How do I use the BNIA website to download data?

What are the Vital Signs?

The Vital Signs are outcome indicators that “take the pulse”  of Baltimore neighborhoods to measure progress towards a shared vision  for strong Baltimore neighborhoods, improved quality of life, and a  thriving city over time. BNIA-JFI tracks these outcome indicators each  year, and trains various groups and individuals on using these  indicators to enhance their work toward long term change. Vital Signs offer Baltimore a common way of understanding how our neighborhoods and overall quality of life are changing over time.

What is an indicator and how does it differ from data?

An indicator is a measure or set of measures that helps to  quantify, express, or “indicate” progress toward a goal or outcome.  Indicators tell you something. Data are “information collected.”  Indicators are generally made up of, or compare data items. They are  usually expressed as rates or percents. Data are the counts; indicators  tell you something about them. Indicators put data into context.

What is an outcome indicator?

An outcome indicator is an indicator of the desired condition or  result. Outcome indicators are used to understand the progress toward  the overall outcome. These indicators are selected based on how well they meet two criteria – Usefulness to the Community and Data Quality.

Where does BNIA-JFI get the data used in Vital Signs? 

Data for Vital Signs indicators come from many different  groups both within and outside of Baltimore City including: government  agencies, Federal  resources such as the U.S. Census, and commercial sources. Sources of data may change due to  cancellation of data collection by data provider, change in how data is collected, cost of data, or availability of new data sources. As a  result, sources for several indicators have changed since the initial  publication of Vital Signs in an attempt by BNIA-JFI to ensure  the most accurate representation of changes available. See all sources online in the interactive Indicators Page.

How often are the Vital Signs updated?

Vital Signs data are continuously updated throughout the year as they become available.  Due to a lag in time between when data is  available and when it is analyzed, some data or indicators may be more recent or current than other  indicators.  To learn more about what data is currently available,  please contact BNIA-JFI staff.

How is the accuracy of the data verified?

The data providers in the Alliance have developed data handling  standards for quality control and documentation purposes. BNIA-JFI staff also check data items and are extremely careful to properly document any errors or additional considerations for each data item. Because much of the data is aggregated from address level-data, geocoding standards are also in place.

How is the consistency of the data maintained?

BNIA-JFI has gone to great lengths to maintain consistency in the  sources and time series of the indicators and data collected; however  over time some of the indicators tracked by BNIA-JFI have changed. These changes are the result of several reasons including: data no  longer being collected or maintained by data providers; a change in the geographic level of the data being collected; cost of the data purchased  by BNIA-JFI; or availability of new data sources.

What types of geographies do the Vital Signs cover?

The Vital Signs are available at two levels: Citywide and the Community Statistical Aresa (CSA).

Why does BNIA-JFI use Community Statistical Areas (CSAs) and how were they devised?

BNIA-JFI uses the 55 Community Statistical Areas (CSAs) to present a wide range of data from multiple sources as well as providing data for Baltimore City in a consistent way over time.  Clustering neighborhoods into CSAs was necessary  since most of the 270+ neighborhoods in Baltimore City do not have boundaries that fall along census tracts. As the city changes, Baltimore residents may shift their neighborhood’s boundaries or even change its name. Neighborhood lines often do not fall along CSA boundaries but CSAs are a  consistent representation of the conditions occurring within particular neighborhoods.

The CSAs were initially designed by the Baltimore Data Collaborative with the Baltimore City Department of Planning. Four guidelines were established for constructing the CSAs:

  • CSA boundaries had to align with Census Tracts;
  • CSAs would consist of 1-8 tracts, preferably with total populations in the range of 5,000 to 20,000;
  • CSAs would definte a relatively demographically homogenous areas;
  • CSAs should reflect the City planners’ understanding of residents’ and institutions’ perceptions of the boundaries of the community.

What’s the difference between a Census Tract, a neighborhood (Neighborhood Statistical Area), and a CSA?

  • Census tracts are designated geographical areas used   by the  Census Bureau to track populations. They are small, relatively   permanent statistical subdivisions of a county and are designed to be   homogeneous units with respect to population characteristics, economic status, and living conditions. Census tracts average about 4,000 inhabitants.
  • The term neighborhood can have different meanings and usually combines some geographic and social aspects.  Baltimore has more than 270 Neighborhood Statistical Areas (NSAs) that are typically geographic areas with some distinctive features. They are defined by both the City Planning Department and the local residents, however the boundaries defined by residents are often more fluid than those defined by the city.
  • CSAs are clusters of neighborhoods and are organized around Census tract boundaries, which are consistent statistical boundaries. In some cases, CSA boundaries may cross neighborhood boundaries. There are 55 CSAs in Baltimore City.

How do CSAs affect neighborhood data?

The best way to find data on your neighborhood is to use the Planning Department’s name for the area of the city you are researching.  You can then view the data for the CSA in which that neighborhood is located. Sometimes a neighborhood will span more than one CSA. A CSA will usually include more than one neighborhood. When analyzing CSA data, consider whether or not it encompasses neighborhoods with very different demographics.

Does BNIA-JFI provide additional services other than the publication of Vital Signs?

Yes, BNIA-JFI collaborates with many city and neighborhood organizations to perform numerous social and economic studies for the City of Baltimore. Examples of these analyses can be found in our Publications and Research section.

Because of its use of Geographic Information Systems, BNIA-JFI is also capable of producing specialized maps for available data that enables further analysis of data sets at a geographic level not available by simply looking at raw data. Examples of maps created by BNIA-JFI can be found in the Map Gallery.  To find out more information on the availability of maps or to request a map of available data please Contact Us.

Can I obtain additional data or data at different geographic levels not published in Vital Signs?

Most datasets available through Vital Signs are available for purchase through BNIA-JFI at additional geographic levels, such as Census Tract, zip code, or Neighborhood Statistical Area (NSA). Customized geographic analyses are also available. For more information on pricing, please contact Seema Iyer at (410) 837-5797.

How does BNIA-JFI take address-level data and aggregate to different geographies?

BNIA-JFI uses a process known as georeferencing, or geocoding, through the ESRI product ArcGIS. Georeferencing is the process of taking  address data and projecting those addresses into a virtual map. When  addresses are georeferenced, they are assigned a  location (latitude and longitude). Once a  data set has been plotted, BNIA-JFI can then join the projected data to  different geographic levels. Doing this allows analysis of totals and  rates for indicators within the given geographic areas as well as the  ability to visually represent the raw data set.

What are BNIA-JFI’s georeferencing standards?

All georeferencing done by  BNIA-JFI follows standards set by the Maryland State Geographic Information Committee. BNIA-JFI make every effort to ensure that all individual-record data are georeferenced in a manner that ensures an accurate geographic representation of that record. Depending on the source of data, BNIA-JFI either geocodes data based on addresses using ESRI street centerlines, projects data with XY coordinates, or matches records based on block and lot. For data files where address geocoding is neccessary, vigorous address cleaning is performed, to create a standardized street number/street direction/street name/street type entry.

Why is some of the data not available at individual or small geographic areas?

Several of the data and indicators cannot be shown as individual  points or by address. These items can only be displayed by a larger  geographic area to avoid violation of confidentiality laws. BNIA-JFI is obligated to comply with federal and state laws to protect privacy and identity.

How does information on this site relate to Census data?

Rates reported as a function of population in Vital Signs use data available through the U.S. Census to normalize each year.  Many indicators reported in Vital Signs come from 2000 Census data, 2010 Census data, and 2006-2010 American Community Survey data (5 year sub-city estimates) and are updated yearly at the City level through the American Community Survey (1 year City estimate) or other commercial sources, such as Claritas.

What kinds of maps can be created by BNIA-JFI?

Displaying data on maps can be easier to understand, powerful, and  more usable, than charts and tables. Users can actually see where  concentrations of specific problems or successes are located relative to   their own neighborhoods.

BNIA-JFI staff have expertise in creating a variety of maps, ranging from general reference maps, which may show the relative locations of  streets, parks, schools, landmarks, and other community assets as well  as maps that display statistical information – rates of crime or the  racial makeup of neighborhoods.

Some map styles include:

  • Point maps, which simply show a dot representing the location of something such as a foreclosure filing or vacant property;
  • Choropleth maps, which present statistical information aggregated to   some sort of geography such as Census tract or Community Statistical  Area (CSA) with color gradations that correspond to each geography’s  value; and
  • Density maps, which show concentrations of point phenomena.

Furthermore, using Geographic Information Systems, BNIA-JFI can  perform various spatial analyses such as cluster analysis, nearest  neighbor analysis, and spatial autocorrelation.

How do I cite BNIA-JFI and/or Vital Signs in my research?

Please visit our Citations page for more information.

Can our organization partner with BNIA-JFI?

BNIA-JFI includes multiple partners, including data providers, community building groups, foundations, neighborhoods and many more. We seek to bring together the resources of strategic partners and place them in a neighborhood context. Several of these groups contribute their time and effort to develop the core functions of BNIA-JFI. BNIA-JFI benefits from a wide variety of stakeholders and partners.  We encourage anyone interested in contacting us and discussing how we can partner together.

Are there organizations in other cities that do similar work?

BNIA-JFI was a founding member of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a network of 32 cities that have statistical data systems coordinated by the Urban Institute. This Partnership is designed to share lessons learned, successes, and challenges among the partnership sites relative to data system development, reports, and use.

BNIA-JFI is also a member of the Community Indicators Consortium, a growing network of communities, individuals, and international groups interested in furthering the field of developing community indicators systems for use in measure progress toward long term results for change.

Can I access data about areas outside of Baltimore City?

Our website currently hosts most data from within the boundaries of Baltimore City. However, BNIA-JFI has the capacity to collect, maintain, and analyze data and information for areas outside of Baltimore City.  We have provided research services to areas outside of Baltimore City including the Baltimore metropolitan region, Annapolis, Frederick County, and more.




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Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance
The Jacob France Institute
1420 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
410-837-4377 | [email protected]