L.A.'s Online Safety Net

Healthy City brings mapping technology to social services.

You wouldn't think that Healthy City would have to be invented. But until the Web site was created, there was no single resource that tied together all of the strands of Los Angeles's complex safety net—let alone a tool that used mapping software to plot the closest providers.

Today, whether you need substance-abuse counseling in Silver Lake or child care in Chinatown, www.healthycity.org has the answers. It provides one-stop shopping, linking hundreds of providers of housing, education, health care, and job training. "I type in an address, and it pulls up every resource I need in a five-mile radius," says Holly Priebe-Diaz, a social worker for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "It even tells me whether they take insurance and what bus to take to get there."

The not-for-profit Healthy City Project is a boon to L.A.'s poor—but it's also a potent political device. A new feature launched in 2005 pulls together economic, demographic, and health data from a host of government and private agencies, then breaks it down by city, census tract, zip code, even intersection. The data can be used to generate snapshots of every community's social-services needs.

That feature proved invaluable when $500 million in preschool funding was set to be distributed throughout L.A. county. Healthy City pinpointed 16 different zip codes, each of which had more than 1,000 4-year-olds with no access to any preschool whatsoever—and presto, more funds were delivered to the neediest neighborhoods.

The site can also detect latent problems before they become critical. "If I see some neighborhood has a really high concentration of low-income teen mothers," hypothesizes John Kim, Healthy City's director, government can "start thinking about some resources for that neighborhood, such as day care, neonatal care, and job training for women who've had to drop out of school."

Healthy City's analysis has won the endorsement of City Hall: "It's a very helpful tool," says L.A. city councilmember Bernard C. Parks. It also has drawn interest from other cities: Kim says he's investigating ways to replicate the site for Boston, San Francisco, and San Diego. After L.A.'s megalopolis, those cities should be a stroll in the park.

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