Detroit launches demolition tracker

Posted on June 23, 2016

Interactive map shows all properties that have been demolished or are scheduled to be razed


This map indicates areas where blight removal will take place. Blue dots mean completed demolitions and orange dots mean contracted demolitions. – Photo by City of Detroit

The city of Detroit has launched an interactive map that allows residents to track the progress of blight removal.

The Detroit Demolition Tracker shows the locations of all properties that either have already been demolished or are scheduled to be razed. The website also discloses cost, date of demolition and what contractor did the work. This is part of an effort by the mayor’s office to emphasize operational transparency in city government.

“We want it to be consumable for the community residents, which is why we got the mapping software on there, but also for the people who want to take this data and mesh it with their data, so higher-end data users have an easier format,” said Brian Farkas, director of special projects for the Detroit Building Authority. “The mayor’s charge is that he wants to be aggressively transparent with all of our data, so I think you’re seeing more and more of that.”

The new system was developed in-house by the city’s Information Technology Department using Socrata, Salesforce and Esri ArcGIS software. The system automatically updates every day at 5 a.m.

The demolition program website is seeing a huge spike in traffic since its launch Friday, from an average of 25-30 page views per day to about 10,000 total page views now.

The Detroit Building Authority spent about a year-and-a-half developing the new program and worked with an assistant professor at Harvard University’s business school, Ryan Buell, to make the data more accessible to residents.

“He’s the one who’s done a lot of research on when you make data visually appealing, you put it on a map, you increase the value of that work,” Farkas said. “So rather than just have a list of demolitions… when all of the sudden you put it on a map you make it more engaging.”

Buell works with the Behavioral Insights Group at Harvard, a research program whose purpose is to connect academics with organizations and governments working to use behavioral science for the public good.

“With this step, Detroit’s demolition program is one of the most transparent government programs in the country,” Buell said in a statement.

The 2014 Detroit Blight Removal Task Force report indicated 40,077 blighted structures needed to be removed and an additional 38,429 structures might become blighted in the near future. According to the report, each dollar spent on demolition produced $4.27 in increased home equity among homes within 500 feet of demolitions.

There are 9,624 demolitions listed on the website since 2014. The average cost for a demolition this year was $12,281. According to the website, more than $90 million in demolition contracts have been awarded to Detroit businesses, and $25 million of that has been awarded to minority-owned businesses.

The demolitions are largely funded through the federal Hardest Hit Fund, which can only be used in federally designated areas, highlighted on the map.

There are approximately 5,000 demolitions planned in the city this year, up from just more than 4,000 last year. The figure is expected to rise to about 6,000 demolitions for 2017. Farkas said the previous administration was working at a pace of about 25 demolitions per week. Since Mayor Mike Duggan took office in 2014, the pace has ramped up to 100-150 demolitions per week. This would cut the time it takes for blight removal from 30 years to six-eight years.

Read the full article on Crain’s Detroit Business here.