Thursday, May 2, 2013

Creative Asset Data Mapping - CultureBlocks launches!

First off, let me apologize for having been so remiss in my blogging activities the past few months. I have tried to keep up with my social networking connections, so I have not disappeared entirely from the digital universe, but I have dropped the ball on my blog. No excuses other than the usual: work, kids, STUFF.

So what momentous news has lured me back to the blogosphere? It is the launch of an exciting new project this week in Philadelphia: CultureBlocks. Click this link for the press release announcing the project. And here is a link to a one-sheeter describing the project.

CultureBlocks is a web-based mapping tool that has built into it over 50 different types of data that can be layered onto a map of Philadelphia in infinite ways. The project was initiated by the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy along with several core partners: The Reinvestment Fund, the Social Impact of the Arts Project of the University of Pennsylvania (SIAP), and the City's Commerce Department. We have been working on this for about three years, from the very beginning of the idea stage.

A few months ago, ArtPlace held a Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami, and as part of that conference produced a quick Pecha Kucha-style video presentation on each funded project. Here is the video on CultureBlocks. If you are "visual learner" it might be a good alternative way to get an overview.

The data comes from the City (many different agencies), Federal Census data, from SIAP, and from a host of data partners, like the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. There is such cultural/creative data as locations of nonprofit cultural organizations, nonprofit (non-arts) orgs and even unincorporated entities that have cultural programs, for-profit creative businesses, where individual artists live, creative workspace facilities, and where cultural audiences are distributed. There is information on demographics - age, race, gender, income, education levels, etc. There is data on location of public transportation routes (including bike lanes), commercial corridors, CDBG eligibility, land use, locations of schools, parks and rec centers, and a host of other community assets and characteristics.

This new tool has already received pretty wide media coverage, including in the Philadelphia Business Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY-Newsworks, Associated Press, Next City, Hidden City, The Art Blog,  Philebrity, the Philadelphia City Planning Blog, and Metro. Actually, all coverage has also been organized into one Storify site you can access here

So what does this actually look like and how do you use it?  Here are a few screenshots that should provide a flavor of how it works, but really the best thing is to click on some of the links above to get background information and media coverage, and then to dive in and begin playing with the tool yourself.

We believe this is a really robust (if admittedly sometimes overwhelming to beginning users) resource, and will be a tool to inform City policy, to help guide philanthropic decisions, to help individual arts organizations and creative businesses use data to make location-based decisions. It will also be a great tool for research and learning, to be used by Social Impact of the Arts Project at Penn as well as others.  I suspect people will use it in ways we have not even anticipated.

So, above is more or less what you see when you first enter the site. There are three ways to use the data. Explore pretty much allows you to poke around and use all the different data sets, either for the whole City, or for a specific geographical area. Profile is a pre-designed report feature that for any selected geographic area (neighborhood, zip code, etc.) can produce a simple, easy profile of the creative assets and demographics of that area. Match helps a user find an area of the City that matches up to three criteria that can be designated, such as, "I would like to know which areas of the City have low income, low cultural/creative resources, and availability of schools, libraries and rec centers." This search might be done by an arts education provider looking to reach an underserved community, but also hoping for available facilities and partners that could help deliver arts education programs.

Here is an example of what an Explore results screen might look like. In this case mapping the whole City for concentrations of cultural participation by block group. Darker blue indicates highest levels of participation.

Above is a sample Match screen, showing the result of a query looking for areas of high cultural participation rates, high resident artists concentration in walking distance, and ethnic diversity.

And below is a sample Profile results screen, in this case for the University City neighborhood:

So, I encourage you to explore CultureBlocks, whether you are in Philadelphia or somewhere else in the country, or even the world. We hope it will not only serve our local community, but also be a model for replication in other communities.  If you tweet about CultureBlocks we ask that you use the  #CultureBlocks hashtag so we can follow the conversation! And feel free to comment here with your thoughts, or email us directly.

A big thanks to the funders, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ArtPlace, without whom this could not have been created; and to Philadelphia's Deputy Cultural Officer Moira Baylson, who has led this project from the beginning.