Motor City Mapping Tackles Urban Blight Using Loveland Tech
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there’s no data that shows how many properties are blighted and where they are; the size of the problem and the money it will take to fix it; and which properties can be reinhabited. The pitch to the task force was to photograph and survey every property in the city to create an updatable database.”
Working out of a “mission control” office in TechTown, Motor City Mapping is sending more than 100 surveyors out to every corner of the city armed with tablets and a Loveland app to photograph each property and enter in as much information about it as possible.
Loveland originally built the app, called Blexting, to survey all of the properties up for the auction by Wayne County in 2013. “But it was only six of us with no support,” Paffendorf explains. “There’s a really big difference between doing this independently and with support. Data Driven Detroit did a paper-based survey in 2009, and that was a big effort but it wasn’t digitally updatable and there were no photos. There isn’t really any information to start with except for property boundaries and addresses.”
Paffendorf says a crew at mission control watches the individual property records entered into the app by surveyors “like a Twitter feed” and does spot quality control checks. If something is wrong, they call surveyors in the field to make an immediate correction.
So far, 111,000 properties have been surveyed and if it would just stop snowing, Paffendorf believes the job will be finished by February. After that, the data will be reviewed, errors will be fixed, and then it will be presented to the public.
“There’s an awareness by the whole team that this is just a windshield survey, and it’s impossible to know everything,” Paffendorf says. “But we’ll turn the data inside out so people can correct wrong information or use it for city planning.”
It’s a huge effort, and Paffendorf is clearly thrilled to be a part of it. (He’s also in need of a local Ruby programmer with an interest in mapping; contact Loveland if you’re interested in the job.) He hopes that what comes out of the Motor City Mapping project is a “legacy system” that allows Detroiters to have a constantly updatable database that can be expanded to other blighted cities in Michigan.
“Some of these really huge problems like blight are partially caused by problems with information,” he adds. “You can’t fix things until you can see fully what’s going on. It’s a breath of relief—there it all is, and now we can start to work on it. You start to feel empowered instead of living in mucky confusion.”
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