Students and local residents crunched numbers at Occidental’s first Datathon this past weekend to analyze the effects of gentrification in Highland Park. The 12-hour event was organized by four organizations within Occidental, American Public Media’s Marketplace and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
The idea behind the event was to use data that was publicly available and turn it into something useful, according to Head of Instruction and Research at the Center for Digital Learning and Research (CDLR) Carey Sargent.
About 40 to 50 people participated in total, with around 25 staying for the whole 12 hours. There were four different research groups that focused on demographics and home ownership, business types, mortgages and lending and transportation and bike lanes in Highland Park. The actual data came from a variety of sources, such as the Los Angeles City Data Portal website, a demographic information tool called Social Explorer and the U.S. census data.
The compiled information reflected changes to the neighborhood over time, pointing to certain trends that spiked in recent decades. Bike lanes, for example, were on the rise, and so were businesses requesting bike racks. Different trades were also popular. Manufacturing—to the surprise of participants—had surpassed the growth of service sectors.
Each group consisted of both community members and students, creating a learning space that Sargent called “non-hierarchical.” Originally, the idea was to model the event on “hackathons,” in which participants collaborate on software and code to win prizes. Once the Datathon was underway, however, Sargent said she wanted to maintain the relaxed and non-competitive atmosphere. In the end, Sargent raffled off five tickets to a taping of Marketplace to all participants.
Another organizer, Wendy Hsu of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, said she and Sargent were inspired by a Datathon they attended in San Francisco. Thinking the model might also work at Occidental, they saw an opportunity to bring the campus and broader community together. And while Hsu said that the data might not directly address gentrification, she thought it was a good way to begin a conversation.
“This was ambitious, but we took a stab at it,” Hsu said.
Those from Highland Park were also excited at the chance to learn more about their community. Christian Chico (first-year) was interested in learning about his hometown of Highland Park, which he has seen change a great deal.
Highland Park resident Carmela Gomes was likewise interested in learning about local issues affecting her neighborhood.
“When you look at a microcosm, it really brings to mind how all of this leads up to today,” she said. “It’s a problem.”
In the future, Hsu said she and Sargent will encourage other communities to look at urban issues with this kind of method. Future Datathons might even be in store, perhaps at another college, according to Hsu. Local residents who were not familiar with Occidental are now interested in collaborating again down the road, Sargent said.
For now, the information will be shared via the Datathon’s WordPress website, which is available for public use.