Baltimore City Data Day Aims to Empower Baltimore Communities through Democratization of Data

As I intend to dedicate the better part of my career to research, I am often confronted with the fear that even the highest quality data can end up out in the ether of peer-reviewed publications that never make their intended splash, seen by a limited few and impacting even fewer. Last Friday I attended Baltimore City Data Day, held at the University of Baltimore, which was the product of the work of AmeriCorps Vista volunteers, in collaboration with the Baltimore City Department of Planning and Health and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance – Jacob France Institute (BNIA-JFI). The goal of the free-to-register conference was to inform community organizations and residents about how to access different neighborhood-based data in order to “help communities expand their capacity to use technology and data to advance their goals.” The idea of allowing data that is collected at all tiers to be used for bottom-up action and advocacy sits well with me. Filtering data back to the communities that they are collected from, in order to strengthen the communities’ own agendas, begins to quell my fears about an academic research career and the uneasiness I feel about the town-gown tension that has historically plagued Johns Hopkins University.

The conference crowd was a mix of community organization representatives, interested citizens and data collectors and researchers. All in attendance received a binder of references for data resources, organized by neighborhood resources, economic development, crime and public safety, public health, housing, environment and 2000 Census information. In addition, there was a grants section with lists of diverse grants available for community organizations and residents to apply to and tips on writing strong grant applications. In this post, I will summarize some of the key resources I encountered throughout the day. For more information on the conference, the agenda, and some of the final presentations, click here.

The morning started with a poster session, followed by a panel discussion on Perspectives on Exploring Your Community Through Data. Kathryn Pettit, Co-Director of the National Neighborhoods Indicators Partnership (NNIP) and Senior Associate at the Urban Institute, highlighted the need to spend resources wisely and to look at communities as a whole, to avoid the warring between silos that may fight for different causes, but share the goal of improving their community. NNIP is a collaboration between the Urban Institute and 34 local partners nationwide that focuses on direct data use by stakeholders to advance the state of practice, build and strengthen local capacity and influence local and national policy. In 2004, they were instrumental in repealing a Rhode Island ban that stopped felons convicted of selling drugs and the felons’ families from ever receiving benefits from the Family Independence Program or Food Stamps. They did so by using data on how many children of felons were being adversely affected by the ban. Read More >

Happy Earth Day…or Not!

While today reminds us of the environmental challenges we face nationally and globally, it isn’t the only day where we should be concerned about our impact on the Earth (and in turn, how our actions affect the environment and our health).

Earth Day should be about raising awareness of what we are doing every day and how to make meaningful changes, not about “greenwashing” or giving lip service to environmental issues.

Grist, the online environmental magazine, posted a series on whether Earth Day still matters-with several essays on both sides (and a tongue-in-cheek campaign called Screw Earth Day). The self-proclaimed cynical view calls the day “an empty gesture,” and says few people care enough to even make small changes in their daily lives. Then the author turns a bit less cynical and details how we can reclaim the day by doing something that actually matters. Read More >

CLF-supported Study: Healthy Food Availability Could Depend on Where You Live—So Does the Quality of Your Diet

The availability of healthy food choices and your quality of diet is associated with where you live, according to two studies conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and funded by the Center for a Livable Future. Researchers examined healthy food availability and diet quality among Baltimore City and Baltimore County, Md., residents and found that availability of healthy foods was associated with quality of diet and 46 percent of lower-income neighborhoods had a low availability of healthy foods. The results are published in the March 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the December 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Place of residence plays a larger role in dietary health than previously estimated,” said Manuel Franco, MD, PhD, lead author of the studies and an associate with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology. “Our findings show that participants who live in neighborhoods with low healthy food availability are at an increased risk of consuming a lower quality diet. We also found that 24 percent of the black participants lived in neighborhoods with a low availability of healthy food compared with 5 percent of white participants.” Read More >