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Case Study: Fostering Innovation in Urban Planning with Social Explorer

TUESDAY, SEP 03, 2019

“(I use it) mainly to inform our public and council with the data that is out there. Also, to compare our data with the rest of our region…I don’t know where else I could get that data. I could spend hours and hours on American FactFinder and not get nearly the same level that I could get from Social Explorer in less than an hour. Best, most accessible data source for comprehensive data on demographics and population.”

– Stefan Heisler, Community Development, City of Rancho Cordova, CA

Map of population density in Rancho Cordova at census block group level.​
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When urban planners need to answer questions at the heart of public policy and development, they turn to Social Explorer’s time-saving, data-driven solutions. Social Explorer’s data library and mapping tools help users investigate population growth, changing demographics, socioeconomic inequalities, aging infrastructure, environmental threats, and more in just a few clicks.

But don’t take it from us, take it from someone who uses Social Explorer.


For Stefan Heisler, who works in the housing division of the City of Rancho Cordova, CA, growth is on his mind. Rancho Cordova, located east of Sacramento and with a population of 73,554 (ACS 2017), has room for expansion and a lot of vacant land that could be developed.

Stefan works on several projects related to affordable housing, coordinates the city’s homeless programs, and conducts research and analysis on costs, trends, rents, and production. His job requires him to draw upon a wide range of socioeconomic and demographic data, asking critical questions such as:

  • What is the population growth over time in Rancho Cordova? 

  • What proportion of the population is made up of senior citizens?

  • What is the income distribution and poverty level of the senior population?

  • How do housing age and housing value vary in different parts of the city?

  • What is the level of educational attainment of people throughout the city?

  • What is the median rent in the city in comparison to the county or neighboring cities?

  • How do people travel to work and what is their average commute time?

Stefan uses the answers to these and other questions to help determine how to plan for growth, what should be done with vacant city land, and how best to cater to the needs of the community that he serves. For instance, if Stefan is able to find out the percentage of the senior population in the city and their income levels, depending upon what the data shows, the city can then decide whether or not to build more affordable housing for their future needs.

Gaining access to such data can often be a laborious and time-consuming process, especially when the datasets are spread across multiple sources. Stefan finds Social Explorer much easier to use than American FactFinder, and our interactive mapping tools help him strengthen his analysis.


With Social Explorer, access to such data is just a few clicks away and all in one place. As Stefan gains valuable insights into the community, he converts those insights into meaningful stories about Rancho Cordova for city council officials and the public. Visualizing that data with our interactive mapping tools allows him to present his research in a compelling way and gain support for his proposals.

Rancho Cordova: Income Distribution by Household at Census Block Level.
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With data from the Census Bureau such as the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey readily accessible on Social Explorer, Stefan can localize his search to his particular city, filter the city’s data by a wide range of variables and compare his findings at varying levels of geography. For instance, while the community generally assumed that seniors constituted nearly 30 percent of Rancho Cordova, data gleaned from Social Explorer’s data library showed that they only accounted for less than 12 percent.

Population age 65 and over living in poverty at the census tract level.
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Planning for the city’s future is one of the most essential yet daunting tasks for urban planners, and Social Explorer’s proprietary population projections for 2022 can offer a useful guide. These projections include estimates for both total population and population density at the state, county, and census tract levels. Explore by key demographic variables such as age, gender, and race, and use our mapping tools to visualize population trends.

Transportation breakup map for Rancho Cordova.
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Think of Social Explorer as your timesaving demographer. For those who work in urban planning and development like Stefan, Social Explorer presents multiple benefits:

  • Detailed demographic and socio-economic data for your city, providing reliable empirical evidence for your research.

  • Empowers you with actionable insights by providing answers to questions like how your city is changing and which neighborhoods might be in need of growth and development.

  • Intuitive mapping tools help you create striking visualizations to tell the story of your community in a more engaging way.

  • Social Explorer’s powerful features offer the best value for all your data needs.

  • Our easy-to-use interface enables you to create reports and export data for multiple years to better analyze trends over time.

  • With just a few clicks, investigate a huge variety of searchable datasets from the Census Bureau and other sources, plus specialized resources including business data, environmental data, health data, crime data, 2022 projections, and more.

  • Compare your city’s data to counties to congressional districts to census tracts to block groups and other detailed levels of geography.

  • Easily download the most relevant datasets in a variety of file formats.

  • Use the “Tell a Story” feature on Social Explorer to build the narrative of your community and share your stories, maps, and reports as fully interactive web features with your audience.

  • New data resources designed with urban planners in mind on opportunity zones and flood zones layers.

Author: Amrapali Saha

Data Insights are Waiting to be Uncovered
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