Brookings exercise with air traffic data

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Toward the goal of sharing something kind of cool that I’ve been sitting on for two years now, I suppose there is no shame in uploading an infrastructure research brief exercise for a Brookings Institution position that I did not get. Full disclosure, Brookings was great and no hard feelings after not ultimately winning the position (truly an honor to do a final round with them), but even after 4 interviews (one in DC), 90% of the time spent toward this was working with this massive data set from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics that included two separate data sets containing records of every flight movement in the nation; whether it was commercial or cargo, passenger/cargo counts, departure/destination city, etc. My task with Brookings was to analyze all of the data, combine the data sets to represent traffic between MSAs and not individual airports, and then analyze which MSAs have lost the most flights and flight seats between each other and the policy implications of this.

I have enough self awareness in retrospect to see how clunky and conservative my document branding was. I think I was onto something toward sticking with a clean classic look, with red/blue color scheme, but was still attempting to do way too much in the infographic with a graph, map, and not enough context.

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Report/graphic design aside, I think the data is still incredibly interesting. This represents all the largest losses in seats and passenger counts between MSAs, which appear to follow a few trends of hub-to-hub and easily drive-able trips; the latter of which has been more impacted by security/TSA hassles that add a greater percentage of additional time. In practical terms, air traffic between Chicago and Indy has plummeted (and several other short routes) as it now takes one about as long to get through TSA regular security as it does from the Chicago Loop to Gary by car. When you subtract those trips, what you’re left with is simply hub consolidation; hubs are getting fewer (Cincinnati lost its Delta hub during this time frame), and hubs are handling more traffic between non-hub cities and flying less to each other (DC – Atlanta – NYC all with less seats in between).

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Real Unclear Policy – The non-think tank

Adam Millsap, a research fellow at George Mason University in Virginia, has seen the efforts to revitalize rust belt cities and thinks Americans deserve to be told the truth. That “truth” is the basis for this screed on the Real Clear Policy website.

“Finally, we need to stop encouraging people to stay in declining areas based on stories of false hope. For certain individuals, it may make sense to remain in a depressed area, for either economic or personal reasons, but they should do so without being told that we can save their city. Moving toward opportunity is a better solution for most Americans than waiting for opportunity to come to them.

Never mind the transformation taking place in Detroit. Forget about the strong results that are starting to emerge out of Cleveland, where the city has surged into a leading position among cities competing for college-educated Millennials. Who cares that Pittsburgh and Boston have already proven that turnarounds are possible?

He and other George Mason researchers also aren’t impressed by the rust belt’s cost advantage, because they contend that SF and NY have “laws” that “artificially inflate” the cost of real estate. You know, zoning, building standards, and crazy things like that. That’s why those cities are so expensive, not because of demand.

You can’t make this up. And apologies to any George Mason people reading this, as I have friends myself from GMU, and would never blaspheme an entire school (let alone a good one). I am not trying to undermine the entire research arm of George Mason, let alone the public policy school, but just pointing out the trail of how they got to this point. Policy formulation precedes policy implementation.

“Yet residents are told that their cities, from Buffalo, N.Y., to Birmingham, Ala., can regain their former glory if they can just attract the right company or win that next government grant.”

I guess it’s that simple. Just waiting on that government grant to come through!

I’m not an abrasive, argumentative, or cantankerous guy; but I have to call out dangerous research such as this. He is right that individually, it is better to put yourself in proximity to opportunity. You can do that by moving across the street in every single one of these cities. My personal experience is that this region is bursting with opportunity, and that the secret is out – not unlike SF and NY, pursuing opportunity has gotten increasingly competitive here.

By all means, scare people away from the Rust Belt – makes life easier for me. However, when you attempt to inform federal investment priorities, and lead with an attack on our grant-winning efforts to compete against the federal investment flowing into the Sun Belt, that’s when Real Clear Policy crosses a line. You aren’t just looking out for the individuals mired in rust belt poverty, who you want to move down to become mired instead in Sun Belt poverty. This is a regional attack on another region.

I have always thought better to produce research on good unfunded grant proposals than bad grant winners; the emphasize needs to be on growing the pot for community development projects nation-wide, rather than shrinking the pot for all of us.

On the road again…

More pan-Midwestern content coming soon because I am on the road, seeing friends, family, and conducting thesis research on more awesome cities!

In this instance…

Flew to Omaha. Just wrapped up a week in Omaha and Sioux City, Iowa. Got snowed in and had to cancel other plans, but I love the snow!

Drove to Kansas City. Spent a day there. KCMO is just about the coolest town around.

Drove to OKC. Spending a week here over the New Year’s holiday. Good to be back at the Homa.

Dallas? Maybe Dallas. Debating going down there for actual Midnight NYE 2016. Or before I fly out. We’ll see if I get to it.

I am trying to get interviews with policy makers and economic developers here in OKC, for my thesis; if that doesn’t pan out, I’ll just go down to Dallas and conduct more on-the-ground research.

6-hour layover in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Just long enough to ride all the rails, I hope. And get back down to MSP for my flight back to Columbus.

What is on-the-ground research, and what does one do on-the-ground in a city I already know, you ask? I am specifically taking photos that just don’t exist online. Since my thesis is on leveraging the value capture with TOD, photos augment that by illustrating exactly what that value looks like. On-the-ground.

Here’s the trail I’m blazing this time:

Winter 2016 Trip

Stay tuned for the photo analysis!