Mapping the quality of life in Baltimore
Seema Iyer, associate director, Jacob France Institute
“The neighborhoods that we live in absolutely help shape who we become as people,” says Seema Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute in the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business. Iyer oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA), which collects data on wellness indicators—such as school and housing choices; availability of retail services; and employment opportunities—to form a picture of a community’s quality of life and overall health.
These data are published in BNIA’s annual Vital Signs report, which provides information that neighborhoods, as well as local foundations and government organizations, can use to effect change. Community members frequently advocate for neighborhood improvements, Iyer explains, “and these data help them have a common understanding of what to advocate for.”
BNIA recently celebrated becoming one of only 64 organizations in the United States to receive an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The $75,000 grant allows the organization to explore and track arts and cultural opportunities, such as the number of publically funded art projects or community events, in neighborhoods across Baltimore using a cultural mapping tool. Funds to develop the tool will also be provided by the France-Merrick Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Baltimore Development Corporation, and the project’s steering committee includes representatives from BNIA, the Baltimore Office of Promotion in the Arts, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
According to Iyer, cultural experiences are inclusive experiences for communities. “In an increasingly diverse nation with increasingly diverse neighborhoods, you need connections, and arts and cultural opportunities provide them,” she says.
It’s gratifying to see the many ways BNIA’s data is used in planning initiatives that positively impact Baltimore, Iyer continues. “The point of the work that we do is to become embedded—and the more people use our data as a routine part of what they are doing [is] a sign of success for our project and how we will move forward.”