A Look Back on 2020

Dec. 16, 2020

Dr. Shoshanna Levine

This year has been one of contradictions. A global pandemic, unemployment and recessions, separation, loneliness, grief, the continued toll of institutionalized racism on Black communities and the collective anguish of these racial injustices. At the same time, we have seen incredible strength and bravery from our healthcare workers and other essential workers who show up every day to serve our communities.  We have found new ways to connect with family and friends near and far. On a personal note, although working from home with an infant has certainly been difficult, I’ve been able to spend my daughter’s first year at home with her, watching her grow, learn, and change on a daily basis in a way I would not have been able to otherwise. And as a community, we in public health have been called upon to rise to the challenges of this year, often while dealing with our own personal struggles. Looking back on 2020, we here at the City Health Dashboard have met these challenges head on in order to keep data flowing into the hands of local community leaders. Here’s a look at our year in review.

More Cities 

Cities are the building blocks of our site, which is why we were so excited to add 256 cities to the Dashboard this spring. We now include all U.S. cities with populations 50,000 and greater, and we're eager to push that threshold even further. Our collaboration with New Jersey Health Initiatives allowed us to do just that, adding 10 more NJ cities all with populations less than 30,000. This pilot project had us flex our creative muscles to find new data sources for these smallest cities and let us work directly with cities on what was most important to them. We’re proud that we were able to get data into the hands of so many smaller cities who may not have the time or resources to collect this data otherwise.

We also added a new way for cities to look at themselves with demographic maps describing who lives in their city and the neighborhoods where they live. We worked with the Center for the Study of Asian American Health to make data on age and racial/ethnic subgroups available so that city leaders and community organizations can better understand and serve their communities. Data has an important role to play in reducing health disparities. We hope these maps and the information they provide equip users with a tool to help improve public health and increase equity for all.

This year we took the data a step further and completed some unique analysis projects expanding on how data is used in cities. We published a report in August, “City Types for Improving Health and Equity in Small and Midsize Cities” and wrote a paper examining the use of city versus county data to understand health and social factors within cities and how these differences may impact priority-setting at the municipal level.

Fresh Metrics

This year also meant upgrades for several of our measures. We added census tract breakdowns for our Park Access measure, allowing cities to see how access is different across neighborhoods. As outside space became more and more important to safe gatherings this year, seeing where parks are present across city neighborhoods raises questions of who has access and who doesn’t. Our walkability measure was also updated to reflect improved calculation methods which better capture how people interact with their walking environments. And we changed high school graduation to high school completion, a measure that is more granular, has multi-year data, and is comparable across cities, unlike our old measure.

In addition to measure upgrades, we also added some new measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our COVID Local Risk Index combines the population’s risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and the population’s risk of more severe COVID outcomes, if infected. It’s already been used by cities to help think through and plan for COVID impact in their communities. Our new unemployment measure gives a month-by-month snapshot of unemployment going back to 2018, giving insight into the severe economic impacts of the pandemic on communities in near-real time.

Deeper Connections

More than anything, this year has been about finding ways to connect with people while we’ve all been apart. We’ve been able to meet and talk with users and potential users at now-virtual conferences and webinars, as well as on our own Virtual Office Hours. We started a newsletter to bring together our monthly highlights and keep our inbox intrusions to a minimum while all of us are spending so much time in front of our devices.

We’ve felt grateful to be able to work from home while others at our home institution, NYU Langone Health, have been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic. We’ve also deeply felt the loneliness, stress, and chaos that’s come along with this new way of working and living in all of our unique configurations. We’ve had virtual book clubs and fireside chats with others in our department. We had a bittersweet virtual celebration, complete with cookie cake delivery, as one of the original analysts left our team to start her PhD. (We miss your uncanny knowledge of ACS data tables Miriam!) And we welcomed Alex as our newest data analyst with a lot of virtual coffees, data deep dives, and cat photos.

It feels strange to celebrate 2020, but this is the year, of all years, to hold on to the bright spots where we can find them. Thank you to all of our partners and users for helping us build the City Health Dashboard as a trusted source of data on health and its drivers. We’re excited to continue growing and connecting - hopefully again in-person - in the coming year.

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