Recent NIMBY

On May 28, 2017 · 4 Comments

The topic became my white whale. I came close to conquering it when I wrote Nimby Lane in 2015. Even then I joked about my problem, my seeming inability to write an article about the NIMBY phenomenon even after several attempts. NIMBY stood for "not in my back yard." In that earlier article we established that the acronym even appeared outside of the United States. Subsequent research also showed that it seemed to be transitioning from an all-caps NIMBY to a lowercase nimby. I think I’ll make that adjustment too.

It might be worth repeating the definition as listed in Dictionary.com. That could be helpful to readers who don’t speak English natively. It’s used to describe:

… opposition by local citizens to the locating in their neighborhood of a civic project, as a jail, garbage dump, or drug rehabilitation center, that, though needed by the larger community, is considered unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lead to decreased property values.

Anyway, the day finally arrived! Today I offer my nimby article at long last. The solution, once I discovered it, came easy. I simply typed nimby into Google and selected news. I chose examples only from the initial page of results as they appeared in front of me. Your results will vary.

I don’t mean to imply that any of these stories actually qualified as examples of nimby behavior. I’m not making value judgments. However, somebody though they did or the news articles never would have been published.


Falls Church, Virginia


Railroad Cottages
No to Railroad Cottages. My own photo.

Actually I noticed the first example in person before I ever saw it online. I spotted little placards stuck along the side of the Washington & Old Dominion trail as I biked through Falls Church a few days ago. They read, "No to Railroad Cottages." I didn’t give them another thought until my recent search results popped-up some commentary about them, Cottage Criticism is Just More NIMBY Opposition. I think Google fed it to me because of my geographic proximity.

The City of Falls Church provided more detail about the Railroad Cottages Project. Ten small standalone houses would cluster closely together around common open space and a social interaction building. It would cater to residents aged 55 years and older. The 1.3 acre triangular lot sat at the eastern end of Railroad Avenue, hugging the W&OD trail (map). Supporters cited it as an example of smart growth that also allowed city residents to downsize as they aged. Opponents worried about traffic, parking, density, noise, emergency response, displacement of flora and fauna, and diminished property values.

The lot also hid an interesting history. An African-American family purchased it just after the Civil War and retained ownership for the next 150 years. The man who sold the lot to developers was the great-great-great grandson of the person who first bought it for $75 in 1865.


Snow River, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska


Moose Pass
Moose Pass. My own photo.

Next I came across The NIMBY state on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Twelve Mile Circle visited the area back in 2010 so I paid particular attention. Huge numbers of people traveled down to the Kenai each summer for salmon fishing. Fishermen needed guides, equipment, food and places to stay, so tourism dollars fueled a huge part of the local economy.

People got angry when they heard that the Chugach Electric Association wanted to consider damming the Snow River (map) near Moose Pass. As the article noted, "Dam is a four-letter word worse than the f-word in that community." This one would reach 300 feet high and 700 feet across, too. Chugach Electric hoped to figure out whether a dam might actually increase salmon along the Snow River. Theoretically a better controlled river could improve spawning channels. However, that question will always remain a mystery. The public outcry forced Chugach Electric to abandon its effort. Citizens felt the risk to the local economy was too great.


Rainford, St Helens, Merseyside, England


Rainford - farm in the snow
Rainford – farm in the snow. Photo by Ian McFegan on Flickr (cc)

One person at least proclaimed she was Proud to be a Nimby in Rainford, England (map). This came in response to social media statements made by a member of the St. Helens Council. The Councillor remarked, "As I say you are nimby’s," referring to members of the Rainford Action Group. The group opposed turning over some of the village’s green belt to developers to build more than a thousand homes. It cited loss of agricultural land and jobs, as well as "extra pressure on our roads, surgeries, dentists, drains, or schools." The battle raged on.


Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand


Aukland from Across the Bay
Auckland seen from Devonport. Photo by Jeremy Oakley on Flickr (cc)

The nimby phenomenon existed in New Zealand too. There I found Nimby wars: everyone’s a winner in Devonport, or are they? Ryman Healthcare wanted to build a retirement village on a vacant parcel in suburban Aukland, along the scenic Ngataringa Bay (map). Opponents didn’t so much care for the design aesthetics, and they also feared the impact on endangered plants. Plus they claimed it would cut the neighborhood in half. This situation seemed to have resulted in a happier ending than most. Ryman Healthcare agreed to a number of design changes that pleased most, although not all local residents.

Maybe I’ll run this experiment again in a few months and see how much the results change. Maybe I won’t.

Manly Places

On April 6, 2017 · 7 Comments

Where does the highest ratio of men live? An unknown visitor to Twelve Mile Circle posed that question in a recent search query. I didn’t learn why s/he wanted to know because I didn’t have a means to contact said person to ask. Nonetheless it seemed like an interesting query and I’d never considered it before. Maybe I should take a closer look.

I only examined the United States because I could find the data easily, and I’m too lazy to look for more. Perhaps I’ll search more broadly some other day. For now however, let’s stick to the U.S. where women outnumbered men by about 5.2 million during the 2010 Census. There were 0.97 men to every woman for a bunch of different reasons. For instance, men did stupid things and managed to kill themselves accidentally at greater rates than women. Sometimes I wonder how I survived my teen years, as an example. They also lived fewer years on average, just as a matter of physiology.

The national ratio shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, a few places actually had more men than women, sometimes a lot more. I found a number of sources that I could consult including the Overflow Data website (with 2014 Census estimates). The results took me to some unexpected places.


Prison Counties


Eden Fall Fest
Eden Fall Fest. Photo by mirsasha on Flickr (cc)

The top counties, the ones with the highest ratio of men, seemed rather counterintuitive to me. Why, for example did Concho County, Texas have 2.32 times more men than women? It didn’t seem any more or less of a testosterone magnet than other counties nearby. Then I noticed a comment on the Overflow Data website I mentioned earlier. Concho didn’t have a lot of residents so an anomaly could skew the ratio without a lot of effort.

That’s where the Eden Detention Center — named for the largest town in Concho — came into consideration (map). It housed 1,400 men in a low security prison facility run by the Corrections Corporation of America on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Half of the men counted in the Concho County census were serving time behind bars, incarcerated. Take those guys out of consideration and the ratio of men to women in Concho practically converged. Also, was I the only person who thought that Eden might be a terribly misleading name for a prison?

The same situation existed in Crowley County, Colorado, with 2.31 men for every woman. Crowley held the title for the highest ratio of men during the 2010 Census although it fell to second place with the 2014 estimate. It also contained a Corrections Corporation of America facility, this one housing medium security prisoners through a contract with the state of Colorado. The Crowley County Correctional Facility made room for about 1,800 prisoners.

Greensville County had the highest ratio of men to women in my home state of Virginia, at 1.58. Once again, a prison bore responsibility. The Greensville Correctional Center was run by the Virginia Department of Corrections. This maximum security prison also housed the state’s Death Row.


Alaska


Fishing Boats in the Harbor
Fishing Boats in the Harbor. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

Alaska seemed the obvious choice to me, where more men would live than women. It didn’t disappoint either. The Aleutians East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area came in right behind Concho and Crowley. Aleutians East registered 2.24 men to women and Aleutians West hit 2.01. The economy of the Aleutians depended on fishing in some of the most rugged waters of the world, the Bering Sea. One of its biggest towns, Sand Point, had a thousand residents and a harbor that held 150 boats (map). That implied a lot of manly men heading out to sea every day.

The Aleutians attracted burly characters like those on Deadliest Catch; adventurous men attracted to the mystique of the Last Frontier. One woman described the situation vividly, saying "I once spent the better part of a year working in a fishing village in the Aleutian Islands, and the men of the Alaskan bush country were as surly as werewolves." Long ago it became cliché to describe Alaska’s overabundance of men with a simple aphorism: The odds are good but the goods are odd.

A funny thing began to happen in recent years, however. The ratio started to normalize. Sure, Alaska still contained a higher ratio of men to women than any other state in the nation although the imbalance fell to 1.08 in the latest Census. A crazy ratio still existed in the Aleutian Islands although the next borough on the list barely cracked the Top 50. The State of Alaska examined the situation and issued a report. It noted that an even split existed in Sitka, and men barely outnumbered women in Skagway, Haines, Anchorage and Juneau. Those were major population centers. This foreshadowed continuing convergence of the ratio.


Boomtown Counties


Oil Rig
Oil Rig. Photo by Lindsey G on Flickr (cc)

I thought boomtowns might score high too, and they did, although not as high as I expected. I figured Williams County, North Dakota might serve as a solid proxy. That’s the location of Williston (map), at the epicenter of oil extraction in the Bakken formation. The population of Williams County increased by more than 50% between the 2010 Census and the 2015 estimate. Those dirty, difficult oilfield jobs attracted lots of men. They came for high wages under dangerous situations and brutal winters. It also created an oddly skewed economy where the median annual income for men hit $50 thousand and where women made only half as much.

Even so, there were "only" 1.19 men to women. That surprised me.

Focused on Counties

On March 9, 2017 · 9 Comments

I’m planning for three, maybe four road trips of significant length coming up over the next several months. All of them will involve significant County Counting components. While I’ve put a big dent into my quest to visit every county in the United States, the total still represents considerably less than half of those available. I’ve been pondering several strategies as I’ve examined places that will require significant effort. That led me to stare at a lot of county maps lately, examining them from a variety of perspectives. I don’t think I found anything earth shattering although I tucked a few observations away for future reference.

Square Miles (land area only)


Georgia Counties
Georgia Counties
via Mob Rule

Georgia continued to confound me. How will I ever finish a state with so many tiny counties crammed within its borders? For sure, I will see every crevice and corner of Georgia by the time I finish. I examined a bunch of other states with tiny counties and I began to wonder which one had the smallest average county size. Being the precise person that I am, of course I created a spreadsheet to calculate and rank them. The smallest average county size belonged to… Rhode Island averaging 207 square miles per county (feel free to convert to square kilometres if you prefer). That hardly seemed a challenge though. Rhode Island only had 5 counties. Plus, I’ve already visited every one of them.

Second place, with an average county size of 297 square miles, went to Virginia. I’ve already finished that one too. That was a difficult feat — and I live there! However Virginia came up near the top only because it had those 38 insanely small Independent Cities. Take away those and Virginia would fall to #8 on the list. Next came Kentucky and New Jersey, and only then Georgia, followed by Tennessee. Every state in that grouping featured an average county square mileage somewhere in the 300’s. All of them will be difficult to finish except for New Jersey which had only 21 counties. Georgia had 159! Texas fell way down on the list with an average county size of 1,028 square miles. Even so it will be frustratingly difficult because of its immense size combined with a jaw-dropping 254 counties.

I figured larger western states with fewer counties would be an easier accomplishment. That might be true in general. However, Alaska might be the exception. If one considered its boroughs and each of the individual Census Areas of the Unorganized Borough (all considered "county equivalents" for these purposes) they would hit an average size of 19,677 square miles. Yet it would be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to visit them all. It would probably involve chartering private airplanes.


Population (2016 estimates)


Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. My Own Photo.

I didn’t stop there however, maybe because I was on a roll, although my next tangent had nothing to do with County Counting. The spreadsheet was already set up so it was pretty easy to add another column and replicate the study with populations. Just because. Why not?

South Dakota featured the fewest people per county on average, with only 13,113 residents each. North Dakota and Montana followed next in line, each with an average of fewer than 20,000 people per county. Alaska served as an interesting anomaly once again. I figured it would be lower on the list than #6. However it had a fairly sizable population even though nearly everyone lived in only two boroughs, Anchorage and adjoining Matanuska-Susitna. That skewed things. Rankings probably would have changed if I’d bothered to examine median rather than average. That would have entailed effort and I’m lazy so we’ll never know.

California fell at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There, the average county population hit an astounding 676,724 residents. The average California county had a larger population than the entire states of Wyoming or Vermont! Crazy.

I found another oddity. Two very different states had nearly the same population and number of counties: Arizona and Massachusetts. That happened despite Arizona being nearly 15 times larger than Massachusetts. It served as a wonderful demonstration of larger western states with larger county sizes in contrast to smaller eastern states with smaller counties.


The Complete Oddball


4th of July 2009
Washington Monument on the 4th of July. My Own Photo.

What if the District of Columbia ever became a state? DC would be composed of a single county of 61 square miles, and a population of 681,170 residents. That would make DC the state with the smallest average county size, by far. It would also be the state with the largest average county population. County counting would be really, really easy there too.

I travel into the District of Columbia nearly every day so I think I have that one covered.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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