Friday is Baltimore’s 292nd birthday. It brings a reminder of the city’s longevity. Yet, with time, there’s also change. That means each milestone also brings room to reconsider how a city identifies itself and even names its communities.
That line of thinking also followed as we recently came upon a new survey from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA). BNIA, which provides open data on the city’s neighborhoods, is seeking input from residents on the names of the communities their data is representing. The survey is setting out to establish the names for communities on the BNIA website, their Vital Signs datasets, and those of other agencies like the Baltimore City Health Department and Baltimore City Public Schools.
To be clear, the survey isn’t going to change the names of Baltimore’s beloved, and many, neighborhoods. There’s no risk that Charles Village will become Dave Land. Rather, it’s setting out to consider the names of Community Statistical Areas (CSAs). These are comprised of multiple neighborhoods, and are used to track and report community-based indicators for Baltimore City by BNIA and others.
It’s an interesting exercise that can get to identity, history and even current social norms. Being the first time in 20 years that BNIA has undertaken such a review, the results could show shifts in the urban fabric during that time. Yet there are lots of practical considerations here, as well. The reason for the survey now has to do with government reporting schedules, as U.S. Census results are coming in fall 2020.
And to make a change, there has to be a reason. The criteria of how to consider the name change, per BNIA, are:
- The original name from 2000 isn’t so great
- Neighborhood names have changed
- Communities have requested a correction
- Names are so long they are hard to fit on a map
Also, it’s great to keep in mind, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. After all, there’s a certain power in consistency and the ability to track data in a community because the name stayed the same across decades — or even centuries.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.-30-