The Overhead Wire Daily | May 15th, 2024 | City Narratives

May 15, 2024

First before I share today’s thoughts, just wanted to let everyone know we passed 100,000!! links in the news archive. Since 2013 we’ve been collecting and tagging the links we share in the newsletter and now it is over 100,000 items tagged by topic and city in our archive that’s available to subscribers.

We’re working on a better access interface as the one there now isn’t the best if I’m honest, but the new one will be coming soon and is much much better. But I thought 100K was a number to celebrate as I guarantee you no other site or newsletter has shared this much information in cities and transportation. We’re so glad we can keep doing this for you all and look forward to sharing the updated archive soon.


I’ve always been a fan of the census since I started using data in college for GIS projects. While not perfect, it allowed more people to tell more in depth stories about places that really wasn’t available before without a ton of time and patience with a physical map.

That said, the Census Bureau could be in the wrong when it comes to counting population in legacy industrial cities in the Midwestern United States. The City of Detroit in particular is alleging that the census counting methodology in non decennial years subtracts population when homes are demolished which would undercount population as many of the demolished homes have sat empty for years. Additionally, dilapidated homes that are renovated and re-occupied (as seen on popular HGTV shows like Bargain Block) don’t count towards adding population either. There are other issues with the methodology but this undercount could have wide ranging impacts on not just on federal funding opportunities but also narratives.

I hadn’t thought about it much before but the stories we tell ourselves or that are told about places can often form into narratives if they are repeated long enough and sometimes they start to sink in and impact a place over the long term.  And if Detroit isn’t really shrinking and instead has been adding population, that changes the discussions of a place and how its perceived by potential businesses and residents. Here in San Francisco we know all about narratives.

But these narratives on the other side of the growth coin can be self fulfilling in other bad ways. A recent MPO vote to allocate $4B to a highway expansion in Austin shows how a narrative about growth and what is needed to supply it can become unchallengable. The only solution to many suburban and county officials is to build a bigger road rather than think deeper about growth and it’s impacts on quality of life and public health. While we really need to have a discussion about who represents regional interests, we might also benefit from talking through the narratives and actions that got us there in the first place.


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