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Eleanore Eveleth

It's not just Occupy Wall Street protesters that are concerned about the top 1%. Eleanore Eveleth, community development project manager for D3 (Data Driven Detroit) writes on how equity before wealth makes for more perfect, sustainable economic community outcomes.

Making Data a Force for Equity

"We have a moment in time in which everyone is looking up and it's ok to talk about inequality.  It's our time, but only if we make it."  --Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink

Recently we've heard a lot of statistics about the growing income gap in the U.S.:
  • "Since 1976, the share of income going to the top 1% more than doubled, and these top echelon earners now get more than a fifth of the entire U.S. economic pie." (1)
  •  "Of the total wealth generated between 1983 and 2009, 82% of it went to the wealthiest 5% of households while the typical household's wealth actually declined." (2)
  • "The gap in wealth between white and African-American families has more than quadrupled in the past two decades." (3)

And economic mobility remains lower than often thought:
  • "the challenge of getting ahead, downward mobility is a serious risk, particularly for African Americans:  45% of middle-class black children end up poor, compared to 16% of middle-class white children." (4)

As the country wades through the Great Recession, it is communities of color that have been most impacted:
  • "While unemployment for whites at 8% is too high, 11.3% of Hispanics and 16% of African Americans are experiencing unemployment, with an additional 22% of Hispanics and 25% of African Americans facing underemployment." (5)

In November, Data Driven Detroit joined hundreds of other organizations at the Ren Cen to discuss issues of economic and social equity.  Hosted by Oakland's PolicyLink, the 2011 Equity Summit brought together diverse groups from around the country to discuss equity challenges, areas of progress, and strategies for social change.  For us at D3, the conversation helps ground our work and reinforce our purpose to strengthen distressed communities through access to better information and tools.

Before 2050, the majority of Americans will be people of color.  At present, 45% of kids under 18 are children of color.  What does the increasing wealth gap and lack of opportunities in communities of color mean for future sustainability?

Angela Glover Blackwell presented a clear proposition:  America must first and foremost concern itself with equity. (6)  We cannot expect our future to be prosperous and healthy if the majority populations have inadequate access to education, opportunity, decision-making, and wealth-building opportunities.

Glover Blackwell argues that building equity is not merely a strategy for progressives, but an economic imperative.  Building equity is a superior growth model to the consumerist consumption bubble that has burst. (7)

  • Equity, inclusion, and opportunity are key ingredients to unleash the creativity and entrepreneurialism required to make communities economically competitive and sustainable.
  • Developing countries that are more equitable and regions within the U.S. that are less segregated have more sustained growth over time.
  • Communities of inclusion and opportunity are more inviting to new residents and are better able to retain existing residents.
  • Equity, inclusion, and opportunity are also key ingredients to creating safe, healthy, and livable neighborhoods. Residents cannot merely be the object of decision-making, but must fully participate in creating the future direction of neighborhoods and the city.

Growth and sustainability require strategies to building equity: better education, access to jobs and opportunities, and genuine participation in decision-making.  D3's small role in this effort is to provide access to information and tools that empower residents and inform decision-makers as they craft the future of our region, cities, and neighborhoods.

Data Analysis
At the summit, Geoffrey Canada discussed research showing that a child's zip code is a predictor of life expectancy.  Canada urged the audience to think of all kids as our own – would a shorter life be acceptable based upon your zip code for your family? Would limited resources be acceptable to you for your child?

To highlight some of the issues facing children in our area, D3 published Right Start, an analysis of birth outcomes that informs decision-making around early childhood learning and resources for children and teen moms.  Also, D3's State of Detroit's Child highlights critical issues requiring concentrated and coordinated community attention to improve the lives of kids.

Planning and Technical Support
In addition to data analysis, D3 has provided planning and technical support to residents as they work to design their own neighborhoods' assistance that helps residents participate in decision-making.  The Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP) is a community-driven project designed to engage people in a process to transform vacant land and property into uses that improve the quality of life in LEAP neighborhoods and surrounding areas.  D3 trained residents to survey the neighborhood.  We also created maps and tools to assist the residents to visualize, discuss, and communicate existing conditions and future desires.

Tools to Access Information
With all the inequalities of access, Detroiters should not also have to contend with unequal access to information.  As we grow, we are experimenting with new communication and technical tools to make information more easily understandable and relevant – relevant to all stakeholders.

We are also developing a variety of web-based tools with differing levels of detail and user-accessibility.   Our goal is to empower stakeholders to more directly answer much of their own information needs.  We also aim to provide a public interface for the same data that is used to support policy-makers and city officials.  We have recently created an interactive web mapping and data visualization Community Profiling Tool to access a variety of indicators.  Other recently developed tools were created to understand the Census 2010 data, to get quick facts about change between the 2000 and 2010 Census, and to access property-level information prior to the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction.

Inclusive and Transparent Processes
More than making data accessible, we're committed to making our process accessible and inclusive.  If our process can be an educational opportunity, that's even better.  Last summer, D3 partnered with Southwest Counseling Solutions to engage youth in Southwest Detroit to map neighborhood conditions.  This Community Youth Mapping Program gave students an opportunity to learn more about the geography of their neighborhood and gain job skills in the process.  The program introduced students to the work of D3, demographers, urban planners, policy wonks, and data crunchers.  A strategy of building equity requires that these fields grow to better represent the populations they serve.  It's not going to happen unless we get youth excited about things like mapping – and they are.

This article was co-authored by Lisa Rayle, D3 transportation consultant.


1. America's Tomorrow:  Equity is the Superior Growth Model. 

2. America's Tomorrow:  Equity is the Superior Growth Model. 

3. Pew Research Center, 2011. In PolicyLink memo "A Policy Agenda for the 99%".

4. http://www.policylink.org/atf/cf/{97c6d565-bb43-406d-a6d5-eca3bbf35af0}/POLICY_LINK_BRIEF.PDF

5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011. In PolicyLink memo "A Policy Agenda for the 99%".

6. Angela Glover Blackwell also founded D3's NNIP sister organization in Oakland, California Urban Strategies Council which does incredible work to empower low-income communities and communities of color through access to information and technology.

7. Angela Glover Blackwell and Manuel Pastor have substantiated these arguments in Uncommon Common Ground.





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