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Video: See how biggest data set of Detroit blight is being built

When we talk with kids in Detroit, blight routinely comes up as one of their main concerns. Vacant, trash-strewn lots are eyesores. Abandoned, burned out homes are dangerous.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live next to a burned out lot, a vacant home, or a trash-filled, overgrown lot. Neither do kids in Detroit. And they shouldn’t have to.

But understanding how to get rid of the blight – or even how much there is exactly – has been a conundrum for those in the city. No one knew just how big the problem was.

That’s changed. Since mid-2013, we’ve been partnering with a number of organizations to answer and address that question. It started with a pilot in Brightmoor, one that involved neighborhood residents from Brightmoor Alliance at its core, who helped the nonprofit the Detroit Blight Authority identify and clear all non-structural blight in a 14-block area.

At the same time, we forged a partnership between two unique Detroit organizations – Data Driven Detroit and Loveland Technologies. D3 had the data-crunching, database building know how; Loveland had the technology chops to build a software and app called Blexting, which is short for “blight texting.” The idea was to create a technology that would allow for digital, real-time information to be transmitted through a mobile device.

With the technology built, and D3 on board to understand and compile the data, the next step was testing. Last summer, a parcel survey of Brightmoor was completed using the app to create an in-depth database of all the property in the neighborhood.

In a matter of months, the Blight Taskforce was formed. It’s a federal-backed team tasked with eliminating blight in the city. With a variety of funders working together, the Motor City Mapping project was born. Using the lessons-learned and expertise from the pilot phase in Brightmoor, the task now is to map the entire city of Detroit.

It will be the first real, accurate picture of Detroit’s blight problem. And after the surveying is complete this month, the next phase will be turning the database over to city residents and leaders, allowing them to use the information to plan for neighborhood revitalization and program.

The database will become a living, ever-changing source of information for what is currently happening on any given block. If a resident notices a once well-kept property is now abandoned, she can update the database with that information herself. That’s powerful.

Our mega goal at the Skillman Foundation is that kids graduate high school in a meaningful way, ready for life, ready for college, ready for a career. Blight is one obstacle in the way of that goal.

If the first step to solving a problem is really understanding it, Detroit is now one big step closer to a solution. And that’s good news for kids.

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