Archive for July, 2012

Well-being and the future, A starting point

Friday, July 20th, 2012

notes from a meeting at UCL (pdf)

It would be fair to say that well-being, however defined, is trending strongly. There are a number of reasons for its advancement into the foreground of policymakers attention, as well as its diffusion into wider society as a concept that is worth considering, amongst these a dissatisfaction with economic methods of measurement, cheaper and better technology allowing the processing of multiple dimensions of information, and some well established but challenging observations from the field of economics itself.

The first country to assess well-being on these lines in the context of a national economy is Bhutan, which has recently gained plaudits for developing a measure of “gross national happiness” which is based on the weighted average model. This assesses GNH as an index of 72 variables covering everything from health to the value of social relationships. It is unclear as yet how this will affect the Kingdom of Bhutan, or even whether it will cause change or inhibit it.

The broad consensus is that
• Richer countries are happier than poorer ones, at an aggregate level.
• Within richer countries, however, richer people are not significantly happier than
poorer people.
• Loss of income hurts more than a gain in income generates happiness. (People exhibit loss aversion)
• The role of expectations conditions the value gained from consuming something. So if I expected something to make

me a lot happier and it only makes me marginally happier than I was before, I will experience a degree of hurt.

Looking at inequality makes the position even more murky. Inequality, even if narrowly defined as an economic concept, is multi-dimensional. A concept of well-being as applied to the debate on inequality has the potential to create even more murk. While evidence has been adduced that more equal societies have greater levels of well-being, an equal and opposite body of evidence claims little relationship.

While we have lots of data on people?s levels of subjective, reported well-being, context is elusive. In their 2004 paper on Wellbeing and National accounts, Kahneman et al point out that many of the results that are robust, are plausible, yet puzzling. For instance, subjective well-being comparisons between Denmark and France show four times as many Danes as rating themselves ?very satisfied, as French citizens, a gap not explained by any economic data. Understanding why would be a useful thing for a policy maker to know, but at this point we have far more questions than we have answers.

impacts from redeveloping older neighborhoods

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Conversation on the SDOH mailing list

Question: Aside from gentrification I am looking for resources, studies, commentaries  on the impacts from redeveloping older neighborhoods- adding bike trails, or rail lines or TOD and how that can impact social cohesion, or set  up dangerous routes resulting from traffic diversions, construction hazards and rerouting  traditional walking paths in neighborhoods etc.

Reply 1: I wish planners would consider is the high level of pollution next to highways and busy roadways. There is too much enthusiasm for putting walking and biking paths next to heavy traffic, resulting in exposures to people using them. See a couple of our articles: 1, 2, 3

Reply 2: I would highly recommend looking at the resources at the Human Impact Project website.

Reply 3: To your point, ‘what happens going forward as income inequities increase …only those with wealth can afford to buy into those communities while those that don’t have the income and generally have worst health-have to stay in older communities’… An upcoming book “Race, class, power, and organizing in East Baltimore: rebuilding abandoned communities in America” focuses on the patterns of rebuilding in this primarily African American and working poor and low-income community with a

big emphasis on a current rebuilding project (Marisela B. Gomez, Lexington Books, November 2012). … Some of the displacement

and urban revitalization research by M Fullilove, R Wallace, A Geronimus, D Keene, D Harvey and others address your question from different lens by looking at the displaced people and the geographic inequity which results.

Urban world: cities and the rise of the consuming class

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

this is the title of a recent mckinsey report. THE company built a database – called cityscope 2.0 – containing city rankings, projections of growth of urban markets, etc. from the executive summary (pdf), i learnt that

p. 6 - Exhibit E4. Consumer goods tend to follow an adoption S-curve as incomes rise. more interestingly, there are two key points: First, as incomes rise, consumers choose where they spend

the additional available income, and some products take off at lower incomes than others. Second, products and services vary in the shape of their adoption curve and then in the rate of growth of mature, well-penetrated markets.

p. 9 “To capture the significant opportunity that urbanization offers them, companies need to take a scientific approach to locating the most promising markets for their businesses. … Cities that fail to meet the aspirations of the millions who are migrating in search of better opportunities run

the risk of congestion, pollution, and insufficient public services becoming barriers to growth. “

the growth figures are impressive… how to put it? growing cities, and their rising consumer demand


demographics of mobile phone users

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Given our previous discussion, I found this bit of the article “Data Mining meets City Hall” funny:

“There’s sometimes the perception that if you do a mobile app, you’re hitting the wealthier members of the community,” says Code for America’s Pahlka. “But mobile is an incredibly important strategy if you’re looking at low-income communities.”

Pahlka cites a study by New York City’s Department of Social Services, which found that more than 80% of the people who visited its facilities were regular cellphone users, and that 35% of them owned smartphones. SMS-based apps are another way to broaden accessibility and adoption as are targeted outreach campaigns. “It’s not about a broad advertising campaign for users that are already in the know,” says Pahlka. “It’s about partnering with cities to reach the people who need these services. If you’re targeting users of social services, advertise to them in the department during the transactions.”

identify city hotspots from flickr pix

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I enjoyed this  review article on using flickr pics to identify hotspots in different cities – e.g., london, paris, boston.

Starting with a blank slate, we plotted the raw photo geotags to produce the map in the background and then applied mean-shift clustering to locate the 30 most photographed cities on earth. For each of those cities, we extracted the city’s name by looking for distinctive text tags and found the name of the most photographed landmark within the city. Then we extracted a representative image for that landmark. While the analysis is not perfect—a human would have chosen a more appropriate image of Phoenix than a bird on a baseball field, for example—the result is a compelling summary of North America, produced automatically by analyzing the activity of millions of Flickr users. Maps for other continents, regions, and cities

of the world are available at our project Web site

This analysis is reminiscent of sociologist Stanley Milgram’s work during the 1970s studying people’s “psychological maps”—their mental images of how the physical world is laid out.17 He asked Parisians to draw freehand maps of their city and then compared these maps with the factual geography. Milgram found that the maps were highly variable and largely inaccurate but that most people tended to anchor their maps around a few key landmarks such as the River Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral. He ranked landmarks by their degree of importance in the

collective Parisian psychology by counting the number of times that each landmark was mentioned in the study. Our work is an analogous study, at a much larger scale. It is important to note that we are also dealing with much less controlled data, however, and our results are biased by the demographics of Flickr users.