Tag: U.S. Census Bureau

Minneapolis: How do we partition a city into sub-systems?

By Matt Johnson

So far we’ve established the (3) systems’ axioms; we’ve touched on the notion of systems’ boundaries by using examples of cities; and we’ve established what a system’s behavior is by analyzing the labor force, average weekly wages, and unemployment rate of Minneapolis. Today, we are going to begin to partition the Minneapolis system into its respective subsystems and we are going to do it by ward.

In the next blog, we will decompose Minneapolis by zip-code. And in a future article, we will decompose Minneapolis’ wards into their respective subsystems – neighborhoods – which will introduce us to the notion of systems’ levels.

Minneapolis is a city with 413,651 residents as of July 1, 2016 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Furthermore, those 413,651 residents obviously live in different parts of the city. Those parts of the city are called wards and Minneapolis has 13 Wards. According to Minneapolis City Government data, each ward contains about 32,000 residents, which of course varies every few years.

This means that each ward in Minneapolis contains about 32,000 residents; those residents interact with each other; and each ward has a function, which in this case is to provide political opportunity in voting and representation, and allocation of resources.

Thus, we have just shown that all 13 wards in Minneapolis satisfy the (3) systems’ axioms:

  1. A system consists of a set of elements.
  2. Elements in a system interact.
  3. A system has a function, or purpose.

Besides illustrating that these 13 wards are systems, we have also established that these wards are themselves subsystems of the general system of Minneapolis. This is because we have shown they satisfy the systems’ axioms, they are contained within Minneapolis, and they have established boundaries, i.e., political boundaries.

And this is a great place for us to dig a little deeper into the notion of boundary. Boundaries can be fuzzy or concrete; and boundaries can be regular or irregular. In the case of political boundaries, which are the wards we are observing, they are concrete and irregular. If we look at any of the 13 wards in Minneapolis, we can observe that the boundaries of the wards are well-defined, i.e., concrete. And we know this is because of the Minneapolis City Charter. But we can also observe that these boundaries are irregular. That is, they are not squares, rectangles, triangles, or circles.

In this short blog, we established that these 13 wards are subsystems of Minneapolis. We also established, with the help of the map, that the boundaries of these wards are concrete and irregular. As we keep moving forward, we will see that our new-found knowledge of systems will pay dividends when we begin to compare and contrast the different wards, neighborhoods, zip-codes, and other Minneapolis subsystems. And we will do this by adding a new tool to our systems’ took-kit – systems dynamics.

Let us now, as we have done before, attempt to disprove our systems’ notions and work in the tradition of natural philosophy until the next blog.


Matt Johnson is a blogger/writer for The Systems Scientist and the Urban Dynamics blog. He has also contributed to the Iowa State Daily and Our Black News. Matt has a Bachelor of Science in Systems Science, with focuses in applied mathematics and economic systems, from Iowa State University. 

You can connect with him directly in the comments section, and follow him on Facebook

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Diversity and Today’s Minneapolis Police Department

“…the statistics are just a measure of where Minneapolis currently is on the tape of time.”

By Matt Johnson, The Systems Scientist

In a recent article, Reg Chapman, veteran reporter for WCCO News, wrote about the long and challenging history of creating a diversified Minneapolis Police Department. As Chapman explained in his piece, the Minneapolis Police Department hired its first “black” officer in 1881.

City of Minneapolis
Photo Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis

But for decades, and because of segregation laws and cultural norms and perceptions, very few African-Americans served on the force or in a greater than minimal capacity. For example, “black” officers were not allowed to arrest “white” citizens from the 1880’s through the 1930’s. But clearly, things have changed for the better since the 1930’s.

Today, as Chapman explains, there are 70 African-American or “black” officers on a Minneapolis police force of 850. As a percentage, that is 8.2 percent. But what does that 8.2 percent mean? Can it be used as an indicator to illustrate the diversity of the police force compared to the diversity of the African-American, or “black,” population of Minneapolis?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Minneapolis is approximately 18 percent African-American, or “black.” In order to see if the percent of the African-American population in the Minneapolis Police Department is similar to the percent of the African-American population in Minneapolis, statisticians and mathematical scientists use a technique called Relative Frequency, i.e., proportionality.

If we compare the percentage of the African-American population in Minneapolis, which is about 18 percent, and the African-American population of the Minneapolis Police Department, which is 8.2 percent, we can see that these two values are not the same. This fact is obvious, but this fact acts as a measuring tape. What do we make of this measurement?

Photo Courtesy of the Minneapolis Police Department
Photo Courtesy of the Minneapolis Police Department

African-Americans still have a way to go to achieve a reasonable representation in the Minneapolis Police Department if representation is indeed defined as the “black” percentage of the city is equal to that of the “black” percentage of the police department. But here’s a caveat. What is meant by representation?

Does it mean approximately 18 percent? Does it mean more “black” officers in predominantly “black” neighborhoods in North Minneapolis? Does it mean greater access and opportunity for African American residents to become police officers in Minneapolis? Or does it mean a combination of the three possible policy applications?

Unfortunately, mathematics can not answer this question. This is a subjective question based off of society’s current moral and philosophical positions and norms.

For much of Minneapolis’ history, this question was not even considered, nor did the dominant group, “whites,” even care. But today’s morals are not yesterday’s morals. Today this question is not only being asked and considered by leaders in law enforcement and government, but it is also being asked and considered by those in industry, business, and the citizenry in general.

Time will tell. But if history is our guide, then the 8.2 percent may lend a hint. If one considers the decades since the 1880’s, the moral arc is not only bending towards justice, but it is bending towards equality in representation and equity in self-determination. This is, for example, because “black” officers weren’t allowed to arrest “white” citizens until the 1930’s.

But that is a world far removed from today and many citizens of Minneapolis, including this author, are looking for a world far removed from today; and the statistics are just a measure of where Minneapolis currently is on the tape of time.

For further exploration of criminal justice in Minneapolis, see Analyzing a Crime Pattern of a General System.

**Remember, there is nothing more American than discourse. You are always welcome to post your comments, thoughts, and questions below. Feedback is always appreciated!