Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Taking the Pulse of Baltimore’s Neighborhoods

Some of the more upscale rowhouses in Baltimor...

Some of the more upscale rowhouses in Baltimore, like these brightly painted homes in Charles Village, have complete porches instead of stoops (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do you get to really know a neighborhood?  You can walk around, talk to the people who live there, and interact with the physical spaces.

But what if you want to dive beneath the surface and delve into the details?  The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore (BNIA-JFI) has collected and compiled data on 55 Community Statistical Areas (their term for neighborhoods) in Baltimore, measuring 150 different data points, or “indicators”, that affect people who live in those communities/neighborhoods in their annual report Vital Signs 11.  They took all of this data and put it on one website, accessible to all, where you can explore a variety of interactive maps, data lists), and general reports.  This is the eleventh year they have done this.

The indicators fell into several categories, including:  “Housing and Community Development”, “Crime and Safety”, “Arts and Culture”, “Sustainability”, and “Children and Family Health”.  The indicators themselves cover a wide range of social determinants of resident well-being, such as liquor outlet density, number of people with library cards per 1,000 residents, average distance travelled to school, and percent of population that walks to work.

Why did BNIA choose to include these data points, and who was the intended audience?  Seema Iyer, Associate Director of the Jacob France Institute, explained in an interview on WYPR that she wanted to look at the indicators that really affected people’s quality of life in a given neighborhood.  Her desire was to provide residents with information that they cared about and would directly affect their lives.  She also wanted to provide community organizations with the data that they needed to apply for grants, including the ABAG Common Grant.  She envisions students being able to use this resource in the classroom to learn more about the neighborhoods of Baltimore.  But the resource is open to everyone, and should be used by everyone as a reference to generate conversations about the communities where they live.

There are discrepancies in all of the indicator data, some of them good, such as the range of housing prices, some of them bad, such as the 20 year difference in life expectancy between some neighborhoods.  We need to address these issues, and now we have the data on them to begin an informed discussion.  36 other cities around the nation are doing work similar to BNIA, and there is also a national network.

BNIA-JFI is hosting its annual Baltimore Data Day on July 12, 2013, at the University of Baltimore, Thumel Business Center, 11 West Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore, MD, from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. It’s a workshop aimed at helping Baltimoreans understand how they can better use data and technology to improve their communities.  Find out more here!

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James McComas

I bring a background in researching and writing to the Campaign Consultation team for my role as Administrative and Project Assistant. Prior to joining Campaign Consultation, I was a research intern for BUS 52, a year-long project which sought out organizations and individuals across the continental United States who worked to positively change their communities in innovative ways. I also assisted a journalist researching climate change issues. Read more.

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