Beyond Red and Blue: Sifting through how people sort themselves

Voting Preferences of the Typology Groups

It is clear that Americans believe our best years are behind us. Unless you’re in in the other half that says America’s best years lie ahead of us.  The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released the second helping of their poll results on political polarization in the American public.  This release sorts respondents into a political typology, using cluster analysis, to help sort out commonalities among and between folks along the political spectrum.

On the Right (the old Blue-bloods/the new Red conservatives), Pew sifts the sort into three groups who generally support the Grand Old Party:

  • Steadfast Conservatives:  Socially conservative populists
  • Business Conservatives:  Pro-Wall Street, pro-immigrant
  • Young Outsiders:  Conservative on government, more libertarian on social issues

On the Left (the old Red socialists/the new Blue liberals), Pew again sifts out three groups, and adds skeptics in the middle to the Democratic coalition:

  • Solid Liberals:  Left-wing across the board
  • Faith and Family Left:  Racially & ethnically diverse, uncomfortable with social change
  • Next Generation Left:  Younger, liberal on social issues, less so on government
  • Hard-Pressed Skeptics:  Financially stressed and pessimistic

We’re familiar with the media stereotypes of Left and Right.  Those fat-cat Republicans and those Old Hippie Democrats.  But bury down into the data, again, and you find much more diversity and commonality between and among the typologies.  Faith and Family liberals may agree more with Steadfast Conservatives on social issues, while Next Generation Left may actually find common ground with Business Conservatives on supporting entrepreneurship.  And that doesn’t even count the Bystanders who, well, stand by and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Public Evenly Divided in Views of Government Regulation of Business

While most of us go to great efforts to stay political neutral, or at least welcome all perspectives, it can help to remember no one interest group is likely to speak for “All Conservatives” or “All Liberals” in our communities.  As well, even within the politically active respondents, less than half admitted to following public affairs most of the time—more on the ends of the spectrum, less in the middle.

We can’t just talk to the folks who show up.  Life is more complicated than that.


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Liberals Want Walkable, Conservatives Require More Room, And Other Ways the Glass is Half-Full

Liberals Want Walkable Communities, Conservatives Prefer More Room

Half of all Americans prefer to live in a community where the houses are smaller and closer together, but schools, stores, and restaurants are within walking distance. The same recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the other half of all Americans prefer houses that are larger and farther apart, with amenities driving distance away.

The headlines on the survey results emphasized a confirmation of the “Red State—Blue State” dichotomy.  America is hopelessly divided!  Oh, woe is me!

The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. And ideological thinking is now much more closely aligned with partisanship than in the past. As a result, ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished: Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.

The full results of the survey are fascinating, if you’re the sort of person to be fascinated by surveys (as I am).  The act of planning is an inherently political act, and too many planners are effectively isolated from people who don’t think like they do, who have an essentially different American dream.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing that our political parties are more consistent today.  I do think it’s a bad thing when we infer our own values rather than working to understand the spectrum of our constituencies.

What the Headlines Leave Unsaid

That said, I am also drawn to what the headlines left unsaid about Americans’ preferred community.  Yes, 3/4 of “Consistently Liberal” respondents prefer walkable communities, and 3/4 of “Consistently Conservative” respondents prefer larger houses miles from amenities.  But that also means 1 in 4 “Consistently Conservative” citizens (such as myself) feel at home in town, and 1 in 4 “Consistently Liberal” folks yearn for the sprawl.  We may be a 50-50 nation, but we’re 25-75 even within our silos, hardly a study in lockstep groupthink.

Looking more closely within our 50-50, we’re 50-50.  When asked where they would live, if they could live anywhere in the United States that they wanted to, 20-30% of respondents chose either a city, suburb, small town or a rural area.  Yes, there are considerable ideological and demographic differences in preferences in ideal community type.  Only 20% of high school-grad respondents prefer city-living, while only 15% of college-grad respondents prefer rural-living.  I get it, the sky is falling and the glass is half empty.

Yet even when the glass is half empty, that same glass is still half full.  We don’t, typically, build a community for just half of our population.  Metropolitan areas are made up of center cities, suburbs, small towns and rural areas.  A well-rounded, resilient community provides diverse neighborhoods for all sorts of people—walkable, historic neighborhoods AND newer neighborhoods with more elbowroom, commercial corridors for industry AND vibrant, walkable downtowns and new urban centers.  Some folks prefer a bit of this.  Some folks prefer a bit of that.  Overall, people want places that work.  A successful place fills the glass for them all.


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Development Professional Available

Friends, I am looking for a new job.  As a seasoned Development Professional, I am considering opportunities in Community and Economic Development, primarily across the Mountain West and Upper Midwest states.  I have particular experience in long-range community and regional planning, infrastructure, and strategic planning.  I have particular interest in how communities thrive in the New Economy.  If you find a topic on this blog, I’m probably interested in helping you out!

Any tips or ideas would certainly be appreciated.

UpdatedResume-John Shepard AICP (2pp PDF)

John Shepard on LinkedIn

John C Shepard, AICP on Twitter (Professional Account)


Professional Experience

LARAMIE CO. PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT, Cheyenne, WY October 2012–June 2014

Senior Planner

Team leader for long-range planning, including infrastructure and transportation planning, in 11-member planning and building department. Proficient with ESRI ArcView GIS and Microsoft Office Suite. Also conducted current planning activities including zoning, site plan, and subdivision review.

External Leadership

Led projects involving local public and private stakeholders:

  • Engaged rural community leaders in assessment of 12-year old county comprehensive plan.
  • Facilitated unincorporated community’s neighborhood association’s South Greeley Highway Corridor Plan, as a strategic alternative to a rejected re-development plan.
  • Worked with City and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) on contentious update of award-winning PlanCheyenne, a cooperative regional land use and transportation plan.
  • Presented on Planning for Broadband at APA National Planning Conference 2013 in Chicago.

Internal Leadership

  • Lead planner on specialized applications including wireless siting and wind energy systems.
  • Lead planner for Planning Commission; presented projects to Board of County Commissioners.

Technical Assistance and Problem Solving

  • Secured support for University of Wyoming student project to review best practices in county comprehensive planning.
  • Completed FEMA 5-year review of Community Rating System (CRS) participation.
  • Member of MPO transportation planning technical committee.



Development Planner

Conducted comprehensive, long-range planning for region, including county and city land use plans, local water management plans, regional transportation planning, and FEMA all-hazard mitigation plans. Provided technical assistance to local units of government on grant writing, zoning, active living, GreenStep Cities, solid waste and recycling, water, sewer, and telecommunications infrastructure. Regional Census data center.


  • Completed comprehensive plans for rural counties and small cities.
  • Facilitated and authored state-mandated Local Water Management Plans for several counties and watershed districts. Initiative recognized for innovation by National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) and Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC).
  • Facilitated and authored all hazard mitigation plans for all counties in region.
  • Conducted training for Planning Commissioners, County Commissioners, and Boards of Adjustment.

Grant Writing and Technical Assistance

  • Worked with communities, non-profit organizations, higher education, Extension and local business to improve use of broadband infrastructure through the Blandin Foundation’s
    Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community (MIRC) project.
  • Secured $140,000 state and federal funding for 7 multi-jurisdictional all-hazard mitigation plans.
  • Encouraged walking and biking to schools through State DOT’s Safe Routes to School program and the Minnesota State Health Improvement Project (SHIP).

Problem Solving

  • Completed cooperative analysis of socio-economic data related to outmigration in rural Minnesota; made case to US Economic Development Administration (EDA) that outmigration meets federal criteria to access infrastructure and business development funding.


LARIMER CO. PLANNING DEPARTMENT, Fort Collins, CO December 2001 – December 2004
(Larimer County Community Development Division)

Planner II

Hired in department’s expansion of long-range planning team. Completed land use plans, including analysis, GIS mapping, public participation, and publications. Performed zoning and development review, and demographic analysis. Served as liaison with County parks, open space, and trails planning group and with Extension ag-based business task force.


  • Served on multi-disciplinary team and as primary author of area plan for county’s oldest village facing significant growth pressure. Presented options, helped achieve consensus in community.

Problem Solving

  • Enabled community task force to visualize scenarios for alternative land use recommendations by completing detailed, parcel-by-parcel land use inventories with GIS.


GALLATIN CO. PLANNING DEPARTMENT, Bozeman, MT August 1998 – November 2001

Planner II

Hired in expansion of small department’s long-range planning team to support scenario-based growth policy, neighborhood and regional transportation plans. Performed compliance reporting for $111,000 federal National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) GIS demonstration grant.



Executive Director

Worked with small communities on all aspects of rural development, including value-added agriculture. Managed marketing and legislative affairs. Conducted grant-writing and administration, oversaw budget and loan/grant program. Staffed volunteer Board of Directors and managed part-time staff.



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Placemaking Pays Off in the Place and in the Making

Creeque Alley Plein Air

Cheyenne’s Celtic Musical Arts Festival took over Depot Plaza downtown this weekend.  The usual Fridays on the Plaza offered up high-octane Celtic grunge leading up to a romping good time with Celtic Americana of The Elders, a favorite from my KRFC days.  Put together some food, some music, some folk art and even some weekend rain couldn’t keep the crowds away.

The Elders in Cheyenne

Us community development types call this sort of thing “Placemaking“:

The concepts behind placemaking originated in the 1960s, when writers like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte offered groundbreaking ideas about designing cities that catered to people, not just to cars and shopping centers. Their work focused on the importance of lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces…

Placemaking is both design and management.  Here in Cheyenne, the Depot Plaza is a fairly new place, carved out of half a square block of parking during a 2001-2006 renovation of the historic (1886) Union Depot.  This block itself once was the location of the Burlington railroad depot, and later the bus depot.  Where once people gathered to come and go, today they gather on the Square for all sorts of festivities, from New Years Eve to the big Kiwanis pancake feed for Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Cheyenne Depot Square

The Depot Plaza is a place, and it has been made, but there is constant making to be done to keep it a safe and vital part of the community.  As the Project for Public Spaces explains:

Rooted in community-based participation, Placemaking involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution…


I expect that the rank and file residents of my community (and yours) don’t call this sort of thing anything.  Its the sort of thing−the place, and the event−that most folks don’t miss if its not there.  But when it is there, a well designed community space invites activity, and the activity provides value to the space.  Its not easy, but when it is done right it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Kudos to a few of the people Placemaking in Downtown Cheyenne:


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Improve a Vaccine—Save a Forest

Soap Bark Trees

QS-21 is a promising adjuvant which improves the performance of certain drugs.  The trouble is, QS-21 is derived from an evergreen tree (Quillaja saponari) found in limited locations in Chile. It also has some other qualities that limit vaccine effectiveness.

Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York have been working on a synthetic version of QS-21.  As Chemical & Engineering News reported this week:

Now, the Gin/Tan group and those of Philip O. Livingston, Govind Ragupathi, and Jason S. Lewis at MSKCC have created a greatly simplified QS-21 analog that is more synthetically accessible and less toxic than the natural product (Nat. Chem. 2014, DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1963). They have also uncovered new details on QS-21’s poorly understood mechanism of action.

The team plans to commercialize such semisynthetic QS-21 variants as adjuvants through Adjuvance Technologies, a company Gin started with Livingston and Ragupathi.

The researchers created the analog from QS-21 by deleting a branched trisaccharide and an additional sugar and simplifying an acyl chain, among other structural changes. The analog retains QS-21’s full activity while lowering its toxicity.

“I would never have expected that one could strip down this beast of a molecule to this extent and still retain activity, much less have reduced toxicity,” comments Jeffrey C. Gildersleeve, head of chemical glycobiology at the National Cancer Institute and winner of the ACS Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry’s 2011 David Y. Gin New Investigator Award….

I am not a chemist, yet I find the process of innovation key in all fields.  My brother-in-law, Dr. David Gin, passed away in 2011, while working on this ground-breaking research few of us understood.  This innovation has the potential to improve the functioning of important vaccines, while preventing unnecessary impacts on forests in South America.  And who among us would not want our work to carry on beyond our own lives, especially with the potential to save so many others.


Disclosure: While I have no direct financial interest in Adjuvance Technologies or this research, I do serve as a trustee for a trust with interests.


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Gen X: Stuck in the Middle with Me

Pew Research Center posted an interesting look at my fellow travelers in “Generation X”.  We’re the 34-49 year-olds sandwiched between the younger Boomers and older Millenials, both oversized and over-covered in the media.  We are, they point out, the middle child of the modern demography.

Gen Xers have also gotten the short end of basic generational arithmetic. Due partly to their parents’ relatively low fertility rates, there are fewer of them (65 million) than Boomers (77 million) or Millennials (an estimated 83 million assuming a roughly 20-year age span and including those who have yet to reach adulthood).

But there’s another reason that Xers are a small generation: They’ve been deemed to span just 16 years, while most generations are credited with lasting for about 20 years. How come? No one really knows. Generational boundaries are fuzzy, arbitrary and culture-driven. Once fixed by the mysterious forces of the zeitgeist, they tend to firm up over time.

It’s easy to feel sorry for us, “stuck in the middle”.  It’s also easy to flip that to positive—Gen X is the generation that can bring together the Boomers and the Millenials to get things done.  Sometimes there’s wall in the middle.  Sometimes there’s bridges.

Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center


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Placemaking, not Bailouts, Key to Millenials and Boomers Alike

APA Poll-Key Statistics

Last month, in conjunction with the National Planning Conference in Atlanta, the American Planning Association (APA) released results of a new poll.  It found interesting similarities of opinion between both young adults (my kids) and younger/potential retirees (my folks).

National Poll Dispels Popular Assumptions About Improving Local Economies and Attracting New Residents

Millennials, Baby Boomers Want New Economics of Place

ATLANTA — A wide-ranging national survey released today by the American Planning Association (APA) finds that Millennials and Baby Boomers want cities to focus less on recruiting new companies and more on investing in new transportation options, walkable communities, and making the area as attractive as possible. The poll also showed the perceived importance of shared economies, high-speed internet access and housing where they can live as they grow older.

The poll found that 68 percent of respondents believe the U.S. economy is fundamentally flawed. They also believe the best way to make improvements nationally during the next five years is through local economies and investments that make cities, suburbs, small towns and rural areas attractive and economically desirable places to live and work.

65 percent of respondents believe investing in schools, transportation choices and walkable areas is a better way to grow the economy than investing in recruiting companies to move to the area.
Whether the community is a small town, suburban or urban location, 49 percent of respondents someday want to live in a walkable community, while only seven percent want to live where they have to drive to most places.

Among other key findings:

  • 74 percent of the Millennials surveyed said attracting new businesses by investing in schools, transportation options and walkable areas is better than recruitment of companies;
  • 79 percent of respondents cited living expenses as important when deciding where to live;
  • 76 percent of respondents said affordable and convenient transportation options other than cars is at least somewhat important when deciding where to live and work;
  • 59 percent of respondents said the “shared” economy, such as CarToGo or Airbnb , is at least somewhat important to them.

“We recognize that providing people more options to get about effectively than just relying on the car will pose a host of planning and design challenges,” said APA President William Anderson, FAICP. “Yet such a finding is one of the reasons we conducted this poll. As planners, it’s vital that we look ahead 15 or 20 years and find ways to lessen the impact of current growth and development on tomorrow’s communities.”


More PR & the full report PDF on the APA website.



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STaR Award Winner from 2004 Stands Test of Time


This month, the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference takes place in Atlanta, Georgia.  Ten years ago, the Conference was held in Washington, DC, where the APA Small Town & Rural (STaR) Division recognized Coconino County, AZ, for excellence in rural planning.  That plan has worn well.  Hopefully, a decade from now we’ll be able to say the same thing about this year’s winners.

Where Are They Now? Coconino County Comprehensive Plan, STaR Awards for Excellence 2004

Coconino County, Arizona, is the 2nd largest county geographically in the United States.  That makes for a lot of rural outside of the Flagstaff urban area, both public and private lands.  The County completed their comprehensive plan in-house ten years ago, and recently embarked on an in-house update—to meet Arizona’s statutory requirements, and to flesh out the “good bones” of their conservation-based plan.

What have they learned in getting started on their update?  John Aber, Assistant Director of Community Development, emphasizes the importance of committing to deadlines, and recruiting a good citizen committee representing a broad cross-section of the community.  They will become your plan’s greatest advocates.


STaR 2004 Spring Snapshot.

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Talking About the Economic Census

An interesting video bit of PR from the Census Bureau on the 2012 Economic Census:

Fast Tube

How folks in business, economic and political leaders use economic statistics.  A bit geeky, like dancing about architecture…


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2012 Economic Census First Look

We’re getting an advance view of the US Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census results.

The mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector of the economy showed tremendous growth from 2007 to 2012 as the number of establishments rose by 26.4 percent, according to the 2012 Economic Census Advance Report released [March 26] by the U.S. Census Bureau.

These results provide the first comprehensive look at the U.S. economy since the 2007 recession. The economic census is the most authoritative and comprehensive source of information about U.S. businesses from the national to the local level. It provides the foundation and benchmark for gross domestic product, monthly retail sales, as well as other indicators of economic performance.

“The economic census is one of the Commerce Department’s most valuable data resources,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said. “By providing a close-up look at millions of U.S. companies in thousands of industries, the economic census is an important tool that informs policy at the local, state and national level, and helps businesses make critical decisions that drive economic growth and job creation. At the Department of Commerce, one of the top priorities of our ‘Open for Business Agenda’ is to make our data easier to access and understand so that it can continue enabling startups, moving markets, protecting life and property, and powering both small and large businesses across the country.”

Revenue for mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction grew 34.2 percent to $555.2 billion from 2007 to 2012. It also was among the fastest growers in employment as the number of employees rose 23.3 percent to 903,641.

“The growth shown by the 2012 Economic Census in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector supports the population growth we see in parts of the Great Plains” Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson said. “These data drive our understanding of the economy, and when considered in context of our demographic data provide insight into growth trends.”

The 2012 Economic Census Advance Report is the first in a series of industry and geographic area data products. It contains statistics at the national level only for broad industry sectors of the economy, such as energy. New to the 2012 Economic Census, and available later this year, will be information on emerging industries, including solar, wind, geothermal and biomass electric power generation.

Among the findings in this report:

  • The retail trade sector had the most businesses in 2012 (nearly 1.1 million), while the utilities sector had the least (17,804).
  • The utilities sector achieved the highest average revenue per establishment in 2012 of more than $29 million per establishment.
  • The health care and social assistance sector continued to have the most employees with more than 18 million in 2012, an increase of more than 10 percent or 1.8 million people from 2007. This is the highest numerical increase of employees in any sector published in the advance report.
  • Wholesale trade, manufacturing, and retail trade remained the largest sectors in the U.S. economy. Wholesale trade businesses reported more than $7 trillion in receipts in 2012. This was an increase of approximately 10 percent from the $6.5 trillion reported in 2007.
  • Among the service-related sectors, accommodation and food services sector reported the lowest payroll per employee in 2012 ($16,374).

More info here.  It is going to take awhile for more detailed information to dribble out.  Data release schedule here.


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