Ohio

America’s Next Top Turkey: Vote for the 2014 National Thanksgiving Turkey

11/26/14

Watch live:

On Wednesday, November 26th, President Obama will announce the National Thanksgiving Turkey and, once again, we’re inviting the American people to decide which bird takes the title.

Since at least the 19th century, Americans have been sending turkeys to the President for the holidays. As part of a more recent tradition that began in 2012, the National Thanksgiving Turkey will be chosen by the public through an online vote. This year’s top turkeys, Mac and Cheese, are going beak-to-beak on Twitter -- and it's up to you to decide who will be America's next top turkey.

Mac and Cheese flock from Cooper Farms in Oakwood, Ohio. Mac's got a grand champion style strut and his gobble has a country ring to it. Cheese is a feather-shaker with a rhythmic gobble that loves to cheese it up for the the cameras.

Which turkey has what it takes?

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Choose One, Millennials: Upward Mobility or Affordable Housing

11/19/14
Image
Salt Lake City, pictured, is the one of the rare cities that scores highly on two separate measures of housing affordability and upward mobility. (Wkimedia Commons)

So what'll it be: Dayton or San Francisco?

Alright, so that's not the most common choice for young people getting ready to start their lives. But it's an instructive question.

Dayton is the most affordable housing market in the United States, according to Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko, while San Francisco is the least affordable place to live in America. But the San Francisco-San Jose area has a better record of social mobility than just about any region in the country, according to Harvard economist Raj Chetty. In other words, a variety of factors make it the best place for young person to work his or her way into the middle class and beyond. As for Dayton and other Ohio cities, they account for four of the 12 worst cities for that same measure of upward mobility.

The Dayton-SF dilemma isn't about Ohio vs. California. It's about a broader dilemma for young workers and, in particular, young couples looking to buy a home, raise children, and achieve the American Dream. The cities with the least affordable housing often have the best social mobility. And the cities with the worst social mobility often have the most affordable housing. When good jobs for the middle class and affordable homes are living in different cities, it represents a slow-motion splintering of the American Dream.

In 2013, Chetty and a phalanx of economists produced a one-of-a-kind study on intergenerational mobility—that is, the odds that low-income households can work their way into the middle class and above. Comparing social mobility by metro area, they discovered that the American Dream is alive in many cities, such as Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and San Jose. But it's dying in others, particularly across the southeast and the Rust Belt, where cities are spread out, segregated, and blighted by bad schools and broken families.

But most young people aren't choosing to move to a city because they've heard that a Harvard economist said it was really good for intergenerational mobility. They move for more short-term financial reasons. They want to live affordably. As Kolko explains, "the five most affordable markets are in Ohio, Indiana, and upstate New York... the South is relatively affordable, too."*

But now look what happens when you compare Chetty's map of economic opportunity (red is bad) ...


Economic Opportunity, by Location

(Chetty)

with Kolko's map of affordable housing by city (red is still bad).


Percent of For-Sale Homes That Are Affordable With a Median Household Income

(Kolko/Trulia)

Climbing the income ladder is easiest in the West and Northeast. But finding an affordable home is easiest in the South and the Great Lakes/Appalachian region. California, home to six of the seven least-affordable housing markets, has four of the 11 best cities for upward mobility.

If you plot the 50 largest metro areas by Kolko's affordability metric and Chetty's absolute mobility metric, the inverse relationship is unavoidably clear. Upwardly mobile cities have more expensive homes.


Percent of Homes Millennials Can Afford vs. Social Mobility

The X-axis includes the names of only some of the cities recorded here. The graph does not include the three outliers discussed in the next paragraph: Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, or Minneapolis. (Kolko/Chetty)

There are the only three cities in the United States with (a) at least 50 percent of houses affordable to middle-class Millennials and (b) a top-10 finish in Chetty's mobility calculations. These are the outliers: Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City.

In the graph below, I've isolated the 10 best cities for upward mobility and arranged them by affordability to give you a sense of how steep the drop-off is after our trio of outliers. Less than half of all homes are affordable to middle-class Millennials in Boston, NYC, and across California's major metros, all of which are sterling cities for working your way into and past the middle class.


Top 10 Cities for Social Mobility, Ranked by Affordability

(Chetty/Kolko)

Here are the 10 major U.S. cities with the worst upward mobility by Chetty's measure. I've arranged them by Kolko's affordability metric again. What stands out immediately: More than half of the houses in all of these cities are affordable for young families. (These are all major metros, and the worst places for upwardly mobility could well be in exurban and rural America.)


Bottom 10 Cities for Social Mobility, Ranked by Affordability

(Chetty/Kolko)

Lots of graphs, lots of colors, but this is a pretty simple conclusion. The American Dream begins with a good job and place to live that you can afford. But today, those two halves of the American Dream are living apart. The good jobs and high wages are in unaffordable cities. The affordable homes cluster in the cities with lower wages and less upwardly mobile families.

Kolko offers a sensible explanation:

High-income households bid up home prices, and high prices push out lower-income households. In addition, higher-income metros tend to have less new construction than lower-income metros do. As a result, high-income metros such as San Francisco and San Jose are among the least affordable, even after taking income into account ... Bucking the trend are Washington, D.C., and the Bethesda metro next door, where incomes are high and more than 60% of homes are within reach of the middle class.

Until more rich coastal cities find ways match the income growth of their residents with more housing development, the best advice for young people seeking the American Dream isn't "Go West, young man" or "Go East, young woman." It's "Check out Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City."


*Kolko calls a house affordable when "total monthly payment, including mortgage, insurance, and property taxes, is less than 31 percent of the metro area’s median household income" for Millennial-headed households. Millennials is defined as adults under 35.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.








Choose One, Millennials: Upward Mobility or Affordable Housing

11/19/14
Image
Salt Lake City, pictured, is the one of the rare cities that scores highly on two separate measures of housing affordability and upward mobility. (Wkimedia Commons)

So what'll it be: Dayton or San Francisco?

Alright, so that's not the most common choice for young people getting ready to start their lives. But it's an instructive question.

Dayton is the most affordable housing market in the United States, according to Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko, while San Francisco is the least affordable place to live in America. But the San Francisco-San Jose area has a better record of social mobility than just about any region in the country, according to Harvard economist Raj Chetty. In other words, a variety of factors make it the best place for young person to work his or her way into the middle class and beyond. As for Dayton and other Ohio cities, they account for four of the 12 worst cities for that same measure of upward mobility.

The Dayton-SF dilemma isn't about Ohio vs. California. It's about a broader dilemma for young workers and, in particular, young couples looking to buy a home, raise children, and achieve the American Dream. The cities with the least affordable housing often have the best social mobility. And the cities with the worst social mobility often have the most affordable housing. When good jobs for the middle class and affordable homes are living in different cities, it represents a slow-motion splintering of the American Dream.

In 2013, Chetty and a phalanx of economists produced a one-of-a-kind study on intergenerational mobility—that is, the odds that low-income households can work their way into the middle class and above. Comparing social mobility by metro area, they discovered that the American Dream is alive in many cities, such as Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and San Jose. But it's dying in others, particularly across the southeast and the Rust Belt, where cities are spread out, segregated, and blighted by bad schools and broken families.

But most young people aren't choosing to move to a city because they've heard that a Harvard economist said it was really good for intergenerational mobility. They move for more short-term financial reasons. They want to live affordably. As Kolko explains, "the five most affordable markets are in Ohio, Indiana, and upstate New York... the South is relatively affordable, too."*

But now look what happens when you compare Chetty's map of economic opportunity (red is bad) ...


Economic Opportunity, by Location

(Chetty)

with Kolko's map of affordable housing by city (red is still bad).


Percent of For-Sale Homes That Are Affordable With a Median Household Income

(Kolko/Trulia)

Climbing the income ladder is easiest in the West and Northeast. But finding an affordable home is easiest in the South and the Great Lakes/Appalachian region. California, home to six of the seven least-affordable housing markets, has four of the 11 best cities for upward mobility.

If you plot the 50 largest metro areas by Kolko's affordability metric and Chetty's absolute mobility metric, the inverse relationship is unavoidably clear. Upwardly mobile cities have more expensive homes.


Percent of Homes Millennials Can Afford vs. Social Mobility

The X-axis includes the names of only some of the cities recorded here. The graph does not include the three outliers discussed in the next paragraph: Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, or Minneapolis. (Kolko/Chetty)

There are the only three cities in the United States with (a) at least 50 percent of houses affordable to middle-class Millennials and (b) a top-10 finish in Chetty's mobility calculations. These are the outliers: Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City.

In the graph below, I've isolated the 10 best cities for upward mobility and arranged them by affordability to give you a sense of how steep the drop-off is after our trio of outliers. Less than half of all homes are affordable to middle-class Millennials in Boston, NYC, and across California's major metros, all of which are sterling cities for working your way into and past the middle class.


Top 10 Cities for Social Mobility, Ranked by Affordability

(Chetty/Kolko)

Here are the 10 major U.S. cities with the worst upward mobility by Chetty's measure. I've arranged them by Kolko's affordability metric again. What stands out immediately: More than half of the houses in all of these cities are affordable for young families. (These are all major metros, and the worst places for upwardly mobility could well be in exurban and rural America.)


Bottom 10 Cities for Social Mobility, Ranked by Affordability

(Chetty/Kolko)

Lots of graphs, lots of colors, but this is a pretty simple conclusion. The American Dream begins with a good job and place to live that you can afford. But today, those two halves of the American Dream are living apart. The good jobs and high wages are in unaffordable cities. The affordable homes cluster in the cities with lower wages and less upwardly mobile families.

Kolko offers a sensible explanation:

High-income households bid up home prices, and high prices push out lower-income households. In addition, higher-income metros tend to have less new construction than lower-income metros do. As a result, high-income metros such as San Francisco and San Jose are among the least affordable, even after taking income into account ... Bucking the trend are Washington, D.C., and the Bethesda metro next door, where incomes are high and more than 60% of homes are within reach of the middle class.

Until more rich coastal cities find ways match the income growth of their residents with more housing development, the best advice for young people seeking the American Dream isn't "Go West, young man" or "Go East, young woman." It's "Check out Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City."


*Kolko calls a house affordable when "total monthly payment, including mortgage, insurance, and property taxes, is less than 31 percent of the metro area’s median household income" for Millennial-headed households. Millennials is defined as adults under 35.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.








2016 Democratic National Convention: NYC Gets $10M In Commitments To Host

11/19/14

Since being named a finalist in August for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, New York City has gathered $10 million in commitments toward the $100 million it says it needs to host the event. The Big Apple is competing against four other cities, including one in the swing state of Ohio.

How Tech Is Getting Young Voters to Turn Out for Election Day

11/4/14
Image
Tobias Nichols, 2, yawns while waiting for his father, Dan Nichols, to vote on Election Day 2013 in Brooklyn. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Tuesday morning, MacKenzie Bills' cell phone will buzz, alerting her to a text. The message, a simple reminder, will direct the Simpson College junior to a polling place in Indianola, Iowa, just across the street from campus: Go vote.

The text isn't from her parents, or a particularly civically engaged friend. TurboVote, a digital, nonpartisan service that streamlines voter registration for college students, sends personalized texts to the 80,000 co-eds who have registered and requested them. More than 200 colleges, including Ohio State and Stanford, have purchased access to the platform, which is free for students.

"The purpose is to make it as painless as possible for students to register to vote," said David Klement, executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at Florida's St. Petersburg College. "Knowing how many young people are tech-savvy and do everything on their cell phones or computers, it's an electronic platform."

In a year where midterm races have lacked much excitement, colleges have found creative ways to engage students in the voting process through technology they already use.

Bills, who is studying political science and international relations, needs no reminder to vote. The founder and president of Simpson Votes, a campus club that promotes civic engagement, she took advantage of Iowa's early voting last month. But the digital nudge, she said, makes all the difference for her busy peers—especially in a state where the outcome of a tight Senate race could swing control of Congress.

"Being a college student means we're being pulled a million different directions," Bills said. "That extra reminder is what will get us to the polls."

In Georgia, despite energy from another high-stakes Senate matchup, University of North Georgia history professor Renee Bricker said it's difficult to rouse students to vote.

"The midterm is always harder to get people excited about," said Bricker, who coordinates the TurboVote program at UNG. "It's like going to church just on Christmas and Easter. The presidential election every four years is easy to get people excited about, but the midterms are a little harder."

That holds true across the country. Compared with the 2012 presidential election, where 45 percent of eligible 18-to-29-year-olds voted, the last midterm elections, in 2010, saw a youth turnout rate of only 24 percent, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Administrators on UNG's campus in Dahlonega have tried a number of tactics to engage students in the election, with hits and misses. While QR codes linking to the UNG TurboVote site were deemed excessive, simple pop-up windows—activated whenever a student logged into the university's server—were incredibly successful, albeit annoying after a while, Bricker said. The popups allowed students to register on the spot, as well as sign up for text and email reminders to vote.

Social media, too, has helped engage Facebook- and Twitter-addicted college students in state elections. Bills has been promoting the hashtags #SimpsonVotes and #IVoted in a grassroots effort at Simpson since early voting started in September. Facebook posts and tweets flaunt civic engagement throughout social networks, encouraging voting among friend groups in a form of positive peer pressure.

Simply voting, however, isn't the only endgame: Once students get to the polls, they need to be educated about their decisions. To help students make informed choices, Bills sends out fact sheets on candidates via Twitter and email, and TurboVote's Election Day memos include ballot previews with links to candidates' websites.

For self-starters who are just forgetful or busy, TurboVote's digital reminders come in handy. But other students may need more of a push. When that comes from someone they trust, Sam Novey, TurboVote's director of partnerships, told National Journal, it has a much more meaningful impact.

On National Voter Registration Day, in September, an email from UNG's provost encouraging students to register to vote resulted in more than 200 TurboVote sign-ups. And when John Boyer, a popular geography professor at Virginia Tech, emailed his students the link to the school's TurboVote page, 600 students signed up in two days.

Novey said that, logistically, it was only possible for Boyer to have that influence with help from technology. It worked so well, though, because students respect him.

"Technology like TurboVote is designed to empower leaders in campuses and communities everywhere to share voting with their peers and with their students," Novey said. "By taking care of a lot of the details, it empowers folks to do what they're uniquely situated to do, which is use their relationships and their passion and their commitment to democracy to mobilize those around them to get to the polls."

Digital platforms complement college voter outreach well, especially in a stale election. Ultimately, though, it will take more passion and stronger relationships to truly amp up college turnout.

This post originally appeared on National Journal, an Atlantic partner site.

More from National Journal:

The Surreal Life of an Obama Impersonator

In D.C., White Men Come Out on Top

The Case Against Ebola Quarantines, Respectfully Submitted








How Tech Is Getting Young Voters to Turn Out for Election Day

11/4/14
Image
Tobias Nichols, 2, yawns while waiting for his father, Dan Nichols, to vote on Election Day 2013 in Brooklyn. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Tuesday morning, MacKenzie Bills' cell phone will buzz, alerting her to a text. The message, a simple reminder, will direct the Simpson College junior to a polling place in Indianola, Iowa, just across the street from campus: Go vote.

The text isn't from her parents, or a particularly civically engaged friend. TurboVote, a digital, nonpartisan service that streamlines voter registration for college students, sends personalized texts to the 80,000 co-eds who have registered and requested them. More than 200 colleges, including Ohio State and Stanford, have purchased access to the platform, which is free for students.

"The purpose is to make it as painless as possible for students to register to vote," said David Klement, executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at Florida's St. Petersburg College. "Knowing how many young people are tech-savvy and do everything on their cell phones or computers, it's an electronic platform."

In a year where midterm races have lacked much excitement, colleges have found creative ways to engage students in the voting process through technology they already use.

Bills, who is studying political science and international relations, needs no reminder to vote. The founder and president of Simpson Votes, a campus club that promotes civic engagement, she took advantage of Iowa's early voting last month. But the digital nudge, she said, makes all the difference for her busy peers—especially in a state where the outcome of a tight Senate race could swing control of Congress.

"Being a college student means we're being pulled a million different directions," Bills said. "That extra reminder is what will get us to the polls."

In Georgia, despite energy from another high-stakes Senate matchup, University of North Georgia history professor Renee Bricker said it's difficult to rouse students to vote.

"The midterm is always harder to get people excited about," said Bricker, who coordinates the TurboVote program at UNG. "It's like going to church just on Christmas and Easter. The presidential election every four years is easy to get people excited about, but the midterms are a little harder."

That holds true across the country. Compared with the 2012 presidential election, where 45 percent of eligible 18-to-29-year-olds voted, the last midterm elections, in 2010, saw a youth turnout rate of only 24 percent, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Administrators on UNG's campus in Dahlonega have tried a number of tactics to engage students in the election, with hits and misses. While QR codes linking to the UNG TurboVote site were deemed excessive, simple pop-up windows—activated whenever a student logged into the university's server—were incredibly successful, albeit annoying after a while, Bricker said. The popups allowed students to register on the spot, as well as sign up for text and email reminders to vote.

Social media, too, has helped engage Facebook- and Twitter-addicted college students in state elections. Bills has been promoting the hashtags #SimpsonVotes and #IVoted in a grassroots effort at Simpson since early voting started in September. Facebook posts and tweets flaunt civic engagement throughout social networks, encouraging voting among friend groups in a form of positive peer pressure.

Simply voting, however, isn't the only endgame: Once students get to the polls, they need to be educated about their decisions. To help students make informed choices, Bills sends out fact sheets on candidates via Twitter and email, and TurboVote's Election Day memos include ballot previews with links to candidates' websites.

For self-starters who are just forgetful or busy, TurboVote's digital reminders come in handy. But other students may need more of a push. When that comes from someone they trust, Sam Novey, TurboVote's director of partnerships, told National Journal, it has a much more meaningful impact.

On National Voter Registration Day, in September, an email from UNG's provost encouraging students to register to vote resulted in more than 200 TurboVote sign-ups. And when John Boyer, a popular geography professor at Virginia Tech, emailed his students the link to the school's TurboVote page, 600 students signed up in two days.

Novey said that, logistically, it was only possible for Boyer to have that influence with help from technology. It worked so well, though, because students respect him.

"Technology like TurboVote is designed to empower leaders in campuses and communities everywhere to share voting with their peers and with their students," Novey said. "By taking care of a lot of the details, it empowers folks to do what they're uniquely situated to do, which is use their relationships and their passion and their commitment to democracy to mobilize those around them to get to the polls."

Digital platforms complement college voter outreach well, especially in a stale election. Ultimately, though, it will take more passion and stronger relationships to truly amp up college turnout.

This post originally appeared on National Journal, an Atlantic partner site.

More from National Journal:

The Surreal Life of an Obama Impersonator

In D.C., White Men Come Out on Top

The Case Against Ebola Quarantines, Respectfully Submitted








As Africa's Cities Change, so Does Youth Slang

10/29/14
Image
Africa's urban vernaculars are changing from one generation to the next. (Flickr/Eduardo Gavina)

In the mid-1990s, residents of Nairobi were cautious when traveling through the city's "Rwanda" neighborhoods. Although physically far removed from the genocidal violence in central Africa, this was the area of the Kenyan capital where you were most likely to be mugged or carjacked. A few years later, these areas became known as the "Kosovo" section of the city. By the early 2000s, wandering into one of the "Baghdad" neighborhoods could be iffy.

The frequent shifts in names for areas of town are a product of Sheng, the city's increasingly popular street vernacular that combines both English and Swahili—Kenya's two official languages. A debate has been brewing about it for years: Is Sheng a language or "just" slang? Regardless, tourist translation dictionaries have essentially become useless on the streets of Nairobi because of it.

The vocabulary and meaning of words not only differ in each neighborhood, but some of their definitions change almost daily. Much like with English or any other language, certain slang words change from one generation to the next. But Sheng has completely revamped the vocabulary of an entire city. TV advertisements freely borrow phrases that ignore formal grammatical structure, and radio DJs regularly pepper broadcasts with the latest forms of words. A popular comic book called Shujaaz is written entirely in Sheng. This linguistic phenomenon isn't exclusive to East Africa, of course. Most countries have some version of code-switching, where people select or mix formal and informal languages as the environment or situation calls for—and to fit in with the many different groups they belong to.

Along the streets of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire emerged a hybrid language dubbed Nouchi, which is now challenging French as the city's most popular form of speech. Young urbanites from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, are finding favor with a pidgin language called Town Bemba. Neither of these languages can be translated on Google and are nearly impossible to teach in a traditional setting. Yet slang-influenced languages like these can be heard in nearly every market, bus terminal, and university in Africa.

According to Mokaya Bosire, a University of Oregon professor and expert on Sheng, the origin of these languages can be traced back to the early 20th century, shortly after the arrival of imperial Europeans.

"One of the things that happened with colonialism is urbanization, which wasn't there before," Bosire told CityLab. "And with urbanization you had different people who spoke different languages come together in these towns, which provided [Nairobi] with the perfect condition for Sheng to arise," he explains.

More than half of Africans will live in cities by 2040.
(United Nations)

Yet linguistic creativity—or maybe rebellion—in African cities didn't cease when the continent began to receive its independence starting in the 1950s. Modern technology has recently provided young Africans with greater access to hip-hop, African-American culture, and global fashions. Africa's cities are also disproportionately young; as of 2012, the median age of the continent is 20 years old (the median age in North America is nearly 40 years old). This combination of youthfulness and global exposure has left Africa's urban youth with a lot to work with in terms of creating their own terms of communication.

"[Urban Africans] have the knowledge of different languages and they're also exposed to what's going on in the world and how cultures are moving," says Mokaya Bosire. "And the languages that are standard languages—say, English or Swahili—they don't move as fast as these guys want," he adds.

By adopting a fluid, homegrown language, some argue that young Africans are better able to express ideas and experiences specific to their own emerging urban culture. Writing in the Journal of African Studies in 2008, scholar Mungi Mutonya highlighted this claim when analyzing the advent of slang-based advertisements.

Language serves the triple role ... of carrier of culture, as an image forming agent that provides the group with a whole conception of themselves, individually and collectively, and as a transmitter of the images of the world and reality. Thus the circumstances of the language contact environment in African cities present a variety of mixed codes that emerge to satisfy local needs.

The fusion languages springing up now in Africa's cities, however, are likely just the beginning. Africa's urbanization rate will be among the world's fastest from now until 2050. Unless some kind of national language policies are enacted, says Peter Githinji, a linguist specialist at Ohio University, slang-based languages will ultimately become the norm in Africa's burgeoning urban centers.

"[T]he more we're participating in these global cultures and the more we're having rural-to-urban migration," Githinji says, "they're actually going to transform themselves to the point where we're no longer calling them 'urban languages.'"

Top image courtesy of Flickr user Eduardo Gaviña.








As Africa's Cities Change, so Does Youth Slang

10/29/14
Image
Africa's urban vernaculars are changing from one generation to the next. (Flickr/Eduardo Gavina)

In the mid-1990s, residents of Nairobi were cautious when traveling through the city's "Rwanda" neighborhoods. Although physically far removed from the genocidal violence in central Africa, this was the area of the Kenyan capital where you were most likely to be mugged or carjacked. A few years later, these areas became known as the "Kosovo" section of the city. By the early 2000s, wandering into one of the "Baghdad" neighborhoods could be iffy.

The frequent shifts in names for areas of town are a product of Sheng, the city's increasingly popular street vernacular that combines both English and Swahili—Kenya's two official languages. A debate has been brewing about it for years: Is Sheng a language or "just" slang? Regardless, tourist translation dictionaries have essentially become useless on the streets of Nairobi because of it.

The vocabulary and meaning of words not only differ in each neighborhood, but some of their definitions change almost daily. Much like with English or any other language, certain slang words change from one generation to the next. But Sheng has completely revamped the vocabulary of an entire city. TV advertisements freely borrow phrases that ignore formal grammatical structure, and radio DJs regularly pepper broadcasts with the latest forms of words. A popular comic book called Shujaaz is written entirely in Sheng. This linguistic phenomenon isn't exclusive to East Africa, of course. Most countries have some version of code-switching, where people select or mix formal and informal languages as the environment or situation calls for—and to fit in with the many different groups they belong to.

Along the streets of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire emerged a hybrid language dubbed Nouchi, which is now challenging French as the city's most popular form of speech. Young urbanites from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, are finding favor with a pidgin language called Town Bemba. Neither of these languages can be translated on Google and are nearly impossible to teach in a traditional setting. Yet slang-influenced languages like these can be heard in nearly every market, bus terminal, and university in Africa.

According to Mokaya Bosire, a University of Oregon professor and expert on Sheng, the origin of these languages can be traced back to the early 20th century, shortly after the arrival of imperial Europeans.

"One of the things that happened with colonialism is urbanization, which wasn't there before," Bosire told CityLab. "And with urbanization you had different people who spoke different languages come together in these towns, which provided [Nairobi] with the perfect condition for Sheng to arise," he explains.

More than half of Africans will live in cities by 2040.
(United Nations)

Yet linguistic creativity—or maybe rebellion—in African cities didn't cease when the continent began to receive its independence starting in the 1950s. Modern technology has recently provided young Africans with greater access to hip-hop, African-American culture, and global fashions. Africa's cities are also disproportionately young; as of 2012, the median age of the continent is 20 years old (the median age in North America is nearly 40 years old). This combination of youthfulness and global exposure has left Africa's urban youth with a lot to work with in terms of creating their own terms of communication.

"[Urban Africans] have the knowledge of different languages and they're also exposed to what's going on in the world and how cultures are moving," says Mokaya Bosire. "And the languages that are standard languages—say, English or Swahili—they don't move as fast as these guys want," he adds.

By adopting a fluid, homegrown language, some argue that young Africans are better able to express ideas and experiences specific to their own emerging urban culture. Writing in the Journal of African Studies in 2008, scholar Mungi Mutonya highlighted this claim when analyzing the advent of slang-based advertisements.

Language serves the triple role ... of carrier of culture, as an image forming agent that provides the group with a whole conception of themselves, individually and collectively, and as a transmitter of the images of the world and reality. Thus the circumstances of the language contact environment in African cities present a variety of mixed codes that emerge to satisfy local needs.

The fusion languages springing up now in Africa's cities, however, are likely just the beginning. Africa's urbanization rate will be among the world's fastest from now until 2050. Unless some kind of national language policies are enacted, says Peter Githinji, a linguist specialist at Ohio University, slang-based languages will ultimately become the norm in Africa's burgeoning urban centers.

"[T]he more we're participating in these global cultures and the more we're having rural-to-urban migration," Githinji says, "they're actually going to transform themselves to the point where we're no longer calling them 'urban languages.'"

Top image courtesy of Flickr user Eduardo Gaviña.