From A Village To A City (Cont.)

If you’ve noticed residents of New Albany strutting around recently with a special pride, it is because our community has officially moved from being a village to being a city.  The long-awaited 2010 census results have been released, and they show that the population of New Albany has smashed through the 5,000-resident threshold that separates “villages” from “cities” under Ohio law.   Officially, 7,724 hardy souls now call our teeming metropolis home.

Our fine Mayor received a plaque commemorating our passage to city status, but with the plaque, and city status, comes change and increased responsibility.  Under Ohio law, public employees in cities have collective bargaining rights where village workers don’t — at least, whatever collective bargaining rights exist after the statewide ballot issue petition drive is over — and New Albany also will assume responsibility for asphalt maintenance, sign maintenance, and pavement striping on the portions of the state routes that run through New Albany.  In addition, the city will become responsible for snow and ice removal on Route 161.

For us residents, it means we’ve got closer-to-home people to blame if a pothole isn’t filled or roads seem too icy or snowbound.  The ability to kvetch will be one of the things that makes city status great.

Vanishing Detroit

The 2010 Census delivered stunning news about Detroit.  The Census determined that the Motor City’s population has fallen — some might say collapsed — by 25 percent in only 10 years.  According to the Census, Detroit now has only 713,777 residents.  Detroit is now about one-third the population it achieved at its high point, in the 1950s.  Former citizens of Detroit, black and white, have fled the city for the suburbs or have left Michigan entirely.

The rapid decline of Detroit’s population will come as no surprise to anyone who has been to the city in the past few decades.  Even in the early 1980s, when Kish, Snow and I visited, Detroit had the scent of death about it.  The city was tied inexorably to the American auto industry, and as the Big Three fell victim to their own hubris and inability to produce quality vehicles at reasonable prices Detroit suffered.  Successive urban renewal-type projects, from the Renaissance Center to casino gambling, became increasingly desperate and made the city’s image fall still farther.  A few years ago I went to a deposition at a law firm’s building in a formerly grand neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown, and found block after largely vacant block of rubble and an occasional gutted building.  Parts of inner city of Detroit seem to be turning into a vast urban wasteland.

A rapidly shrinking city poses significantly more difficult problems than does a rapidly growing one.  What do you do with dozens of neighborhood fire stations, police stations, and schools that are greatly underutilized?  How do you consolidate services when entire neighborhoods have disappeared, and therefore consolidated districts must cover a significantly larger geographic area than before?  And most importantly, how do you convince new businesses to relocate to Detroit and revive its economy when the city’s own residents are running away?


From A Village To A City

In addition to all of its other functions, the U.S. Census also determines whether a town is a “village” or a “city” under Ohio law.  The Ohio Revised Code provides that “cities” are municipal corporations which, in the last federal census, had a population of more than 5,000.  All other municipal corporations are “villages.”

The 2000 census determined New Albany’s population was below 5,000.  New Albany now is waiting to learn whether, under the 2010 count, it has crossed the 5,000-citizen threshold and has changed from a “village” to a “city.”

Why should anyone care, other than the possible cachet of being a bustling “city” rather than a sleepy “village”?  Because under the Ohio Revised Code public employees who work for a municipal corporation that is above the 5,000-citizen threshold have the right to join a union and collectively bargain as to their wages, hours, and terms and conditions of their employment.  That change will pose a challenge for the New Albany municipal government.  It also comes at an interesting time, when the budget challenges at all levels of government are causing some governmental officials to question the value of public employee unions and their impact on hard-pressed government budgets.

New Albany’s transition from “village” to “city,” and the resulting labor issues, will be worth watching in the coming months.

The Jarring Questions On The Census Form

Today we filled out the census form for our household.  The form itself is interesting.  You are asked how many people live in your household and whether you own your own home with or without a mortgage, or rent, or “occupy without payment of rent.”  (I guess the latter category refers to people who live in government housing.)  You are asked your telephone number and your name.  And then you are asked a bunch of demographic questions about the members of your household.  What is their gender?  What is their age?  And, most noticeably, are they of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin,” and what is their “race” — “white,” “Black, African Am., or Negro,” “Japanese,” or “some other race,” among a number of other options?

The Census Bureau website offers explanations for why each of the questions is asked.  The website states that the Hispanic question (question no. eight) has been asked since 1970 to provide data to federal agencies to use in monitoring compliance with federal anti-discrimination provisions and to state and local agencies to help plan and administer bilingual programs.  With respect to the general “race” question (question no. nine), the website states that “race is key to implementing many federal laws” and that race data are needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, to “assess fairness of employment practices,” to “monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education” and “to plan and obtain funds for public services.”  The website adds that the race-related information also  is used by state and local governments to establish congressional and state voting districts.

The census has a long history of asking demographic and race-related questions.  According to the Census Bureau website, the first U.S. census, which was taken by U.S. marshals in 1790, asked for the name of the head of household and the number of people who fell into various categories — free white males over age 16, free white males under 16, free white females, all other free persons, and slaves.

Nevertheless, you would like to think that by 2010 — decades after our nation’s sordid history of legalized slavery, followed by Jim Crow laws and other forms of legalized bigotry and discrimination, was finally ended by the civil rights movement and the enactment of federal statutes designed to enforce constitutional guarantees of equal protection and to bar discrimination in voting, housing, and employment — we would have gotten past a fixation upon race and counting and categorizing people on racial grounds.  It is jarring, dispiriting, and seemingly inconsistent with the ultimate goal of a color-blind society for a federal government agency to ask people to identify themselves as “black,” “white,” or a member of some other racial group and to say that “race is key to implementing many federal laws.”

Clearly, when it comes to race we haven’t progressed as far or as fast as we might have hoped.  Let’s hope that, when the 2020 census rolls around, the race-related questions are gone and are considered as archaic as the questions asked in 1790.

That Pathetic Census Commercial

Throughout the NCAA tournament game broadcasts this past weekend, I kept seeing the same commercial for the 2010 federal Census.  You’ve probably seen it, too.  It begins with some unshaven, slovenly guy in a bathrobe going out to get his mail.  He gets the census form and suddenly the street is crowded with passersby.  He walks along, his bathrobe flapping in the breeze, coaches a pregnant woman being wheeled by on a gurney as she is ready to give birth, and eventually meets up with a throng that includes a marching band.  The message of the commercial — at one point specifically stated by the schmoe in the robe — is:  “Let’s all fill out the census to make sure that we get our fair share of federal funding!”

The commercial really bugged me when I saw it, and as I’ve thought about it since then I’ve slowly realized why.  First, the spokesman is a portly slob.  He comes out to get his mail in his bathrobe in broad daylight, so he apparently doesn’t have a regular job, and he’s got plenty of time to go waltzing around town.  (What is he, a blogger?  Hey, wait a minute!) More importantly, however, the whole point of the commercial seems to be that people should fill out the census so they and their neighbors can get more money from Uncle Sam.  What a destructive message!  The Census has now become all about communities sucking even more cash from the federal till.

I have no doubt that the Census Bureau did some careful testing and was told that this commercial was best calculated to convince people to fill out and return their census forms.  If I am right on that, it is pathetic indeed.  It is just another indication that we are increasingly becoming a dependency culture, where the first inclination of many people is to appeal to the federal government to take care of them and solve their problems.  Like the clod in the commercial, we sit at home in our bathrobes, insisting that getting help from the federal government is our birthright and focused primarily on doing whatever will help us to quickly get a bigger piece of the federal pie to consume.  Is this really what we have come to?