Penn data to help nabes

In neighboring community Spruce Hill, males outnumber females, blacks barely outnumber Asians, and the two combined still do not outnumber whites. Even though median annual household income is about $50,000, 921 of the 7,804 housing units in the neighborhood are vacant.

These facts about several neighboring communities come from a Web site Penn is tailoring to give neighborhood organizations information they can use to improve their economic growth.

The West Philadelphia Information Initiative, being developed under Wharton Real Estate Department Director Susan Wachter, will include real estate housing indicators like the values of each plot sold, loans granted, the mortgage denial rate and vacant land.

Neighborhood groups can take the information to city government for more funds for their neighborhood, or to banks for more loan money, said Daniel Romer, who is coordinating the project until Wachter returns in January from serving in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Romer is a fellow of the Center for Community Partnerships (CCP) as well as a senior researcher in the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Romer also envisions including crime statistics.

“Information is really powerful in dealing with bureaucracies,” Romer said. “Without the facts, it’s harder to negotiate.”

The project is funded by Fannie Mae as part of its efforts to get universities to think harder about how to help surrounding communities grow economically. Romer agrees with Fannie Mae’s strategy. “Universities know how to put data together and make it available to community organizations,” he said.

Creating the database is a cooperative effort among several departments and the neighborhood.

Besides using Wharton real estate’s geographic information system Web site, gispdc.wharton., the project is getting help from Assistant Professor Sidney Wong, who brings city and regional planning expertise to the data.

And the CCP is contributing its community contacts and part of its grant from the Kellogg Foundation.

At the first training meeting, the neighbors also contributed, sharing their ideas on how the site could be more helpful. The Web site is now under revision.

“Eventually this can be done for the whole city,” Romer said.


Originally published on September 14, 2000