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City, UNCC Team Up For A Lesson In Data

Ben Bradford

Statistics, used incorrectly, can give the wrong impression, as Mark Twain made clear when he said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

And there’s a wealth of publicly available statistics about Charlotte that can be used or misused. So, on Tuesday, UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, the Federal Reserve of Richmond, and the city and county held Charlotte Data Day.

It was an all day seminar for non-profits, academics, city officials, and anyone else, focusing on how to find and use a wide range of public data—correctly.

“I work with public assistance a lot, so I’d like to know [how to find] demographics and more community data,” says Erica Dean, who came with friends from work at the Department of Social Services.

Dean can get that demographic information. The Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder and the city’s Quality of Life Study each offer a wealth of data. The Quality of Life Study is a prize achievement of the city, an interactive dashboard of 464 micro-neighborhoods throughout Mecklenburg County broken down by 82 different variables, from population to number of calls to animal control. John Killian works for the City of Durham, and he made the two hour trip to learn about implementation.

“We’re working on a neighborhood indicators project kind of like the Quality of Life dashboard that City of Charlotte has,” Killian says. “Wanted to come out, and see how the community engagement and the roll out of projects like that works, and how institutions use the project.”

He heard numerous ways. Speakers talked about how city officials use the Quality of Life study to make decisions about zoning and housing, and real estate companies use it in their marketing.

In the afternoon, workshops taught how to access public data from four main databases: including the city and the Census Bureau. Add that all together: over 100 people at the event, times four databases, times hundreds of thousands of individual pieces of data per database—that’s a lot of statistics at a lot of fingertips.