Developed by Seabourne Consulting, experts in Peer City Tool and 500 Cities Data: Mapping Trends and Challenges Among Peer Cities

Peer City Tool and 500 Cities Data: Mapping Trends and Challenges Among Peer Cities

Published Date
Published By
Community Commons

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (FRBC) recently introduced the Peer City Identification Tool. The tool identifies peer or “sister” cities that are experiencing similar trends and challenges in equity, economics, and resiliency. It’s meant to provide policymakers, community advocates, and practitioners with context on how their city compares to similar cities. However, it does not mean the cities are the same, but simply highlights cities that are experiencing similar trends and challenges.

The tool was born out of a multi-year study by the FRBC to gather economic and social data on post-industrial cities across the Midwest and Northeast. As opposed to simply publishing a report, the FRBC decided to develop a mapping tool. Today, the tool provides city-level data from 300 cities across the country. Cities with available data have a median population of roughly 100,000.

Since it’s a comparison tool, leaders can see how their own assets and liabilities compare to similar cities in their region and across the country, especially among those with similar histories and challenges. Though the cities may have regional or cultural differences, their shared economic and demographic characteristics have important policy implications for decision makers and planners looking for success stories.  It’s a unique opportunity to share and learn best practices for addressing challenges at the community level.

The tool at work

In the example below, Birmingham, AL is selected as the base city. The cities highlighted in red are its peer cities.

Click image to enlarge or to enter a different city.

From there, a category like equity, resilience, outlook, or housing can be selected to see how it aligns and deviates compared to peer cities.

Click image to enlarge or to enter a different city.

The tool provides community leaders and advocates with a deeper understanding on where their city is excelling or social and economic areas that need to be addressed.

Pairing Peer Identification Tool Data with 500 Cities Data

With the recent release of the 500 Cities Project data, policymakers and advocates now have access to updated city and tract-level data for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive services. It’s a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the CDC Foundation.


The Peer Identification Tool data gives a snapshot on a variety of social and economic factors among peer cities, like economic resiliency. However, to give an even more robust snapshot, 500 Cities data can be used to explore a variety of health conditions and outcomes.

For example, struggling with unemployment, precarious employment, or poverty can be a factor in higher rates of mental health issues. To explore, 500 Cities data can be brought in to compare the percentage of adults with poor mental health among these sister cities who are experiencing poorer social and economic outcomes. It’s important to note that the base city will have different sister cities in each category, though there may be some overlap.

Birmingham and its sister cities have higher unemployment (median 10.7 percent) than the US rate (4.5 percent as of March 2017), and have seen a decrease in labor share of manufacturing (median -68.8 percent) since 1970. Consequently, they have also seen a decrease in median family income (median -15.4 percent) over the past 10-15 years.

To integrate 500 Cities health-related data into the example, data on the mental health status among adults can be compared among Birmingham and its sister cities. Take a look at the comparison between Birmingham, AL and Rochester, NY mental health statuses. Both are similar in terms of labor market, racial, and socioeconomic conditions.


Studies have also shown that unemployment can also lead to increased risk for stroke. A recent study looked at 40-59 year old men and women. Unemployed men had a 60 percent chance of stroke and women had a 50 percent chance of stroke- and both were more than 100 percent likely to die from it compared to those steadily employed.



The Peer Identification Tool goes beyond comparing cities based on proximity, culture, population size, etc. In terms of size and proximity, Nashville and Memphis look “similar”, yet are evolving in different ways. With the Peer Tool, users can dive into indicators that provide greater context into how cities have changed over the decades, where they are headed, and what challenges they are facing.


View Story