Neighborhoods by the numbers: How the new Progress Index is a win for CLE residents

Three years in the making, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) is ready to release its Progress Index to the public. Aimed at fostering inclusive Cleveland communities of choice and opportunity, the Index had previously been available to Cleveland’s 31 community development corporations (CDCs), who helped test and fine-tune the tool.

The data-based Index was originally designed to help CDCs, neighborhood leaders, and other partners involved in neighborhood revitalization efforts measure progress by better understanding neighborhood dynamics, monitoring trends, and thereby developing solutions to shortcomings. With the tool becoming public, residents can now follow local progress, too.

“It’s meant to be a useful diagnostic tool,” explains CNP president and CEO Joel Ratner. “We want to find ways to keep people in neighborhoods, even as they’re changing, and ensure all people benefit from the changes going on in all Cleveland neighborhoods.”

CNP developed the Progress Index in tandem with the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University. Their primary goal was to track progress metrics around property data and income data, but the tool also tracks population, safety, stabilization, community, health, education, workforce, and economy by neighborhood, CDC coverage areas, and citywide.

CDCs can leverage this information for a variety of purposes, from writing grants to gathering workforce data. For instance, users can find trends on housing occupancy, foreclosures, or median sales prices; poverty levels; proficiency test results; median salaries; and mortality rates and life expectancies for any given neighborhood.

“I think the sweet spot still remains housing, but more and more, education is starting to really pop and come through as well,” says Colleen Gilson, CNP’s vice president of CDC advancement, of how CDCs are using the tool.

The Index is now on its third update, and Ratner says they expect to have another update by June. They will continue to update the tool on a yearly basis—a necessary move, according to Claudia Coulton, co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty.

“We live in a time of rapid technological development, so more is being demanded of everyone in terms of having data at their fingertips and doing data-driven decision making,” says Coulton.

While the Index is jam-packed with data in carefully chosen metrics, it is also designed (with the help of Cleveland Heights-based 216 Software) to be user-friendly and accessible to everyone.  “One of the balances we really had to struggle with [is that] there’s always been good data for data technicians and data nerds,” says CNP’s real estate director Justin Fleming. “If that’s your field, you could do that in Northeast Ohio really easily. But how do you package that in a way that it isn’t just for data experts? A lot of that is putting it in broader formats in a way that’s a little more digestible to the data layman.”

Ratner stresses that the Index is not meant to measure one neighborhood’s progress over another, but rather for each individual CDC to track its own progress, as well as CNP to measure its success. For instance, he says you can’t compare what Ohio City Incorporated is doing with what Burten, Bell, Carr Development is doing in Kinsman and Central neighborhoods.

“We want [a CDC] to compare its progress to its previous progress and use this system as a way to develop programming and to understand what’s going on at the neighborhood level,” says Ratner.

With the Progress Index now available to the public, officials hope Cleveland residents will use the data to measure progress in their areas of concern, better understand their surroundings, and help improve their neighborhoods.

“We think CDCs work best when they have an informed citizenry," says Ratner. "So, for the people of the neighborhood, it’s great for them to have the tools and be able to say to the CDC, ‘You need to be pushing more on whatever it is.’ We think that information is power, and having residents who are empowered is a good thing.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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