Analytics & Data Cities

“Blexts” Enable a Quantified Blight Movement in Detroit

Detroit Packard plant

Detroit’s abandoned Packard plant. (Photo: Adrienne Burke)

When Dan Gilbert told the Techonomy Detroit audience last September that the wrecking ball was the next step to reviving the Motor City, we quipped that demolition didn’t seem like such a techonomic concept. It turns out technology will even expedite the process of razing some 80,000 dilapidated buildings.

NPR reports this week that an army of “blexters,” enabled by tablet computers and “blight texting” tools, is creating digital maps and a database of every structure across Detroit’s 139 square miles.

White House officials and local groups created the Blight Task Force last fall with $1.5 million in private and foundation funding, NPR’s Quinn Klinefelter reports. According to Time to End Blight.com, the mission is to:

“Develop a straightforward and detailed implementation plan to remove every ‘blighted’ residential structure, commercial structure and public building, and clear every blighted vacant lot in the city of Detroit as quickly as possible using an environmentally-conscious approach. The plan’s recommendations will focus on creating economic opportunities for the city and its people, as well as dramatically improving the safety of residents and first responders.”

Detroit burnt out house

One of thousands of burned-out and abandoned homes in Detroit’s residential neighborhoods. (Photo: Adrienne Burke)

Surveyors, paid $10 an hour, systematically text pictures and descriptions of buildings into a central database using tools from Loveland Technologies—a Detroit-based company that says it’s dedicated to “putting America online, parcel by parcel. Klinefelter describes the project’s “Mission Control” as a “White House Situation Room-style mapping area with computerized images of all of the buildings in the city, and outlines of what should be done with them.”

Crowdsourcing will come into play too: In late March, the maps will be made public, so that members of the community can make corrections and comments. And Klinefelter reports that the database will help Detroit officials “compile information that the city and county departments’ outdated computers could never integrate” and make the most of scarce resources by encouraging joint demolition undertakings by multiple municipal property owners on the same block. 

The project is just another way Detroit could become a model for other struggling American cities: The New York Times reports that “urban planners around the nation are watching the census … for what it might mean for the way the most troubled cities can track empty, decaying structures and decide what do about them.”

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