Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hard numbers present city - warts and all

Website 'indicators' show reality, not PR

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How do we know the billions of dollars spent on health care, poverty programs, schools and even recycling are really making Winnipeg better?

We didn't, until now.

Peg, a new "community indicators" website years in the works, will be unveiled today, allowing Winnipeggers to track the city's progress on everything from day- care spaces to voter turnout to mental illness. It was created by the United Way, with the help of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and it's meant to help policy-makers and the public look at hard data instead of anecdotal evidence.

"It's like a mirror," said L°szlò Pintér, a senior fellow at IISD and one of the Peg's founders. "You want to see the reality, the way it is without makeup, without distortions."

The Free Press got a peek at the new website Monday. It allows users to track 62 indicators, everything from the number of children in foster care to recycling rates to teen pregnancy figures. Some of the stats are new, but mostly it's an easy-to-use amalgamation of data cobbled together from other sources such as the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, Statistics Canada and the city and province. Users can see, for example, Tuxedo and Charleswood have by far the worst transit ridership rates, there has been virtually no change in the number of people diagnosed with mental illness over the last decade and crime per capita is declining.

Much of the data can be mapped to compare rich and poor neighbourhoods, and the idea is to track changes over time to see if things are getting better.

Other cities, including Toronto and even Whistler, B.C., have websites that track key community indicators.

Heather Block, the United Way's strategic initiatives director, is hoping another batch of indicators will eventually be added as better data becomes available.

For instance, said Block, it's hard to track physical fitness levels. No reliable and routine data collection exists that measures how much exercise Winnipeggers get.

It's the same with homelessness. A new task force aiming to end homelessness in a decade in Winnipeg plans to make a true count of street people its first order of business next year.

The United Way hopes Peg will be used by researchers, government and local non-profits who don't always have access to number-crunchers.

Peg is located at www.mypeg.ca.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2013 A5

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