Motor City Mapping Tackles Urban Blight Using Loveland Tech

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A new day seemed to be dawning in Detroit when Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert paraphrased 50 Cent and told an audience at Marygrove College that Detroit’s recently announced urban blight task force is “going to get this done or we are going to die trying.”

The bold statement made last month was a welcome change for Detroiters, where urban decay is one of those persistent structural issues—like the thousands of streetlights that don’t work, or the murder rate—that residents have had to endure year after year, mayor after mayor, with seemingly no serious will to find solutions in sight.

Gilbert is the co-chair of the Detroit Blight Task Force, a public-private entity announced in September that is charged with developing a plan to remove every blighted structure in Detroit, as quickly and as environmentally consciously as possible.

What makes the Detroit Blight Task Force different from past, half-hearted attempts at blight removal is the sheer number of resources involved. Last fall, the Obama administration announced that $300 million in federal and private funding would go toward Detroit for blight removal, transit and public safety improvements, and business development.

Equally impressive are the task force’s partners: the U.S. departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, the Kresge Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, Rock Ventures (Quicken Loans’ umbrella company, which is also one of Detroit’s biggest landowners), the city of Detroit and its Emergency Financial Manager’s office, and various state and local community development organizations.

But perhaps most encouraging from an innovation standpoint is that nonprofit organization Data Driven Detroit and local startup Loveland Technologies are leading the $1.5 million Motor City Mapping effort to survey the city’s entire 139 square miles—some 400,000 parcels of land—to identify blighted properties in need of demolition.

Loveland founder Jerry Paffendorf moved to Detroit from San Francisco in 2009 with a desire to make a difference. Loveland began an ambitious project to digitally map the vacant properties up for sale at the Wayne County Foreclosure Auction. Incredibly, until Loveland began its work, that kind of information was unavailable to the public online.

One thing that is both exciting and maddening about Detroit is how many innovators like Paffendorf are working independently to find solutions to the city’s biggest obstacles because, they believe, the local government can’t or won’t take it on. To now have a well-funded effort to hire the people in the community who are already hard at work solving the very problem the city is trying to address marks a significant change, and one that bodes well for Detroit’s future.

Regarding Detroit’s blight, Paffendorf says, “Everyone knows it’s out there, but … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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  • Jeanene Bohman

    Are you hiring? or do you need volunteers to help???

    • http://www.xconomy.com/detroit Sarah Schmid

      The best way to find out is through Loveland’s website. You’ll find a link in one of the last paragraphs of the article, where we talk about how Mapping the Motor City is looking to hire a programmer.