Blog Archive

March 2011

What’s All This Talk About Plato? Just Ask Wikipedia.


My respect for Wikipedia increases every day.  There was a time in its early days when I scoffed at someone who relied on it for answers.  It was clear that, while a number of serious, committed individuals were spending incredible amounts of time bringing “the facts” to the public, there were others just as committed to altering “the facts” to reflect their view of the world – or just to play with those last minute term paper writers.

However, my recent forays into the world of Wikipedia have just amazed me with their accuracy, and, more importantly, their incredible up to the minute updates.  Take, for example, the fact that I can already get Detroit’s 2010 population and ranking – 713,777 and 18th.

Well, there has been a great deal of talk in demographic circles of late about Plato.  Let’s go to Wikipedia and try to understand why.

Plato was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the foundations of Western philosophy and science.”

Well, that doesn’t seem to be very demographic, does it?  Let’s try another entry.

Plato is an incorporated village in northwestern Texas County, Missouri, United States. It is located about twenty miles northwest of Houston and ten miles south of Fort Leonard Wood on Route 32. Plato had an estimated population of 1,430 in 2000. The community was founded in 1874 and is named after the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It is the birthplace of screenwriter Josh Senter who is known for his work on Desperate Housewives (oh boy!).  As reported in early 2011, Plato is the 2010 Mean center of United States population.

Ah ha!  Wikipedia does it again!

Indeed, once the results were in from all States (Michigan being one of the last to be released), the Census Bureau could determine the country’s Center of population.  The Plato location marks the 4th straight decade that the population center has been somewhere in Missouri, and represents a move of 23.4 miles from the 2000 Center and a trip of 872.9 miles from the first Center in 1790 – Chestertown, Md.   States that have been honored to house the Census of Population over the years have been Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri.  Kansas will probably have to wait until 2030 before Missouri relinquishes the title.

While I am unable to locate a Center of population for the State of Michigan (next task for Wikipedia), I can tell you that the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) has just located the 2010 Center in SE Michigan as falling in a “single-family residential neighborhood one block south of Nine Mile Road just west of Evergreen,” in the City of Southfield.  This represents a northwestern movement of .75 miles from a Southfield parking lot north of 8 Mile and east of the Southfield Freeway.

This marks the end of another scintillating lesson in the wonderful world of demography.  A lesson that has probably been added to Wikipedia as I type.

We May Be Down, But We Certainly Aren’t Out!

The long-awaited 2010 Census counts were released yesterday for the State of Michigan and all its subdivisions – down to the block level.  Now the redistricting process for US. Congress, State House and Senate, and County Commissioners can begin.

While we have known since December that Michigan was the only state in the union to lose population over the decade, the real question on everyone’s mind locally was….”What will happen to the population of Detroit?”  While not as active as March Madness betting, there were a number of “pools” out there (no money involved, I assure you), “at least among those of us who do this stuff for a living.”  While I am not sure who came closest without going over, I know if was not yours truly.

As we all know by now, Detroit’s population for 2010 is 713,777.  This registers as a loss of over 237,000 residents in 10 years – a 25% drop, second only to New Orleans.  While the Mayor says he wants to challenge the figure, past experience tells me this is a waste of time and energy.  Let’s accept the facts and work to tell the other side of the story.

Samantha Howell, 32, is quoted in the New York Times today (and it becomes the quote f the day). “Yes, the city feels empty physically, empty of people, empty of ambition, drive. It feels empty.”  This is indeed the message that reinforces the articles we have read rather regularly since Time Magazine came out with its cover story “The Tragedy of Detroit.”

With all this as a backdrop, let us raise up the other side of the story.  I spoke yesterday at the Book Cadillac as part of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities conference.  This is a national gathering of philanthropic representatives who are interested in issues of cities.  In talking with Laura Trudeau from the Kresge Foundation prior to the conference, I discovered that registration for the conference was up 30% because of Detroit.  The inquiries that we receive at Data Driven Detroit come from across the country and beyond.  The Federal government is planning to provide technical assistance to Detroit across a variety of departments.

Of most importance and promise are the efforts that are currently underway in the city.  The Detroit Works Project (DWP) is geared toward creating a Detroit that works for everyone.  While dogged by a number of issues, there is great hope for this work going forward.  The work of CDAD (Community Development Advocates of Detroit) to create a strong community development network for the city and to understand neighborhoods, through a neighborhood typology, shows great promise.  D3 is proud to be working with CDAD and two local planning efforts, LEAP on the eastside and UNI in the Southwest, to truly engage community residents in visioning a brighter future.  We hope that this effort can help to inform the city’s process.

Philanthropy has truly stepped up to the plate to bring money and best practices to the city.  The efforts are too numerous to describe, but let me just name a few.  The New Economy Initiative is supporting business accelerators across the region – TechTown in Detroit – and helping to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship.  Hudson-Webber’s 15 x 15 plan is working with anchor institutions (Henry Ford, WSU and DMC/Vanguard) to promote living, buying and employing locally.  This effort will serve to bring new residents to the greater downtown area, spur more joint purchasing from existing Detroit businesses, while fostering the creation of new businesses in the neighborhood, and develop programs that will allow existing neighborhood residents to find jobs.  The Skillman Foundation continues its work in 6 Detroit neighborhoods to create success for children, while the Community Foundation develops extensive plans for the Near East side and supports greenways across the city.  The Kresge Foundation, and Living Cities, are dedicated to supporting and expanding the arts and cultural base of the city, while bringing dollars and best practices to help support Midtown’s growth and redevelop the Northend.  Finally, Excellent Schools Detroit will soon be rolled out.  Sparing the details, suffice it to say that the goal is to provide an excellent school for every Detroit child and give each parent the tools he/she needs to make more informed educational decisions for his/her child(ren).

While the numbers are down, Detroit is definitely not out.  Let this be a clarion call to increase our efforts at making Detroit a city that provides a high quality of life for all.  We are blessed with people who truly care.  I have the good fortune of working with them every day – both across my staff and in meetings throughout the city and region.

In the end it is not the number of people who occupy the city, but the quality of life we create.  Let us go forth and herald our accomplishments and work harder to make our dreams for the city become reality.

March May Be Women’s History Month but Why Aren’t We Naming Our Daughters Mildred or Florence or Gladys or Gertrude Anymore?

In 1909, Mary was far and away the most favorite name for baby girls, outdistancing its runner-up Helen by a two-to-one ratio.  The rest of the Top 5 included Margaret, Ruth and Dorothy.  While you still run across some of these names – the 2009 rankings were Mary (102), Helen (389), Margaret (187) and Ruth (357) – while Dorothy couldn’t crack the Top 1,000 despite the hoopla accompanying the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz – many of the 1909 Top 20 remain only as memories of great grandparents now gone.  How many elementary teachers, when taking attendance, call out Mildred or Florence or Ethel or Gladys or Irene?

What name takes honors for 2009?  The winner is Isabella, followed by 4 names, each ending with the letter “a” – Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Ava.  I look at this list and can’t help thinking about some of the actresses that got me a little excited as a young boy.  Names beginning with an “A” are also plentiful in the Top 20 of 2009.  There is Abigail, Addison, Alexis, Alyssa and Ashley.  And, of course, there is Madison (#7) – a name whose popularity I have blamed Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah for ever since the movie Splash (though I did like Madison in the movie) was released in 1984.  It took until 1997 for Madison to crack the Top 10, rising from there until it reached its highest place on the charts at #2 in 2002.

Michigan made Madison its #1 name for baby girls in both 2001 and 2002, and still held it in high esteem in 2009, with a ranking of #5.  Michigan followed the nation in putting Olivia and Isabella at the top, though switching their ranks, and followed with Ava and Emma.  Sophia did her best to mirror the nation but, alas, Madison beat her out by just 7 babies.

But enough with naming your daughter.  March is Women’s History Month.

As recently as the 1970’s, women’s history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration for 1978.  The week March 8th, International Women’s Day, was chosen as the focal point of the observance.

By 1986, 14 states had already declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rationale to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.

Watch this blog and www.datadrivendetroit.org for the latest research coming from the White House on the status of women in America.  We will also be developing a series of Fact Sheets on gender, race and ethnicity in Michigan and Metro Detroit over the coming months.  Stay tuned.

What’s In A Name?

I just read a story of a young man in Egypt who decided to name his first born daughter “Facebook” to commemorate the way the social networking site helped protesters get organized to topple Hosni Mubarak.  Alexia Tsotsis , writing for TechCrunch and citing a story in Al-Ahram, stated that while the girl could have been called YouTube or Twitter or Google, “it seems like Facebook has become the umbrella symbol for how social media can spread the message of freedom.”

This story got me thinking about one of my favorite data stories – the most popular baby names of the year.  Every year the Social Security Administration puts together a list of the Top 1,000 baby names in the U.S.  – and they can produce it for any year back to 1880!  They also let you see how your State stacks up, though only for the Top 100 names and only back to 1960.

While I am sure there have been a few kids named Google over the last couple years, fortunately for the children, and society as a whole, it falls out of the rankings.  I have read stories about children named after cars (Lexus, Mercedes, Acura) and alcohol brands (Merlot, Tequila, Brandy, and how about naming your kid Captain Morgan!), and have felt sorry for children pegged with names that can be easily twisted into something embarrassing.

Let’s look at the numbers for 2009.  The Top 5 for males were Jacob (Jakob was #325 and Jakobe was #954), Ethan, Michael, Alexander and William.  [Michigan matched the U.S. on two of the Top 5 with Jacob and Ethan.  Rounding out the list were Logan, Noah and Aiden.]

The last 5 were Tyshawn, Amos, Cassius, Eliezer and Mustafa.  If you like designers you get Armani at #552.  If your taste goes to also-ran Vice Presidential candidates you will find that Tripp garnered a ranking of 671.  So-called individuality is alive and well in the variations on a theme:  Jayden, Jaydon, Jaydan, Jaydin, Jaden, Jadon, Jadyn, Jaeden, Jaiden, and Jaidyn.  Alas….Kurt was nowhere to be seen, though Curtis got a 393 ranking.

One hundred years earlier (1909), the Top 5 names for boys were John, William, James, George and Robert.  While a number of names tied for last place, allow me to give you a taste of the variety:  There was Adelbert and Angel, Caesar and Christ, Dolphus, Eunice, Hoke, Lenwood, Martha (can you imagine if he was our 1st President?), Milburn, Minor and Murl.  Things must have been real exciting on the playgrounds of 1909!

Next time we will see what the parents of 1909 and 2009 did to their daughters!