What makes a city vulnerable to things like recessions? Some towns can weather the storm and come out of these events as good or better than before. Many other cities struggle with these events for many years after they are over. What is the difference between the two?
The truth is, economic vulnerability arises from the relationship between many factors. Understanding how these factors interact and what to do about them is a challenge for all cities.
As a Data Storyteller, I have seen how data science can help solve this challenge. Creating an index is a way to take complex conditions and distill them into a few simple numbers. For policymakers and stakeholders, this is a game-changer. Instead of trying to make sense of mountains of data, they can focus on solving the problems.
To help illustrate this, I applied our Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) to the Greater Nashville Metro Area. The Greater Nashville Metro Area consists of 13 counties in Middle Tennessee. Like all regions, the conditions that create economic vulnerability here are not unique. But the story of which factors make Nashville Resilient and Vulnerable is. These trends also suggest potential actions that local governments can take to keep the region on the right track.
For Greater Nashville Metro Counties, the concentration of vulnerability and resiliency is remarkable.
If we look at where people live, Davidson County has a higher concentration of the economically vulnerable. That means that Davidson County residents are more likely to struggle through recessions. Residents here are more likely to struggle with making ends meet.
Yet, these “high vulnerability” areas are close to places that are faring better. How can one census tract be vulnerable and another - often only a few blocks away - be resilient? We can understand “Why?” by comparing the two areas together. We can call these areas "Clusters of Vulnerability" and "Islands of Resilience," respectively.
One issue that contributes to the resiliency (or vulnerability) of an area is housing. Housing costs for homeowners in the two areas are roughly the same. The national benchmark for housing affordability is 30% of monthly income, and each area comes in below 20%. Yet, for renters, the story is much different.
Nashville’s Clusters of Vulnerability face 13% higher cost burdens for rental housing than Islands of Resilience. Because these areas contain 60% renter-occupied housing, we would expect recessions to have high impacts in these areas.
In short: a main driver of vulnerability in Nashville is that renters bear the burden. When times get tough, renters are likely to struggle the most.
For public health professionals, improving housing affordability and stability is vital. “Upstream” interventions for health issues that would otherwise go unnoticed are often the result. Public health professionals need a seat at the table on housing policy.
Curious about the vulnerabilities and resiliency of your community or the process of making an index? Download our Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) White Paper to review our nationwide analysis complete with methodology, county rankings, data and more.
Drew Stiehl is an economic development expert, and an experienced urban and transportation planner. Since joining the mySidewalk team in March 2019, Drew has helped communities across the country develop a robust understanding of their local economies, and how they fit into - and can be competitive in - a global market. Drew holds a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Colorado-Denver, and brings diverse professional experience to the table, including work in cities, counties, MPOs, and Community Benefit Organizations.
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