Cities

Reimagining Detroit

by Erick Schonfeld

Where most of us see abandoned lots and vacant buildings, Jerry Paffendorf sees a blank canvas. Paffendorf drove me around Detroit when I was there last week for the Techonomy conference. In the video above (shot and edited on my iPad, thank you very much), he takes me on a tour of Detroit, land use, and Chia houses. During this tour, he explains how he thinks the Internet, data, and crowdfunding can help not just reimagine Detroit, but redevelop it.

Paffendorf, who once worked at Second Life, thinks the answer to Detroit’s land use challenges will spring up from the grassroots, not from the government or big developers. (In a previous video, Ghosts of Detroit, he explains what attracted him to the city). He is taking what he learned in virtual worlds and applying it to thorny land development issues in the real world. His company Loveland Technologies is behind efforts such as an online map of all foreclosed properties in Detroit called Why Don’t We Own This? His first Kickstarter project a few years ago sold off parts of a foreclosed lot in square inches, but as he explains in the video, now he wants to level up to city scale.

Detroit is in the middle of auctioning off 20,000 foreclosed properties right now, and anything that doesn’t go for back taxes will be sold for $500 per property in October. Paffendorf wants to crowdfund the purchase of as many unsold properties as possible through another project called No Property Left Behind. If half of those foreclosed properties go unsold, it would take only $5 million to buy 10,000 properties and automatically create the single biggest landowner in Detroit.

It’s an outlandish idea, and even raising a fraction of that amount will be difficult. But Detroit needs dreamers like Paffendorf and their crazy ideas right now. What would Loveland do with 10,000 properties? Well, that would be up to the crowd who helped to purchase them to decide.

 

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