Early Ed Watch

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Mapping Inequality in Washington, D.C. -- Interactively

Published:  January 24, 2013

In October, DC Action for Children released DC Kids Count, an “e-databook” that graphically maps socioeconomic disparities across Washington D.C. neighborhoods. The maps are detailed and elegant, and demonstrate just how segregated the nation’s capital city remains in terms of race, income, educational attainment, access to healthy food and many other measures.

The leading interactive map is broken down into 39 neighborhoods, allowing users to visualize variables such as access to grocery stores and libraries, math and reading scores of children enrolled in city schools and number of single mothers. These data together reveal a starkly divided city.

Most of DC’s wealth is concentrated in its Northwest quadrant, where the New America Foundation and most of the city’s other major organizations and institutions are located. According to DC Kids Count, 33 percent of the neighborhoods in DC have no grocery store, and most of those neighborhoods are concentrated in the Southeast quadrant of the city. One of the clearest correlations is the close relationship between areas with high rates of single mother households and areas with lower math and reading performance among children.

Almost as fascinating as the maps themselves are how DC Action for Children made them. For many years the Annie E. Casey Foundation has funded grantees (one per state) to collect data that track quality of life for children across the United States. When DC Action for Children became a Casey grantee in 2011, the organization knew it “didn’t want to do a big book of charts that sat on people’s shelves that nobody ever used,” according to deputy director Gwen Rubinstein. So staff members began to brainstorm how best to display data, on the web, to represent social issues.

The group attended a weekend-long hackathon set up by DataKind, an organization that facilitates collaboration between data scientists and social advocacy organizations. By the end of the weekend, they had produced the first map. The data experts and DCAC staff completed the rest of the project over the course of at least six more “mini data dives.” All the pro-bono data scientists had other jobs, but they were willing to devote time outside of work to help collect the data and create the maps using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software in combination with software called MapBox.

“Without our data heroes we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Rubinstein says. “We’re four people and we can’t afford that kind of data firm. … That’s the beauty of DataKind, and our data scientists keep pushing us, talking about making the maps even less static.”

According to Rubinstein, many neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. are experiencing growing birth rates, which means a burgeoning  population of children under age 5, who are especially affected by the disparities the DC Kids Count maps display. She hopes these tools will help city policy-makers and advocates take action on behalf of the 33 percent of district children living in poverty.

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