Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Economic Measures

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article in its April 8 edition called "New Ways to Read Economy: Experts Scour Oddball Data to Help See Trends Before Official Information Is Available." (The link will be available for non-paid subscribers for 7 days only).

I'm quoted in it, but that's not why you should read the article. The point of the piece is that, in the changing/turbulent/volatile economic times we're in, traditional economic measures might be too slow (or antiquated) to tell us what we need to know. So many of us are turning to new data sources that are quicker, localized, and more responsive.

The article begins:

When the city's top economist needs a rough prediction of sales tax revenues, he watches the number of subway passengers emerging from the Powell Street Station on Saturdays.

Ted Egan, chief economist in the San Francisco Controller's Office, said he could wait six months for California to release the detailed sales-tax data he needs for city revenue projections. But it's quicker to look at passenger tallies from the station closest to the Union Square shopping district, which generates roughly 10% of the city's sales-tax revenue. The Bay Area Rapid Transit District releases the data within three days, he said: "Why should I have to wait?"

Mr. Egan is among a growing number of economists and urban planners who scour for economic clues in unconventional urban data—oddball measures of how people are moving, spending and working.

Broadway ticket sales are a favorite indicator for the chief economist of the New York City Economic Development Corp., Francesco Brindisi. He says they are a good gauge of city tourism.

In Jacksonville, Fla., community planner Ben Warner keeps tabs on calls to the city's 2-1-1 hotline for social services. Since late 2008, he has seen spikes in calls for help with food, housing, utilities payments and suicide prevention. It is "direct, real-time monitoring of the economic and social situation," he said.

I'm a big fan of nontraditional indicators -- they force us to look at our communities through fresh eyes.

If you had been called by the reporter (her name is Cari Tuna, and I found her a delightful professional to work with!), what other examples could you have provided?


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