Urban Intitute

And other lessons learned from a vast new data tool from the Urban Institute.

The Urban Institute today unveiled a far-reaching data dashboard for metropolitan areas all across the U.S. that visualizes datasets – and the connections between them – on a long list of quantifiable aspects of urban life, from local unemployment to crime rates to housing prices. The tool reveals some interesting macro-trends. For one, crime appears to have fallen in many cities during the recession, contradicting the widespread hypothesis that the exact opposite might occur.

The dashboard may be most useful, though, for the comparisons it allows between metro areas on all these metrics. Particularly fascinating is a set of demographic data drawn from the 2010 Census that illustrates population dynamics by age across communities. U.S. cities don't uniformly reflect the age demographics of the nation as a whole. Rather, some metropolitan areas have an inordinate number of young children, or aging seniors, or young professionals. And the following charts from the dashboard illustrate this particularly well.

The patterns in this data hint at much more complex stories about the economic viability of these metro areas, their particular cultural fingerprints and their coming challenges in accommodating an aging population or luring back a younger one. We also simply love these charts for the way they confirm some of our most bald-faced stereotypes about who lives in, say, Naples, Florida (thank you, data!).

This is College Station, Texas, where the population is dramatically skewed by Texas A&M University (the gray lines represent the national average).

Conversely, this is a metro area – Naples – with more than its share of seniors (the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation is particularly noticeable in the national average, with a distinct dip in the late 60s):

Where, we wonder, do all of those old people migrate from?

Cleveland and Detroit, meanwhile, are rust-belt metros that have struggled to keep successful twentysomethings in town. Both of them seem to have a hole right in their demographic center:

Other cities have higher rates of young children. This one came first to mind:

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