Blog Archive

May 2012

New Interactive Tool: DPS Properties for Sale

by Louis Bach, Communications

Data Driven Detroit, in conjunction with the Old Schools, New Uses conference, has released a new interactive tool to provide users with information about Detroit Public School buildings and properties that are featured for sale. The tool provides prospective re-developers with contextual information about neighborhood amenities and characteristics, reducing the need for additional research.

This tool supports the adaptive reuse of vacant buildings, a flexible neighborhood revitalization strategy. John Gallagher at the Detroit Free Press explains the importance of reusing former schools:

It’s not new that DPS is selling off vacant school buildings. What differed about the DPS presentation today was the collaboration with multiple other groups working to reinvent the city, including the Detroit Works program, the Michigan Association of Planning and others.

Karla Henderson, Mayor Dave Bing’s group executive for planning and facilities, told today’s gathering that repurposing empty school buildings represents a key part of revitalizing Detroit neighborhoods.

“We are so open and flexible at this time in thinking outside the box,” she said, citing the recent example of the nonprofit group Southwest Solutions adapting a former police precinct on West Vernor near I-75 as a community arts center as the type of adaptive reuse the city is willing to entertain…

Andrea Brown, executive director of the Michigan Planning Association, said old school buildings represent key assets in many urban neighborhoods. The buildings tend to be well-built, feature notable architecture, have long served as community anchors and often come with considerable acreage that could serve many purposes.

For more coverage, see the Detroit News and Curbed Detroit.

Old Schools, New Uses: DPS Properties for Sale or Lease.

2012 Michigan Scorecard Now Available

by Louis Bach, Communications

The 2012 Michigan Scorecard, a product of collaboration between The Center for Michigan and Data Driven Detroit, is now available. The Scorecard tracks Michigan’s status through twenty-eight measures in three areas: Talent and Education, Economy and Quality of Life, and Effective Government. From the Scorecard’s website:

The Michigan Scorecard benchmarks the state’s performance on measures citizens deem most important for the state’s transformation to a new era of prosperity. The 2012 Michigan Scorecard published below is produced in partnership with Data Driven Detroit. Led by expert Michigan demographer Kurt Metzger, Data Driven Detroit gathers and disseminates data to those working to create positive change in the city of Detroit and the Detroit metropolitan area. This scorecard is based on the latest available public statistics as of January 2012.

The scorecard generally tracks how well the state is executing on the Michigan’s Defining Moment citizens’ agenda developed by the Center for Michigan in 2007-2010 through nearly 600 Community Conversations involving more than 10,500 diverse statewide residents.

The 2012 Scorecard is an update to the Michigan Scorecards produced in 2010 and 2008, allowing readers to see at a glance how the state’s scores have changed over time.

Rick Haglund of the Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine summarizes the 2012 results in his article, “Not Much Above Par on Michigan’s Scorecard“:

Although Michigan’s economy has performed a U-turn from a decade of job losses, most other measures on the scorecard show the state is essentially running in place.

Of the 28 areas assessed in the scorecard, five showed improvement, five went backward and 17 experienced no change. Another category, environment, is being reviewed under a standard this year than was used in the 2010 scorecard.

“It’s no surprise that results would be mixed, especially when you consider that Michigan is still overcoming the fiscal and economic challenges of the past decade,” said Snyder administration spokesman Ken Silfven. “That’s reflected on the state’s own dashboard as well.”

“The Michigan Scorecard benchmarks the state’s performance on measures citizens deem most important for the state’s transformation to a new era of prosperity,” said John Bebow, the center’s president and CEO.

For more, see the Bridge article or browse the Scorecard itself.

Census Bureau Director’s Blog on “A Future Without Key Social and Economic Statistics for the Country”

by Louis Bach, Communications

Last week we reacted to the House of Representatives’ vote to eliminate the American Community Survey, the Census Bureau’s means for gathering important socioeconomic data. On Friday, the Census Bureau itself weighed in, describing the impact of the legislation.

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The Appropriations Bill eliminates the Economic Census, which measures the health of our economy. It terminates the American Community Survey, which produces the social and demographic information that monitors the impact of economic trends on communities throughout the country. It halts crucial development of ways to save money on the next decennial census. In the last three years the Census Bureau has reacted to budget and technological challenges by mounting aggressive operational efficiency programs to make these key statistical cornerstones of the country more cost efficient. Eliminating them halts all the progress to build 21st century statistical tools through those innovations. This bill thus devastates the nation’s statistical information about the status of the economy and the larger society…

The ACS is our country’s only source of small area estimates on social and demographic characteristics. Manufacturers and service sector firms use ACS to identify the income, education, and occupational skills of local labor markets they serve. Retail businesses use ACS to understand the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which they locate their stores. Homebuilders and realtors understand the housing characteristics and the markets in their communities. Local communities use ACS to choose locations for new schools, hospitals, and fire stations. There is no substitute from the private sector for ACS small area estimates. Even if the funding problems were solved in the proposed budget, the House bill also bans enforcement of the mandatory nature of participation in the ACS; this alone would require at least $64 million more in funding to achieve the same precision of ACS estimates.

For more, including the costs of eliminating the Economic Census and reducing the efficiency of the Census Bureau, see the Census Bureau Director’s Blog.

A Child’s Connection to Their Community Starts with a Bike Ride

By Dana Politi, Staff Contributor

In a recent study, transportation professor Bruce Appelyard selected two suburban areas: the first had high amounts of traffic and was not conducive to children walking or biking through their neighborhood; the other had light traffic, and children regularly rode their bikes and walked in the neighborhood.

In his study, Appleyard utilized a cognitive mapping technique that involved asking 9 to 10 year olds to draw maps of their neighborhood. They were instructed to include their friends’ houses, their school, and areas they preferred or had an aversion to. According to the Atlantic Cities article, Appleyard determined that the children that resided in high traffic neighborhoods often expressed disdain or the feeling that they were in danger in multiple areas of their neighborhood; they did not detail these areas in their drawings. The children that lived in lighter traffic neighborhoods were more likely to draw additional details in specific areas and had an increased awareness of their surroundings. Appleyard concluded that children living in lower traffic areas have a greater ability to make connections with his or her neighborhood.

According to the article, 71% of parents surveyed had walked or bicycled to school growing up, yet only 18% of their children participate in the same activity. In his original study, Appleyard notes that by 2001 the Federal Highway Administration had recorded 85% of 5 to 15 year olds were driven to school by a parent or bus driver. He notes that living in higher traffic neighborhoods resulted in an increase in parents driving their children around, therefore increasing the traffic within their neighborhoods.

Some of the high traffic neighborhoods received pedestrian and biking renovations once the study had concluded. When Appleyard followed up with the children from these neighborhoods, there were noticeable improvements in their detail recognition and demeanor. Many of the children could detail maps and seemed happier with their neighborhoods.

House Votes to Eliminate American Community Survey

Rep. Daniel Webster, author of the measure to eliminate the census American Community Survey. Photo: AP via Huffington Post

The U.S. House of Representatives voted (232 – 190) on Wednesday to eliminate funding for the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which collects socioeconomic data that is used to determine how more than $400 billion of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services.

The American Community Survey collects data that was, until 2005, collected by the “long-form” decennial census; the change was made to modernize the census and make its data timelier by collecting it more frequently.

D3’s Kurt Metzger has this to say about the issue:

The potential elimination of the American Community Survey raises the potential of adding one more nail to the Federal Government data coffin.  In an era when the internet and private data mining is of great concern to the public at large, data collection, development and distribution at the Federal and State levels continues to be ratcheted back. When the Census Bureau first began the transition from the long form that had always been part of the Census to the ACS, many stakeholders, including yours truly, were worried that decoupling the long form from the census would put the data collection at risk.  That worry is now becoming a reality.  The ACS, though it has many problems associated, is now an annual source of detailed social, economic and housing data for states and large cities, counties and townships.  Smaller geographies are relegated to 3- and 5-year aggregations (a source of confusion and sampling error, but regularly updated nonetheless).  This flow of information must not be stopped by  pennywise and pound foolish political posturing.

D3 believes that change happens at the neighborhood level – Place Matters!  We must retain every available source of information at that level and we must strive to develop new data sources.  We protest any move to cut back on the few sources we have today, while we seek to cajole the powers that be at all levels of government to expand access and transparency.  Good decisions require up-to-date data.

The Huffington Post reports:

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who ran the floor debate for Democrats, seemed especially vexed.

“We’ve been doing surveys in the long form since 1790 as a nation,” Fattah said, referring to the time when Thomas Jefferson oversaw the census. “It’s critically important. The idea that we’re going to leave the greatest country in the world with less information about the condition of communities and of our families — and that we’re going to do that appropriately — defies logic.”

Republicans remarked on their skepticism of a government survey that asks, among other things, whether a household has flush toilets. However, even those seemingly odd questions generate important results: Oregon Live  reported last year about an inexplicable rise in the number of homes without indoor plumbing. Reporters brought the figures to the attention of puzzled state building inspectors, who presumably otherwise would have been ignorant of growing violations of statewide building codes requiring indoor plumbing in all units.

The Association of Public Data Users issued a statement in response to the vote, stating that “The outcome of this vote demonstrates the importance of proactivity among data users in conveying their support for the ACS and other surveys to all members of the House and Senate.”

For more on the constitutionality of the American Community Survey, check out Wade Henderson’s defense at the Hill’s Congress Blog.

(via Terri Ann Lowenthal)

Technological Advancement and Manufacturing Jobs

By Dana Politi, Staff Contributor

The 2012 presidential elections are quickly approaching, and with the anticipation come a slew of hot topics starting to unravel in the discussions. One such topic that President Obama is making very public is the need for support of current and future manufacturing jobs in his “built-to-last” economic strategy. In the current state of the economy, still struggling to recover the 2008 crash, many have returned to manufacturing jobs or begun to craft DIY and handmade items, ranging from high-tech parts to jarred vegetables and preserves. The Atlantic Cities article features a chart created by Martin Prosperity Institute’s Michelle Hopgood that visualizes production and manufacturing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Manufacturing jobs are the heart of dozens of industries; while the United States’ economic future cannot depend primarily on these jobs, the number of manufacturing jobs is down one-third of the workforce since 1950. The average manufacturing job requires more skill than it did decades ago, but the average pay of a production job is still below the national average. As Atlantic Cities points out:

The 66,530 tool and die makers or the 36,200 aircraft assemblers have great jobs earning $48,710 and $45,230, respectively. But the nearly 150,000 sewing machine operators average just $22,630 a year, or $10.88 per hour.

Implying that as technologies improve so does the efficiency of the product and the tools manufacturers use to create and assemble them. Author Richard Florida compares today’s production workers to the agricultural workforce in the early 1900’s. Back then, agriculture made up for 37% of the workforce. As America continued into the 20th century, the workforce continued to decline until the 1960’s when the agricultural workforce equaled 6%, which is equivalent to today’s manufacturing workforce.

Manufacturing has faced steep decline over the long run, but the Brookings Institution has released a compilation of geographic locations within the US that have seen short term growth in the manufacturing industry. Detroit was ranked second of 100 metropolitan areas with the greatest gains of manufacturing jobs and placed sixth out of 100 metropolitan areas with the largest number of manufacturing jobs in the nation. The 12.1% increase was measured from the first quarter of 2010 to the fourth quarter of 2011. Deadline Detroit quotes the Free Press with reports that one in ten jobs in metro Detroit are manufacturing jobs.

While technology in both manufacturing and agricultural jobs has improved, making both trades more efficient through technology, we may need a new sector to lead the renaissance in employment. The US cannot count on manufacturing alone to continue to improve its employment rate.


Energy Usage Map: New York City

Check out the energy use map developed by Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science for New York City. The map’s been widely covered for providing an important service to accelerate the conversation around energy use and related concepts: conservation, cogeneration, etc.

We like the map too. In the spirit of critical examination, we couldn’t help but begin to explore its strengths and weaknesses. We have two concerns:

  1. As many of the map’s commenters have pointed out, the map is normalized by lot size, not by buildings’ floor space or usage. That means that small lots with heavily-used energy-intensive buildings (e.g., lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers) are shown in red for their high energy use, while lower-density lots (in, e.g., the outer boroughs) tend to be shown in green, indicating lower energy use. This is probably an artifact of limited data; it’s non-trivial, for example, to get access to the data you’d need to estimate the floor-space of every building in New York City. (It’s even harder to estimate how intensively buildings are used when you’re considering how to compare residential buildings to commercial buildings.) Nevertheless, it’s very hard to honestly compare how efficiently large, dense buildings use their energy compared to smaller buildings based on lot size alone.
  2. The map’s methodology, although sound, carries more limitations than the casual observer might realize. The researchers had energy usage data that had been aggregated to the ZIP code level, not data for individual buildings. They used statistical regression to estimate how much energy any given building is likely to consume. At a glance, though, you could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that these data reflect actual measurements, not merely estimates. Ultimately, however, there’s no way of knowing from this map whether any given building is more or less energy efficient than another based on this map alone.

The map’s makers clarified their purpose in the comments section the New York Times’ coverage of the map:

First we would like to clarify that the energy consumption visualized on the map does not embody energy efficiency. The annual building energy consumption values portray what a particular building is estimated to consume, on average, given its size and building type. The actual building may consume more or less depending on a variety of factors.

Perhaps a building is LEED-certified, containing many energy efficiency measures. If one were to look at the energy bills of the building and compare them to the estimated values on the map, the energy consumption may be significantly less. On the other hand, maybe a particular building uses old inefficient systems to provide space heating and hot water. If one were to compare the energy bills of that building with the estimates on the map, the energy consumption may be significantly higher.

The main goal of the building energy map is to get the conversation started as to how much energy is being consumed and where.

We agree with the comments that perhaps normalizing by the square footage of the building would have provided a more interesting perspective. The map, however, would not look much different. In addition to the buildings in midtown being extremely large, they are also used for energy-intensive purposes. Offices and Stores are among the highest consumers of energy, according to our estimates.

What would stand out in a map of energy per building area however are hospitals and educational facilities. Also we’d like to point out that only total energy consumption is visualized on the map. The patterns of consumption change when one looks at one particular end use.

New Estimates Show an Increase in Bicycle Commuters

By Dana Politi, Staff Contributor

With gas prices rising, it is not surprising that many urban areas, large and small, have seen a jump in cyclist traffic. Current U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that bicycling as a primary means of transportation has increased 50% since 2000, even though cycling to work still only accounts for less than 1% of commuter traffic. Most bicyclists are making short trips to nearby shops and restaurants, according to Darren Flusche, policy director for the League of American Bicyclists, as cited by Mike Maciag, author of “Bicycle Commuting Gains Traction in Cities” at GOVERNING.


GOVERNING used the 2010 American Community Survey estimates to produce an interactive map to visualize modes of transportation to work in more than 400 areas. Local communities, such as Warren and Southfield, are included in the results. The League of American Bicyclists encourages communities to begin constructing bike lanes, decreasing speed limits, and involving the community to increase ridership.

A Neighborhood’s Most Important Asset: Walkability

By Dana Politi, Staff Contributor

Walkability is becoming a major factor in the future of communities, as suggested by the New York Times’ coverage on the slowing growth of exurbs (or outer suburbs.) Recently released census data indicates that migration to the exurbs remains slow even as America recovers from a recession. That data has sparked a keen interest in demographers and data experts, turning their discussion to the importance of existing communities’ density, the variety of their amenities, and their fight for survival.

According to Kaid Bandfield’s article in the Atlantic Cities, A Data-Driven Case for Walkability,” this discussion begins with the importance of a neighborhood’s walkability. Walkability measures how friendly and inviting the surrounding environment is to walking. Benfield notes that walkability is affecting the purchase price of homes in urban and suburban areas. He makes two important references to WalkScore, a website that promotes walkability and compares housing prices based on their pedestrian accessibility. After conversing with Wendy Landman of WalkBoston, a non-profit aimed at increasing the walkability of Massachusetts, Benfield offers a few key points from two pamphlets Landman forwarded to him:

  • Fewer young people want cars. In 1995 people age 21 to 30 drove 21 percent of all miles driven in the U.S.; in 2009 it was 14 percent, despite consistent growth of the age group. Living car-free in walkable areas fits younger lifestyles. [Advertising Age, 2010]
  • A one-point increase in Walk Score [based on number of destinations within a short distance] is associated with between a $700 and $3,000 increase in home values. [CEOs for Cities, 2009]
  • A 10-point increase in Walk Score increases commercial property values by 5 percent to 8 percent. [University of Arizona & Indiana University, 2010]
  • People living in walkable neighborhoods trust neighbors more, participate in community projects and volunteer more than in non-walkable areas. [University of New Hampshire, 2010]

And most importantly, Benfield taps into the reduced health risks of residing in a community where foot traffic is the common use of transportation:

  • Men and women age 50 to 71 who took a brisk walk nearly every day had a 27 percent reduced death rate compared to non-exercisers. Adding 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, 3 days a week resulted in a 32 percent reduced death rate. Combining vigorous exercise and walking each week produced a 50% reduced mortality. [Arch Internal Medicine, 2007]
  • Among the more than 72,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, those who walked 3 or more hours/week reduced their risk of a coronary event by 35 percen compared with women who did not walk.
  • Retired men who walked less than 1 mile/day had nearly twice the mortality rates of those who walked more than 2 miles/day. [Harvard University, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, ongoing]

Meet the Staff: Kat Hartman

By Louis Bach, Communications

Kat Hartman conducting surveys in Ethiopia

Data Driven Detroit (D3) is proud to count among its staff a number of members with a history of doing data-driven and socially conscious work. Today we profile the work of Kat Hartman, one of D3’s Research Analysts and the head of our Communications Team. Hartman, a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Art and Design’s Master of Fine Arts program, has worked in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Botswana as a graphic designer for health campaigns by government and non-government organizations. She is interested in data-driven design, including surveying her target audience to create the most effective and accessible designs possible. Originally brought on to D3 for the One D Scorecard, Hartman now focuses on enhancing public accessibility through data visualizations. Her ongoing projects include the Urban Innovation Exchange.

In 2011, Hartman coauthored an analysis of Botswana’s child labor situation (Botswana’s Current Child Labour Issues – Where Do We Stand and Where Do We Go From Here?) for the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, better known as UNICEF.  (more…)