Finding Meaning: The Case for Small Area Analysis and Progress in Data Availability

This isn’t strange considering the economic inequality of NYC, but it is a glaring demonstration of that inequality.

The Necessity and Benefits of Small Area AnalysisEconomic, education, and health needs in New York City neighborhoods from Case Studies — Scientific Figure on ResearchGateFinding meaningful disparities within small areas has obvious benefits.

Small area analysis typically concerns itself with analyzing large databases to compare resource availability and usage within subsets of a population that is often considered a whole.

In this case, the whole is the five boroughs that make up New York City.

The idea is that uncovering disparities helps identify needs of communities.

And this should eventually lead to the reallocation of resources or investigation into why allocated resources are not being used by a subpopulation and finding a way to make them more accessible.

Small area analysis has historically been a pretty difficult thing to achieve, especially with the fine granularity I was after.

Reliable, statistically significant data was hard to come by.

This is changing, and NYC is among those leading the charge as the city acknowledges that its great diversity comes with great challenges to equality — and that it has the resources to address some of those challenges.

Open Data Comes to NYCIn 2012, NYC passed the “Open Data Law”, mandating that all the city government’s public data be freely available via a single online portal by the end of 2018.

This massive release of public records for one of the world’s largest cities is a huge stride towards the democratization of data.

And New Yorkers are already putting this resource to good use.




htmlA year ago, it would have been much easier to just throw in the towel and compare the boroughs, but I insisted on capturing the disparities among smaller neighborhoods — which resulted in some pretty unimpressive analysis at the time.

This time around, it will be far easier thanks to the Open Data initiative.

While not all the data is useful for my analysis of areas smaller than city-wide or borough-wide, much of it is.

The Quirks of New York CityIf you’ve never walked around NYC, it might be hard to understand why I wanted to “zoom in” so much into NYC neighborhoods.

I mean, at least Brooklyn is Brooklyn, and the Bronx is the Bronx.

There’s Harlem, a Chinatown somewhere, some million dollar apartments around Central Park.

But that’s about it, right?Well… data scientist Wenfei Xu was able to identify 75 distinct communities in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn alone.

She did this by analyzing the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s data as she outlines in this post.

Granted, the majority of these “communities” do not live in Brooklyn, and small area analysis usually focuses on a place of residence, 75 is still a lot.

Here’s her map showing the taxi data for just five of the communities she identified.

Five Communities of WilliamsburgBefore living in NYC for ten years, I had no idea how quickly neighborhoods could change (across both space and time).

I suppose I got most of my information about the city from movies and the TV show Friends.

While I knew those were unrealistic portrayals, it was still amazing to me when I first ventured into different parts of the city.

A World Away in Less than Half a MileIn 2015, I lived two blocks away from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, home of Columbia University’s Medical Center while dating a medical resident.

The apartment was newly renovated and well-maintained with laundry in the basement.

The neighborhood was quiet, upscale and professional, with a decent amount of racial diversity.

The subway station was at the end of my block, and I was within a minute’s walk of both a Chipotle and a Starbucks with some nice, if overpriced, restaurants in the neighborhood.

Economic, education, and health needs in New York City neighborhoods from Case Studies — Scientific Figure on ResearchGate.

When the medical resident and I broke up, I was the one who had to move since we were living in Columbia University housing.

It was easy, my best friend lived alone eight blocks up the street, and my new apartment was over $700 cheaper a month despite Columbia’s housing being partially subsidized.


The neighborhood was fun, too.

There weren’t really any big chain restaurants within a few minutes’ walk except a Taco Bell across the street.

There were some very good little Puerto Rican and Dominican Restaurants, however, most of them quite affordable.

Any time, day or night, there would be groups of people outside sitting on little stools or folding chairs playing Caribeño music.

Oh, and this neighborhood was almost entirely Latino.

Spanish was heard on the street more often than English.

My friend was Puerto Rican, so she felt perfectly at home.

I, on the other hand, definitely stood out as pretty much the only person around who was Asian-American and white.

I do speak some Spanish, but it’s with mild American accent layered on top of a Mexican accent/dialect.

Caribbean Spanish is almost another language…Anyway, the cheaper rent also meant that, in general, the neighborhood was poorer.

I was now exactly half-way between two subway stops, about a 7–8 minute walk from the gateways to the rest of the city.

And believe me, those few minutes matter during the hot, humid summers and windy, freezing winters.

I noticed a sharp increase in the number of police units I’d see each day.

The streets were dirtier and buildings more run down.

And the people I’d see at the start and end of my commute just seemed tired.

That may seem like a strange thing to include, but I was tired too — because the $350 (my share of the $700) a month I saved came at a price.

This is the block I actually lived on.

On the right a few buildings down is my old apartment building.

The restaurant in the center, was one of my go-to spots.

This photo was among the top twenty photos when I googled “Washington Heights.

” Unfortunately, it belongs to a news article about a stabbing.

My apartment came with broken stove and oven, a toilet we would regularly have to MacGyver so it would flush, plenty of cockroaches and mice in the walls, a window to the fire escape that didn’t properly lock, and a radiator that leaked steam into the entire apartment making it a sauna and also incidentally providing ideal conditions for black mold.

The superintendent for the building was nice if the problem was easy to fix, but inevitably busy otherwise.

In addition, laundry went from being a few trips down to the basement to a two-hour-long trip to the nearest laundromat four blocks away.

Remember, this drastic change from the upscale neighborhood to the unkept buildings all happened within eight blocks.

For scale, it is commonly said that approximately 20 NYC city blocks is equal to one mile and one block is about a one minute walk, on average.

I haven’t fact checked that, but it sounds about right.

A definitely-not-completely-accurate-but-sometimes-funny-sometimes-just-weird takes on Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods by Urbane demonstrates how neighborhoods have identities unto themselves.

Teaching in BrooklynI taught high school math, science, and computer science in NYC for four years, and I worked at a public charter school that is a member of the Diverse Charter School Coalition, so my classrooms were socioeconomically, racially, and ethnically diverse.

Naturally, my diverse students came to the school from many different neighborhoods across NYC.

While the majority of students did come from Brooklyn, every borough including Staten Island was represented.

Some students’ commutes were more than two hours each way.

I continue to admire the school’s commitment to diversity in the face of the national trend towards resegregation.

However, teaching there made me face some uncomfortable truths.

I had some students coming to school with all the latest gadgets and going to the expensive coffee shop across the street to hang out, while other students signed up for any clubs that met on weekends (like our camping club) because that meant they would get food that weekend.

Economic disparities across NYC communities are dramatic, and student achievement at school was often correlated with these disparities.

While integrating schools may be necessary to fight the achievement gap that the No Child Left Behind Act (signed by Bush in 2001) and Race to the Top (Obama in 2009) attempted to eliminate, it is not sufficient.

High quality teachers and school resources can only do so much when ability to learn, participate, and pay attention in school relies on a whole host of other factors, many dictated by, or related to a student’s home and community.

The inequalities between different communities can be vast, even within small areas.

Small area analysis can be a tool to help holistically understand the needs of different neighborhoods and to provide guidance when making public policy and resource distribution decisions.

While NYC is not unique in this, it is a city in which these inequalities are often magnified, and it seems to be a city that is now turning to a strategy of open sourcing these issues.

It will be interesting how this Open Data project will grow….. More details

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