Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Look at Richardson's Council Districts

Yesterday, I blogged about a story by Jim Schutze in Unfair Park about how Dallas's single member council districts prevent that city from pulling together to implement improvements for the good of the city as a whole. I said Richardson doesn't have Dallas's divisions and therefore, single member districts are inappropriate for Richardson.

In response to my post, I was told that Richardson does, too, have divisions. After the jump, a look at what those divisions might be and what impact single member districts might have on those divisions.

The divisions in Richardson are not the "racial and ethnic divisions along geographic lines" that I identified as Dallas's big problem and why Dallas has single member districts today. If there are geographic divisions in Richardson, they are not racial or ethnic. For example, here is the percent of residents recorded as "White" in 2000 Census data, by Richardson council district:

District % White
1 72.4%
2 71.4%
3 74.0%
4 83.8%

Not much difference there. So, if the divisions aren't racial, what are they? Paralleling Dallas's racial and ethnic divisions are socioeconomic divisions. The differences between, say, Dallas's Preston Hollow neighborhood and its Fair Park neighborhood are obvious even without laying eyes on a single resident of those neighborhoods. Nothing like that divide exists on the same scale in Richardson. Using property value as a proxy for socioeconomic status, here are the median property values by Richardson council district from Dallas CAD and Collin CAD 2004 data:

District Median value
1 $142,330
2 $186,561
3 $145,120
4 $142,680

Not much difference there, either, at least in three of Richardson's four districts. Only District 2 in northeast Richardson stands out.

More separation can be seen if we look at the age of houses in each of the four districts. Below are the percentages of houses built during recent decades for each district. Only the peak building periods are filled in, to highlight the average age of homes in each district. The districts are sorted from southwest Richardson to northeast Richardson, to highlight the obvious geographic pattern of development:

District Decade of Construction
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s
3 47% 42%
4 65%
1 65%
2 24% 23% 33%

Clearly, Richardson was built out from southwest to northeast, from the 1950s to the 1990s and later. If aging neighborhoods pose a serious challenge for Richardson (as I believe they do), and if commercial redevelopment and neighborhood integrity should be priorities (as I believe they should), then the evidence for this should be more and more apparent as you travel from northeast to southwest Richardson. And I think most people would agree that just such evidence is apparent.

But is this enough to justify single member districts? Even though there's a distinct overall pattern of increasingly older neighborhoods from northeast to southwest, for voting purposes that spectrum is segmented into only four districts. There's really not that much difference in the averages from district to district (look at those median property values again) to expect vastly different voter careabouts. Moreover, you can find aging neighborhoods everywhere in Richardson. Even in northeast Richardson's District 2, almost half of the houses are 20 to 30 years old or more. That's at the threshold of decline unless neighborhood integrity measures are in place. Because this issue is citywide, many voters all across the city are already sensitive to it and support efforts to address it, no matter where it is occurring in the city. For example, District 3's West Spring Valley Corridor Reinvestment Strategy is moving forward because all districts recognize that the survival of each neighborhood is vital to the overall health of the city. There's no evidence that switching to a system of single member districts would elect a city council any more sensitive to this issue than our current council is.

All data is from the 2000 Census Book prepared by the City of Richardson.

1 comment:

Nathan Morgan said...

Hmm. Didn't realize 12 years ago there were significantly more white people on the west side of town notorious for controlling Richardson politics. I guess that fitted the ethnic make up of the Council back then.

The 2004 appraisal numbers are a bit stale too. There's been a bit of a downturn in the economy since then. If you wanted to compare something that really sticks out, consider the age of the infrastructure, including water, sewer, utility poles, commercial renovations, etc. A windshield tour is undeniable.

I fail to see the validity in dismissing the value of single member districts with such superfluous criteria. Sure, one could point to the age and value of the housing stock and the ethnicity factors. But the factors that are skewing Richardson politics are not that simple.

Perhaps you can pull together some numbers on voters and in what neighborhood they reside. Correlate their incomes and associations with their Council voting records and such.

Richardson probably needs more than four single member districts to balance Council representation of the residents. In any case, there is no denying that the closer the representatives are to the constituents, the better their demands will be attended. This at-large system in Richardson isolates (and insulates) the Council from the Districts.