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Mapping a Changing City with Data

Mapping a Changing City with Data

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Data Plus team at workThe City of Durham has changed dramatically in the last two decades. What was once a crumbling downtown is now thriving. Breweries, music venues, hotels and restaurants have flocked to the area, dramatically changing the makeup of the city’s downtown and its neighboring communities.

In order to track this change and better understand the demographic makeup of its residents, city administration has sponsored a tool called the Durham Neighborhood Compass. Aptly named, the tool lets you navigate neighborhoods within Durham County while reviewing economic, demographic and environmental quality of life factors.

One Data Plus team has spent the summer examining more data related to Durham County, building on the visualization tool. Under the guidance of mentor Olga Kozlova, a PhD candidate in economics, undergraduates Anna Vivian and Vinai Oddiraju have focused their work this summer on two factors related to the Compass: ambient stress and neighborhood change.

“We spent the first few weeks doing a lot of reading and speaking with our mentor Olga about how to define and approach ambient stress and neighborhood change,” said Anna Vivian, a rising senior.

They settled on a definition for ambient stress that emphasizes its environment-specific character and highlights that it varies by neighborhood. It includes things like crime, noise pollution (e.g. proximity to highways) and neighborhood decay.

Ambient stress, Vivian said, is different from the kind of life event stress people typically point to when feeling acute stress. A quick look at the Neighborhood Compass map reveals a variety of possible environment-specific stressors including population density, tree coverage and households within walking distance to banks and full service grocers.

Olga Kozlova mentors her team They’re quality of life factors that some of us take for granted, especially given the division of wealth that characterizes many of Durham’s neighborhoods. For some residents, access to groceries, banking and pharmacies are unnecessarily difficult. For Oddiraju, it’s the practicality of mapping this data, and the real benefit to residents, that drew him to the work.

“Our research can be used to help policy makers and officials better run the city and county of Durham by providing them with a better understanding of what is taking place in different parts of the county,” he said.

The second factor, neighborhood change, is an important lens for viewing the data. While the past two decades have seen downtown become fashionable, the startups, restaurants and hotels that have brought new business and residents to the area have also pushed out lower income housing options for those who made the city home before it was trendy.

“The idea is that if we look at the ways the housing market is changing and the way the business climate is changing and compare those to other demographic factors in a neighborhood, then with some different comparative analysis we’ll get a sense of what’s happening,” Vivian said.

It’s important work that could benefit residents of different incomes and backgrounds around Durham County. The idea is that if we understand the changing neighborhoods, and the reasons why they’re changing, then the community can better anticipate the needs of its residents.

“We’ve had some great opportunities to meet with people from Durham and hear their thoughts on what is changing in the city,” Oddiraju said. “Doing research and seeing the tangible effects our work has really drew me to this project.”


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