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Blog: What We Learned in Atlanta

Key Takeaways (and a Dash of Encouragement) from the May 2018 NNIP Meeting

Skyline of Atlanta from Buckhead

May 21, 2018

Katie Livengood is the assistant director of the Drexel Urban Health Collaborative. In this blog post, she reflects on the May 2018 meeting of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP). The event was an invitation-only semi-annual meeting for members of the NNIP network. The Drexel Urban Health Collaborative is a proud member of the NNIP; the Collaborative was accepted as a Philadelphia partner in May 2017.

Today, our urban areas create and compile data across many features at once, and quickly. Knowing what to do with that data and how it can be used to serve the diverse urban populations is critical. The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is a collaborative effort by the Urban Institute and 33 local partners across the United States to further the development and use of neighborhood information systems in local policymaking and community building.

I had the privilege of attending the NNIP meeting in Atlanta this month with my colleague, Jana Hirsch, research faculty at the Dornsife School of Public Health and Urban Health Collaborative. It was an opportunity to convene like-minded partners focused on data for action and the chance to learn from the perspective of other cities, including the local Atlanta partner, Neighborhood Nexus. Like Philadelphia, many of the partner cities have major disparities in life expectancy and income inequality. Many of the sessions displayed maps with similar visual representations across numerous differing neighborhood factors. When all maps look the same, this may be indicative of systemic issues.

Here are some of the meeting highlights:

  • We discovered how other partners are collecting and analyzing data on residential housing instability and characterizing neighborhood displacement. For example, Data Driven Detroit has developed interactive data story maps. Also, the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University mapped displacement pressures in Chicago after the new 606 trail. This work is relevant to new infrastructure projects planned in Philadelphia, for example, the rail park set to open this year. 
  • The meeting touched on how to communicate and use data to discuss racial inequities. Key takeaways: 1. think structural and systems-focused; 2. think asset-oriented versus deficit-oriented; 3. frame data with shared values; 4. discuss over-arching issues like race upfront; 5. bundle solutions with problem descriptions. Attendees were also provided tips from the Talking about Race Toolkit, “Reporting Data Using a Racial Equity Lens: A Summary Checklist,” created by Race Forward: Center for Social Inclusions.
  • Attendees had the opportunity to tour the Atlanta Beltline, a project developed to re-energize urban development and create a multi-use trail along a former rail corridor. Discussion included economic opportunities through transportation, revitalization versus gentrification, and solutions for creating and maintaining low-income housing near new trail amenities. Later that evening, we visited the beautiful headquarters of Trees Atlanta, an organization dedicated to the urban forest of Atlanta.
  • We learned some keys to successful civic tech projects: 1. plan for sustainability—who will manage the project once the money ends; and 2. allow the community to build and guide the construction of the tool. As stated eloquently by a presenter “The tool built (the community) built is not the tool I would have built, but that’s good because it’s not for me.”
  • We were inspired to engage Drexel and local libraries in our work and to remember that libraries are hubs for social engagement, support, data science, and data literacy. Another takeaway was to remember to communicate across libraries and identify who collect datas.
  • The different options presented for data visualization energized Jana and I. We were encouraged by the reminder that others have had similar experiences; sometimes getting it right can be a challenging process!

Cities need to realize their data is one of their biggest resources. Making progress on health and health disparities rely on us finding creative collaborations with the public, private, and government sectors, including: open communication; community engagement and partnerships; careful curation, and thoughtful dissemination of our work.