A Tale of Two Cities: Perception vs. Reality in Place

You may have seen my Facebook/Twitter posting on The Miami Foundation’s launch of its project, Our Miami: Soul of the City.  This important project takes on the Herculean task of cross walking the Soul of the Community perception data with real life administrative data to see if perception matches reality in Miami-Dade County.

The Foundation plans on using these findings as a guide to help inform their own funding, strategy and mobilization efforts and engage the community, particularly around young talent recruitment and retention.

I am proud to have been part of the project team and am excited it’s finally launched!

Many times, people’s perceptions of their place don’t match the reality.  Sometimes, different groups – by race/ethnicity, age, income levels, etc. – can experience the place radically differently.  Many of our places are experiencing a “tale of two cities.”

So where do you focus? And what do you fund?  Working in the Foundation world for over 10 years now and being a community practitioner for about 17 years, I know these are questions that come up again and again because differentiating perception vs. reality is basic to all of the work.

Fact is, people make all sorts of important decisions based on their perceptions – and many of these decisions have significant economic implications. Decisions about where to live, who to vote for, what laundry detergent to buy, etc. are all based on perceptions.  The field of behavioral economics is about this, well, reality.

Placemaking requires us to work both sides of the equation. That’s one of the reasons I applaud The Miami’s Foundation efforts.  All placemaking research – or benchmarking or community indicators projects – should have both perception (public opinion) and reality (administrative data) components.  One without the other only tells part of the story – both combine to give a true perception of place and person within environment.

I think you start with gauging perceptions.  Because it is these perceptions that will be the basis of daily decisions that will affect your place. In Our Miami, we had this perception data thanks to the Knight Soul of the Community findings.  But then we needed corresponding administrative data.

I knew finding administrative data that matched the public opinion data would be difficult.  (What’s the administrative data equivalent to openness? Hate crimes? Or for aesthetics? Tree canopy? Or social capital? Local memberships?) But going through this exercise with the Foundation and our data partner, Florida International University, I saw first hand our imperative need to update our place measures if we are to be effective in our efforts.  Sometimes we had great cross walk indicators, sometimes we had to get creative in our indicators and sometimes we simply had nothing reliable to use.  Take a look and see how we did.

In the Fall, The Miami Foundation will seek proposals and fund $500,000 worth of ideas coming out of this project.  My bet is what will be funded will be a combination of celebrating what Miami is getting right, moving perceptions to match reality where people are harder on the place than the facts show, and investing in the place to move administrative data needles to live up to the perceptions Miamians currently have.

And Miami will be better for it.


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