Dallas’s urban core, and lead it on the beginning of its own great inversion.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

2012 Michigan State House Prospectus

With the general election only nine months away, the time for determining a general sense of the Michigan State House contests is upon us. The state house experienced significant turnover in the 2010 election, as the Republicans handed the Democrats the worst drubbing in the state’s history since the mid-1870s. The GOP won 20 seats and brought their total number of representatives to 63, the highest the party has had since 1952. Gaining unexpected control of the State House in 2010 allowed the Republicans to control the redistricting process in the following year, a godsend for the party that had created one of the more effective remaps in the previous redistricting cycle in 2001. With the new map awaiting candidates, what sort of early analysis can be given nine months before November?

Using precinct level data for every election going back to 1996, I sought to answer this question. I recoded every precinct in the state to the new State House, State Senate, and Congressional districts. With this data, I used election returns from 2004 onward to determine the average Democratic share of the vote in the top of the ticket race (either Presidential or Gubernatorial), the State House, and the Democratic Baseline (which is determined by averaging the Democratic vote of the two State Board of Education candidates) races. Of the past four election cycles, two were decidedly Democratic years (2006 and 2008), one moderately Republican (2004), and one overwhelmingly Republican (2010). I then determined the average Democratic share of the vote in each of the three different contests. I classified the 110 state house seats into five different groups; Safe Republican, Leans Republican, Swing, Leans Democratic, and Safe Democratic.



Of the 110 State House districts, 23 are Safe Democratic, 19 Lean Democratic, 24 are Swing seats, 19 Lean Republican, and 25 are Safe Republican. The Districts are shown according to their classification in the map below.

The pre-2010 parameters of Detroit being a Democratic bastion and rural Michigan being overwhelmingly Republican still exist. However, the significant drop in Detroit’s population between 2000 and 2010 has reduced the number of safe Democratic seats. However, Detroit’s population decline may be a blessing in disguise, as the dispersal of Democratic voters to suburban communities in Oakland and Wayne County makes many of these districts more competitive for Democratic candidates. Indeed, the decline of Detroit and the dispersal of its population is the unspoken weapon that the Michigan Democratic Party has against yet another skillful Republican remap.

Each party is certain to lose one seat to the other side. The Democrats will lose the 42nd District, which was recreated in southern Livingston County, while the Republicans will lose the 55th District that was remade to be a Democratic leaning seat surrounding Ann Arbor. Two other Republican-held seats are Democratic-leaning districts; District 110 (western Upper Peninsula) and District 57 (Lenawee County), both seats had been held by popular Democratic Representatives who were term-limited and won by the GOP in 2010. In the past decade, the Upper Peninsula has become more Republican for top of the ticket races, but it much more Democratic in State House contests.

Of the 24 Swing State House seats, seven are held by Democrats, while 17 are controlled by the GOP. Interestingly, all 17 Republican held seats were won in 2010, meaning that candidates who were elected in the 2010 wave election might find that some voters might have remorse over selecting a GOP candidate the last time around. A majority of the Swing districts are located outside of metropolitan Detroit, although Districts 18, 21, 23, and 24 are all located in either Wayne or Oakland Counties.

If I had to select five seats to watch, I would pick the following:

1. 52nd District (northern and western Washtenaw County). The 52nd is currently represented by Republican Mark Ouimet, who ran strongly on Synder’s coattails. Synder pulled the highest Republican vote share for any candidate in Washtenaw County since John Engler in 1998, and Ouimet did his best to model his candidacy as Synder: a moderate businessman who would represent the district in a non-ideological fashion. Without Synder on the ballot in 2012 (and Obama on the ticket), it remains to be seen whether Ouimet will be able to hold onto this seat. The 52nd was made a bit more Republican in the 2011 redistricting process, losing the northern portions of Ann Arbor while adding some rural sections of southern Washtenaw County, but the seat still remains a toss-up district.

2. 91st District (northern and eastern Muskegon County). Republican Holly Hughes won this seat in 2010 after losing her first attempt in 2008. Hughes, who is a wealthy and well connected GOP businesswoman, got a new district that was made slightly more Republican. However, organized labor still has a strong pull in this district, and a strong populist Democratic candidate might find success against a Michigan version of Mitt Romney.

3. 108th District (Delta, Dickinson, and Menominee Counties). This swinging Upper Peninsula district went hard for Republicans in 2010. While the 110th district will be a much easier district for Democrats to pick up, it figures to be a good election night if the GOP is struggling to hold the 108th as well.

4. 76th District (Grand Rapids). The 76th District was modified significantly from its 2001 incarnation. Previously a district covering the west side of Grand Rapids, the new 76th covers the outlying portions of the city that were annexed after 1959, and tends to be much more Republican leaning than the core portion of the city. While Democratic incumbent Roy Scmidt is popular and will likely hold this seat, if he is in trouble in November 2012, chances of a Democratic takeover of the house will be pretty slim.

5. 23rd District (downriver Wayne County). Another working-class district that went Republican in 2010, the 23rd is certainly to be contested.

The Democrats need to pick up nine seats to regain the majority. While the presidential election should increase the Democratic turnout, whether this can translate into seats from a map by a skilled Republican redistricting plan remains to be seen. At this date, I would suggest that the Democrats will gain 7 seats if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee. But, we still have nine months to go. Below are some relevant maps of the baseline status and current partisan control of existing house districts.









Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Book Awards


What a better way to start off the New Year by remembering all the books I read in 2011? As I sit and enjoy beautiful Texas weather (meaning sunny and seventy degrees on January 2), I looked again through my day planner, and noted that I read 91 books this past year. Of these, twenty three were fiction. The bulk of my fiction reading involved Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, which consisted of seven different books that amounted to over 6,500 pages of enjoyable historical fiction. This series certainly deserves the title of my favorite work of fiction in 2011. Incidentally, the worst book that I read this year was Dow Mossman’s Stones of Summer. This book was so bad I made myself finish it; although I should have known that it was a stinker as it was published by my old employer Barnes and Noble.

As far as my favorite work of non-fiction, five works stand out. Honorable mentions include Matt Dillinger’s Interstate 69 (which provides an excellent look at on unfinished section of the interstate system) and Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns that examines the tale of three participants in America’s Great Migration. My third place award goes to Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood’s Dream City: Race, Power, and Decline of Washington DC. Jaffe and Sherwood provide an extremely readable story of Washington DC’s decline between 1974 and 1994 under the leadership of Marion Barry, a fall that has been reversed in recent years by strong municipal leadership and a growing federal government workforce. Peter Goodwin claims second place with The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe. I read this book on the plane and was hooked on this personal and detailed narrative decline of Africa’s most successful country in the past thirty years. The other 64 works of non-fiction were great, but Don Peck’s Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It claims the title of my favorite book from 2011. Some readers of this blog might have come across Peck’s essay in Atlantic from this summer, but do yourself a service and read his book. While a shorter work, Pinched does a masterful job comparing the current recession with similar periods of economic malaise. Peck argues that broader transformation of America from a manufacturing to service based economy has created a elite class Americans who are largely located in distinct neighborhoods in a few metropolitan neighborhoods. At the same time, the social stability of many middle class households is declining and exhibits many of the same woes that plague inner-city neighborhoods. While Peck’s solutions at the end of Pinched could use some more details, I couldn’t recommend a better book for people to read to better understand our current economic predicament.

Dominic Pacyga, Chicago: A Biography
Alan Mallach, A Decent Home
Latimore et al, The Bogleheads’ Guide to Retirement Planning
Witold Rybczynski, Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas about Cities
Robert Caro: The Means of Ascent: LBJ from 1941-1948
Matt Dillinger, Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway
Tom Wolfe, Bonfires of the Vanities
Randy Kennedy, Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York
WPA Guide to Dallas, Texas
Clyde Prestonwitz, The Betrayal of American Prosperity
Robert Harris, The Ghostwriter
Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones
Peter Hessler, Country Driving
Dallas AIA, Dallas AIA Guide
David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter
Ben Barnes, Barn Building, Barn Burning
Ruth Morgan, Governance By Decree
Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
Michael Hazel (ed), Dallas Reconsidered: Essays in Local History
Dow Mossman, Stones of Summer
Terri Jentz, Strange Piece of Paradise
Cyril Paumler, Creating a Vibrant Center City
Peter Harnik, Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities
Vincent Bugolosi, Helter Skelter
Douglas Egerton, Years of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War
David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
David Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Between 1846 and 1861
Colleen McCullough, First Man in Rome
D Magazine, 30 Years of Great Stories
Al Greene, Big D: A History
Allan Jacobs, Looking at Cities
Colleen McCullough, The Grass Crown
Robert Fairbanks, For the City as a Whole: Planning in Dallas, 1840-1965
Colleen McCullough, Fortunes Favorites
Daniel Sharfstein, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White
Colleen McCullough, Caesar’s Women
Eric Pooley, The Climate War: True Belivers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth
Peter Goodwin, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe
Bill Minutaglio, The Hidden City: Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas
Colleen McCullough, Caesar
Peter Carr, A Month in the Country
Peter Goodwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
Steve Luxenberg, Annie’s Ghost: A Journey into a Family Secret
Colleen McCullough, October Horse
Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm
Jeff Greenfield, Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics
David Grann, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes
Colleen McCullough, October Horse
Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City
John Grisham, The Summons
John Grisham, The Associate
Sulieman Osman, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Kevin Harney and Bob Brouwer, The U Turn Church
Henry Boonstra, Our School: Calvin College 1875-2001
Richard Rubin, A Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South
Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio
Michael Lewis, Moneyball
Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood, Dream City: Race, Power, and Decline of Washington DC
John Grisham, The Confession
Ian Pears, Stone’s Fall
Luther Snow, Congregational Based Asset Mapping
Tony Judt, Reappraisals: Reflection on the Forgotten Twentieth Century
Peter Lovenheim, In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street
Wendy Kopp, A Chance to Make History
Keith Meldahl, Hard Road West: History and Geology Along the Gold Rush Trail
Gil Rendle and Alice Munn, Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations
Don Peck, Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It
Ben Cramer, What It Takes
Rick Perlstein, The Stock Ticker and the Super Jumbo: How the Democrats Can Again Become America’s Dominant Political Party
Ken Folett, Pillars of the Earth
Jack Rovoke, Original Meanings: Politics and the Ideas in the Making of the Constitution
Ken Folett, World Without End
James O’Shea, The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plunder Great American Newspapers
Winfried Gallagher, House Thinking: A Room by Room Look at How We Live
Tea Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife
Donald Stroker, The Grand Design: Strategy and the American Civil War
Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beats: Love, Terror, and an American Family In Hitler’s Berlin
Ian Frazier, Roads to Siberia
Buzz Bizzinger, Three Nights in August
Ken Folett, Fall of Giants
Jeffrey Eugindes, The Marriage Plot
Colin Woodward, American Nations
Ray Jacobs, Home Buying for Dummies
Jennifer Gantz, Gotham in the Shadows of Moses and Jacobs
Heather Richardson, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War
Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
Andrew Meier, Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall
John Mosier, The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War One
Thomas Stanley, The Millionaire Next Door

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Michigan: A Demographic and Political Analysis in Three Parts

Part I: Introduction and General Population Trends, 1960-2010

Easily lost in all the hand wringing following last February’s announcement that Michigan was the only state in the Union to lose population over the past decade was the broader implications of the 2010 decennial census data. Michigan has experienced significant population transition within its borders over the past decades, and to better understand the impact of this shift I spent some time over the past few months reviewing census data for units of governments on the county subdivision level between 1960 and 2010.

I chose to analyze county subdivision level data for a number of reasons. First, county subdivisions, which are defined in Michigan as municipalities or townships, have largely had stable boundaries since 1960, thanks to the 1963 state constitution which limited physical growth by municipalities by placing high barriers against annexation by granting townships the ability to become charter townships. A township must have a population 2,000 to become a charter township, and under state statue charter townships that have a population density of greater than 150 people per square mile (along with a few other conditions) are protected from annexation by other municipalities. With the exception of Oakland County, there have been relatively few border changes and mergers of county subdivisions in the past 50 years. Secondly, census demographic and economic data is readily available starting with the 1970 census, and there is some racial data available from the 1960 census. This makes a longitudinal study of demographic changes in Michigan’s communities possible, and sheds light on changes that occurred following 1960. Finally, partisan electoral data that is available for county subdivisions shows the impact of these population and demographic changes.

Just a small note: some of the population numbers and demographic data to not add up to 100 percent, particularly for the 1980 census data. For example, in Burton City, the 1980 total population was 29,976, while the population total for the racial identification question was 29,929, a sum larger by 47 people. In this sort of instance I used the racial data to provide a demographic percentage for analysis, but kept the total population number given the 1980 census. All total population data from the 1960 to 1990 censuses were obtained from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget, while racial data for this time period were obtained from the National Historical Geographic Information System. Total population and racial data from the 2000 and 2010 census were obtained from the US Census website. Some municipalities are split between two counties, and tabulated as separate entities

General Population Trends, 1960-2010

Michigan’s population increased rapidly between 1960 and 1970, but grew at a much slower rate in the forty years that followed as shown in Figure 1. 7,823,194 residents lived in Michigan in 1960, a figure that climbed by more than a million ten years later to 8,875,083, a 13.4% increase. By 1980 the population increased to 9,262,078, a gain of 386,995 more residents. A modest growth in population followed in 1990 giving Michigan a population of 9,295,297 residents, and the economic growth during the following decade resulted in a total population of 9,938,444 and gain of 643,147 people. The economic malaise over the most recent decade dropped Michigan’s population by 54,804 residents.



As Figure 1 shows, Michigan’s population has become more diverse over the past fifty years. Racial and ethnic data gathered in 1960 asked respondents whether they were White or non-White, the later numbered 737,329, constituting 9.4% of the total population. By 2010 Michigan’s non-White population had more than doubled, reaching 21.1%. Michigan’s 2010 White population of 7,803,120 is smaller than its 1970 population (7,833,473), while the state’s Black population increased from 991,067 to 1,400,362 during the same time period. While the state’s Black and White population stagnated over the past decade, the number of Hispanic residents increased significantly, rising from 323,877 to 436,358. Asians also account for a growing share of Michigan’s population, growing from 175,311 to 238,199 over the past decade.

While Michigan’s was becoming more diverse, it was also becoming more dispersed. In 1960, Michigan’s 20 largest communities were home to more than 3,309,313 people, or 42% of the state’s total population, but 2010 these same 20 communities only were residences to 22.3% or 2,208,322. Figure 2 shows just how drastic the population decline was. Detroit accounts for 86.8% of the total population loss, but only six of the 20 subdivisions gained residents and of these only Ann Arbor and Warren added more than 40,000 residents. With the exception of Detroit and Flint, communities that lost residents overwhelmingly did so between 1960 and 1980, and stabilized somewhat in the thirty years that followed.

Communities that gained the most residents between 1960 and 2010 tended to be communities in metropolitan southeast Michigan that captured Detroit’s fleeing residents. Only two communities outside of metropolitan Detroit were among the top twenty (Georgetown Township in Ottawa County and Kentwood in Kent County).



Michigan’s population dispersal has reduced the state’s population density. While Michigan’s overall population density increased slightly from 138 persons per square mile in 1960 to 174 by 2010, the addition of 2,115,250 new residents during the same time period meant that much of the population growth went into new development on the outskirts of the urban fringe. The table below shows communities with the highest population density back in 1960. When viewed next to the 2010 population density figures, you can see what a beating the urban core of Michigan took in the past fifty years. While the Detroit metropolitan region could arguably supported a dense commuter rail network in 1960, as numerous communities had population densities greater than 4,000 people per square mile that is thought as the minimal density needed for effective mass transit, the de-densification of communities such as Detroit and Highland Park makes the implementation of mass transit much less cost-effective.



Of course the movement of people from central cities to suburbs is nothing new in Michigan, let alone the United States. However, the dispersal of Michigan’s White population from urban areas was matched by two smaller-sized migrations of Black residents. The first relatively minuscule migration was from historic rural Black areas of western Michigan (such as Lake, Van Buren, and Cass Counties) into other urban centers in Michigan, especially Benton Harbor, Flint, and Detroit. The second and larger migration was the movement away from core urban centers, especially in Detroit and Flint, to the surrounding suburbs. Most of the Black population movement has flown to working class suburbs on the periphery of established urban centers. Suburbs such as Harper Woods and Eastpointe literally changed overnight, while other communities such as Oak Park and Lathrup Village have steadily attracted new Black residents over decades.



In contrast to the movement of Black Michiganders, Hispanics have concentrated outside of Southeast Michigan and are spread throughout Michigan. Only 10% of the total Hispanic population resides Detroit and only make up 6.8% of the city’s total population. While county subdivisions with the greatest increase in the Hispanic share of the total population are listed below. Interestingly, rural communities in western Michigan are home to large sizable Hispanic populations, largely due to the reliance farming communities have on migrant workers who have historically been Hispanic. However, large Hispanic communities have moved to urban centers and suburbs in western Michigan, including Grand Rapids and Holland. Kent County in particular has a large Hispanic population that is just under 10% of the total population.

Monday, October 17, 2011

First Presbyterian Church Dallas Report

First PresbyterIan Church of Dallas Report Another busy few weeks, that resulted in no postings. However, my Presbyterian friends might be interested in this report I did for a congregation in Dallas over the past few months.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kent County redistricting plan violates long-standing principles- GR Press Editorial

(Published in the Grand Rapids Press Saturday August 20, 2011-pb)

In Michigan, the seasons inevitably follow one another, although sometimes winter seems to last forever. In the same manner, partisan battles over redistricting assuredly follow the decennial census.

The redistricting rancor following the 2010 census, particularly in Michigan, has a special flavor; as congressional districts resembling a cross (State House District 32), the letter E (Senate District 1), and an indescribable district that snakes from the Del Ray neighborhood in Detroit to Pontiac in Oakland County (Congressional District 14) are now part of the state’s political geography for the next 10 years, should court challenges fail.

Unfortunately, cartographic oddities to create partisan gain clutter the new map approved for the Kent County Board of Commissioners. The Republican-drawn map violates long-standing principles of compactness and preserving communities of interest that had guided redistricting at the county level in the past three cycles.


The population deviation between the largest and smallest districts is 10.87 percent, a deviation that remains acceptable under state law based on dated case law (Abate v. Mundt) that could be open to a federal court challenge since the courts ruled in Larios v. Cox that population deviations larger than 10 percent are susceptible and not considered a “safe harbor.”

Similarly, the map violates the portions of Michigan law guiding county level redistricting and the “Apol Standards” which guide state and congressional redistricting by unnecessarily breaking municipal lines in the creation of districts. Finally, the map seeks to punish a number of supporters of the PDR movement in Kent County, forcing incumbents Stan Ponstein and Jack Boelema into a Republican primary, incumbents Jim Talen and Candace Chivis into a Democratic primary, and incumbent Republican Michael Wawee and Democrat Carol Hennessy into a general election matchup. Any map which sees to eliminate six incumbents who have long-standing ties with their districts deserves strict scrutiny.

A map which avoids the mistakes listed above is achievable and shown in the included maps and tables. This “rational” plan reduces the population deviation, creates two compact minority majority total population districts, reduces the number of municipal breaks, and preserves existing incumbent-district relationships.



Population Equality

I kept the population deviation percentage below 10 percent, with a total range of 9.1 percent that is smaller than the 10.87 percent population deviation in the accepted map. The largest district is District 9 (Grandville and southern Wyoming) with 33,181 people, while District 5 (Ada and Cascade) has the smallest population of 30,276 residents for a total deviation in population of 2,905, a figure which is smaller than the approved map and the Democratic plan.



Compact Minority-Majority Districts

This plan creates two minority majority districts in total population. The 14th District is a compact district consisting of the Black Hills and Roosevelt Park neighborhoods of Grand Rapids and the northeast portion of Wyoming that has served as the core Hispanic neighborhoods in the region for the past thirty years.

Similarly, the 16th District includes the core African American neighborhoods bounded by Wealthy Street, Fuller Avenue, Burton Street, and Jefferson Avenue, and also includes the growing African American presence south of 28th Street and west of Kalamazoo Avenue.

The 14th District has a Hispanic percentage of 53 percent and a voting age population percentage of 46 percent, while the 16th District has a African American population of 53 percent and a Voting Age Population of 52%.



Preserving Communities of Interest

The plan also minimizes the number of municipality breaks. The adopted plan has six municipalities broken into different districts, and 10 districts include split municipalities. This plan splits only four municipalities (Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, and Gaines Township), and follows the requests of Plainfield Township and East Grand Rapids to each be kept in one county commission district. Similarly, in this plan there are seven districts that contain a split municipality (Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 14), which is largely due to the fact that Grand Rapids, Wyoming, and Kentwood are too large to contain in a single commission seat.

The Board of Commissioners map adopted by the Kent County Redistricting Commission is one that will not serve the metropolitan Grand Rapids region well for the next 10 years. Representative democracy works best when ties between legislators and their constituents are visible both in common sense and on a map.

As James Madison once noted in Federalist 10, “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” This statement has not historically applied to those who have led Kent County since 1831, although the adopted map certainly does.

A former resident of Grand Rapids, Peter Bratt is redistricting coordinator for the City of Dallas, Texas, and writes frequently on Michigan history and politics at peterabratt.blogspot.com. E-mail: peterbratt@gmail.com