Community-driven Data in Pittsburgh

November 26, 2013

GTech Strategies gather vacancy data with LocalData

This November, a group of data collectors from GTECH Strategies (Growth Through Energy and Community Health) in Pittsburgh began tackling the job of building a new dataset on vacancy in their city. Pittsburgh is made of 92 neighborhoods – and of these, the city averages 20-45% vacancy rates in these.

At the PA Housing Alliance conference earlier this month, Bob Gradeck of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, Bethany Davidson of The Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group and Alicia Rouault of LocalData discussed the role of data in assessing issues like blight vacancy and abandonment facing places like Pittsburgh. Gradeck pointed to several persistent issues in collecting data over time to understand property conditions – issues not unique to Pittsburgh.

One major problem lies within property data standardization – Pennsylvania unlike some states lacks any data standard across administrative property datasets. Small, disparate projects fueled by universities or short-term political policies will take on data collection efforts to produce a snapshot of an issue in time, typically using inconsistent indicators from project to project. Without consistency over time, it’s hard to analyze the data in a meaningful way. Efficiency is also a major concern, as the majority of these efforts have long timelines, and typically use paper and pen to collect data. After all the hard work is done on the ground, data from these surveys is put into one-off reports or maps and rarely shared in a raw data format, or on the web.

LocalData is working with GTECH to change the practices of community-led data collection into a more seamless coordinated effort across geographies and institutional partners. With easy-to-use web tools, non-profits, universities and governments can share information between partners and across place.

GTECH has been working to develop and implement community-based projects since 2007. By merging creative, tangible resolutions and a sensible orientation towards collaboration, GTECH has grown into a regional leader in innovative, sustainable policy and on-the-ground project implementation that uses green strategies to provide economic and community development opportunities. Within our ReClaim program area, we have in-depth experience with surveying property condition and suggesting maintenance solutions to combat issues associated with vacancy in distressed neighborhoods. Our most recent efforts include identifying strategic uses for data collection programs and sharing that information with local and regional municipal leaders in order to streamline the process of vacant land remediation.

GTECH Data collectors in action.