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THE DEVIL IS IN THE DATA AND MAYBE SOLUTIONS TOO Print E-mail
by Scott Bennett    Thu, Oct 27, 2005, 11:16 PM

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J. McDonald Williams
The Foundation for Community Empowerment was founded by J. McDonald Williams in 1995. Thursday it celebrated its’ 10th year in being by hosting a conference examining the city’s economic inequality. Williams, chairman emeritus of Trammel Crow Company, announced to the audience of over 500 that the organization would create a new “wholeness index” that would compare sections of the city.

As explained, the wholeness index will take a composite picture of an area by using a basket of statistical measure such as the quality of local schools, crimes by type, income levels, family status, employment levels, voter registration levels along with turnout, and the availability of housing affordable to residents. The composite will be used to calculate a number from 0 to 100 with 100 being perfection. Without question today a map of Dallas would show relatively high numbers north of I30, with some low scoring and growing pockets under 50. The first report will apparently be ready sometime in 2006.

The world is, of course, drowning in data and reports about data. The question is whether the data can be used to learn anything useful that is in turn actionable. That some sections of the city are mired in poverty is self-evident. As was noted at the conference some sections of Dallas make New Orleans’ 9th Ward look middle class. Why is this so? And what can be done by the public or private sectors to actually effect change?

Mr. Williams is a shrewd and competent businessman who has been at the forefront of efforts to salvage sub-I30 Dallas for some time. He has powerful able directors like Todd Wagner and Deedie Rose on his board. It is hard to believe that folks like this would be spending their time and money to accumulate data because they have nothing better to read.

What was encouraging at the conference was a willingness to stand up and make clear that for the City of Dallas the Dallas Independent School District is far more important than the actual City government. So long as middle class corporate worker parents refuse to send their kids to Dallas public schools jobs will continue to exit to suburbs and their good schools. And as that flight continues the pockets of poverty will only spread.

Whether the Foundation’s data will prove to be just another printout of data or a meaningful pattern of actionable information is something we should know in about a year.

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