Index Creation

Youthful Cities has nearly ten years of experience working with data to rank cities both in Canada and globally. The 6 Urban Attributes – connectedness, openness, dynamism, playfulness, curiosity, and inventiveness – help us shape our indicators and give our work a unique perspective.

Ranking of cities for the Urban Work Index 2021.
Ranking of cities for the Urban Work Index 2021.

Why Create an Index?

Indexes help us to quantify and rank cities on topics that may be hard to measure otherwise. For example, what city is the most youthful? The best place to work? The most affordable? These indexes always generate a buzz of media interest. The Real Affordability Index 2021, for example, generated 750 million media impressions. While only one city gets the top spot in the overall ranking, every city has areas where they excel and that they can celebrate. On the flip side, indexes provide insight on possible areas of improvement that cities can use to make their communities more youthful.

The data we collect for indexes falls under the category of “small data.” Small data is defined as follows:

“Small data connects people with timely, meaningful insights (derived from big data and/or “local” sources), organized and packaged – often visually – to be accessible, understandable, and actionable for everyday tasks.” (Source)

This small data can have a big impact. All the data we collect for our indexes is openly shared on our open data portal.

How Do We Create an Index?


What topics, indicators, and measurements do we want to explore? What are the goals of this index? Who do we want to generate a conversation or action with?

Build a great team

In addition to the core Youthful Cities team, local youth are hired to collect data that cannot be found in central databases.

Methodology and indicator creation

Ultimately, an index is a collection of indicators that evaluates communities for success. So for each index we must ask, what do we want to capture, and how can we measure it? What is already measured? Where is data available? Can we create new ways of collecting data?

Data Collection

Data collectors are trained to ensure data is as accurate and trustworthy as possible. Where there are barriers to data collection, we have to do consultation to understand and gauge cultural sensitivity and data collection practices within these spaces.

Data Validation

Data is looked at for outliers that can skew the results. Any value that seems off or unexpected gets rechecked.


Is the index topical or comprehensive? If it is the latter, weighting needs to be applied. The appropriate weighting is determined by surveying the target group. (I.e., how important is x to you?)

Score the data

Through max-min normalization, where the top city in each indicator gets 100 points and the bottom city gets 0, the data is scaled. All other cities are given points based on how close they are to the top city. This scaling makes it easier to compare data and ensures that each indicator is of equal weight to another. Cities are given a score based on an average of their scores across a set of indicators for each topic.

What comes next?

Index creation is just the beginning. Once the dataset is cleaned, it gets uploaded to our open data portal, THE GRID. The data is used to generate a report with the results. We activate the data through exciting web-based data products.

Case Study

The Real Affordability Index

On average young people are losing $750 per month by living in cities across the country. To break even young people would need to isolate themselves- no entertainment, no transportation, and no dining out. With 27 cities, 54 measures, and 2414 data points examined in the Real Affordability Index, we can conclude that this generation is currently still working to afford the toast, let alone the avocado.

Affordability for young people should take into account more than the bare minimum necessary to survive but what it would take to thrive. That’s why we made the Real Affordability Index, to be able to really look at what it costs to live, work, and play in Canadian cities.

Data for the index was collected and examined through measures to represent the diversity of young people living in our cities. Lenses that the data is examined include gender, career, full-time work/part-time work, age cohort, and variations in wage. In partnership with RBC Future Launch, the Real Affordability Index shows that the lack of affordability in Canadian Cities for young people will have ripple effects across the country.

Infographic showing monthly deficits by city. Lethbridge has the lowest deficit at -$34.92 per month. The average is $-750 per month.

The Journey of the Real Affordability Index

Released in May 2022, the Real Affordability Index showcased nationwide issues of youth affordability. The index grabbed the attention of media, cities, and policy makers. Take a look at our process.

November 2021 – March 2022

Data Phase

  • Our team chose indicators that would be relevant to youth and decided on the method of data collection.
  • We surveyed our youth network to determine how young people were spending their money. This helped to inform our later calculations.
  • Our data team performed 2 rounds of data collection, collecting values like rent as close to the release as possible.
  • We uploaded all our data to THE GRIDour open data portal.

April 2022

Analysis Phase

  • Our team crunched the numbers and determined that no city in Canada was affordable for young people.
  • We established potential targets.
  • We created data visualizations and prepared our web-based report.

January 2022 – April 2022

Product Development Phase

  • To allow young people to customize their results, we designed and built a web app that suggests cities based on personalized income and expense data.

May 2022 – Present

Dialogue & Solution Phase

  • We launched the Real Affordability Index and press release.
  • We encouraged young people to share their voice about the issue of affordability. We publish these responses to THE GRID.
  • Inspired by the responses we received, we did a deep dive on the affordability issues in 4 major Canadian cities.
  • Our team featured in numerous articles and interviews to talk about the crisis young people are facing.
  • We conducted info sessions with individuals and groups wanting to learn more about the index and the next steps we can take.
  • We turned the Real Affordability Index into an interactive story.
  • We continue to look for opportunities to advocate for affordability and work towards solutions.