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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Community Indicators in Philadelphia

W.C. Fields proposed the following epitaph: "Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia" -- which never made it onto his headstone, but became a catchphrase used in books, blogs, and even by a President narrowly missing assassination.

So naturally the phrase came to mind when I saw the release of Where We Stand: Community Indicators for Metropolitan Philadelphia, put together by a team at Temple University, including Carolyn Adams, David Bartelt and Mark Mattson of geography and urban studies; David Elesh of sociology; Ralph Taylor of criminal justice; and Leonard LoSciuto and Peter Mulcahy of Temple’s Institute for Survey Research.

Here are a couple of interesting quotes about the project:

“This is the first comprehensive compilation of data about the region at the municipal, rather than county, level,” Provost Ira M. Schwartz said. “There are 353 municipalities and 196 school districts in this region. As a result, many policies and decisions are made at the local rather than regional level. These findings could form a basis for thinking and acting as a region about shared challenges and opportunities.”

“These findings, which will be updated annually, will be invaluable to researchers, civic and political leaders, and anyone else working to improve the quality of life in greater Philadelphia,” added Kathryn J. Engebretson, president of the William Penn Foundation, which funded the study with a three-year, $1.27 million grant.

In addition to the report, the MPIP folks have a series of focus reports on issues such as housing, youth, and job growth.

There are many good things about this report. The web-based presentation is easy to follow. The information is clear and easy to understand.

But I think the report misses an opportunity to move the conversation forward. In the section on diversity, the authors look at residential segregation patterns and income disparities by race and ethnicity. The sequence of reports and indicators, however, rely almost entirely on Census 2000 data to make the case that "Like many of its peer regions, the greater Philadelphia region no longer conforms to the conventional view of central cities as "melting pots," surrounded by homogeneous suburbs."

But better data, and more current data, exist to go beyond 2000 Census data to examine what's been happening in urban centers and suburbs, especially in housing, income, and employment, with regards to racial and ethnic disparities in the post-9/11, post-dot-com-bubble, post-housing bubble economy. If the indicators are to drive local and regional policy decisions, some understanding of what's happening with immigration, suburban sprawl, and job displacement as it relates to these disparities ought to be considered. The focus series notes the shift in population from the urban center and the movement of job opportunities, but misses the chance to explore who's moving out and who's working where in order to see the impact on residential segregation and income differences.

For housing data, I recommend -- the HMDA data provide fascinating insights into what's going on in the housing markets. At the very least, the American Community Survey datasets provide updated information on income, earnings, and poverty status by race and ethnicity.

And other data sets exist, some locally-generated and others measured at the state level, to understand what's really happening in a community around issues of racial disparities and diversity. It's worth checking the data to see if the conclusions drawn off of 2000 data still reflect today's realities.


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