Map: Home Range of the Detroit Pheasant

DETROITography

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For the last few years I’ve been thinking about Detroit’s most interesting bird around Thanksgiving time. Living near Brush St. and I-94, my dog and I would regularly see a male pheasant patrolling the vacant lots next to the expressway. This year I started working on the Eastside and on an almost weekly basis came across a pheasant flying in front of my car along Ferry St. before Mt. Elliott.

I started scrapping any and all online media that mentioned pheasant sightings in Detroit and included the data from WDET’s crowdsourcing (read more on the history of Detroit pheasants here too). For the analysis I had 109 sightings of roughly 300 pheasants in Detroit between 2002 and 2016. Some sightings were likely the same pheasant seen over and over again while others were just a lone bird out looking for food beyond its normal range.

Using inverse distance weighting…

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Map: Property Praxis – Speculation in Detroit

DETROITography

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Land in Detroit has been widely covered in the media as the city and it’s residents have grappled with widespread subprime mortgage lending, myriad tax foreclosures, and targeted blight removal.

The primary connection between these major crises and efforts in Detroit is property speculation.

At least 20% of land in Detroit is owned by property speculators, defined by the amount of property they own that is not registered to an owner that lives in the same neighborhood. Property speculators benefited from the new inventory of property created by the mortgage crisis, but in turn fueled the decline into blight of once intact neighborhoods.

This collaborative mapping project is not the first to examine individuals and corporations that have held large swaths of land in Detroit, but it is the first to examine the true extent of property speculation by digging into the records of shell companies and LLC that…

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Map: Detroit’s Digital Divide

DETROITography

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I’ve often shared information here that notes 40% of Detroit households have no access to internet, both broadband and cell phone access. In a city that faces countless issues with connectivity and communicating with pockets of people spread across a large area, there is great potential for internet to bring Detroit together, improve communications, and equalize access – jobs, education, resources, etc.

The latest numbers from the 2014 American Community Survey show Detroit has 95,825 households or 37% of all Detroit households have no internet access. The city sadly ranks #2 nationally for cities with over 50,000 households. The logical next step in saying that 37% of Detroit households have no internet is to then ask where are those households located? Who is impacted?

From the above map you can see the obvious outline of Detroit with low broadband internet access. Downtown, Boston-Edison, Grandmont-Rosedale, Palmer Woods, and a handful…

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Map: Landscape of Children vs. Elderly in Detroit

DETROITography

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I’ve been interested in the impacts of various issues on children in Detroit, from traffic fatalities to areas with the most children. The flip side, focusing on the elderly, is also very important and often overlooked in current development efforts in the city.

The age balance or imbalance across the geography of Detroit results in some interesting areas where children or the elderly make up a majority. Not surprisingly many of the areas with the most children also have fewer elderly residents. The riverfront has a larger elderly population often associated with the senior apartment high rises. Grand River cuts an interesting pattern along the Westside where there are more elderly above the Avenue and more children below.

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Map: Midtown or Cass Corridor? Responses from the streets of Detroit

DETROITography

midcassDuring the Data, Mapping, and Research Justice workshop offered in August, participants conducted their own data collection based on shared research questions about the Cass Corridor. One question in particular that was brought up was what different people called the area: Cass Corridor or Midtown.

In all 30 people were rapidly interviewed along Cass Avenue, 2nd, and Third Street. Sometimes the workshop participants’ data collection clipboards made people wary, but often the clipboards invited more questions making it easy to engage people on the street, at restaurants, and waiting for the bus. The participants didn’t make it further than Peterboro Street due to time limits in the data collection.

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Midtown16

Midtown was the more commonly referenced placename, but overall the data gave a fairly even representation of the area. If anything the responses collected from people shows the well documented debate over…

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Map: Detroit’s Ubiquitous Places – Church and Liquor

DETROITography

Inspired by Nathan Yau’s work at FlowingData on pizza place geography and grocery store geography, I wanted to see how Detroit’s ubiquitous locations compared. Driving along Van Dyke where there was church after church (many abandoned) interspersed with liquor stores gave me the idea of examining which type of location dominated Detroit’s landscape.

church_liquor_dotIt takes forever to scrape the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) website for active liquor licenses, so I relied on a 2012 dataset that I generated a while back. I then utilized data from Data Driven Detroit with Churches from 2011. The data is not perfect, but unless you have someone actively monitoring every liquor license and every church there is going to be significant change. Notably, the number of liquor licenses have been decreasing since 2009. The next step was to set up a grid that was generally half a square mile squares.

church_gridThere are…

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Map: Can Detroit Really Be Compared to Any Other City?

DETROITography

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Can Detroit really be compared to any other city? No doubt everyone has tried comparing crime rates, economy, and poverty levels in Detroit with other troubled cities. A few groups have even tried fitting different city land areas into Detroit’s 139 square (land) miles. It always seems that Detroit has too much or too little of something for a city to city comparison to make much sense. Rob Linn had similar thoughts and instead of comparing land area or other commonly compared attributes he analyzed infrastructure density (feet of street per resident) as a method to debate the misguided “rightsizing” push. Rob found that Detroit had a high rate of “feet of street per resident” which caused some areas of the city to appear more vacant when in reality they had healthier infrastructure density.

The 2010 Census population for Detroit was 713,777, closer to San Francisco’s. Imagine San Francisco’s southern edge…

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Map: Where Are All the People in Detroit – Occupancy and Foreclosure

DETROITography

det-occupied2There is a common media narrative that Detroit is empty, a blank slate, a blank canvas where anything can be done. However, this false narrative doesn’t account for the nearly 700,000 people who do live in the city. I pulled all of the “occupied, partially occupied, and possibly occupied” properties out of the Motor City Mapping (MCM) data and the above map is the result.

I found 203,723 occupied structures, which is an 81% structure occupancy rate and a total of 54% of properties with occupied structures. This doesn’t necessarily account for parks or large unused former industrial properties. The map however gives a far different picture than the common media narrative of an empty Detroit.

det-occupied-foreclosures2This year the Wayne County Treasurer identified 61,912 properties in Detroit for foreclosure in 2015. Loveland Technologies found that 35,669 of these properties (63%) are occupied according to the MCM survey data. More from…

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detroit: black problems, white solutions

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Updates

Last updated 03/19/15:

  • Jon Chezick of D:hive BUILD Institute has graduated 400 from their program (56% black, 32% are white) via Deadline Detroit
  • Matthew Clayson, Director of Detroit Creative Corridor Center has had 70 founders, 42 white (60%); 23 African American (33%); 2 Asian American (3%); 2 Arab American (3%); 1 Latino (1%) via Deadline Detroit
  • Meeting scheduled with Graig Donnelly, Director of WSU Detroit Revitalization Fellows, “the stats for our program look right about at what you said.”
  • Panel and meeting scheduled with Challenge Detroit, Dierdre Groves and Shelley Danner
  • Contacted by ProsperUS: “About 90% of our participants are minorities, and over 80% are African American. We have trained 204 people in 5 Detroit neighborhoods:  Southwest, Lower East Side, Northend/Woodward Central, Cody Rouge (over by Warrendale), and Grandmont Rosedale.”
  • Contacted by Skillman Foundation for an interview in their Annual Report
  • Response from Kresge Foundation Communications Director, Cynthia Shaw: “Kresge is a national foundation with the goal of expanding opportunities for low-income people in America’s cities. That goal drives our grant-making and social investing. We have a dedicated Detroit program because Detroit is our home town. So, we take notice of data like that produced by Mr. Hill (and others).” via Michigan Citizen
  • Invited to facilitate at Youth Civil Rights Conference with the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at WSU
  • Contacted by W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Detroit Office
  • Republished in Infinite Mile online magazine, Issue 11, November 2014
  • Data and research republished in column by Nolan Finley in the Detroit News

Introduction

There are countless reports, maps, and statistics that demonstrate Detroit’s population changes over the years as well as the city’s decline. What is often overlooked in these figures are the social inequalities that fueled Detroit’s continued racial inequity. Structural racism is not easy to explain in a sound bite, but it has kept the scales tipped against Detroit’s black population for the last century. The effects of structural racism can be seen in the decades of black Detroiters being relegated to lower end jobs, rarely being promoted, being the first to be laid off, and being targeted for subprime mortgages.

Detroit’s revitalization is completely one-sided. The surge in investment in this majority black city is not going to black residents. I began noticing a troubling trend. First, at Whole Foods one out of the ten featured suppliers were black. Then again when the 2013 Detroit Design Festival interviewed designers and one out of eight were black. A recent United Way campaign featured eight Detroit leaders and only two were black. I could only wonder why these revitalization efforts were so lopsided. Finally, I couldn’t help but cringe at TEDxDetroit 2013 where 80% of attendees were white coming up with “solutions” for Detroit, an 83% black city. To top it off, Wayne State University’s student population doesn’t even reflect the city with almost 50% white students and 20% black with only 9% of black students graduating in 4 years.

I’m not alone in my concerns either. There is overwhelming evidence that our cities are becoming more segregated and unequal. Not to mention the racist mortgage lending practices of our country’s largest banks decimating black home ownership in major cities, specifically in Detroit. One journalist has asked “Is there room for Black people in the new Detroit” and others have lamented “Detroit doesn’t need hipsters to survive, it needs Black people.” The New York Times received a lot of push back after a travel piece only featured White-owned businesses in Corktown which then brought out a counter article, “Black-owned businesses are quietly fueling Detroit’s resurgence, but no one’s talking about it.” Aaron Foley recently wrote an excellent piece for Bridge magazine, saying:

“When “new” is basically used as code for “white” in a city where the “old” is “black,” it can drive someone like me [a black person in Detroit] to think they’re obsolete.” – Aaron Foley

There is a very real concern over the shifting interests and populations within Detroit where the benefits of gentrification do not trickle down, but rather force more hardship on those who cannot pay to play. Increased property values don’t solve poverty or crime, they just make poverty and crime more concentrated.

Last year, I began attempting to track and quantify the issue within Detroit’s revitalization as it relates to racial inequity. After working for 3 years with families across Detroit, I couldn’t help notice the absence of long-time Detroiters in development discussions, funding proposals, and the new “benefits” of a growing Detroit.

The title of this post, Black Problems, White Solutions, is a reflection that in Detroit problems are seen as being caused by black people, but the solutions are being powered by white people, neither of which are true.

Methods

My first challenge was that there is no demographic data (race, gender, age) published by small start-ups or even large corporations, or nonprofits. This meant that I would need to find the data myself. How could one white male possibly determine the race of hundreds of individuals involved in Detroit’s revitalization? short answer: I can’t.

My next challenge was that I had to construct ideas about race in order to categorize individuals. I was extremely hesitant because I know that race is socially constructed, that individuals self-identify in very different ways, and that identity can and does change over time. It is important to note that discrimination affects minorities no matter how one self-identifies. Over a period of July – August 2014, I combed the websites of Detroit companies and start-ups for information about their staff. I, obviously, had to base my categorizations on my own assumptions and perceptions of race. I pulled headshots from individual biographies posted publicly on fellowship programs, academic profiles, and many “About” pages. All this data was then compiled into the database that I later analyzed.

My analysis brought to mind the PBS project where user can sort photos of individuals by “race” where the main takeaway was:

“Classifying them [headshots] into groups is a subjective process, influenced by cultural ideas and political priorities.”

The article “Stereotypes drive perceptions of race” demonstrated that changes in racial categories “were driven by changes in the people’s life circumstances and common racial stereotypes.” There is also evidence that Latino individuals often choose to check the “White” box on the Census form as a sign of status. There is a similar issue where “Arab” populations are lumped into the “White” category by the Census Bureau. Our official systems to categorize race are both flawed and inadequate.

Note: “American Indian” was excluded even though there were around 2,500 individuals living in Detroit from the 2010 Census, the American Indian population makes up less than 0.5% of the total Detroit population, but also bore the brunt of early slavery in Detroit.

Results

What I found, unfortunately, confirmed what I had been seeing. Detroit’s revitalization is made up of a majority of white people. That isn’t to say that Detroit’s black population isn’t contributing anything to revitalization, rather it suggests that there is a deliberate racially unequal distribution of support and funding. In total 818 individuals were identified from fellowship programs, business incubators, universities, foundations, and other “innovation” programs.

Across all of the programs 69.2% of individuals were classified as White and only 23.7% as Black (1.6% Latino, 4.8% Asian, 0.7% Arab). Looking at this new data, it is clear that there is a serious imbalance of both opportunity and outcomes in Detroit.

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The majority of programs and institutions that were checked were grossly out of balance in terms of racial equity. The only program that had less than 50% white individuals was the D:hive BUILD small business incubator. The Urban Innovation Exchange featured profiles also came close, but tended to feature 50% white individuals and 50% of all other races. The Wayne County Community College District notable had the most black Presidents and Vice Presidents.

Those who hold the decision-making power with private funds, institutions of higher learning, and foundations support members of their own race rather than the majority race of the residents of Detroit.

Note: The degree to which other minority groups besides “black” are under-represented is also a compelling result that warrants further investigation.

Conclusion

In many ways Detroit has become the national test case for various issues: municipal pension issues, economic decline and resurgence, as well as monetizing or privatizing city services. There is potential for Detroit to become the test case for racial equity in urban centers. Detroit is at the very beginning of its efforts to revitalize and reinvest. During this period it is critical to ensure there is a structure that promotes equity in training, hiring, bidding, and selecting individuals who are the city’s present and will be it’s future. This is the critical moment where Detroit should try to lift all residents and not just those who can drop multi-millions for an expressway ramp or swoon decision-makers with a new stadium plan.

Mayor Duggan has said that every neighborhood has a future, but does every neighbor have a future in Detroit?

Detroit can build itself to be the city that prioritizes its people first by going beyond “community engagement.” If the city pushes for a strong community based redevelopment model from the bottom-up it could allow for a more racially equitable path forward. The city and its various supporters need to both ask Detroiters what they want to see in their communities and give them the tools, training, and support to make it happen. There is no reason that community development can’t also lead to citywide revitalization.

Thanks to the many people who gave me comments and feedback throughout the process of putting this together.