Matt Damon, exploring Mars, which we’re picturing as a metaphor for this story, as is the music we suggest below.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Community Development and Policy Studies
Chicago, Illinois


Just like astronomers dream of finding planets that resemble our own and seeing what life is like out there, cities have a natural curiosity about what peers they have, so they can compare the problems they face, and the successes they’ve had. You might even say that’s the premise of our own newsletter. In February 2017 (before CityPalooza was around), the Chicago Fed decided to do something about it.


After meeting with city leaders to understand what information most interests them, it launched the Peer City Identification Tool, data visualization tool on 300 U.S. cities which had populations above 50,000 as of 1960. The database is scheduled to be updated soon to 960 cities.

Using publicly available data, the tool sorts by four common themes affecting cities: socio-economic equity, economic resilience, demographics, and housing affordability. One of the Fed’s key insights in developing the tool was realizing that while population size and geography may seem the obvious starting points of comparison, there are innumerable other factors as well that combine to create the truest (and therefore most useful) peers.

A Forbes story on the tool illustrates the unexpected and therefore revealing comparisons: In analyzing housing stock (and incorporating data like the age of structures, vacancy rates, and value-to-income ratio), instead of comparing Chicago to the usual suspects like large gateway cities on the coasts, the tool suggests peers like Albany NY, Providence RI, and New Britain CT.

Use the Tool

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Susan Longworth
Senior Business Economist