Jim C. sent us this graphic designed to illustrate a proposal to reduce the lanes on Jarvis Street in Toronto from five to four (Globe and Mail, May 22, 2009, p. A12).   As Jim points out, the text of the graphic describes the proposal accurately, and even points out that the graphic misrepresents the change, but the graphic itself still gives the impression that the reduction will be to two, not four lanes.


It is a good example of how much graphics matter. Even with the text, it is potentially misleading.  Such misrepresentation can also be purposeful and political.  Jim speculates that this is the case here:

As is often the case whenever there are modest efforts to make space on city streets for pedestrians and cyclists, right-wing councillors (and affluent commuters) raised the spectre of traffic chaos and a ‘war on the car’.

If you’re interested in comparing the representation of this proposal by the Globe with its representation in the proposal itself, check out the final page of the proposal.  Thanks to Nick J. B. in the comments for the link.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Since I’m visiting my family in rural Oklahoma, I decided to post some pictures of dust storms during the 1930s. Almost everyone has seen some of the Dust Bowl-era photos of poor families, of houses covered in blown dirt, and so on, but fewer people have seen photos of actual storms blowing in. All of these are available from Kansas State University’s Wind Erosion Research Unit.

This one is from a storm that was widely considered the worst of all; April 14th, 1935 was referred to as “Black Sunday”:





Most people associate the Dust Bowl with Okies and The Grapes of Wrath. The Joads weren’t Dust Bowl refugees; most Okies were from eastern Oklahoma and lost their farms because they couldn’t pay the mortgages. Only a small part of the Dust Bowl was in Oklahoma, though my great-grandparents and their many children had the good luck to be living in it.

While a bad multi-year drought certainly set the stage for the Dust Bowl, it was really a social disaster, not a natural one. Semi-arid regions had been over-plowed, and no windbreaks were planted to help hold soil in place. And once the dust storms began, many farmers did about the worst thing they could have done: they went and plowed during it. My great-grandpa and his sons would go out with the horses and start plowing as a dust storm came in, hoping they could turn up moister soil from underneath that would be too heavy to blow away. But because of the drought there wasn’t any moist soil to turn up, so all they were doing was breaking up dry dirt, making it even more likely to blow away…and presumably so were thousands of other people. My great-grandma always told me the big joke was that if you had a bucket you could hold it up outside and catch yourself a farm.

Anyway, no huge sociological insight here, just some fascinating and creepy photos and a reminder that things we often refer to as “natural” disasters are either caused by human activity or greatly exacerbated by it.

And I have to drive 30 miles each way to get to the internet, so I’m not able to read comments or add commenter’s interesting links as much as I usually try to do, so be patient for the next couple of weeks.

I recently posted about how the economic downturn isn’t affecting all of us equally.  We can say the same for the rash of home foreclosures.  Some people, of course, are losing their homes and other’s aren’t.  But, in addition to that, some people are seeing the value of their homes go down more than others due to the housing crisis.  For example, if you don’t lose your house, but lots of other people in your neighborhood do, the value of your house will fall moreso than the values of homes in neighborhoods with little to no foreclosure.  Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara draws our attention to yet another unequal casualty of the housing crisis: owners of duplexes who are, disproportionately, working class and urban. 

How are owners of duplexes uniquely affected by foreclosure?  First, if the other half of your duplex is abandoned or under foreclosure, your half is significantly devalued.  And, second, as Vergara writes:

Those living in the occupied home often have their lives made more difficult by what happens on the other side of a shared wall…  people throw trash in the front and back yards of the vacant unit, causing foul smells and attracting rats. Physical problems in the empty shell cause accelerated decay in the occupied house. Water may be left running in the unoccupied unit, causing moisture to migrate next door. In cold weather, pipes burst. Joists rot and collapse, tearing bricks out of the shared wall. And if the empty dwelling is not properly sealed, prostitutes and drug addicts may break in and start fires.

The images:







Via the Daily Dish.

The desperate economic situation of Detroit, Michigan is in the headlines these days.  From the New York Times:

In one sign of distress, in the first nine months of this year [2008], some 130,000 Michigan residents who had lost their jobs remained out of work so long that they ran out of regular unemployment benefits. By the middle of this month, 63,000 people (who had already run out of their ordinary maximum benefit — as many as 26 weeks, at as much as $362 a week) also ran out of an extension authorized by Congress.

This figure shows the unemployment and forclosure rate in Michigan as of Oct. 2008.  It shows that Michigan in general, and Detroit especially, is doing much worse than the national average:


Today’s numbers reflect not just the current recession, but 30 years of decline.  A figure from Spiegel reveals that the marketshare of U.S. automakers have been steadily dwindling:


Spiegel reports that the city has lost more than half its inhabitants since the 1950s (from close to 2 million, to 917,000 in 2009).  The tax base has plummeted and city services, in turn, have been cut.

The conditions in Detroit are dire, and they contrast greatly with the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Then, Detroit’s shipping and manufacturing economy, innovative for its time, made it a rich and vibrant city.  Today, the ruins of that vibrancy still occupy the city.

Detroit’s main train station, opened in 1913 has not been used since 1988:


Constructed in 1893 in the once-elegant Brush Park neighborhood, this home, designed by architect Albert Kahn, was moved from its original location several years ago by preservationists who hoped to preserve it. It was demolished last year:


Many of the city’s Catholic schools have been closed, though the churches they are affiliated with remain active:


One of the city’s most prominent skyscrapers, this 35-story tower once housed the offices of many doctors, lawyers and dentists. It has been virtually empty since the 1980s. Developers hope to convert the building to residential units by 2010:


This spectacular Spanish Gothic theater, built in 1928, was closed in the 1970s:


Once one of the most luxurious residential hotels in Detroit, Lee Plaza closed in the 1990s:


The Farwell Building:


Photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre write: Detroit’s “splendid decaying monuments are, no less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum of Rome, or the Acropolis in Athens, remnants of the passing of a great civilization.”

Images first found here.

Hans Rosling illustrates the increasing urbanization of the world from 1963 to 2004:

Found at GapMinder.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


(Found here, via Thick Culture.)

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight put up this graph of U.S. household debt (from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances):


Silver says,

Per-family household debt increased by about 130% in real dollars between 1989 and 2007, from roughly $42,000 per family in 1989 to $97,000 eighteen years later. Most of that increase has come during the past six or seven years — household debt increased by 52% between 2001 and 2007 alone. Almost all of the debt (about 85%) falls into the category that the Fed calls “secured by residential property” — which means mortgages and home-equity loans.

Some other images from the SCF Chartbook (available here)–and pay attention to the y axis, since the scale isn’t the same in all of them:





This next one is for rural (non-MSA) and urban (MSA) areas:



The Chartbook has images of the mean values for all these calculations as well, I just prefer the median to reduce the effects of outlier incomes.

The solutions for parentless (and unparented) children have varied tremendously over history and they vary, in part, based on the particular technological, economic, and cultural realities of the time.  For more than 75 years, one answer was the orphan train.  

In the 1850s,

…thousands of children roamed the streets of New York in search of money, food and shelter–prey to disease and crime. Many sold matches, rags, or newspapers to survive.  For protection against street violence, they banded together and formed gangs. Police, faced with a growing problem, were known to arrest vagrant children–some as young as five–locking them up with adult criminals (PBS).

At the same time, farmers in the country were having as many kids as they could because kids were great farm labor.  They could use as many hands as they could get. 

So, in 1853, a minister named Charles Loring Brace started the orphan train.  Brace believed that farmers would welcome homeless children, take them into their homes, and treat them as their own.  So he rounded up the kids, got parental permission when he needed it, and took the city kids to the country.  Between 1854 and 1929, the trains took over 100,000 children to adoptive parents in 47 states and Canada.

On the orphan train (image here):


Children lined up to board the train (1920) (image here):



The orphan train in Michigan:


Orphan train children (images here):



Howard with his adoptive parents, the Darnells (1910) (image here):


Orphan train children with their chaperones in Bowling Green (1910) (image here):


An ad and a news story from the Tecumseh Cheiftan (1893) and Nehama County Herald (1915) respectively (found here):tecumseh