The Neighborhoods & Environment map shows air-pollution permit sites, landfills, flood plains and other features. | Center for Neighborhoods

A new set of online maps released last week gives a fresh look at the assets enjoyed and inequities endured by residents across Metro Louisville.

The Center for Neighborhoods, a nonprofit community-development group, produced the NeighborMap app to arm area leaders and activists with information on neighborhood political resources, grocery access, flood-plain locations, tree cover and other features.

“It’s a way for community organizations to really visualize and understand the assets available in their neighborhoods, and advocate for improvements based on what they see,” said John Hawkins, the center’s interim executive director and its education and training director.

The work is a step in the process of Asset Based Community Development, a system developed in the early 1990s that emphasizes building on what neighborhoods already have, rather than focusing solely on what’s missing, Hawkins said.

The NeighborMap is also the latest instance of local authorities and groups employing fast-evolving geographic information systems (GIS) technology to analyze and visualize complex data — an effort that dates back to the city’s response to the massive sewer explosion in 1981. Sources for the new map set include the federal government’s American Community Survey, the Kentucky State Data Center, the Air Pollution Control District and FEMA

“What we strive for is to empower citizens to improve their neighborhoods, to improve their communities,” said Christi Stevens, the center’s GIS and data coordinator, who spent about nine months part time assembling the data and creating the map series. “It tells a story I don’t think anyone else is telling.”

One part of that story is inequity, Stevens said. The Neighborhoods & Environment map shows how air-pollution permits are concentrated in west Louisville, downtown, Jeffersontown and south Louisville. Neighborhoods, Transportation & Food Access reveals the relative scarcity of major groceries and high concentration of “prepackaged” convenience stores in areas where a high percentage of people don’t own cars.

The view may be new, but “it never is a surprise that there’s inequity in the community,” Stevens said. “A lot of it goes back to redlining,” she added, referring to practices such as denying loans to would-be home buyers based on race or socioeconomic factors. The 20th-century practice was illuminated by the urban planner and community activist Joshua Poe in a map series that Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation last year featured as its first “Map of the Month.”

Stevens plans to continue to build out the maps, adding features like liquor stores, but doesn’t plan to include some data like police-precinct information already available in the city’s Lojic GIS system. She said she also hopes to continue to refine a fully interactive version of the map that allows users to pick from all the available layers.

The maps are a work in progress, and the process of getting people together to gather information and work out how to use it is itself one of the goals, Stevens said.  

“I want feedback and I want ideas, so more people can understand how to visualize this data to see patterns, to see gaps, to ask questions,” she said. 

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Mark R. Long
Louisville native Mark Long is glad to be home after 18+ years away in New York and London. He’s putting his writing and editing experience at The Wall Street Journal to work as a freelancer, digging into stories on infrastructure, transportation, urban design and ecology.