Since the launch of the Central Texas Sustainability Indicators Project in 1999, the mission of the CTSIP has been to promote sustainability using community indicators. Good indicators are easy to communicate and understand, are drawn from trend data, and are connected to other indicators. They provide a comprehensive view of our region and indicate where leaders need to focus our efforts toward sustainability, and where action is needed to reverse a declining trend or preserve success.
Sound decision-making is built on solid data. The public should not only be made aware of the data, but provided the opportunity to collaborate with decision-makers on interpreting the questions raised by overlapping and inter-related indicators. Authentic collaboration engages the community at multiple levels, broadening the ownership of the actual decisions pursued. This application of indicators leads to sustainable communities.
The updated indicators in the 2012 Data Report reveal some new trends, some persistent trends, and suggest the pursuit of sustainability in our region remains a deep challenge. While our commitment to indicators remains unchanged over the last ten years, the context of pursuing our mission and the role of indicators in our community has changed substantially.
The inaugural Indicators Report in 2000 addressed three counties – Hays, Travis, and Williamson – with scarce data sources gathered by phone, fax and almanac. By 2009, our study region had expanded to include Bastrop, Caldwell, and most recently Burnet County (see map on facing page). We now track 40 indicators utilizing 170 measures mined from mountains of data: large opinion surveys, extensive online databases (which didn’t exist in 2000), and private sources, with a special interest in mapping.
Since 2000, the concepts of regionalism, collaboration and even indicators have all taken root and are increasingly a part of conversations across the region in many organizations and pertaining to a broad array of issues. Yet we struggle to integrate these concepts into our decision-making and long-term investments.
The Indicators Project is a diagnostic tool that can guide Central Texans as they engage in public discourse and debate about how to focus their energies and set goals on issues of critical concern and arrive at policies and actions that improve the livability of our region.
But even the best indicators are useless if not used by their community. The 2012 Data Report is not a resource to be read straight through, cover to cover. We suggest you read and use not only those indicators you know best, but also those with which you are least familiar. We encourage you to look for connections between indicators and ask how and why they are related. On the following pages you will find the key themes emerging from this Data Report as well as a snapshot guide to what we believe the indicators are showing us.
The 2009 Data Report marked a milestone in the life of the organization behind it, and the evolution continues with the release of the 2012 Data Report. The CTSIP is currently managed as an innovative partnership with the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, and Hahn, Texas. The CTSIP is also engaged in the Sustainable Places Project, a major regional planning initiative. Over the next year we hope to expand the capacity of the CTSIP to serve as a data warehouse and a spark for community engagement and other regional efforts.
The Indicators Project will remain independent. This model will ensure we remain a trustworthy source of information for all communities in the region and build the flexibility to adapt to the region’s needs, opportunities and challenges.
The CTSIP defines a community indicator as a collection of related data and measures that together describe one facet of how quality of life is changing. A collection of indicators are related, and together communicate the state of a community and a region. To fully understand and affect any one indicator requires seeking and understanding the interconnections across many indicators.
Many indicator reporting efforts – an international field of study – view their data compilations through a particular lens such as health, equity or environment. Only a handful of efforts are framed through the lens of sustainability – itself a broad and complex concept derived as much from science and data as from a sense of moral responsibility and empathy.
In 2006, in the interest of setting a baseline for our own work in promoting sustainability in Central Texas, we began tracking attitudes toward sustainability in our biennial Community Survey.
Most people do not have a traditional first association of sustainability as connected equally to environment, equity and economy. There are strong associations with quality of life and future generations. The weak association with equity is a concern across sustainability research. The large percent of “other” responses, increased since 2008, likely masks several attitudes: rejection of single associations for sustainability, primary association with some other definition, or association with none of the options.
The 2012 Data Report shows the continued impact of the national recession and recovery on our region, several bright spots of growth and improvement, and persistent patterns that reveal challenges we must overcome. Four key themes have emerged in the 2012 Data Report:
1. Families and individuals in the region continue to feel the effects of the economic recession, even while the Central Texas economy has proven resilient relative to other areas of the country. Personal and family incomes have struggled to keep pace with the cost of living, and basic services such as health and child care remain out of reach for many family budgets. Impacts extend beyond the economic realm, such as in the perception of opportunity and levels of philanthropy. The relationships between indicators (crime patterns and health, family income and educational opportunities, low wage jobs and costs of living) are sharpened, and all seem more urgent to attend to than in recent years.
2. Race and ethnicity continue to impact how Central Texans perceive issues and how resources are distributed in the region. While tolerance and opportunity are improving in some areas, larger structural problems such as educational equity, diversity of leadership, and literacy remain a challenge. With a growing minority-majority population, the region needs to evolve accordingly.
3. The recent extended drought has highlighted environmental trends, revealing a lack of action in implementing robust air, water, waste, and land use/mobility policies and altering social behavior. Not focusing on these environmental efforts will slowly undermine the region’s quality of life and economic opportunities. Levels of awareness of drought and air quality are extremely sensitive to short term developments, rather than long-term strategies.
4. Accelerating these structural issues in our region, we are growing even faster than projected – making these issues that much more pressing for our continued prosperity. Providing additional services and infrastructure for a growing population – while maintaining the quality of what is currently in place – will continue to be a challenge for Central Texas.
We believe you will find additional themes with close reading of this Data Report, and we hope that in turn leads to new directions for public policy and dialogue. The scope and pace of regional change call for us to pay close attention to the nature of that change. This report is a means of doing so.