Want to know which parts of Williamsburg have the most 311 complaints for rat infestations before you decide on a new apartment? Or which of NYC’s school districts has the highest test scores among third graders? Or maybe you’d like to see a graph showing the correlation between the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and obesity citywide, divided into 50 city districts, complete with the data for each area? Well now, there’s an – er, website– for all of that. You can find it at data2go.nyc, which just launched today.
The groundbreaking project was created by the nonprofit Measure of America, a project of The Social Science Research Council that was originally inspired by the United Nations Human Development Reports, which log statistics for every country. Kristen Lewis, former senior policy advisor to the water and sanitation task force of the UN Millennium Project, and Sarah Burd-Sharps, who worked for the United Nations for over two decades, thought a similar approach to measuring well-being could be useful in America. “Sarah and I just wondered what it would be like to apply this methodology to our country,” Lewis said. Together they cofounded the organization in 2007. They’ve been working on launching DATA2GO.NYC for the last year.
It’s pretty astonishing to see so much information gathered in one place, and even more striking to see the disparities between neighborhoods laid out in such a straightforward fashion. The map is divided into teeny, tiny districts; the East Village and Alphabet City alone is divided into 11 chunks. Looking at one block, then moving just one avenue block away and seeing the average income cut in half is a little shocking. It’s not necessarily surprising that household income drops from $66,623 between 1st Avenue and Avenue B to $32,129 between Avenue B and Avenue D, but seeing the numbers and the map together has a unique impact. “Our overall goal is to breathe life into numbers so that others will be able to improve the well being of New Yorkers and reduce inequality,” said Burd-Sharps.
And while the economic indicators are fascinating, one of the points of the website was to show how there are other markers that should be looked at if we want to get a real sense of the whole picture. “People don’t really recognize how much inequality there is in very basic areas like how long people are living,” said Lewis. “Life expectancy in New York City ranges from 85 to 75 years. To have it be 75 in Brownsville and then ten years longer in Battery City and Tibeca, that’s a pretty remarkable thing.”
They hope the website will be used not only by the general public (it is therefore incredibly user friendly) but also by journalists, lawmakers and social services agencies. There are more sophisticated tools available to users as well; the “connections” section lets you chart the correlation between two sets of data, and the download function provides detailed spreadsheets in several available formats, something that may not be useful for the casual visitor to the site but very helpful for professionals skilled at analyzing and manipulating data.
The data took a long time to collect, and jumping through the necessary hoops to get access to the numbers wasn’t always easy. They’re hoping people can reap the benefits of their legwork. “On one level, a community based organization could use the site as a tool that will enable them to target different segments of their population so they can be more effective without having to hire a data analyst. A lot of organizations don’t have the funds to have someone on staff to gather data, so that’s one group that we really think could benefit from this,” said Lewis, adding that people making policy can use it to have a better understanding of how challenges within population are interlinked.
With the website making it easy to draw startling comparisons, you could see how, in the right hands, it could help bring about change in policy. Burd-Sharps brought up the example of asthma hospitalizations, pointing out that there are alarming disparities throughout the city. In districts in Soho and Greenwich Village there are about 46 avoidable hospitalizations for asthma per every 100,000 adults, while in parts of the Bronx there are more than 700. And if its health, for example, that you’re interested in, there’s a dashboard section to the site where you could select several health-related indicators like births, deaths, and access to health care.
Burd-Sharps and Lewis hope the end result is a better quality of life for the people of New York City, a goal that hits close to home for both of them as Burd-Sharp currently resides in Red Hook and Lewis used to live in Manhattan, but they’ve been all over the country collecting data and creating maps for other projects. “It was nice to collect data that makes sense based on our lived experience for a change,” Lewis admitted. The project has the funding to update its data for at least the foreseeable future. “We definitely have the funding for the next five years, so we’ll update it annually for that long,” Burd Sharps said. “In an ideal world it keeps it going forever.”