Catalyzing Community Development with Smart Data
By Amanda High, Chief of Strategic Initiatives at The Reinvestment Fund
Later this month, a deal is expected to close that will bring a new Kroger supermarket to Glenwood Avenue, just outside of downtown Atlanta. The 115,000 square-foot Kroger stands out from the 186 other Krogers in the metropolitan region in a number of ways. Its “marketplace” format offers a new, one-stop-shop experience for customers who are unable to make a lot of shopping trips due to barriers such as limited access to transportation or lack of child care. This Kroger was planned with extensive consultation from community members, and is expected to complement other local development projects, including the Beltline project. And, perhaps most importantly, it will provide fresh food access to people who live in an area without easy access to fresh healthy food.
This supermarket is an example of how data-driven decision-making can enhance impact. The Reinvestment Fund, a community development organization that makes targeted investments based on smart data, has relied on data-driven decision-making to revitalize communities for 30 years. Our Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) analysis helps investors and policymakers identify areas across the continental United States that have both inadequate access to healthy food and sufficient market demand for new or expanded food retail options. (See the summary here.) This analysis is unique because it goes beyond designating areas where healthy food is hard to access. It also measures the extent to which LSA areas can support new or expanded food retail options. We relied heavily on data from the LSA analysis in deciding to finance Atlanta’s newest Kroger supermarket, as well as dozens of other projects to increase food access across the country.
In addition to leveraging data to increase access to healthy foods in underserved neighborhoods, The Reinvestment Fund has developed powerful data tools to help funders, policymakers and direct-service providers understand other key factors that influence the health of a community. Another example is the interactive Childcare Map, which The Reinvestment Fund developed with the William Penn Foundation to provide comprehensive information about the availability of high-quality early childhood education (ECE) in Philadelphia and the accessibility of child care for families with low-incomes. Childcare Map helps identify the neighborhoods where high-quality care is most scarce, and where investments are most needed. In 2014, The Reinvestment Fund used this analysis to target investments to 14 providers to expand access to high-quality ECE in underserved communities throughout Philadelphia. We are now replicating this model in Newark, NJ.
While data collection and analysis can feel slow and laborious to community development leaders who want to see change happen as fast as possible, we’ve learned that smart data is critical to ensuring that we are fostering the right change in the right places. As a result of this data-driven decision-making, we invested in programs that give 630 more children in Philadelphia access to early childhood education. And we helped to finance a supermarket right here in Atlanta that will create over 200 jobs and provide healthy food access in a community where there is both great need and great demand.