When Charlotte, N.C. began funding neighborhood groups in 1992, government staff wanted to better understand the impact of the funding in Charlotte’s neighborhoods and where resources should be allocated; similarly, citizens wanted to see how their neighborhoods were changing over time. So, in 1993, the City started conducting an annual Quality of Life Study to track and evaluate social, crime, physical, economic, and environmental conditions in Charlotte’s neighborhoods.
For many years, the valuable data collected through the study was published only in large booklets. But now, Charlotte has taken steps to make the data more useful to community members by creating a user-friendly, interactive interface: the Quality of Life Dashboard.
This project is run by Charlotte’s Neighborhood and Business Services (NBS); we recently spoke with Tom Warshauer and Rebecca Hefner of the NBS about the community benefits of this data collection and dashboard.
“Data is a reflection of the people — who they are and what they do. It’s a picture of our shared human experience.”
– Rebecca Hefner
History of the Quality of Life Study
Launched in 1993, this project was made possible through collaboration — both from within the city and county and within the community and nonprofit sectors. Led by NBS, the initial data collection effort included the Planning, Police, and Solid Waste Services departments and neighborhood leaders. Soon after, the University of North Carolina Charlotte joined the project as an operational partner. Early community buy-in was essential. Neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions helped collect data and build the relationships necessary for a project of this scale and comprehensiveness.
The initial goals for the Quality of Life study were to create a framework for:
Neighborhoods to understand themselves and plan for their future
City, County, and Town staff to analyze neighborhood issues and opportunities
Service providers to assess needs in the community
Initially, city staff and civic leaders established 20 key metrics of community quality of life to track across 73 neighborhoods within Charlotte. In 2014, the study has now grown to track 80 key metrics across 464 neighborhoods. Major categories identified in collaboration between community service partners and subject matter experts include: character, economics, engagement, environment, health, housing, and safety.
Creating the Dashboard
Consolidating the data and publishing it online in a simple, easy-to-navigate interface has resulted in a wide range of benefactors. The raw data, downloadable in a variety of formats has helped:
Government agencies to communicate their work, appropriately provide services and make data driven decisions
Elected officials to stay up to date with their constituency activity
Neighborhoods/residents to better understand their communities
Communities to plan for their futures, and rally around common causes
Non-profit organizations to find sources and statistics to support grant applications
Real estate agents to describe benefits of various areas
Universities to access raw research data
With the new user-friendly dashboard, the Quality of Life study is now a tool for community members and organizations to understand and use real data from neighborhoods. Many neighborhood groups now create strategic plans from the data, and have unlocked funding and other resources because they can more easily articulate what their neighborhood needs with data to back it up. Non-profits have used the data to support grant applications. The City uses the data to inform an understanding of where certain programs and investments — like public art — can have the most impact.
The Dashboard is maintained by a city GIS programmer, and costs just $5 per month for hosting. The entire interface is rendered in the browser. The code is open source and available on GitHub here.
Continuing the evolution of the Quality of Life study, Rebecca is now researching new ways to analyze the data for better decision-making and to help change the conversation about preconceived notions of neighborhoods. The data allows people to discuss neighborhoods in new ways — helping create a renewed pride and sense of identity within Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s communities.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.