What the data tell us about cities

Civic leaders know that effective public-policy decisions depend, in part, on good data.

One intriguing new tool for leaders and residents is City Forward, a free, web-based platform for visualizing and analyzing data about cities. Given how urbanized much of Arizona’s population is, the platform should offer valuable insight to our civic leaders.

Drawing on publicly available data sets about cities and metro areas around the world, City Forward allows users to create colorful interactive graphs, or “explorations”–comparisons among cities of measures ranging from crime rates to health-care expenditures to industry concentrations. Those explorations then become available for other users of City Forward to browse and study.

The result are explorations such as a comparison of the Great Recession’s impact on Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, and Phoenix, which charts consumer spending, unemployment, and gross domestic product in the four cities from 2000 to 2009. The graphs created by the exploration are powered by statistical information from several databases managed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Other explorations relevant to Arizonans that have already been created using the City Forward platform include comparative visualizations of health-care costs, water consumption, auto theft, and the relationship between key political and economic events and the unemployment rate.

City Forward is powered by technology donated by IBM; the platform complements IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge, a competitive grant program, and its Smarter Planet initiative.

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