Digitizing city properties to strengthen communities and improve public safety


1) Public works and public safety are significant and often overwhelming problems for city and state governments. Lack of information or insight into these potential issues can lead to poor economic opportunities and dangerous or unsupported communities. In the case of Detroit, there were numerous vacant properties and “the city had no mechanism for understanding the space of itself,” as entrepreneur Jerry Paffendorf stated.

2) Access to data is key to help solve this problem. In an effort to revitalize the city of Detroit, Jerry first digitized a vacant lot and invited people from around the world to invest in one-inch squares of the property for a dollar. He also set up a solar-powered webcam to allow the inch-vestors to monitor their properties. This project grew to a larger initiative later coined Motor City Mapping which enabled the public and government alike to have better insight into the city’s property information which previously was unavailable.Motor City Mapping enabled the city of Detroit to work with private and public organizations to more effectively improve public safety and public works. The project has since received grant funding to expand into Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, as well as into a national project called Loveland. The goal of the project is to make information visible and readily accessible to all online – one parcel at a time. As stated in the NYT article, “Loveland’s ambitious project cannot fully solve the problems vacant and abandoned properties have wrought in the Motor City, but it shows how technology can be used as one tool among many in solving the seemingly intractable challenges of urbanism.”



3) Stakeholders that would need to be involved include city governments, public agencies, non-profit organizations, city service providers, etc. For Detroit, this list included:

  • Center for Community Progress
  • City of Detroit
  • Office of the Emergency Manager, City of Detroit
  • Data Driven Detroit
  • Detroit Land Bank Authority
  • DTE Energy
  • Loveland Technologies
  • Michigan Nonprofit Association
  • Michigan State Housing Development Authority
  • New Hope Community Development
  • Rock Ventures Family of Companies
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • The Skillman Foundation
  • US Department of Housing & Urban Development
  • US Department of Treasury

4) The first step in implementing this solution is to start with a pilot land area, similar to Jerry’s approach. With this pilot, we can evaluate both the concept and the technology. The second step would be to get feedback from initial adopters, which in this case would be the “inch-vestors”. This feedback would be used to identify potential opportunities for improvement especially as the project continues to scale to the city level. The third step would be to gain buy in from city government and public service organizations to ensure alignment on the approach and evaluate impact of the program. Finally, once success is proven in a first city (in this case Detroit), the project could expand to nearby cities and evolve to adapt to scaling concerns.

mst2135 july 21, 2016


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