Website offers revised glimpse of ‘Quality of Life’ in Meck County

By April Bethea

Community leaders and researchers say a new website on neighborhoods across Mecklenburg County will help in better identifying needs across the area and may influence policy and other decisions.

 

The site –http://maps.co.mecklenburg.nc.us/qoldashboard/ – is a revamp of the biennial Quality of Life study led by UNC Charlotte, the city of Charlotte and the county.

It features data in areas such as crime, education, housing and the environment on more than 400 neighborhoods in and around Charlotte and Mecklenburg’s six towns.

For example, it shows the median household income for an area or the percentage of residences located within a half-mile of a grocery store chain.

Visitors to the site can click on a topic and see a map of how neighborhoods across the county fared in a certain area. Or they can search for a specific area.

All of the data can also be downloaded for further analysis.

“It’s a data resource that’s just waiting to be attacked and worked with,” said Owen Furuseth, an associate provost at UNCC and research team leader for the study.

He said he’s particularly interested in looking more closely at the social, housing and economic data.

In the past, the Quality of Life study was a printed report that analyzed neighborhoods in and just outside of Charlotte on 20 indicators. Areas were then labeled as stable, challenged or transitioning.

But the new report looks at more data – nearly 80 different indicators – and also includes information on Mecklenburg’s six towns. The old neighborhood labels were scrapped because officials said they didn’t always reflect all that was happening in a neighborhood.

The 2012 study has been in the works for much of the past two years, and the website had a soft launch last week.

Several public workshops are planned at libraries across the county in February to help people learn how to use the site, though the dates are still being finalized.

Janine Boudreau of the United Way of Central Carolinas said she expects the agency will promote the website to the 80-plus agencies it funds.

She said the organization has told agencies it is important that the groups serve people in the community who have the greatest need.

Boudreau said she liked detail that is available on neighborhoods in the new report.

On Friday, she used the site to look at a low-income neighborhood and searched for the number of daycares and average age of residents in the area.

Such a review could indicate a need for more preschool options there, she said.

“This lets us drill down on the neighborhood level and that would let us identify underserved populations,” said Boudreau, who is the United Way’s director of community impact.

Others have praised the website for its inclusion of environmental data, including the number of people who recycle in an area, water consumption and the use of public transportation.

Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte, said he thinks the new Quality of Life metrics will help in the organization’s push for the city and county to make a Community Sustainability Plan.

“We hope they will follow this tremendous step forward with the next critical step: setting meaningful goals for improvement through broad public engagement.”

The Quality of Life study cost about $140,000 and was paid for using a mix of local and federal tax dollars.

Bethea: 704-358-6013; On Twitter: @AprilBethea

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