Map Your Neighborhood, by the Numbers

By The Numbers Guy, Carl Bialik

A new Web site allows home buyers, real-estate developers, nonprofit groups and any other interested parties to map neighborhoods for free using a wide range of data, such as per-capita income, education levels and unemployment. PolicyMap is a clever tool that makes government statistics more useful and accessible, though it also highlights some limitations in the U.S.’s numerical self-knowledge.


A part of a PolicyMap of percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees in 2000, in Sen. Barack Obama’s Chicago neighborhood (his home is marked with an X). The darker shading indicates a higher percentage of residents graduated college. Dark purple means more than 22.94% of residents have bachelor’s degrees.

PolicyMap was created by The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based organization that finances urban development. The group found that it needed mapping tools to help it choose neighborhoods for investment, and also to help investors track their projects in the context of neighborhood characteristics rather than through unenlightening pie charts. “We want to be able to get good data into the hands of people who are making public-policy decisions,” Maggie McCullough, director of PolicyMap, told me.

The internal mapping project launched as a public tool in May, sharing for free all data PolicyMap gets for free, mostly from the federal government — roughly 80% of the 4,000 indicators PolicyMap says it provides. The rest of the indicators, including projections bringing older federal data up to date, are available only to subscribers, of which the site had fewer than 200 as of last week, according to Ms. McCullough.


Click Hereto read the full article.
This article by Carl Bialik on The Wall Street Journal on August 4th, 2008.