State of Detroit – Detroit’s Food Landscape


IMG_7920The team at the Chicago Design Museum approached me to contribute some maps and data visualizations to their upcoming “State of Detroit” exhibit. It grew into a collaboration that built off of my research focus on food access in Detroit while also addressing some of the “Detroit is Empty” misconceptions.

IMG_7919The installation has a cool sliding feature so you can view different map layers together.

Visit the exhibit from now until August 30th, 2015. More. . .

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



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: Detroit’s Second Great Fire



Detroit’s “Great Fire” of 1805 is solidified in the history books as a defining moment for the city. With only the brick chimneys remaining, Detroit residents dug in and rebuilt their city. Justice Woodward drew up his inspired hub-and-spoke street plans (1806) to bring Detroit on par with cities like Paris and Washington D.C. Following the “Great Fire” Detroit saw continued progress and became one of the most well-known cities in the world for its industry.

However, Detroit has had a more recent “Great Fire,” one that began in the 1970s and is most often seen on display during Devil’s Night. As Detroit’s population declined and crime increased, both dedicated residents and criminals took to setting abandoned homes on fire. A news segment from 1975 features an interview with two Detroit residents talking about how they decided to torch an abandoned house on their block because it…

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


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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Map: Will the M1 Rail Streetcar Serve Detroit Residents?



The impact of the M1 Rail 3.3 mile-long streetcar has been an ongoing debate and a number of community organizations have voiced concerns that the M1 Rail does little to serve actual residents of Detroit. The M1 Rail project essentially says the same thing. M1 Rail is looking to serve the “choice rider” to facilitate getting around Downtown and Midtown’s attractions. The private funders joined forces after seeing the failure of public transportation during the Super Bowl in 2006. It is safe to say that the M1 Rail was not conceived of as a transportation option for residents, but rather for visitors.

“[…] the project will affect pedestrians, people in wheel chairs and bike riders. Ironically, the project will also impact bus riders, most of whom will have relatively little use for the trolley.“ (source)

The residential density along the M1 Rail is minimal at best compared to…

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Map: The Empty Business Rings of Detroit



I began five years ago looking intensely at the grocery store conundrum in Detroit. There were handfuls of academic writings and news articles about how national and chain grocers abandoned the inner city, in Detroit and other notable cities. This abandoning of the urban core is a phenomena is best understood in terms of chain supermarkets, but the practice and theory applies to many other retailers and business types too. It is also important to look at what kinds of businesses have stayed or expanded in the same space.



Detroit completely lost its Downtown commercial retail businesses in the half century decline of the city. The commercial core never recovered and even Hudson’s largest department store was torn down. The process of building a series of suburban malls followed the new city planning trend and places like Northland Mall, Southland Mall, and Oakland Mall sprang up. Grocery retail has…

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Map: Attainment of Higher Education in Detroit



I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about higher education in Detroit. The pattern that can be seen here with more individuals with degrees on the West side is mirrored in other categories such as income. There are approximately 32,805 individuals with a Bachelors degree and 22,185 individuals who have a Graduate level degree. That’s a total of 54,990 people with higher education degrees or about 12% of Detroit’s population compared to 101,749 people with less than a High School education. Michigan’s population has an average 25.5% Bachelor’s degree attainment. Compared to other cities often grouped with Detroit we see: Philadelphia, PA 23%, Oakland, CA 37.9%, Cleveland, OH 14%, Chicago, IL 33.6%, and Baltimore, MD 22.6%.

Detroit has 11 different institutions for higher education (see map) and at one point in its history as Michigan’s largest city, it once held the most highly educated population in the…

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Map: Detroit Design Festival and the Myth of the Blank Canvas



The long and short of this post title is that artists are among the first line of gentrifiers. It is true artists often have very lower incomes, transient housing, and suffer from a lack of understanding from a majority of the public – however, most, if not all, artists come into various cities and urban settings with a great amount of privilege. Choosing to attend art school is privilege number one when others often lack the ability to pursue art at mostly expensive, private schools. The map shows that over the years the Detroit Design Festival (DDF) has become more concentrated in specific areas as well as increased the number of hosted “happenings” or events in those concentrated areas.

In Detroit you can see this blessing and curse all bound up in the idea of “doing something good” in the city’s “blank canvas” of opportunity. While artists attempt to be…

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Map: Historic Detroit Neighborhoods 1884



From “The History of Detroit and Michigan” by Detroit’s first cartographer, Silas Farmer.

Excepts on each neighborhood:

“This the larger portion of the territory on Fifth and Sixth Streets, for several blocks each side of Michigan Avenue, is called Corktown, because chiefly occupied by people from the Emerald Isle.

The eastern part of the city, for several blocks on each side of Gratiot Avenue beyond Brush Street, for similar reasons is often spoken of as Dutchtown, or the German quarter.

That part of the city lying a few blocks north of High Street and between Brush and Hastings, is known as Kentucky, from the number of colored people living there.

A walk a few blocks east and north of this locality terminates in the heart of Polacktown, where many Poles reside.

The portion of the city just west of Woodward Avenue and north of…

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