Urban Review: A Potential LA Mega-storm, The Struggle to Define Suburbs And One Big Thing Missing from a Bold Childcare Proposal


This week, what a rare but potentially catastrophic mega-storm might mean for Los Angeles, the many meanings of "suburban," where a proposal for universal childcare falls short and more.

Crayons in a classroom.

U.S. Department of Education

This week, what a rare but potentially catastrophic mega-storm might mean for Los Angeles, the many meanings of "suburban," where a proposal for universal childcare falls short and more.

Title Page

Rare L.A. Mega-storm Could Overwhelm Dam and Flood Dozens of Cities, Experts Say. Los Angeles Times.


Supreme Court Limits Police Powers to Seize Private Poverty. New York Times.

Justice Ginsburg also wrote that excessive fines have played a dark role in this nation’s history.

“Following the Civil War,” she wrote, “Southern states enacted Black Codes to subjugate newly freed slaves and maintain the prewar racial hierarchy. Among these laws’ provisions were draconian fines for violating broad proscriptions on ‘vagrancy’ and other dubious offenses.”

Executive Summary

How do you define suburban and urban spaces? It's a surprisingly complicated question and one that Houstonians are used to considering in a city with neighborhoods of vastly different densities. Compounding this confusion, notes Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, is a lack of clarity in official data sources, like the Census.

In a new working paper, researchers at the center seek to break down the different methods of classifying suburbs and why they matter. Some look at municipal boundaries; others at lifestyle factors including homeownership rates, commutes and housing type while others consider tract-level measurements of things like density and housing stock age.

Depending on which definition researchers use, different pictures emerge of how suburban the country is, ranging from three-quarters of metropolitan area census tracts to 57 percent, according to one analysis. These different definitions also affected other important metrics including poverty rates and demographic profiles. It also has broader implications for political discourse when framing things like, say, the "suburban voter."

"These analyses show that researchers should be aware that the methods they choose for delineating suburban and urban areas within a metro can have substantial impacts on their findings," writes Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a senior research analyst at the Joint Center. "The findings also highlight the need for the Census Bureau to implement a standardized definition of suburbs."


Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled the latest proposal in her presidential campaign platform this week, announcing a plan to fund universal childcare so that families would not spend more than 7 percent of their incomes on childcare. The plan would also seek to boost quality requirements. But, as Bryce Covert writes for the New Republic, there's one big issue still remaining.

"[T]here’s one piece of the childcare puzzle that remains weak in her plan: accessibility," argues Covert. "Our country’s urgent childcare crisis is not just about the dizzying price tag of care, nor about the paucity of good providers. For many, it’s about being able to find any care at all."

Citing a 2018 analysis by the Center for American Progress, Covert notes that "just over half of American families live in what it calls childcare deserts—places where either there are three times as many children as each open childcare slot, or simply no open slots at all."

Warren's proposal does consider this, according to Covert, by promising to include some new funding for entities, whether governmental or nonprofit, interested in addressing the accessibility problem. "Yet even they admit that because it’s not a mandatory program," writes Covert of the Warren campaign, "there will likely still be places where parents can’t access good, affordable care."


Leah Binkovitz


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