Municipalities, especially those that are mid-sized or smaller, often face significant challenges in providing services and amenities to meet the needs of their diverse and changing populations. Solutions are usually context-specific and must factor in larger demographic and economic trends, in order to be effective. And, yet, in spite of contextual differences, cities frequently have meaningful similarities. However, identifying peer cities is often informed more by conversation than by data or evidence.
The Peer Cities Identification Tool (PCIT) developed by the Community Development and Policy Studies (CDPS) Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is a data comparison and visualization instrument that can help policymakers and practitioners understand a municipality in the context of peer cities. The tool stems from the Industrial Cities Initiative (ICI), a study that originally profiled ten midwestern cities with manufacturing legacies, at least 50,000 population and at least 25 percent employed in manufacturing in 1960, and how they have fared in socioeconomic terms over time.
The original study generated a great deal of attention among leaders of cities with comparable histories. The PCIT is in part a response to inquiries from these leaders as to how they “compare” to similar cities both within the region and in other regions of the country, as well as in response to a stated need/desire to share and learn from best practices to address entrenched municipal challenges.
The PCIT is different from other “city-data” tools in that it is not a ranking, but a comparison tool that provides the user with a baseline of data from which to ask questions and interpret and apply the answers. This approach is based on a fundamental belief that every city is different, possessing its own assets and liabilities. Usually no one is more aware of the “municipal balance sheet” than the people who live in and lead a city.