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Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities

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Footprint of Highways in American Cities

Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities

Driving on the open road is a defining feature of the American experience, made possible by coast-to-coast highways. It defined a generation of life and ingrained the automobile into the urban fabric of American cities, for better and worse.

Today’s animations show how highways reshaped the downtown cores of six American cities and created new patterns of urban life. But first, some background information on the creation of the interstate system.

The Interstate Highway System

The U.S. Interstate System was created on June 29, 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act. It would eventually run 46,876 miles, cost $521 billion and take 36 years to complete.

Map of the US Interstate System

From San Diego to Bangor, the interstate highway system connected Americans and opened up the country to commerce and geographic mobility like never before, but for all its benefits, this new transportation network ripped through established patterns of urban and town life, creating a new era of urban development.

The Legacy of Highways: The Suburbs and Inner Cities

The vast geography of continental America helped to entrench personal mobility and freedom into American society. Highways and automobiles accelerated this lifestyle and even changed the shape of entire cities.

According to Prof. Nathaniel Baum-Snow of the University of Toronto, between 1950 and 1990, the population of central cities in the U.S. declined by 17% despite a population growth of 72% in larger metropolitan areas during the same period. Baum-Snow posits that, had the interstate highway system not been built, central cities’ populations would have increased 8%.

Firms followed the workers to the suburbs, but the highways system also created additional benefits for these firms. Cross-country road access freed manufacturing from ports and downtown rail hubs, while allowing economies to operate across larger distances, altering the dynamics of typical urban economies.

Faced with this new reality, inner cities struggled in years to come.

Inner Cities

The introduction of highways created an increase in the supply of land for development through faster commutes to outlying areas. In 1950, half of all jobs were located in central cities. By 1990, less than one-third of urban jobs were located in the core of American cities.

“Not TV or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities.” Jane Jacobs, Author The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Benefits of new development accrued to the outer areas while the construction of the highways in inner cities displaced largely low-income communities, segregated neighborhoods, increased the amount of air and noise pollution, devalued surrounding properties, and removed access to jobs for those without a car, further concentrating poverty.

Before and After: Six American Cities

A bird’s eye view of six American cities reveals what was and what is now. By overlaying existing highways over the neighborhoods they replaced, it becomes clear how much interstate construction drastically altered America’s urban landscape.

Oakland
Public opposition to the construction of I-980 was so strong that developers abandoned the project in 1971, only to complete it over a decade later.

Miami Highway
The I-95 carved through Miami’s largely black Overtown neighborhood. The construction of a single highway cloverleaf resulted in 20 square blocks being demolished, displacing over 10,000 people in that community.

Providence Highway
The I-95 comprised unconnected segments between 1957 and 1965 through the densest urban areas in a deliberate effort to prevent premature suburbanization and to revitalize the downtown core.

Cincinnati Highway
The I-71 cuts downtown Cincinnati off from its waterfront and a massive freeway interchange forced the destruction of dozens of blocks west of downtown.

Detroit highway construction
Freeway construction transformed Detroit between 1951 and 2010. Previously, its downtown had been surrounded by a high-density street grid. Today, it’s totally encircled by freeways.

Rochester Highway
Rochester is one of many cities opting to undertake freeway removal projects.

As the dotted line above shows, the “moat” surrounding downtown is slowly being removed. The city used reclaimed land from the Inner Loop freeway to construct three mixed-use developments that include below-market-rate units.

The Future of Urban Living: Do Highways Matter?

A new era of living is reconsidering the impacts of these highways on urban centers. As property values rise and existing housing stock is pressured, there are growing concerns over the environmental impacts of suburban life. As a result, urban planners and residents are looking to revitalize city cores and re-purpose land occupied by burdensome slabs of highway concrete.

Since 1987, there have been more than 20 urban highway segments removed from downtown cores, neighborhoods and waterfronts, mostly in North America. The pace of removals has picked up significantly and an additional 10 highways are now planned for removal in the United States.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, American cities have seen their traffic plummet. Rush-hour trips into cities are taking nearly half the time while some are not even commuting at all.

While this situation is likely temporary, it is offering a moment for reflection of how cities operate and whether the car should be at the center of urban planning.

*Hat tip to Shane Hampton, whose 60 Years of Urban Change compilation served as inspiration for this article. Visit that page for many more examples of highway impact on cities.

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Misc

Mapped: The World’s Biggest Private Tax Havens

What countries or territories do the ultra-wealthy use as tax havens?

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Biggest Tax Havens Share

The World’s Biggest Private Tax Havens

When the world’s ultra-wealthy look for tax havens to shield income and wealth from their domestic governments, where do they turn?

If you’re putting money in offshore bank accounts in order to save on taxes, there are two main criteria you’re looking for: secrecy and accessibility. Based on pop culture and media reports, you might imagine a secretive bank in Switzerland or a tiny island nation in the Caribbean.

And though there is some truth to that logic, the reality is that the world’s biggest tax havens are spread all over the world. Some of them are small nations as expected, but others are major economic powers that might be surprising.

Here are the world’s top 20 tax havens, as ranked by the 2020 Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) by the English NGO Tax Justice Network.

Which Countries are the Biggest Tax Havens?

The FSI ranks countries and territories from all over the world on two criteria: secrecy and scale.

  • Secrecy Score: How well the jurisdiction’s banking system can hide money. This includes analysis of ownership registration, legal entity transparency, tax and financial regulations, and cooperation with international standards.
  • Global Scale Weight: What is the jurisdiction’s share of the world’s total cross-border financial services? This metric is based primarily on the IMF’s Balance of Payments statistics.

By weighing a country’s ability to hide money by its relative share of offshore financial services, we see the tax havens with the biggest impact on the global economy.

RankJurisdictionRegion
1🇰🇾 Cayman IslandsCaribbean
2🇺🇸 United StatesNorth America
3🇨🇭 SwitzerlandEurope
4🇭🇰 Hong KongEast Asia
5🇸🇬 SingaporeSoutheast Asia
6🇱🇺 LuxembourgEurope
7🇯🇵 JapanEast Asia
8🇳🇱 NetherlandsEurope
9🇻🇬 British Virgin IslandsCaribbean
10🇦🇪 United Arab EmiratesMiddle East
11🇬🇬 GuernseyEurope
12🇬🇧 United KingdomEurope
13🇹🇼 TaiwanEast Asia
14🇩🇪 GermanyEurope
15🇵🇦 PanamaCaribbean
16🇯🇪 JerseyEurope
17🇹🇭 ThailandSoutheast Asia
18🇲🇹 MaltaEurope
19🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America
20🇶🇦 QatarMiddle East

At a glance, the top 20 tax havens are spread out across regions. Just under half of the list is located in Europe, but the rest are spread out across the Americas and Asia.

And the jurisdictions are opposites in many ways. They include financial powerhouses like the U.S., Japan, and the UK as well as smaller nations and territories like the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, and Luxembourg.

But one surprising thing many of them have in common is a link to England. In addition to the UK, four of the top 20 tax havens—Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Guernsey, and Jersey—are British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies.

Also worth noting is the importance of scale in the rankings. The highest ranking jurisdictions by secrecy score were actually the Maldives, Angola and Algeria, but they represent less than 0.1% of total offshore financial services.

Best Place To Hide Private Vs. Corporate Tax

Some of the listed tax havens might be confusing to nationals of those countries, but that’s where relativity is important. The U.S. and Canada might not be tax havens for American or Canadian nationals, but the ultra-wealthy from East Asia and the Middle East are reported to utilize them due to holes in foreign tax laws. Likewise, the UAE has reportedly become a tax haven for Africa’s ultra-wealthy.

In addition, many of the countries used as tax havens for individual wealth are also utilized by corporations.

The Tax Justice Network’s 2021 assessment of corporate tax havens listed the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Bermuda as the top three tax corporate tax havens.

While individuals might create shell companies in tax havens to hide their wealth, corporations are usually directly incorporated in the tax haven in order to defer taxes.

But the tax haven landscape might soon shift. The G7 struck a deal in June 2021 to start taxing multinational corporations based on the revenue generated in each country (instead of where the company is based), as well as setting a global minimum tax of 15%. In total, a group of 130 countries have agreed to the deal, including India, China, the UK, and the Cayman Islands.

As the campaign to bring back deferred taxes ramps up, the question becomes one of response. Will the ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations start to work in tandem with the new rules, or discover new workarounds and tax havens?

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Misc

Chart: A Global Look at How People Spend Their Time

We all have the same 24 hours in the day. How do people spend them around the world, and how does this breakdown change by gender?

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A Global Look at How People Spend Their Time

We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but we don’t spend them the same way. Some prioritize family time or household chores, while others cherish a good night’s sleep or seeing friends.

This chart from Our World in Data compares the average time allocated across various day-to-day activities, from paid work to leisurely activities.

The data for the 33 countries profiled come from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Time Use database, for ages 15 through 64 years old.

Countries with the Highest Time Spent Per Activity

As the chart shows, basic patterns—work, rest, and play—emerge across the board.

When it comes to paid work, Japan emerges the highest on this list with approximately 5.5 hours per day. However, this country also has some of the highest overtime in a workweek. In contrast, European countries such as France and Spain report nearly half the same hours (less than 3 hours) of paid work per day on average.

Certain trends, however, transcend cultural boundaries. Those in Mexico find themselves spending significant portions of the day (3 hours or more) on housework, as do those in Portugal.

Activity categoryCountry with highest time spentTime spent in minutes
Paid work🇯🇵 Japan326 (Approx. 5.5 hrs)
Education🇰🇷 South Korea57 
Care for household members🇮🇪 Ireland61
Housework🇲🇽 Mexico187 (Approx. 3 hrs)
Shopping🇩🇪 Germany32
Other unpaid work & volunteering🇯🇵 Japan98 (Approx. 1.5 hrs)
Sleep🇿🇦 South Africa553 (Approx. 9 hrs)
Eating 🇫🇷 France133 (Approx. 2 hours)
Personal care🇫🇷 France107 (Approx. 1 hr 45 min)
Sports🇪🇸 Spain42
Attending events🇮🇪 Ireland42
Seeing friends🇿🇦 South Africa82
TV and radio🇺🇸 U.S.148 (Approx. 2.5 hrs)
Other leisure
(Religious/ civic duties, or unspecified)
🇳🇴 Norway154 (Approx. 2.5 hrs)

As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In the realm of leisure activities, those in the U.S. spend approximately 2.5 hours consuming media in a day, a number that has risen even higher during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, another interesting cultural pattern is that people in France spend the most time eating, approximately 2 hours per day. These durations are similar to those in other Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain—perhaps because meals are viewed as a social activity in these cultures.

Gender Disparities in Time Spent

Digging deeper, another way to look at how people spend their time globally is through the lens of gender.

Women spend nearly three times more in unpaid care work compared to men—a whopping total of 1.1 trillion hours each year—which means a lot less leisure time. This inequality is clearly defined by country in the following scatterplot:

In Norway, both men and women have equally high levels of leisure time—though it’s a rare example of such a case.

Meanwhile, in countries like India or China, significant gender gaps prevent women from moving up the socioeconomic ladder, potentially costing trillions of dollars to the global economy.

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