Philadelphia City Council announced Wednesday the launch of an ambitious data-driven program meant to identify neighborhoods most in need of support.
The effort will highlight the strengths and shortcomings of each of the city's neighborhoods so there can be a more targeted approach to remedying community problems, according to Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who spoke at a news conference at Community College of Philadelphia.
And, as was made clear by other Council members who spoke, the program will be used as a tool in budgetary debates over how much attention should go to improving Philadelphia's more distressed neighborhoods vs. maintaining the momentum of a booming Center City.
"I hear all the time from people that too much of our focus is on Center City," said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, one of 11 Council members there in support of the initiative. "This is affirmation that all neighborhoods matter. The wealth should be spread across the board."
Labeled the Philadelphia Community Sustainability Initiative, the program will draw upon existing databases to enable planners to establish a quality-of-life index for every city neighborhood using seven criteria.
Rankings will be provided for amenities (access to libraries and recreational centers), commerce, schools, housing demand, housing stability (foreclosure rates), prosperity (household income, homeownership, household debt ratio), and safety.
The rankings will be part of an interactive map that would allow a user to home in on a particular neighborhood with the click of a mouse.
Clarke said the quality-of-life index system would serve as an advocate for distressed parts of the city.
"Somebody has to speak for these neighborhoods," he said. "If we can create neighborhoods of choice everywhere, the entire city benefits."
The initiative is still a work in progress, with databases being gathered and put together in a usable program.
Council has contracted the Reinvestment Fund and Econsult Solutions to produce the program and interactive map.
Clarke said he hoped that once the program is complete, it would be accessible to anyone. He declined to predict when it would be up and running.
Council would be making field trips in the coming months throughout the city to meet with community groups and residents for their input, he said, before the program is fully operational.
Once it is, he said, it will benefit everyone.
"As we go through the budget process, our conversations should be data-driven," the Council president said. "Every neighborhood should be a neighborhood of choice."
Or, as he tweeted: "We cannot achieve our full potential as a city if we don't address neighborhoods in decline."