An affordable housing finder. A map of available jobs within walking distance. A map of housing near "high opportunity" schools. These are some of the useful tools available on the U.S. Census Bureau's new Opportunity Project platform. Opportunity.Census.gov features 12 ideas conceived by private companies such as mapping specialist Esri and cities such as Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York. They all use government data and are meant to show how data crunching and visualizing can "tackle inequities" and "strengthen communities." Here are a few projects we picked out:
Real-estate information company Redfin is developing Opportunity Score, based on its WalkScore platform. It shows neighborhoods within a 30-minute walk, bike ride, or transit trip where jobs pay at least $40,000 a year. It also shows housing (and the affordability of that housing) within the same space.
Zillow teamed up with GreatSchools, a nonprofit, to create Opportunity Badge, which recognizes schools that perform better than those in similarly priced neighborhoods. Parents can search for housing and immediately see the schools listed for their area. Then they can see how students of certain demographics perform (e.g Hispanic kids, or kids from low-income homes) and how those grades compare with schools in peer-group areas.
Community Commons, based at the Institute for People, Place and Possibility, in Missouri, came up with the concept of the "Location Opportunity Footprint" or LOFT. Mapped across the U.S., areas are scored for factors like relative school "proficiency," where there are more than 100 jobs per worker, and where housing plus transportation costs don't exceed 50% of monthly income (where income is $2,000). It's designed for "local advocates, nonprofits, and all those seeking investment to strengthen their neighborhoods and communities."
Esri incorporated government opportunity data into its "Business Analyst" and "Community Analyst" products. The Open Opportunity Data platform plots layers of jobs, schools, transport, and poverty information for any ZIP code (plus things like healthy grocery stores and crime rates).
Streetwyze, maker of a local information app, wants to fuse the best of high-level government data with what it calls "ground-truth"—what people actually living and working in places say is going on. The aim is to "create real-time feedback, and improve the validity, reliability, and accuracy of data at the street level." Federal truth meets people truth.
In itself, data isn't going to provide jobs for people or close growing income gaps. That will take new policies as well as new apps. But informing people in a robust, evidence-based way about opportunity sounds like a good idea—especially if it's done in an engaging, non-textual sort of way.
White House: Chris Parypa Photography via Shutterstock