“Geography Report Card”: Geographic Knowledge Declining

Winnie Hu’s recent NY Times article, “Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging” (July 20, 2011) laments the fact that fewer than in one in three American students are proficient in geography–to the point where they can’t even identify the American Southwest on a map, according to report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The article is rich in irony, quoting Penn State’s Roger Downs, that “geography’s role in the curriculum is limited, and, at best, static.”

That is ironic given the convincing case that can be made for the importance of geographic literacy,” Mr. Downs said. “But it is doubly ironic given a world in which adults and now children have smartphones and tablets that can download maps on the fly, provide directions to places, and give your location to your friends.

The article also cites the concerns of  David P. Drsicoll, the  National Assessment Governing Board chair:

“Geography is not just about maps,” said Driscoll…who expressed concern that students were not doing better in geography. “It is a rich and varied discipline that, now more than ever, is vital to understanding the connections between our global economy, environment and diverse cultures.”

Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging – NYTimes.com.

Seattle is nation’s sixth-best city for walking: Walk Score

Seattle is the nation’s sixth-most walkable city, according to Seattle-based Walk Score, a website that rates cities on how walkable they are.

New York is the country’s most walkable city, according to Walk Score, followed by San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Walk Score ranks cities from zero to 100 based on a resident’s proximity to stores, restaurants, schools and other services.

Walk Score Description
90–100 Walker’s Paradise — Daily errands do not require a car.
70–89 Very Walkable — Most errands can be accomplished on foot.
50–69 Somewhat Walkable — Some amenities within walking distance.
25–49 Car-Dependent — A few amenities within walking distance.
0–24 Car-Dependent — Almost all errands require a car

In Seattle, the highest-ranked neighborhoods, according to Walk Score, are:

1. Denny Triangle — 98.

2. South Lake Union — 97.

3. Belltown — 97.

4. Cascade — 95.

5. Ballard — 94.

6. First Hill — 94.

7. Downtown — 93.

8. University District — 92.

9. Waterfront — 92.

10. Capitol Hill — 91.

Of Seattle’s 103 neighborhoods ranked by Walk Score, Rainier View has the lowest score, at 22.

Here’s a link to the Seattle neighborhood Walk Score rankings.

Seattle is the state’s best city for walking, according to Walk Score, with an overall Walk Score of 74. Tacoma ties with Kirkland for next best, at 59. Frederickson, south of Tacoma, has the state’s worst Walk Score average, at 12.

‘Seattle Geographies’ aims to decode the city’s many contradictions

Professor Emeritus Richard Morrill and Professor Michael Brown

The Seattle Times has profiled the Geography Department’s new anthology, Seattle Geographies, edited by professor Michael Brown and Emeritus Professor Dick Morrill. The book, which is being unveiled this week at the AAG Conference in Seattle,  emphasizes Geography’s unique spatial perspective on the Seattle region’s many “paradoxes”, including:

• Seattle may have a reputation as liberal and tolerant, “but it can also be quite controlling,” Brown says. For example, it has adopted stringent rules about social behavior that give police the authority to exclude people from parks if they violate rules or laws.

• The area has a long-standing fear of big government, but voters seem willing to tax themselves significantly, Morrill says.

• Though Seattle has a reputation as a high-tech mecca, one-third of the local economy is still fueled by manufacturing, notes Professor Emeritus William Beyers.

The book includes article by faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, and addresses such diverse cultural, social and ecnomic isues as voting patterns in presidential elections across the region, to relatively small, such as the politics of locating and building a skateboard park, and what that issue says about social and generational tensions.

The Seattle Times article also talks about the UW Geography Department, pointing to a “renaissance” in the discipline, and emphasizing our  accountability to place, field-based research, and community engagement.

Challenges for Geographers in the April 2011 issue of the American Journal of Public Health

The current issue of the American Journal of Public Health has many articles that speak directly to issues of direct relevance to areas of current concern in geography and in population health. “Global Health and the Global Economic Crisis” by Benatar, Gill, and Bakker (pp. 646-653) pursues several arguments, and among them are that 1)global inequities in health reflect inequities in power; 2) the profit driven global economic system is a driver of inequities in health, and of collective poor health; and 3) a new paradigm is needed, versed in ethics, and culturally sensitive, creative, and innovative long term policy.

“The Social Determinants of Tuberculosis” by Hargreaves and colleagues (pp. 654-662) is very close to what I do in Ghana, and brings the understanding of tuberculosis into the realm of social epidemiology, social science, and the movement that has been termed “the social determinants of health” for the past 30 years or so. It is a label that I do not like since it is too—deterministic. I would much rather see “social influences on health.” It does not help to have a biologic determinism and a social determinism competing with one another–the whole problem is that health is not the result of determinism and the underlying causes of either ill-health or good health are not deterministic in nature. Be that as it may….this interesting article reviews the social factors that underlie contemporary TB epidemiology, including mobility and urbanization. In the US, for example, the main driver of TB is the influx of foreign-born individuals, for the simple reason that some are originating from areas that have high rates of TB; thus, percent foreign born, in any area in the US gives that area a high relative risk of having a TB prevalence rate well above the median. One of my recent doctoral graduates in the Department of Epidemiology, Eyal Oren, PhD, discovered a great deal of spatial clustering of incident TB cases in this state, and, based upon chart reviews and medical records, in King County.

The final article that I will mention is a spatial analysis of major trauma and injury in the North America. The article, titled “Trauma in the Neighborhood: A Geospatial Analysis and Assessment of Social Determinants of Major Injury in North America” (pp. 669-677) examines the spatial patterns and clustering of major trauma using GIS and a commonly used clustering algorithm, SatSCan. It is another example of examining health phenomena using the “social determinants” approach. In this case, I would call it the “social correlations” approach. Even if the relationships were deterministic, and they were not, there was no causation established here.

This issue of AJPH is unusually full of interesting articles that will interest geographers in many specialties.