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MIT & the Census: Updates

Census Data and MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning
March 30, 2010

The statistics obtained by the decennial census play a key role in research and projects at MIT. The following are examples of projects in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning that depend on this data.

The decennial census is the primary data source for many planning activities. Once a decade, entirely new data are released, and planners re-examine blocks, neighborhoods, entire cities, and the nation. IAP 2010 featured a class, taught by Amy Glasmeier, which examined how planners use data from the census. In the class, senior staff from the U.S. Census Bureau introduced students to data collection and processing, availability and access, and the availability of geographically detailed demographic datasets. Census data also plays a key role in Glasmeier's research, including her Atlas of Poverty in America.

The Spring 2010 course Financing Economic Development, 11.437, taught by Karl Seidman, focuses on financing tools and program models that support local economic development. Students in the course are using data from the census and the American Community Survey, a longer form sent to a sample of the population during the decennial census.  Students are using occupational data to promote the creative economy of Portland, Maine –professionals like artists, designers, and musicians. Census data provides invaluable information about individual professionals not provided by traditional employer-oriented data sources. These sources often fail to count such individuals, as they don't fall under the umbrella of a large creative business. Students in 11.437 are using the data to document how much of the city's workforce is actually active in these sectors. A report is forthcoming.

Data from the American Community Survey is the foundation for Ezra Haber Glenn's study of “Middle Cities” in Massachusetts. The report, for the Pioneer Institute, explores the performance of 14 cities, including Lawrence, Springfield, Worcester, Fall River, and Pittsfield.  Harbor Glenn found that, while all of these cities struggled during the past decade, they also experienced reform and positive change.