Thursday, January 19, 2023

Stay Warm: Urban Surface Heat on Cold Days

I heard a rumor that it's winter: as it cools down, did you know that surface temperatures might vary slightly from what the weather report indicates? Surface temperatures can much be lower or much higher than the atmospheric conditions.

Certain surfaces act as buffers—for example, trees and green space can mitigate large swings in temperature. 

Here is a visualization of the surface temperatures last year, on January 1, when the ambient temperature was around 32° F. Here we are looking at the Forest View neighborhood on the southeast side of Lansing. You can see that the different areas of the city vary a lot depending on several factors.

Earlier this year, I looked at the effects of surface on heat in Lansing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Racial Makeup of Lansing: 2016-2020

If you took a dot and put it on the map for each person, how would that show the racial makeup of our neighborhoods? 

Below, you see a map that divides the Lansing metropolitan area into census block groups, and drops a point (at random) inside that area, color-coded by how that person self-identified in the 2020 census: red for White, blue for Black or African American, green for Asian or yellow for identifies as more than one race

A note on missing categories: this data comes from the American Community 5-year survey. Native American/American Indian represented approximately 0.4% of Lansing over this time period. Native Hawaiian and "other Pacific islander" represented less than 0.1% in its most concentrated area. The US Census 5-year results from 2016-2020 did not count Latina/Latino in the same question as race, considering it to be an ethnicity instead, so it was not included. Starting in 2020, census questions and results leaves race more open ended and counts Hispanic or Latino as a comparable category.

What patterns do you see in this visualization? It's still possible to see the neighborhoods that were split in half by 496, which have a higher proportion of Black families: look to the West Side and the Potter-Walsh neighborhoods. There are some other enclaves and patterns as well.

Lansing: Still Segregated in the 2010s

According to a 2020 study done by the Harvard School of Public Health, Lansing ranked #2 in Michigan for integrated neighborhoods (a higher ranking meant less segregation based on race, more diverse integration), just behind Kalamazoo. 

Some highly segregated locations included Cleveland, Newark, Chicago, Milwaukee, Miami and others; inside Michigan more segregated areas were Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Muskegon, Niles, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek. 

Michigan itself was still considered fairly segregated, however. Lansing was not considered as segregated as some places around the US or even around Michigan, however our score still meant that around 50% of Black/African American Lansing residents would need to move to allow the racial composition of each school to mirror the racial composition of all students in the metro area. This number was similar for Asians and Native American/American Indian people. White people tended to live in even more segregated neighborhoods: 67.5% of White families would need to more to allow their school to resemble the racial makeup of the Lansing metro area.

Downtown Okemos Gets Facelift

 Anyone in Lansing Charter Township has probably been following this pretty closely: in late 2019 Okemos looked into developing its downtown with mixed use planned unit development. This year plans have gone live and are visible on the township's website. They have some visualizations and blueprints available to peruse.

At this time, 206 dwelling units and 8,000 sq. ft. of commercial space will be built along Hamilton road: stores on the main level and living above. This represents a significant financial investment by the township, and a step forward for a walkable downtown.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

The 5 Pieces of Lansing Charter Township

Why Is Lansing Charter Township in 5 Parts?

Here is a map of Lansing Charter Township: a noncontiguous charter township in five parts (it includes Edgemont Park—a recognized census place)

Is it strange that one designated area would be in five pieces so far from each other?

To understand why, it's helpful to understand what a township, and what a charter township, is.


Michigan has 1,240 townships; counties are divided into a checkerboard of minor government divisions across the state. As cities incorporate and grow, townships shrink and become part of them. Over the years, Lansing "ate up" pieces of Lansing, Delta, and Dewitt townships.

Charter Townships

140 townships have created charters; that is, people in those charter townships elect a township board, become self regulated and limit their tax liability, while providing services like fire, police, and sewer. A charter township can buy properties inside their bounds and develop commercial property (Eastwood Towne Center is a good example of this), or construct parks and facilities. According to law, they must be named for their township (which is why they frequently have the same name as the largest city in the township). These charter townships often rely on the amenities of nearby larger city, but by virtue of being a charter township, they have the legal right to resist annexation by those nearby cities.

A charter township is a uniquely Michigan phenomenon. No other state has charter townships. Typically, cities in the USA grow and annex land around them as they develop. In Michigan, as long as a charter township continues to provide a certain amount of services and doesn't have a lot of debt, nearby cities cannot annex their land. 

Lansing Charter Township formed in 1963, so after that, the city of Lansing could not annex any of it without special circumstances. (There was a brief citizen movement to dissolve the Charter Township in 2013—an oft stated reason for staying a township was to avoid paying city taxes.)

One way for a part of a charter township to become part of a nearby city is for the residents themselves to petition to join the city, as the residents of Groesbeck have done this year in Lansing; it still has to be approved by the voters of the city (Lansing). This will appear on the ballot in November (your ballot can be viewed here at the SOS page:

Lansing has already expanded its borders several times since it was founded as Biddle City in 1835 and then later incorporated in 1859 as Lansing, Michigan's capitol. Here's a visualization of some of the expansions of the contiguous parts:

Monday, August 15, 2022

Cars vs Bikes: Drivers Impacting Cyclists in Lansing

Lansing has a really great trail system for recreational biking. However, many people rely on bikes for transportation to work, school and for everyday errands. If you do not live right on the river trail, at some point you are going to need to use the city's other transportation infrastructure. Lansing does not have any protected lanes at this time, which means cyclists and drivers often share the roads. When there are no barriers between cars and bikes, collisions are more likely. 

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning maintains a public site of collisions involving cars. Here is a visualization of where those collisions occur when they involve bikes. This paints a picture of where cyclists need to go but do not have access to safe routes. All of the orange points involve injuries; one at the corner of Miller and Cedar resulted in a cyclist's death.   

The streets are not all the same length, so it's not an equal comparison, however it's easy to notice that Michigan Ave has a high number of impacts for a shorter road. There is a planning commission looking at redesigning Michigan Ave in the future called Michigan's Ave. If you have ideas on how you'd like Michigan to look in the future, they are asking people to fill out their survey.

What patterns do you see? How can we ensure our streets are safe for all Lanstronauts: those walking, wheeling, cycling, and driving?

Edit: follow up by request, here is a similar map of cars vs walkers/wheelchairs:

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Geography of Poverty in Lansing: Are Your Neighbors Okay?

Geography of Poverty in Lansing

Many of us are grappling with poverty in 2022. Here in the city of Lansing, we have a poverty rate of 22% (compared to the average of 11.9% in other metro areas). The 2020 census data has been rolling out, and poverty statistics around the country are available. 

That poverty level of 22% is not distributed uniformly around the Red Cedar. Below you can see a visualization of poverty by census tract (one of the smallest divisions that the American Community Survey releases data for), and you can see certain neighborhoods are hit harder than others.

thematic map of lansing marking areas of high and low poverty

To probably no one's surprise, the highest rates of poverty are those experienced by students (mostly) temporarily in student-heavy places in East Lansing: East Grand River at 81%, and both Bailey and Chandler/North Coolidge at 68%.

Inside Lansing proper, a lot of the highest poverty areas are in the former redlined areas along the river: Fabulous Acres (43%) through Downtown and Old Town (42%) and North Walnut street area near the school for the blind (46%) all experiencing higher rates of poverty. (We've talked about redlining before here.)

Also interesting is that, like most areas of the United States, different groups of people experience poverty at varying rates. Unsurprisingly, being employed offers some insulation against poverty. What might be surprising is that even being employed full-time didn't guarantee an income above the poverty level: 4% of people in Lansing worked full time for the last 12 months and still couldn't make ends meet. 

chart of lansing demographics and poverty rates

There is a still value to having education: whether a high school diploma or college, a higher education level is correlated with a lower rate of poverty. There is still a spread between people of color and White people with the most pronounced difference between White people and people who self-identified as two or more races". 

Who is ALICE?

Research has suggested that even the federal poverty level doesn't accurately describe people in desperate financial situations: while 13% of people in Michigan are in poverty, another 25% of folks were ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. maintains a county-by-county record of people who are in this marginal category. They do not have city level information, but Michigan's counties look like this:


 Total households

 In poverty

Additional Households below ALICE threshold













Information in text below for text-to-speech readers:

Lansing Overall Poverty Rate


By age:


Under 18






By race:


White alone


Latino or Hispanic


Asian alone


Black or African American alone


Two or more races


By education:


No diploma


High school graduate


Associates degree


Bachelor’s degree or higher


By work:






Did not work in the last year


Worked full time last year


Worked part time last year


Monday, July 18, 2022

Stay Cool: Urban Surface Heat on Hot Days

 As temperatures heat up this week, and heat warnings hit various cities around the world, consider that surface temperatures might vary slightly from what the weather report indicates. The weather report may be correct, but the surface might be lower or much higher than the atmospheric conditions.

What might make a surface hot during the summer? Asphalt, concrete, and brick absorb—rather than reflect—the sun's heat, causing surface temperatures and air temperatures to rise. This can be worse in areas with reduced vegetation. Trees and plants naturally cool the area due to shading and evapotranspiration. Analysis has shown that dark roof surfaces may reach temperatures of 230°F in summertime!

Here is a visualization of the surface temperatures last year, on September 12, 2021, when the ambient temperature was 82° F. You can see that the different areas of the city vary a lot depending on several factors.

Proximity to water and parks can help a lot to mitigate temperature. Areas with lots of buildings, roads, and surface parking store heat throughout the day and release it at night. 

Lansing maintains a list of public and free cooling centers: if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, here are some locations you can head to.