Looking for Peer Cities? Updated Tool Offers New Insights

March 1, 2019

The Peer City Identification Tool V3.0 (PCIT) has launched with new data and calculations, updated analyses, and a new feature that allows users to select up to three cities of their own choosing.


The PCIT is an interactive data exploration tool created by the Community Development and Policy Studies division at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The PCIT enables users to identify peer cities along important dimensions: economic resilience, equity, housing affordability, and demographic outlook. First launched in 2017, the interactive tool applies ACS and Census data to 960 cities nationwide to help planners and analysts compare the social and economic characteristics of small and large urban places. Version 3.0 features new enhancements that increase the analytical applications of the tool.

New data

As a matter of practice, the PCIT is updated each year following the release of updated ACS five-year averages. The recently released version contains data from the 2013-2017 ACS five year averages.

Updated analyses

In addition to standard metrics regarding unemployment, poverty and other demographic characteristics and trends, the PCIT offers analyses that have been calculated by the developers. These include:

  • Dissimilarity indices (black/white and Hispanic/white): Dissimilarity indices, available under the equity theme, provide a measure of the degree of segregation that is present in a community. Updated with data from the 2013-2017 ACS, we believe this to be the most up-to-date measures available and the largest collection of publicly available segregation indices incorporating data from the past five years
  • Home value to income: The home value to income ratio, available under the housing theme, provides an indication of affordability. When considered next to other measures of housing market vitality (e.g., vacancies), one can get a sense of the dynamics of housing supply and demand in a city that may be driving home values. This variable has also been updated with the most current ACS data.

New calculations

The PCIT calculates peers based on a clustering algorithm that minimizes variance across the indicators which comprise the peer groupings.

PCIT V3.0 refines this calculation by including the share of MSA population that lives within city limits. This will help to ensure that peer groupings more closely reflect the geographic positioning of the cities: suburbs are more likely to be grouped with suburbs, for example.

New feature

The PCIT V3.0 now allows users to compare up to three cities of their own choosing, in addition to the tool-generated peer groupings. Whether it’s an aspirational city, one that is more geographically proximate, or one that is simply a ‘usual suspect’ but is not showing up among the peers, the select-a-city feature provides additional insight into how places are alike and different.

How others have used the PCIT

A recent article in the Michigan Planner describes how the tool can be used to understand trends confronting smaller cities, such as Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Looking to V4.0

Changes to the PCIT are driven by user experience and feedback. If you have used the PCIT in some aspect of your work, please let us know about it. What other features or data would be useful to you? Send us your comments.


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