Data and Decisions: Parcel Level Information Changing the Way Business Gets Done


The accelerated development of electronic land information systems in our cities creates opportunities for important improvements in land management and community development. However, “decision support tools” are needed to assure that new data are effectively acted on. These tools transform raw data into accessible information displays designed to inform specific actions by private, nonprofit and government actors, and may range from simple web tables to more complex analytic processes. This paper reviews early experiences in developing such tools in five cities (as part of a Brookings Urban Markets Initiative pilot project) and concludes that they have great promise. The choice of tools will depend on local market conditions, but in all areas, they can help in: (1) assessing trends and need for intervention; (2) deciding on the appropriate interventions for individual properties; and (3) program monitoring and coordination. Ideas are offered as to how local leaders can create an environment conducive to capitalizing on the potential of these tools and avoiding risks that could hinder their effective use.

Introduction and Summary

In many American cities, civic groups and university institutes are developing the capacity to assemble diverse data on neighborhood conditions and encourage its application in local policymaking. In late 2004, the Urban Institute (UI) and five of these “local data intermediaries” began work on a pilot project on innovative uses of information. The Brookings Institution’s Urban Markets Initiative with support from other national and local funders sponsored this work. The intermediaries in Baltimore, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Providence, and Washington, D.C. are all institutional partners in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP). For this project, each of them developed one or more new decision support tools to enhance local capacity to guide and manage urban land markets.

This paper documents and interprets the results of this project at the end of its first year. It is primarily for local officials and nonprofit groups involved in the community development process, but it should be of interest to private developers as well. Section 1 explains the project concepts and summarizes findings and recommendations. Section 2 provides more detailed accounts of what occurred in each of the five sites. Section 3 draws conclusions and considers how best to take advantage of the potential experiences.