ST. LOUIS — Nonprofit and community leaders gathered on Nov. 5, 2012, at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to discuss the ways a new data tool and good statistical information can lead to better St. Louis neighborhoods.
The St. Louis Fed for the past six years has supported efforts by local governments and local and national nonprofits to compile assets-based data to help guide investment in St. Louis housing, economic development, financial services and food access.
Those efforts culminated last week in the launch of the Neighborhood Data Gateway, which allows users to map information at a granular level, such as household demographics and food and retail access.
“Data is the game changer now, when we’re proving our cases, when we’re developing strategies,” said Yvonne Sparks, community development officer at the St. Louis Fed. “And that’s why the St. Louis Federal Reserve Community Development department has been helping to nurture this effort for the last six years.”
In addition to the new Neighborhood Data Gateway, the St. Louis Neighborhood Market DrillDown report is helping with that effort.
The DrillDown report, released in September, demonstrated various characteristics of the city of St. Louis and north St. Louis County, including that food and retail access are limited in some neighborhoods, and that there is great potential to capture retail dollars from outside those areas.
The partners in the Data Gateway and DrillDown efforts are the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance and Housing & Community Solutions Inc. Social Compact conducted the DrillDown analysis. The list of sponsors includes the PNC Foundation, Commerce Bank, U.S. Bank, the Garfield Foundation, an anonymous family foundation, St. Louis County, St. Louis City, Ameren and the St. Louis Fed.
At the forum, some nonprofit leaders talked about the ways in which they’re already using data to lift up neighborhoods.
Rachel Witt, executive director of the South Grand Community Improvement District in St. Louis, told of her efforts to drive homebuyers and new businesses to the area. She proactively distributes to entrepreneurs and realtors’ associations information on residency and existing businesses.
Timothy Bray, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, talked about ways to not get lost in numbers, but rather to make data have the impact nonprofits are intending.
For example, he suggested that if nonprofit funders want an organization to improve quality of life, the organizers should press the funders on what quality of life looks like to them. Is it better schools? Access to retail? A reduction in crime?
“Get them to say what it is they want you to move,” Bray said. “You will never win in a battle when you try to design a program that’s just going to move the needle on quality of life. You’ve got to move the needle on something you can measure.”