Equity in Planning & Design – Data’s Role in Community Empowerment

April 13, 2022   /   Equity

Data democratization is the process of making digital information accessible to the average non-technical user of informational systems, without having to require the involvement of IT. Historically underserved communities that would greatly benefit from this information are the least likely to have it available to them.

Geographic information system (GIS) data, census data, and other research data sets require some level of expertise, sometimes costly software to analyze and draw conclusions, and, in many cases, may have associated costs to access in the first place. With digestible data available, people can identify strengths, uncover problems, and advocate for change that best meets the needs of their communities. Getting rid of these barriers to access or understanding of data allows residents and community organizations a stronger voice in improving their neighborhoods.

An organization in Minnesota that is doing this kind of work right now is the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota. They are able to partner with community leaders, philanthropic organizations, and government agencies to use university resources to do research that matters to them.

An example of this is CURA’s partnership with St. Anthony Park Community Council to create Strategies for Affordable Rental Housing. The report conducted data analysis on existing conditions in St.Anthony Park, which identified rental housing trends over time. It also mapped apartment complexes with affordable housing loans that would expire within five years. It then evaluated possible affordable housing strategies and recommended those that would work best in St. Anthony Park. 

CURA is part of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP). NNIP, coordinated by the Urban Institute, facilitates the exchange of information between partner organizations with the express purpose of data resources to their communities. Other partners include the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, who we partnered with on Our Home is Here, the housing strategy for Harris County, Texas, and Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University.

The Opportunity Project partners with companies, non-profits, and universities to use federal open data into problem-solving tools. One project that it has funded is Streetwyze, which uses publicly available data as well as pictures and audio to connect and transform communities. In 2017, they developed the Mapping 2 Mobilize & People Powered Place-Making Toolkit to educate local leaders on how to utilize their platform. Streetwyze partnered with Enterprise Community Partners to create data dashboards that provide a comprehensive view of neighborhoods and assess available pathways to opportunity.  


Images from Mapping 2 Mobilize & People Powered Place-Making Toolkit


In 2021, Asakura Robinson teamed up with Rockford Housing Development Corporation (RHDC), a non-profit focused on low and moderate-income housing production in Rockford, Illinois, to create One Rockford.

One Rockford is an RHDC and community co-led effort to meet the housing and related needs of Rockford residents. Asakura Robinson was tasked with the needs assessment, which provided a deep analytical picture of Rockford’s current housing situation and related social determinants of health. It used historical and current data to determine where populations of greatest need live, what areas lack community assets and resources, and where future homes and resources would be most suitable. Data-based evidence combined with community story-telling produced the strong foundation for investments to be made for Rockford’s future.

Related Content

To read more related content, check out Senior Urban Ecological Designer Kari Spiegelhalter’s blog Data & Democracy: Utilizing Equitable Design Processes for Community Health. Here, she takes a deep dive into how fellow landscape architects can utilize data and research to improve community health outcomes.

The Neighbors Program

If you belong to a community organization that could benefit from assistance in building a case for action using data analytics, consider applying to the Neighbors program, our pro-bono assistance program where we partner partner with community-based organizations, community members and other non-profits to provide technical assistance needed to build community capacity and work towards achieving project implementation.

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