culture

A recent CityLab article is about how some cities are citing civil rights in efforts to ban cashless retail transactions. According to the article, “lawmakers behind [bills to ban the business practice of not accepting cash] across the country are concerned that the cashless trend discriminates against low-income residents and people of color, as communities of color have higher percentages of unbanked.” During testimony about a proposed ban in New York City, the deputy political director of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union argues, “Cashless institutions encourage a FinTech Jim Crow by restricting the places where people of color can shop, eat, and receive basic services. By refusing to serve communities of color, cashless establishments carve out niches in gentrified neighborhoods through cash exclusion in an already unaffordable city.” The phrase “FinTech Jim Crow” caught my eye, and a google search only turned up only one additional article [from December, 2018]: “Why Cash-Free Cafes Are Discriminatory.” I’ll have to be on the lookout for additional references.

The Vox website has posted an article entitled “American segregation, mapped at day and night.” The subhead is very descriptive: “The racial makeup of neighborhoods changes during the workday. See how yours changes.” The article includes a video, infographics, and an interactive map to help readers explore the segregation of Asian, Black, Latinx, and White workers. It is quite informative!

The CityLab website has a provocative new article, “You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class.” The article’s sub-head: “Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.” An example: “[lower-income residents] preferred street-scale lighting to brighten the surface of cycle tracks. In contrast, tall highway cobra-head lights typically used on busy urban streets reach over the roadway, illuminating the road for drivers in vehicles that have headlights. In higher-income neighborhoods, cyclists might choose bike routes on side streets to avoid heavy traffic. However, people in our study felt that side streets with only residential buildings were less safe for cycling. This suggests that bicycle routes in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods should be concentrated on main roads with commercial activity where more people are present.” Getting out to talk to folks from multiple backgrounds is important!

“It’s easy to look around a college campus and think – there’s no digital divide here,” begins a blog post on a new digital divide by sociologist Jessica Calarco. Despite the ubiquity of digital devices on today’s campuses, Calaraco argues that college students are still very much divided into haves and have nots: “the digital divide on college campuses has shifted from one of technology access to one of technology maintenance. [In a recent study] we [found] big gaps in the quality and reliability of the technology students own.” Inside Higher Education also has a story about new digital divide research of Professor Calarco and others.

 

Wired magazine is reporting that San Francisco, CA could become the first United States city to ban its agencies from using facial recognition technology. The article notes that for critics of facial recognition technology, “[i]n the hands of government…it enables all-too-easy access to real-time surveillance, especially given the availability of large databases of faces and names (think your driver’s license or LinkedIn).” The city’s Board of Supervisors is considering a new ordinance that would implement the ban. Additionally, “the ordinance would require city agencies to gain the board’s approval before buying new surveillance technology, putting the burden on city agencies to publicly explain why they want the tools as well as the potential harms. It would also require an audit of any existing surveillance tech—things like gunshot-detection systems, surveillance cameras, or automatic license plate readers—in use by the city; officials would have to report annually on how the technology was used, community complaints, and with whom they share the data.” There should be very spirited debate about this proposal!

In the new Atlantic article “Could Black English Mean a Prison Sentence?” John McWhorter argues, “court stenographers often misunderstand Black English, and their mistakes could affect people’s lives at crucial junctures.” This provocative article includes links to other analysis of the linkages between race and linguistics, such as “What Does It Mean to ‘Sound’ Black?”

CityLab has posted a new article with several maps about how Americans commute to work. There is sociological variation in the data. For instance, “(e)ducation is [a] piece in the picture of how Americans get to work. People are less likely to drive to work alone and to use alternate modes in metros where more adults are college graduates…. The same basic pattern holds for class. Across metros, the share of workers who are members of the knowledge-based creative class is positively associated with using transit (0.56), biking (0.62), or walking (0.56) to get to work, as well as working from home (0.50), and it is negatively associated with driving alone to work (-0.44), and the same holds for the local concentration of high-tech industry jobs. But the reverse is true for the working class. Across metros, a higher concentration of working-class jobs is positively associated with driving alone to work (0.36) and negatively associated with using transit (-0.48), biking (-0.39), and walking to work (0.32).”

The article concludes with “[w]e are cleaving into two nations—one where people’s daily lives revolve around the car, and the other where the car is receding in favor of alternative modes like walking, biking, and transit. Little wonder that bike lanes have emerged as a symbol of gentrification and ‘the war on cars’ has become a way to call out the so-called urban elite.”

Last year I posted a note about efforts by the social networking site Nextdoor.com to combat racial profiling. The site also tries to deal with other instances of incivility. For example, I recently came across a newspaper article about Nextdoor’s role in the San Francisco Bay Area housing debate: neighbors use the site to attack each other. I’ll have to search for social science research on this topic.

 

In early January Lake Superior State University provides a list of words and phrases to banish in the new year. Wayne State University also releases a list about word usage, but its “word warriors” project encourages the increased use of words that better convey meaning and promote good communication. 2019 lists of words/phrases to banish and words to use more frequently have been released. The most intriguing on the increased usage list is “anechdoche,” a conversation in which everyone is talking, but no one is listening. Sadly, that is too common these days.

CityLab is one of my favorite websites. It is “dedicated to the people who are creating the cities of the future—and those who want to live there. Through sharp analysis, original reporting, and visual storytelling, [CityLab] focuses on the biggest ideas and most pressing issues facing the world’s metro areas and neighborhoods.” They recently published their 2018 year in review. Contents: