How much do you know about your community?

How much do you know about your community? How much has it changed in the last decade or two? How does it compare to neighboring communities or to the Twin Cities metropolitan area as a whole?

The Metropolitan Council has an online tool that can answer these questions and more.

Launched last fall, the council’s “Data+Maps” feature provides a wealth of information about the metro area as a whole, as well as each of the seven counties and 182 communities in the region. It is accessible from the navigation bar at the top of the homepage here.

From the Data+Maps page, you can access profiles of every city and county. This page also contains links to pages where you can access the council’s gallery of maps, an interactive feature that allows you to make your own map and “MetroStats,” a monthly publication of by the council’s research staff that analyzes recent data and trends.

“We’re trying to capture some high level snippets of information so people can understand almost at a glance the major characteristics of their community, and in some cases, how they compare to their county or the region as a whole,” says Libby Starling, the council’s research manager.

Data for planners
For city planners, planning consultants, students and academicians, the site also offers tabular data in downloadable form so they can do their own studies and analyses. It includes building permits, population estimates, and forecasts of population, households and employment — plus selected U.S. Census data.

Libby Starling
Libby Starling

“We are trying to provide data in words, in graphs, in tables and in map forms,” says Starling. “Different people understand this kind of information in different ways.”

If you go to one of the community profiles, you will quickly see that they contain more than just a few “snippets” of information, as Starling put it.

The cover page for each community provides information about its geographic size and its current population, households and employment, along with a locator map and valuable links.

It also includes tabs to pages with much more data under the categories of people, jobs and economy, income and poverty, housing, commuting, and land use and development. The information is presented in colorful charts, along with the actual data. In many cases, both current and historical data is available.

In some cases, you can obtain an immediate comparison between your community and the county or region as a whole. Otherwise, you can make the comparison by accessing the profile for the city or county of your choice, or the region as a whole.

An example
I live in Woodbury, one of the region’s fastest growing cities over the last several decades. For purposes of illustration, here are a few examples of the information you can obtain from the council’s community profiles:

•    Woodbury’s population has more than tripled in the last two decades, growing from 20,075 in 1990 to 61,961 in 2010. By 2030, the Met Council forecasts the city will grow to 84,000.

•    Like the region and state as a whole, Woodbury is growing more diverse. Since 1990, the non-white population has increased from less than 7 percent to nearly 21 percent.

•    Despite its rapid growth, Woodbury still has plenty of room for more. Of the city’s 35.7 square miles in total land area, 39 percent is still agricultural and undeveloped.

•    For people who live in Woodbury, St. Paul ranks as the No. 1 workplace, followed by Minneapolis, Maplewood and Woodbury itself.

Using the make-a-map feature, you can create a map of your community or any part of it, showing roads, parks and water features. You also can access aerial photos of communities taken in 2000, 2005, 2006 and 2010, zooming down literally to the rooftops of buildings.

“The feedback we get is that people find our site very easy to use,” Starling says. “There are number of suburban communities that, instead of taking staff time to pull data together on their own, are simply linking to our website. I think that’s the biggest compliment we can receive.”

For metro and outstate residents, there are two other websites that also offer valuable information about communities.

Minnesota Compass, a website supported by a consortium of foundations and maintained by Wilder Research, provides social indicators that measure progress in the state as a whole,  seven regions, 87 counties and larger cities. Compass tracks trends in topic areas such as education, economy and workforce, health, housing, public safety and a host of others.

The state demographer’s office offers population and demographic data by city, county and school district, as well as periodic reports on related topics.

With redistricting a hot issue, the office also has population counts by congressional and legislative districts, showing how much each district deviates from equal population size.

If you’re into numbers, there’s no shortage of them on these three websites.

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