Five Questions (Plus One) About TRF and the New Version of PolicyMap

June 3, 2008

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_The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) built the first version of PolicyMap with partner Placebase, using its Pushpin technology. It went live last December. TRF released Version 2 to subscribers on May 20. The new version offers functionality and data geared toward redeveloping and revitalizing neighborhoods. Maggie McCullough, TRF's director of PolicyMap, answered our questions.

Directions Magazine (DM): What is TRF and why is it in the data/mapping business?

Maggie McCullough (MM): The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a charitable nonprofit organization, is a national innovator in capitalizing distressed communities and stimulating economic growth for low- and moderate-income families. Since its inception in 1985, TRF has made over $725 million in community investments. TRF is also nationally recognized for its research and housing-related policy analysis. Since 2000, TRF has used data analysis and mapping to help public sector and philanthropic clients with their strategies to preserve and rebuild vulnerable communities. TRF created PolicyMap as a more efficient and dynamic way to serve this type of social investor's needs.

DM: What's the value in neighborhood revitalization and who benefits?

At the most basic level, each of us who lives in a neighborhood benefits when the neighborhood improves. We get access to improved amenities like schools and grocery stores; we may see improvements in safety, as well as possible increases in home values. Growth in home values can translate into greater equity in our homes for our families and can increase a neighborhood's desirability. At a broader level, neighborhood revitalization increases the public value of safer neighborhoods and cities. It is also about creating economic fairness and social value by increasing the opportunities available to the communities in need that live in our cities.

Percent of all families that live in poverty in 2000 in Los Angeles. (Click for larger image)

DM: Who is going to use this product and what will it do for them?

PolicyMap is for those who want a data-rich yet accessible way to understand a place, compare places, or consider their investments in a place. Customers will range from government agencies, foundations and other social investors who want to map and analyze their own investment data to the many developers, consultants, community organizations, students and even media who want to understand places quickly with more robust data than they'd otherwise likely be able to access. And they'll be able to save and print the data in handy maps, tables and reports.

Percent of all home loans that were subprime in 2006 in Philadelphia. (Click for larger image)

DM: What is the revenue model for this project? How is TRF paying the bills?

The revenue model for PolicyMap relies on subscriptions. TRF has invested itself in the development of the tool with full expectation that it will serve a need among customers and that it can become self-sufficient and self-sustaining. As part of TRF's commitment to sharing access to data to help facilitate good decision making, all data that are available to TRF for free are available to all Internet users for free through PolicyMap. Data for which TRF has to pay are only available to subscribers, who can select either a Standard subscription or Premium subscription (details on free vs. standard vs. premium here).

DM: What are the key upgrades in PolicyMap 2.0 over the previous version?

Since we first shared PolicyMap with initial users in December, we've added new functionality, more data and focused on the look and feel of the site.

New functionality includes the following:
  • Custom Thematic Maps: Subscribers can now create their own breakpoints to make a custom map. Choose the number of breaks or the exact ranges you want. This significant new PolicyMap feature is key to really looking at neighborhood level block group data.
  • New Reports: Subscribers can access new reports related to home sales, mortgage trends and IRS data.
  • Email this Page: Registered users can create maps or tables of public data and email the page to colleagues.
  • Identify Tool: Users can now get the exact value in an area by just clicking once on a shaded area of the map to see how the area compares with the places in which it sits using the table feature in the identify bubble.
  • Better Performance: PolicyMap is faster and easier to use.
We've also added new data.
  • New 2007 demographic estimates and 2012 projections from Claritas, Inc., down to the block group
  • Updated crime statistics from the FBI
  • Presidential campaign contributions from the FEC
  • Immigration data from the Department of Homeland Security
  • Updated HMDA information
DM: What is the technology behind PolicyMap 2.0 (mapping engine, data, etc.)?

PolicyMap was developed on the Pushpin platform, a hosted Web-based mapping technology that is used in a variety of applications in real estate, location-based services, fleet tracking and local search. PolicyMap takes advantage of the most advanced capabilities that Pushpin offers, including the production of detailed reports on neighborhoods and areas based on radii, the dynamic rendering of shaded thematic maps and reports based on thousands of different market and demographic variables, and the display of thousands of points on a map rather than dozens. Pushpin technology enables PolicyMap to provide thematic maps that are extremely clear, highly fluid and draggable, allowing users to slide across geographies using their mouse, to view, save and print reports, charts and tables. PolicyMap users can query to retrieve data for any area in the USA. Pushpin is a mashable platform that can be easily integrated into any Web or mobile application using the Pushpin JavaScript and REST APIs.


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