While there’s a lot of good geospatial data clearinghouses and GIS resources out there, it is rare to get the combination deep analysis and digestibility reflected in Temple University’s Philadelphia Metropolitan Regional Indicators (MPIP) project.
Their approach involves aggregating socioeconomic and population data, infusing this data with more subjective judgments on perception and attitude and projecting these onto a regional geography over time. The result: a series of snapshots of regional “indicators” – a state of the region’s socioeconomic conditions, housing, transportation, attitudes towards government and taxes and the environment among others.
What makes this research so compelling is the elegant succinctness of the conclusions when coupled with the GIS mapping. Take for instance their report on regional transportation realities, appropriately entitled “Regional Rails”. Map 2 in the section shows “transit buffers” or facilities in the region within the context of population change. With the highest proximity of stations in areas with less than 90 percent change ratio (population loss) and fewer or no stations in largely suburban townships with “explosive growth” we understand with just a glance the infrastructural constraints of SEPTA’s system. [Think too of how necessary but insufficient the 3 mile $51 million extension to Wawa is in light of this data.]
This reality forces a reassessment of the perennial transit problems of the region: adapting an essentially late 19th and early 20th century system to the widening spatial gap between work and home and curbing the auto driven sprawl tendencies of the last 60 years. In this vein the authors of “Regional Rails” applaud some best practices efforts at transit oriented design in both the older redeveloping urban areas and newer suburban areas looking to address the fluidity of job location. There’s mention in this section of some best practices that communities, government, developers, and real estate professionals are engaging to build in access to transit.
[Percent population without automobile — shaded = higher]
But the MPIP is more than just idle data. Clearly, this research is intended to drive policy—especially with its kind of economic valuation of investment in green infrastructure. Drawing from the data and conclusions developed through their Pennypack Creek Watershed study, the people at Temple’s MPIP and Center for Sustainable Communities have framed the issue of regional watershed health as having not just ecological significance but also a clear economic cost in higher flood insurance rates, more investments in water health and stream stabilization, and ultimately bigger state and federal payouts for property owners affected by formerly minor storm events.
If this kind of data driven analysis appeals to you the MPIP has aggregated tremendous amounts of data and made it accessible for creating custom-built maps. This is possible with Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab’s Neighborhood Information System, but the MetroPhilaMapper has a regional scope and encompasses more indicators.