topic index Quantitative DC Analyses



Since this was written in late 2004, a new chapter has been added in March 2007 calling specifically for a new DC Program Analysis Office which would report either jointly to the Mayor and the Chairman of the DC Council, or to the latter only, if the two cannot agree. The material here has not been updated but is still largely relevant.



This short chapter tries to build a case for DC to develop a better quantitative analytical foundation for its planning efforts. It outlines the scope of effort needed in the context of the full span of the planning function, describes several key areas of analysis; suggests how such an independent analytical group might be formed, and offers several topics deserving early focus. It is short on words, and provides representative bullet charts to help flesh out the scope of the job. The charts are by no means exhaustive. It concludes with links to a sampling of NARPAC analyses on this web site. They demonstrate the type of inputs and outputs that can be achieved. To have an impact, however, they would need to bear an authoritative official imprimatur.

planning framework

The business of running and continuously modernizing a large American city is a demanding task. It involves a highly complex, multi-dimensional "system" combining intimately interrelated sociological, economic, financial, technical, and political factors. It is inconceivable that such a management challenge can be effectively carried out without having a clear and realistic vision of its future objectives. That vision must be developed within the context of all major internal and external factors that impact on that "system", both within and beyond the control of the city's leadership. It is inconceivable that such leadership can develop realistic operational plans without using all available contemporary quantitative analytical tools.

varying analytical fields of view

The beginning of such a rationally-planned management approach for DC is to correctly define the extent of the "first-order" terms that influence the evolution of the city. American cities are by no means self-contained stand-alone entities. Planning must include, define, and reconcile a number of disparate issues within each different "field of view" from global image to planning cluster inequities. This involves a particularly broad "dynamic range" of issues for our nation's capital city, only a portion of which are within the control of the city's leadership. Managing change, both desired and inevitable, are at the roots of urban planning.

Typical Types of Analysis:

comparative statistical analysis

The foundation for such professional planning must rest on accurate quantitative data that define and measure both the magnitude and rate of change of all key parameters. This credible base should reach back into history as far as is practical (and needed) to make sure that past trends are correctly identified, should be as indisputable as possible in the near past and present, and should be consistently projected into the future for 10 to 20 years. DC's now-discarded 'INDICES: DC Statistical Index' was an excellent first step in this direction. Different planning efforts should not use inconsistent statistics to make their cases. Furthermore, equivalent data is needed for other cities (or relevant entities) to permit credible comparative analysis.

infrastructure analysis

The urban "system" is a complex interrelated combination of human and material resources and activities that combine to make a living, changing, organism. It is important to recognize that the physical infrastructure both influences and is influenced by the human components that now and will invest the city. It is as important to be able to accurately identify and project the city's public spaces, transportation, communications, power, water and sewer status and needs, as to count its residents, households, taxpayers, commuters, tourists, etc. It is equally important to rationally project the impacts of new and emerging technologies on the evolution of urban needs, culture, and opportunities.

budget analysis

Many American cities, including DC, are fundamentally constrained by their ability to generate the revenues needed to provide the variety of services demanded. It is totally unrealistic to prepare plans for the city's growth and change without accurately projecting and assuring the revenues required to service and renew them. There must be quantitative agreement on the revenue potential and costs to the city of various land uses and users, as well as the true costs of maintaining and expanding a suitable infrastructure. Planners may need their heads in the skies, but they need their feet on sound financial ground.

productivity analysis

Understanding the relative "net productivity" of the city's limited land and diverse users is essential. Such "productivity analysis" requires insightful understanding of the range of revenue sources, as well as the magnitude and reasonable allocation of budget expenditures. Such analysis requires substantial sophistication, and is by no means the exclusive or primary domain of budget accountants. The quest for expenditure reductions will require difficult socioeconomic and land-use choices, and the quest for revenue increases will require a hard-headed approach to property utilization within the city limits. It is both unwise and impossible to separate the analysis of socioeconomic and land-use issues.

solving, not protracting, persistent urban problems

Finally, there is a category of fundamental issues for which no practical solution is readily available. These issues demand the application of rigorous analysis in the quest for original, perhaps city-specific, solutions. In fact, "core cities" and "inner cities" suffer from inadequate national focus, and from problems which deserve leadership from the nation's premier example. For instance, the city's most serious socioeconomic problems cannot be resolved without finding tough but fair new approaches to breaking its endemic cycle of poverty and related blight.

Developing the Capability

developing a robust city analytical capability

NARPAC believes that it is of key importance that DC develop a central long-term focus for quantitative systems analysis. While the work need not all be done by in-house government personnel, it is essential to develop a competent core staff of experienced professionals and a persistent long-term memory. And it must take a skeptical view of all other city agency advocacy. Federal agencies frequently support internal or external "think tanks" that have the capability to conduct independent internal studies, or manage external studies and analyses on a continuing basis. It will be pointless to shop around for one-shot consulting services who simply regurgitate second-hand information with dubious foundations. It should be high enough in the DC government to be assured of bureaucratic independence, but sufficiently well imbedded to avoid political neglect or corruption. Under ideal conditions, it might also take on appropriate analytical studies for the City Council.

near-term priorities

It could well take several years, if not a decade, to develop a world-class urban analytical center, but there are several primary areas requiring near-term attention as the city enjoys a resounding burst of growth. In the process it should be possible to innoculate the planning process from the various viruses of myth and wishful thinking. These might well include: a) a definitive exposition of trends in DC households from 1950 to the present, plus realistic projections of future trends relative to the Washington region; b) an authoritative analysis of potential transportation gridlock based on credible projections of the needs of all city users (residents, commuters, tourists, etc.) and the infrastructure expansion needed; c) an equally authoritative estimate of the relative net productivity of various resident household types, commercial property uses, and the contributions of commuters, government workers, and other city users; and d) a serious attempt to resolve DC's problems of concentrated poverty and the potential for stimulating regional solutions to affordable housing, etc.

Sampling of on-line NARPAC Analyses Treating These Issues:

Breadth of Current Planning

Specific detailed comments of missing and inappropriate elements in new NCPC Plan ;
NARPAC's Boader concerns over the shortcomings of the new NCPC Plan;
WMATA 10-Yr Capital improvement Plan (marginal at best);

Ward/Cluster Comparative Analysis

Correlation of DC demographics and crime levels to parental education levels;
Productivity of five clusters of Ward 8;
Impact of redevelopments at Columbia Heights Metro station on the "net productivity" of DC's Cluster 2 ;
Analysis of Census 2000 economic and demographic data by DC Census Tract;
DC demographics by age group across the eight Wards ;

Regional Comparative Analysis

2000 Census statistics on increasing automobile ownership throughout the region;
Census 2000 comparisons between all the counties of this metro area,;
Comparison of demographics of DC metro area's kids;
American Housing Survey comparisons of DC, Fairfax and Pr. George's counties housing demographics ;
Community health indicators across the metro area;
Trends in families, single moms, in poverty;
Trends in births to unwed mothers;
Illiteracy in DC and elsewhere in the US;
DC workforce and GDP compared to that of the metro area and the US ;
Relative black and white earning power;
FY02 budget comparisons between DC and its five immediate neighbors ;
Booming 2001 real estate market among the six jurisdictions of the 'inner metro area';
Census 2000 population and demographics of DC and its metro area;
Major employment categories and minority business growth for both DC and its suburbs ;
DC's disproportionate share of the region's homeless;

Cities/School District/Metro Area Comparative Analysis

DC's NAEP testing scores relative to other urban school districts;
Comparison of urban statistics for DC and four other relevant cities in the news;
Current DC population trends and trade-offs;
Lagging urban welfare caseload reduction;
Crime standings for DC and Baltimore relative to 205 other American metro areas;

State/National Comparisons

Recent DC draft truck traffic study;
National and local trends in teenage birth rates;
Recent national, regional, and local crime (and other death) statistics;
Comparisons of what DC "should pay" for a typical set of "average"services re other jurisdictions;
50-state national Census 2000 data on state and local spending and staffing levels, urban school district costs, large city police and welfare costs;
Statistical correlation between test scores and total household parental educational achievement;

Capital Investments

Estimating needed Metro capital investment over 25 years;
Analysis of DC's 6-yr capital improvement plan (CIP);

Infrastructure Analysis Transportation

Developing the Potomac Avenue metro station into a major "destination station";
crtique of DC's proposed K Street Busway;
Vehicular traffic rates entering and leaving DC daily;
WMATA Service Extension Planning Study ;
WMATA Metrorail Core Capacity Study;
WMATA Regional Metrobus Capacity Study;
Need for long-range transportation planning associated with Anacostia Waterfront Initiative;
Trends in metro usage by station;

Infrastructure Analysis Water/Sewer

DC's Long-range DC Sewer Upgrade Plan;

Budget Analysis

Critique of Brookings report on DC's financial "structural imbalance";
Impact of commuters on DC costs;
Impact of vehicle traffic on DC costs;
Analysis of DC's many tax-exempt properties;
Housing producing most of DC's resident tax revenues;
Growing disparities in revenues from DC's rich and poor;
The high costs of DC poverty in DC: 2.6 taxpayers per welfare recipient;

Productivity Analysis

Regional distribution of housing, household income, and housing assistance: DC worst off;
Very low productivity of 38-acre Homeland Security Station in NW DC;
High productivity development of 2-acre 'Waterview' development in Arlington County's "edge city" of Rosslyn ;
Cost to DCPS of not reducing the number of active DC schools to match drop in enrollment;
Little DC land produces more revenues than it consumes;
Need to increase development density and building height along Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor ;
Financial costs and benefits of DC's many commuters;
Real DCPS future facilities modernization needs;
Disposing of 25 vacant, often derelict DC school buildings ;
Trends in DC visitors and tourists, comparing them to commuters;
Critique of Rivlin report to revitalize DC neighborhoods through 100,000 new (undefined) residents;
DC's non-transit-oriented development decision re the non-profit St. Coletta School;
Suggestions on ways to increase the potential productivity of the St. Elizabeth's site;
Comments on plan for 'urban deck at the Kennedy Center;
NARPAC's design competition to put a large 'urban deck'over I-395 downtown;
Residential household net productivity based on FY02 DC budget data;
Relative productivity of DC's residential and commercial sectors;
Current DC land uses and trade-offs;
Prime waste space in DC;
productivity of various land uses and categories of people who visit and live in DC;

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This page was (slightly) updated on Mar 5, 2007



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