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In First Month, 8K People Check Out Pittsburgh’s Downtown Data

The recently launched IndexPGH website is trying to give potential visitors to Pittsburgh a sense of the city’s center while also answering questions they have, doing so with both numbers and anecdotes.

Pittsburgh, Pa.
(TNS) — Anecdotes tend to speak louder than numbers when it comes to how Pittsburgh's Downtown district is perceived. The recently launched IndexPGH website is trying to marry the two to give potential visitors the pulse of the city's center while answering some burning questions.

"They want to know: Is it safe? Is it fun? Are the people there?" said Cate Irvin, director of economic development for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, who heads up most of the data analysis for IndexPGH.

"Just from conversations I've had with folks who don't live in Downtown and don't work in Downtown, there's sometimes a little bit of a disconnect with what's happening," she said. "So they're less likely to jump on the T or take the bus or drive in without having a little bit of information."

The new tool was developed by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and has had 8,000 visitors since it went live last month. Its first monthly update was set for Sept. 20, but was delayed a week due to difficulty gathering information from a variety of sources.

"Since its launch, we've been exploring ways to further refine and improve it, particularly with even more data," said Philip Cynar, communications director for the Allegheny Conference.

The September update, based on August data, showed: A 707% growth in volunteerism; drug offenses accounted for half of all reported arrests; transit ridership declined, but Downtown still saw 1.6 million visitors; and "clean team" hours were up 16%. Its employees collect garbage and do pressure washing.

IndexPGH is essentially the Allegheny Conference's expansion of the data dashboard created in 2019 by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Both nonprofit organizations are trying to use data to paint an accurate portrait of Downtown.

The Allegheny Conference wanted to provide the data with context, so that visitation info can be matched to specific events like a performance by Taylor Swift. Raw numbers are also paired with "featured" stories and sorted into one of four categories: vibrancy, economy, cleanliness, safety and public health.

The dashboard should help people feel more comfortable coming to Downtown, said Ms. Irvin. It could also answer questions for people who work in Downtown but "don't get out of our offices much," she said from the Allegheny Conference's 17th floor 11 Stanwix Street, formerly known as Westinghouse Tower, overlooking Point Park.

If there was a spike in crime, Ms. Irvin said, "that data is going to be shared."

"This is about open transparency. We're not in any way misrepresenting what's happening."

Allegheny Conference members do have the opportunity to review the data before each monthly update to ensure accuracy, said Lauren Connelly, the conference's vice president for local government affairs and advocacy. IndexPGH is focused on Downtown because members wanted to see if their investments there were having an impact, she said.

Pittsburgh is hardly the first city to lean in on data.

Washington state's largest metro launched Performance Seattle in 2019 to help residents "see what their city is doing to make their lives better." Its seven categories include affordability, climate and homelessness. Performance Seattle was inspired by similar offerings in Portland and Boston.

But Boston goes a step further by offering most datasets on vast open source portals that can be independently scraped and analyzed. The goal of Analyze Boston, which launched through a partnership with the city's public libraries in 2017, was to "democratize access to the city's datasets."

IndexPGH shares similar goals of accessibility and transparency.

"But... it's not really just about the raw data and the numbers," Ms. Irvin said. "It provides a lot more of the context."

Some data points can be downloaded from their original sources, Ms. Irvin said. But many of the numbers are linked to the Downtown Partnership, rather than directly to the source material. Other points are attributed to pages like Visit Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Regional Transit that don't make their numbers readily available.

For public safety statistics, IndexPGH briefly served as the most comprehensive dashboard of crime data within the city. It summarizes crimes into two large buckets: level 1 for criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson, and level 2 for everything else. Ms. Connelly said they were considering breaking that down for added transparency.

"We know that there's been an increase in drug arrests and that there has been a focus on drug trafficking Downtown specifically," she said. "So I think we're hoping to — as we work with the city to figure out how we can present this data regularly — also provide that context in the storytelling piece."

Ms. Connelly said they would also work to fold in the police department's new dashboard, which launched in September.

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