77 percent of the people were repeat users of her agency’s food pantry. They were also returning to the shelter.
When Christian Community Action (CCA) Executive Director Rev. Bonita Grubbs went to a meeting to make her case recently, she had a new blue weapon in her hands: the “Greater New Haven Community Index 2013,” with the numbers behind the faces she sees every day.
Grubbs and others from the community gathered at the Institute Library on Chapel Street Wednesday evening to talk about that report, the Greater New Haven Community Index 2013, and about its real-world implications in New Haven.
A not-for-profit group called DataHaven published the index. It explored questions like whether you live close to transportation, how often you use the library, whether you are obese and feel safe in your neighborhood. The survey favored social data to try to give a picture of people’s sense of overall well-being, security, and hope in their neighborhoods and daily lives.
The index is based on the U. S. Census Bureau 2011 American Community survey as well as an unprecedented 2600 randomly selected phone interviews and measures not only economic well being, health, transportation issues, and civic life in New Haven but the inner and outer suburbs from Milford to Madison.
It could constitute the basis both for collective action and measuring progress, said the lead author, DataHaven’s Executive Director Mark Abraham.
Click here for the full index online.
Abraham Wednesday night invited Grubbs, New Haven writer Mark Oppenheimer, Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, and Hamden Director of Planning and Zoning Leslie Creane to discuss how to harness the data for social change.
Their audience of about 50 people, many activists or social and health agency staffers, filled the book-lined back room at the Institute Library for the panel discussion.
Grubbs said she already knew in general the stark numbers related to jobs—for example of the 47,000 “living wage” jobs (paying at least $20 per hour, in Greater New Haven), only 19 percent go to people living in the city of New Haven.
Or about pestiferous achievement gap: 69 percent third-graders in outer suburbs read at grade level while only 26 per cent do in New Haven, with the number lower in the Hill neighborhood that CCA serves.
Grubbs also knew anecdotally what the survey confirmed with numbers on people’s sense of safety: Most higher-income suburbanites felt perfectly safe to take walks in the night; only two out of ten people in low income city neighborhoods said they feel that way.
But now Grubbs had the numbers. She put blue post-its on relevant pages of Abraham’s report and took the data to her meeting with potential funders. She said the new data “provided me with facts to back up my feeling.”
The report produced factoid revelations even to someone like Grubbs, long in the trenches of anti poverty and social justice issues.
Library use, for example. She’d been aware that the library was busy. She was still surprised to see the index shows that while statewide library use went up 5 percent, and Greater New Haven 14 percent, in New Haven itself, that increase has been a whopping 40 percent.
That’s something to be looked at, she said.
Matthew Higbee is one of Mark Abraham’s eight co-authors of the index, which was funded by Yale University and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (CFGNH), among other donors.
Each of these data driven guys was asked what surprised them about the index.
Abraham’s answer: the aging of our area’s population. Or as he put it: “There are four times as many 65th birthday parties today as ten years ago.”
That has huge implications for housing, transportation, and support services for area planners to consider.
Higbee, who works at CFGNH, said that he was personally surprised to find that about 10 percent of New Haveners bike to work, according to the report. “That goes to happiness,” he said. The index’s fundamental purpose was to measure aspects of people’s sense of happiness, security, life quality, and where that can all be improved beyond the usual economic indicators.
“The biggest [factual] surprise to me was how well New Haven fared over all. By a measure of factors, we came in 19th of 130 in overall well being” among cities of 400,000 or more people, Higbee said.
Data, Data Everywhere But What About Policy?
Mayor Jackson said a 13-year-old in 2013 will confronted with more data in a data than his grandparents were in a year. “We have to be careful what we track and do what’s relevant—how to transfer it into public policy that’s rational,” Jackson said.
“We’re smart. We’d know how to fix it [diabetes or obesity] if it were easy. The data says we have an obesity problem. But what can we do to address that and two other things?The challenge is to do more than one thing at a time,” added Creane.
Then she added, “I’m going to say the word: regionalism—169 towns; 169 purchasing agents. That’s nuts.”
“The data is a motivation for action,” added Grubbs.