The LoBlows Did Me Again

One of the sub-plots of my life is that the University of New Mexico’s men’s basketball program exists only to break my heart.  I cannot count the number of times it has happened, but they have done so on the court and off the court, and while I was in Albuquerque and in Montgomery and in Auburn and in Chattanooga. Every time they dash my hopes and break my spirit, I swear off them and vow to never be seduced again. They got me again this year. We were good, we were finally really good. On Thursday night their game started well after my bedtime, but I stayed up to watch my brothers in cherry and silver. And what happened? They shit the bed.  More accurately, coach Steve Alford (1 day after inking a 10-year contract extension) shit the bed. His match-up strategy blew up spectacularly. I will spare you the details, but know that we checked Harvard’s two-guard Laurent Rivard (193 of his 210 shots this year were 3’s) with a glacially-paced four- and it did not end well. I handled the loss pretty well- certainly better than this guy. But I’m done with them now. My relationship with Alabama football is stronger, longer lasting and more fulfilling. I’ll never let the Lobos seduce me again…oh wait, did someone say that all of our starters are returning next year? Damn, they’re going to get me again…

As evidenced from last week’s post, a big component of this year’s Lobo seduction was statistical. Some say that numbers don’t lie, and others subscribe to the “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” model. A large (perhaps too large) part of the planning profession is dedicated to number crunching and statistical analysis. While I certainly recognize the value of the quantitative planning model, I tend to employ a more intuitive approach to analysis. As 2008 showed us, life has a way of playing messy tricks with statistical forecasts and projections. I respond well, however, to common sense statistical thinking. I’ve been fortunate to hear from the incomparable Donna Williams a couple of times in past few weeks and she makes a fantastic statistical point about our city- how many more Neidlov’s-eating, GreenLife-shopping, Microbrew-drinking, progressive, urban dwellers* exist who don’t already live in downtown? How do we increase population density downtown (which is the name of the game) if that particular demographic has already been exhausted? And how do we provide for the rest of the community?

If someone inquires as to the most affordable downtown neighborhood, the typical answer has been the Southside (and perhaps North Chattanooga). These days, you can’t get into a new house in the Southside for less than $250,000. To some, that’s affordable. The statistics say otherwise. The median house value in Chattanooga is $128,900 and the mean is $165,158. With our median household income of $35,333 a family can afford a house that costs $142,074. So a place in the Southside is nearly twice as expensive as an average Chattanoogan can theoretically afford. Please note that I’m not even talking about low-income housing- I’m talking about housing that a statistically average family with a statistically average income can reasonably afford to buy.

The trend is that homes are becoming more expensive down here- this is good from the standpoint of property values and tax generation, but bad from the standpoint of inclusivity. Appreciation of real estate value is one of the ways that people can improve their financial situation. That appreciation, however, creates a barrier for others trying to enter the market. Rising markets also have an impact on long-time residents who are either cash-poor or rent. A while back, I wrote about what was happening in my neighborhood of Jefferson Heights, and I’m afraid that trend has simply continued. So beyond providing for the average Chattanooga (which we are not), one could argue that it is the moral obligation of the community to ensure that we provide decent and affordable housing for all of our citizens.

[If you want to read two people who are smarter than me, sniping with each like school boys about this very subject read this, then this rebuttal]

As of now, only about 30% of Chattanooga households earn enough to qualify for that $250,000 house in the Southside. I suspect that there is a substantial cohort that would love to live downtown if only they could afford it. I suspect this group is younger and has an income closer to the median. To get the types of urban amenities we all crave, we need to find ways to increase population density in our core and find ways to enable anyone who wants to live downtown to have an option to do so. Maybe we haven’t fully tapped the progressive-with-six-figure-income demographic, but I suspect we’re getting close. It seems to me, the more prudent strategy would be to try to tap the 70% of our population that can’t currently afford to be here. Not only does this seem to be a sound mathematical strategy, it is also more consistent with a philosophy that downtown is for everyone.

*Those are my descriptors, not hers. Please note that those are not necessarily pejorative terms- I LOVE Neidlov’s and microbrews!

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