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Data Driven Detroit (D3) provides accessible, high-quality information and analysis to drive decision-making that strengthens communities in Southeast Michigan.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan Announces City Open Data Portal


Today, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made a monumental announcement, releasing the City’s first Open Data Portal. The portal will provide access to many datasets that have never been released publicly for download, including data on building permits and crime. This announcement marks an important development in city policies that encourage transparency and accessibility. It also coincides with this weekend’s International Open Data Day on Saturday, February 21.

For the last six years, Data Driven Detroit (D3) has been committed to providing accessible, high-quality data to drive informed decision-making, and we are excited to embrace the city’s new platform.

Mayor Duggan’s announcement significantly affects the open data landscape in Detroit, in which D3 has been actively involved since our inception. The addition of city datasets that are regularly updated will be an enormous asset in understanding local issues and promoting data-driven outcomes.

Since December 2013, we have worked with Esri, the supplier of ArcGIS and ArcGIS Online products, to create an Open Data Portal that houses much of our rich data inventory. Since then, we have uploaded more than 70 datasets, ranging from transit stops and routes to detailed parcel information to locations of amenities such as schools and libraries. The site includes a helpful interactive mapping feature, but for those who would like to dig into the data, all datasets are available for download in CSV, KML and Shapefile formats, along with an API feature that allows for integration with third-party applications. We see both portals working together, providing much needed data to those who need it.

As a member of the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), D3 has benefitted from learning from other cities that have implemented open data policies and platforms. The NNIP network wholeheartedly believes that open data:

  • Increases transparency to help citizens hold government accountable,
  • Encourages civic engagement in government decision-making,
  • Enables access to a public good funded by taxpayers and
  • Generates economic value that fuels private sector activity.

Read NNIP’s July 2014 assessment of the open data landscape in Detroit here.

D3 has had the privilege of working with all types of organizations, from larger institutions to neighborhood block clubs, and we know how important good data is. We look forward to using our expertise in weaving together data sources to illustrate complex relationships and reveal the stories of our city.

Uphill Both Ways: Chronicling Metro Detroit’s Transit Mismatch

This is the first post in a new D3 blog series looking at employment and commuting patterns in Detroit and the surrounding region.

The recent Detroit Free Press feature on James Robertson, a Detroit resident who faces a four-hour commute to his job in Rochester that can involve twenty-one miles of walking, provides a new opportunity for a deep conversation about transportation in the metro region.  While the response to Robertson’s plight has been spectacular, the story also highlights the systemic failures of Southeast Michigan’s transit policy, as the Free Press’ Stephen Henderson notes.  With forty-nine communities having “opted-out” of the SMART bus system, thousands of lower-income Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park residents (for brevity, abbreviated as DHPH) face the same challenging choices as Robertson – use a personal vehicle to travel to work, or face a grueling commute in areas whose transit coverage is limited at best and nonexistent at worst.

In this blog post, we’ll use data from the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program to learn more about just how many DHPH residents work in communities that have opted out of SMART.  We’ll focus specifically on residents working for “lower-income” jobs, and where these jobs are located within transit-deficient areas.  Admittedly, this isn’t a fully ideal range to identify “lower-income”, since the obstacles faced by someone earning $20,000 per year are far different from someone earning twice that amount.  However, the LEHD dataset only provides three earning categories – under $15,000, $15,000 – $40,000, and above $40,000 per year.  Given the limitations of the data, and also considering the sizable distances involved in commuting from DHPH to many of the “opt-out” municipalities, the costs of car ownership and insurance in DHPH, and the Metro Detroit region’s median household income of $51,844, we determined that those earning less than $40,000 per year represent the population that would endure the greatest negative impact from the absence of public transportation services.

In addition, we’ll emphasize another important caveat:  Metro Detroit faces a number of well-chronicled regional transit issues, and we’ll only be taking a look at one part of a much larger story.  We won’t be focusing on the thousands of commuters who work in Detroit or suburban communities that do provide transit service, though these individuals also confront Metro Detroit’s challenged transit system on a daily basis.  Nor will we seek to examine other significant challenges such as limited nighttime service, very limited overlap in service areas, and the lack of coordinated scheduling between the systems.

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As of 2011, over 10,000 DHPH residents working for lower-wage jobs commuted to cities and townships that have opted out of SMART.  Nearly 40% of these workers earned less than $1,250 per month, or under $15,000 in annual wages – meaning that their wages are close to, or potentially under, the federal poverty rate of roughly $11,000.  Some of these workers may be unconcerned by the lower wages (for example, a retiree who occasionally works as a substitute teacher, or a former stay-at-home dad now looking for a part-time job now that his children are in college).  Nevertheless, for other workers, such low earnings can cause long commutes and car ownership to be a significant financial burden even if residents have a vehicle available.  Given the potential for earners in this category to be particularly affected by a lack of access to transit, we’ve highlighted the proportion of lower-income DHPH workers who fell into the category of $15,000 or less in Table 1.

Table 1: 10 Highest Totals of Lower-Income Workers from Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, among Municipalities that Opted Out of SMART Service

MunicipalityTotal Lower-Income Workers, 2011Percent of Lower-Income Workers; Income Less than $15,000
Canton Township55445.8%
Rochester Hills52440.5%
Waterford Township51352.0%
Plymouth Township41332.9%
Commerce Township37334.6%
Brownstown Township19245.8%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics, 2011; Data Driven Detroit.


Figure 1

As shown in Figure 1, the greatest number of lower-wage DHPH residents working in transit deserts concentrated in an arc extending from western Wayne County north and east through central Oakland County.  Among the ten communities with the greatest number of lower-income workers from Detroit, Waterford Township had the highest proportion with earnings near or below the poverty level, at over 52%.  However, among all “opt-out” communities, Livonia accounted for the greatest number of DHPH residents earning less than $40,000 per year with over 4,300.  33% of these jobs provided earnings near or below the poverty level.

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Admittedly, the transit situation in some of these communities is more complex than their “opt-out” status suggests.  Even in the areas that have opted out of SMART, there may be some small level access to transit, given that a bus stop that terminates right at a non-covered municipality’s border may still be accessible from a portion of that municipality.  Several opt-out communities in Metro Detroit fall into this category, including Livonia, Novi, and Waterford Township.  However, when we zoom in to examine the distribution of these jobs on a finer scale, the data reveal this access to be minimal at best.

Focusing in on eight communities that together account for two-thirds of all lower-income DHPH workers in “opt-out” communities, Figure 2 highlights this insufficient transit coverage.  Though the Detroit Department of Transportation extends a single route into Livonia, only 17.5% of lower-earning DHPH jobs in the city are located within a half-mile of a bus stop.  For Novi, the situation is even worse.  The termination of SMART service at the borders of neighboring communities has left virtually no job clusters that are within a reasonable walking distance of a transit stop.


Figure 2

Perhaps the largest takeaway from this deep dive, however, is that the lack of access to transit faced by lower-earning DHPH residents could be greatly alleviated had these communities not opted out of SMART.  The geographic distribution of workers forms distinct clusters and corridors, particularly in Livonia, Novi, Plymouth, Wixom, and Canton.  Many of these corridors would be logical extensions of existing transit routes if these communities were to opt into the SMART system.

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Every day, tens of thousands of Detroit residents face tremendous pressures in terms of cost and time in commuting from the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park to jobs in the suburbs.  For more than 10,000 residents commuting to lower-paying jobs in areas that aren’t served by public transit, the pressures are particularly acute.  As emphasized by the situation faced by James Robertson, many of these residents may face extreme pressures on their time, health, and finances.  Though many challenges to improving transit in Detroit and the region persist, this blog provides an example of data that policymakers can use in developing strategies to address these issues.

*          *          *

Thank you for reading “Uphill Both Ways”!  In the next post in the series, we’ll take a broader look at the overall commuting patterns between Detroit and its suburbs.


Four Seasons of Data: Celebrating 15 Months of Motor City Mapping

By Diana Flora

Since October 2013, Data Driven Detroit (D3) has had the pleasure of collaborating on Motor City Mapping, a massive project that has included hundreds of people devoting thousands of hours to data collection, cleaning, and analysis. It’s the culmination of a process that involved federal, state, and local government officials, Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, and charitable foundations, a process that has, in ways both large and small, touched every corner of the city of Detroit.

winterAlong with our partners – the Michigan Nonprofit Association, LOVELAND Technologies, and Rock Ventures, LLC, among others – we accomplished a set of dizzying tasks. In the first few months of the project, we assembled a team of 200 resident surveyors, drivers, and quality-control associates; cataloged information for all 380,000 properties (during the snowiest winter in Detroit’s recorded history); and leveraged relationships to acquire more than 30 datasets, compiling the largest, most comprehensive property database ever for Detroit.

As spring bloomed in Detroit, we worked with the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force to use the power of our data to inform its report released in May 2014. You’ll recognize D3’s analytical work throughout the report, especially in Chapter 4: “How Does This Information Guide Us?” Focusing on two primary goals – improving quality of life for the greatest number of people and improving opportunities for reinvestment and stabilization in Detroit’s neighborhoods – we created the Maximizing Community Impact tool, which identifies “tipping point” neighborhoods. Tipping point neighborhoods are areas that would see the greatest impact from immediate intervention, be it demolition, rehabilitation, or economic intervention.spring

Since May, D3 and LOVELAND Technologies worked to make all of the data we collected in the winter available to the public. Together we launched the Motor City Mapping website in July, which displays survey data on use, condition, and occupancy for every parcel in the city. Helpful features also include neighborhood and geographic aggregations that allow the public to see survey results at a glance.

D3 also strengthened our Open Data Portal, where we uploaded essential datasets that we collected as part of the Motor City Mapping project. There you’ll find downloadable data not only for the Motor City Mapping survey, but also for many other datasets, including Likely Public Ownership, 2013-14 and Designated and Eligible Historic Districts and Structures, Winter 2013.

summer lot2The Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) serves as an incredible partner, using the Motor City Mapping data to make real strides toward blight elimination. Residents now have a clear way to provide feedback on how properties change, channeling that feedback directly into DLBA’s decision-making process.

Most importantly, Motor City Mapping allowed D3 to reach out to more people than ever before. Since August, we have conducted more than 40 trainings and workshops, speaking to about 1,000 residents in every corner of the city about the power of using data for decision-making. We have also expanded Motor City Mapping into Highland Park and Hamtramck, allowing those two cities to better understand the scope of blight within their boundaries and to successfully secure almost $6 million in federal funds for blight elimination.fall

Along with the Michigan Nonprofit Association, D3 has also administered a powerful Mini-Grant Program, which allocated small grants to 15 community organizations that hired neighbors to resurvey their community. Together they surveyed more than 76,000 parcels in a span of eight weeks.

As we find ourselves in the midst of winter again, I want to thank everyone involved in the project, whether you attended a workshop, helped to resurvey your community, or advocated for better, more accessible data (I’m looking at you, Mayor Duggan). We are so grateful to all our partners and for the generous support of The Kresge Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Rock Ventures, LLC.

Diana Flora serves as the project manager for Motor City Mapping at D3. For more blog posts on Motor City Mapping, check out our City of Change series and our coverage of the successful close of the Mini-Grant Program.

Motor City Mapping Mini-Grants Come to a Successful Close


By Stephanie Edlinger


  • Data Driven Detroit
  • Michigan Nonprofit Association
  • LOVELAND Technologies
  • Rock Ventures, LLC
  • Detroit Blight Removal Task Force
  • The Detroit Land Bank Authority
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • The Skillman Foundation

Data Driven Detroit’s (D3) Mini-Grant Program came to a successful close on Friday, December 12, marking a major milestone for an ambitious community engagement plan that launched in July of 2014 as part of the Motor City Mapping (MCM) project. Mini-Grant recipients were tasked with organizing residents to resurvey their neighborhoods, asking questions related to property condition and occupancy. Funding for the initiative was made possible through the generous support of The Kresge Foundation and The Skillman Foundation.

More than 70 Detroit-based community organizations applied for the program, administered by D3 and our parent affiliate, the Michigan Nonprofit Association. Fifteen finalists received mini-grant funds ranging from $1,000 to $15,000, or approximately $1 per parcel surveyed. At the end of eight weeks, the fifteen groups had assembled over 260 community members to successfully survey over 76,000 parcels in Detroit.

Lessons from the Field

Mini-Grant Recipients

  • Chandler Park Neighbors and Partners Association
  • Eastside Community Network
  • East English Village
  • GenesisHOPE Community Development Corporation
  • Lipke Park Advisory Council
  • Mack Avenue Community Church (MACC) Development Association
  • College Core Block Club
  • Mohican Regent Homeowners Association
  • Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit
  • PW Community Development Nonprofit Housing Corporation
  • Urban Neighborhood Initiatives
  • University District Radio Patrol
  • Vanguard Community Development Corporation
  • Wayne State University’s AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program

This type of technologically innovative field work can be challenging; however, the overall consensus at the end of the grant period was positive and hopeful. The Chandler Park Neighbors and Partners Association, for example, said that the Mini-Grant Program “empowered [their] organization to look at data in a new way when it comes to neighborhood mobilization and engagement.”

Furthermore, almost all of the organizations were able to use the funds to purchase new technology such as smart phones, tablets and computers that they otherwise would not have been able to acquire. Some organizations, such as the Vanguard Community Development Corporation, indicated that the funds actually “enabled several residents to become more confident in utilizing technology.” Vanguard also called attention to the importance of advocacy in the development of technology that is intended to serve neighborhoods.

We are also pleased to report that many of the grantees also intend to leverage the training and experience gained from the program to refresh their community strategies. Some organizations that had already taken on the responsibility of cleaning and maintaining properties in their area now have a fresh pool of funding for tools and supplies for their volunteers, while other groups will look to use the data to enhance grant applications and better plan for the future of their neighborhood. Many of the participants now report increased block club attendance and neighborhood engagement due to conversations started with curious residents while surveyors were in the field.

The D3 Tools Awareness Workshop

Due in large part to the responsiveness and enthusiastic engagement of the mini-grant recipients, D3 hosted a Tools Awareness Workshop on December 17th. Building on lessons from our previous workshops, we designed the event specifically to engage local community organizations around our online warehouse of free, interactive, neighborhood level tools.

From the feedback collected at the workshop, it is clear that community groups have both a demand for easily-accessible, neighborhood-level data and a need for increased exposure to these types of tools. We hope to continue to host these workshops in the coming year to create a venue for residents to interact with D3 data experts and learn about how they can use data to help their community. If you would like to attend one of these workshops or host a workshop within your organization, please contact D3 to make arrangements at askD3@datadrivendetroit.org.

For more information on Motor City Mapping, see our post from last May or visit www.motorcitymapping.org.

City of Change: Toward a Neighborhood-Level Analysis

City of Change: Toward a Neighborhood-Level Analysis

Over the past several weeks, the City of Change series has looked at how Detroit’s residential neighborhoods have evolved over the past five years, identifying trends both sobering and hopeful.  We’ve revealed a mortgage market that continues to contract, pockets of neighborhoods that are increasing in density, and areas of improving and declining residential structure condition. Until this point, however, our analysis has largely been focused on citywide trends. While we’ve looked at some of Detroit’s Master Planning neighborhoods, our purpose was to identify areas that are either examples of a larger trend or to identify those that stand as outliers.

With the second portion of this series, we hope to focus the conversation more on that neighborhood level. Building on the analysis in the previous four installments, we will look at the changes over time in a number of targeted investment areas. As with the broader analysis of trends across the city, we’ll focus on previously identified data indicators pertaining to Detroit’s building conditions, its occupancy density, and its mortgage markets. This more granular focus will allow us to examine the differences in outcomes in these targeted communities in terms of attracting and retaining residents and market investment, both in comparison to other areas in the same program and the rest of the city as a whole.


Figure 1: Overlapping Investment Target Areas in the City of Detroit

Targeted Investment in Detroit’s Neighborhoods:  A Primer

As Detroit has struggled through population loss and general disinvestment over the past decade (and longer), a number of initiatives have focused investments on specific geographic areas in an effort to help increase the impact of the limited amount of money they have to spend. As shown in Figure 1, there appears to have been little coordination among many of these programs – so much so that a map reveals that fewer portions of the city are not targeted by one of the eight investment programs displayed than are.

Many of these initiatives have had different geographic scopes as well, though the overlapping areas in Figure 1 conceal the differences in their boundaries. Some programs have been enormous, sweeping across nearly half of Detroit’s land area. Others have focused on areas smaller than a square mile. The vast differences in scale among these various programs provide rich ground for comparing potential effects of more focused and more diffuse investment initiatives. And this is what the second portion of City of Change seeks to do.

It is important to note at the start that we are not looking to evaluate the impact of the efforts that we’ll look at in subsequent posts. The programs and policies that we’ll examine are enormously complex initiatives, and it diminishes them to attempt to evaluate their success through the lens of only three indicators. Some of these initiatives, for example, may measure success by the number of children they reach or the total number of structures demolished, instead of by increases in mortgage originations or occupied structures.

What we will do, however, is look at the differences in four sets of investment areas for the three indicators discussed in previous City of Change installments: housing condition, occupancy density, and mortgage markets. We’ll compare each area to other geographies targeted by the same program and to the city of Detroit as a whole to determine whether there have been differences in outcomes in these indicators. Some of the investment initiatives have been highly publicized, long-running efforts, while others may have fizzled out soon after implementation. As Figure 1 shows, many of the target geographies in the city overlap, but virtually no areas of investment have exactly the same boundaries. What they all have in common, though, is that they’ve been designated by some entity – whether the city of Detroit, outside foundations, or other entities – for program-related, geographically focused investment. In addition, all of the areas have been sites of investment activity in our 2009-14 study period.

We’ll seeking to answer a number of questions as we explore the changes over time in these various target areas. How do these areas compare to each other and the city of Detroit as a whole? Is change, whether positive or negative, more evident in program areas that have a tighter geographic focus? Do the data indicate that the areas identified effectively match the stated goals of each initiative? Are there differences in outcomes of different programs even in overlapping target areas, and if so, what do these differences tell us about different methodologies for geographically focusing investment?

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In the new year, we’ll resume the City of Change series by taking a look at the first of our study areas, the Skillman Foundation’s Good Neighborhoods. We’ll follow that installment with a look at the Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s (LISC) Building Sustainable Communities neighborhoods and then the first- and third-round investment areas of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). We’ll close this part of the series with a reflective examination of geographic investment initiatives, looking at the differential outcomes (if any) between the four programs in any areas of overlap.

Detroit Innovation Insights

Photo courtesy of Urban Innovation Exchange, December 2014.

Three years ago, D3 and Urban Innovation Exchange (UIX) set out to learn more about urban innovators and their impact projects in Detroit. Since then, we’ve designed a powerful research model to document and map this ecosystem through primary data collection and network analysis. Our research [Read on...]

City of Change: Dynamics and Impact Potential in Detroit’s Neighborhoods

City of Change is a Data Driven Detroit (D3) blog series analyzing changes in Detroit’s residential neighborhoods from 2009 through 2014. This series is a collaborative effort between Noah Urban, at D3, and Gary Sands, professor emeritus of Urban Planning at Wayne State University.

**Note: This blog post will make several references to Detroit’s master [Read on...]

City of Change: Detroit’s Continuing Mortgage Crisis

City of Change is a Data Driven Detroit (D3) blog series analyzing changes in Detroit’s residential neighborhoods from 2009 through 2014. This series is a collaborative effort between Noah Urban at D3 and Gary Sands, professor emeritus of urban planning at Wayne State University.

**Note: This blog post will make several references to Detroit’s master [Read on...]

City of Change – Occupancy Density in Detroit’s Residential Neighborhoods

City of Change is a Data Driven Detroit (D3) blog series analyzing changes in Detroit’s residential neighborhoods from 2009 through 2014. This series is a collaborative effort between Noah Urban at D3 and Gary Sands, professor emeritus of urban planning at Wayne State University.

**Note: This blog post will make several references to Detroit’s [Read on...]

City of Change – Evolution in the Condition of Detroit’s Housing Stock

City of Change is a Data Driven Detroit blog series analyzing changes in Detroit’s residential neighborhoods from 2009 through 2014. This series is a collaborative effort between Noah Urban at D3 and Gary Sands, Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning at Wayne State University. This week, the series examines variation and change in Detroit’s residential structure [Read on...]