APPROACHThe City of Detroit’s Mayor’s Oﬃceapplied to Code for America with a focuson issues related to blight and vacantproperties. With an understanding thatDetroit has an active and eﬀective base ofcitizen groups, we approached ourengagement with the municipalgovernment to ultimately support andbetter connect government with the workof community-based organizations. InFebruary, we performed a wide-rangingneeds-ﬁnding assessment, meeting withover 200 city government staﬀ, communityleaders, nonproﬁts, technical assistanceproviders, local foundations andindividuals. In doing so, we gatheredinformation to narrow our scope to focuson access to information and increasingcommunity group capacity.KEY FINDINGSCity in CrisisThe City of Detroit has experiencedmassive budget cuts over the past decade,concentrated most extremely in the pastfew years. In our time working with the cityalone, the Mayor’s Oﬃce imposed a 10%pay reduction and laid oﬀ 1,000 cityemployees. We did not escape the impactof these cuts — in fact, we had planned towork with two alternate city contacts (laidoﬀ the day before our arrival) prior toﬁnding our current champion, KarlaHenderson a Group Executive in theMayor’s Oﬃce. Beyond actual layoﬀs, weencountered a cultural climate whereproblems and fears were ampliﬁed: riskaversion, scarcity of resources, and ageneral attitude of skepticism toward threenewcomers who might be out to eitherreplace jobs, or re-design the systemwithout your job in it.The budget crisis has had its greatestnegative impact outside City Hall. Reliablegarbage pickup and bus service is scarce,recycling non-existent. Broken street lights,60,000 city-owned vacant properties, roadsin extreme disrepair, and the elimination ofin-person police force at any police stationplague this city’s quality of life andintroduce new barriers to basic personalsafety. Dwindling city services combinedwith a history of governmental corruptionhave established extreme distrust in civicinstitutions by most Detroiters, regardlessof background or race.Civic InnovationDespite the immense challenges Detroitfaces, no accurate summation of the Cityshould exclude the overwhelming energy,commitment and value derived fromcitizen-led groups and their actions. It iscritical to build upon and support theexisting eﬀorts to improve the gaps wheregovernment is not meeting citizens’ needs,the connections between existing groupsdoing good work, and to better facilitaterepairing a broken relationship Detroit haswith its citizens.Vacancy and blightAt a basic level, many problems thatcommunity groups and city employees faceare connected to vacancy. The City ofDetroit currently owns a massive surplus ofvacant or abandoned property which oftencause many of the public safety and qualityof life issues that aﬀect Detroit. Currently,it is not easy to understand how to buyproperty or even know where city-ownedproperty is for sale online.
Federal Transit Administration to make thisproject and other transit improvementspossible at DDOT. We additionallypartnered with the Detroit PoliceDepartment as well as the Detroit PublicSchool system around the launch to get theword out. Detroit’s most vulnerablepopulations are often those who rely moston the bus system. In support of the SafeRoutes to School initiative, we distributedinformation and hosted students to try outthe new service on their ﬁrst day of school.TechnologyWe’ve exposed the scheduled and live data(routes, stops, arrivals, etc.) through theOneBusAway interface. Developers can usethat to build phone apps, live maps, livesignage, or whatever else they think of. Weuse the exact same interface to build thetext messaging service, which is our way ofquickly reaching a broad set of riders.Providing the live data in a usable way helpsensure that the experience can becomericher in the future without a reliance onany one organization to develop newtechnology. We successfully achievedsupport from executive governance topublish this data, and as a result, twoentries for the Apps for Detroit Challengemade use of the underlying transit data APIthat we set up! These innovative takesleveraged previously unavailable data. Theuse of existing, open source software alsogarnered national attention for Detroit’scivic technology movement.http://textmybus.comSide Lot Program City-owned PropertySales & InformationThe City of Detroit currently faces amassive surplus of publicly-owned property.Currently, it is not easy to understand howto buy property or even know where city-owned property is for sale online. Byexploring digital solutions with the City’sPlanning and Development Department,we are working toward a more transparent,streamlined and friendly customerexperience for city residents and city staﬀ.http://hampelm.github.com/sidelots/Apps for Detroit Connecting webdevelopment community to the CityWe launched a two-week app challenge fordevelopers in the Detroit area. As part ofour mission to connect community groupsand technologists, we invited localnonproﬁts to submit challenges. We pairedover two dozen challenges with ﬁve newdatasets from the city -- including real-timebus tracking information. Judges from localmedia institutions, nonproﬁts, and the Cityare reviewing entries for their focus onlocal issues and technical achievements.Grand prize winners were ﬂown to SanFrancisco to represent the Detroit techscene to technology and civic leaders.http://appsfordetroit.org
Brigade Engaging civic energy aroundtechnology and open dataWe’re supporting local civic hackers andtechnologists. A leader of CfA Brigade inDetroit has stepped forward and alreadyhelping to bridge the gap betweencommunity, technology, and cities.http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/)PARTNERSAcknowledging the existing channels oftrust and eﬀectivity in Detroit’s sociallandscape, we focused our eﬀorts onworking with both public and privatepartners to carry out project development.GovernmentMayor’s OﬃcePlanning and Development DepartmentCity Planning CommissionDetroit Department of TransportationBuildings, Safety Engineering &Environmental DivisionMedia & TechnologyWDETDetroit Free PressHuﬃngton PostOmnicorp DetroitLoveland TechnologyDetroit Venture Partners / M@adisonBuildingTechtownAcademicWayne State UniversityUniversity of MichiganNon-ProﬁtMichigan Community ResourcesData Driven DetroitVanguard CDCTop:At the 2012A#ied Media ConferenceBottom: Karla Henderson, City of Detroit, andVince Keenan, publius.org
EVENTSOur team has held several successfulcommunity-building and informationsharing events with local partners. Here’s asnapshot of each of the events:Urban Geek Drinks MeetupFebruary 2012As our ﬁrst introduction to Detroit, weheld a very successful mixer to gatheremployees from City Hall, localtechnologists and anyone interested inurbanism to learn about the mission ofCode for America, meet and greet theDetroit fellows and ultimately meet eachother in an informal setting. Hosting thisevent with Jerry Paﬀendorf (LovelandTechnologies) who is both an ex-Bay Areatechnologist and a leader in communityorganizing and the arts in Detroit allowedus to interface with over 75 individuals,including representatives from the Mayor’sOﬃce, the City Council President CharlesPugh, Department of Planning andDevelopment, Ford Motors, the DetroitDepartment of Transportation and manyothers.Property and Technology WorkshopFebruary 2012We invited dozens of experts on vacantproperty, technology, communityorganizing, and data to talk about theintersection of property and informationtechnology. Representatives from localnonproﬁts lead breakout discussions onpublic data, housing speculation, and theapplication of technology in Detroit tosolve these issues.Prashant Singh, Code forAmerica, and NaomiPatton, City of DetroitJim Xiao, of Detroit Venture Partners atProperty and Technology Workshop
Apps for Detroit Challenge KickoffJune 2012At the Apps for Detroit kickoﬀ, wepresented challenges from nonproﬁt tolocal developers, activists, and Cityrepresentatives. Over 75 communitymembers attended our event at Signal-Return Press, a new storefront forprintmaking funded in part by the KnightFoundation.Allied Media ConferenceJune 2012We attended the Allied Media Conference,a gathering of hundreds of organizers, to“share tools and tactics for transformingour communities through media-basedorganizing” hosted annually Detroit. Wepresented on the Civic Hacking for SelfGovernance panel, hosted a Code forAmerica table in the exhibition area, andconnected with civic media experts fromDetroit and around the nation. Web developers at Signal-Return Press for theApps for Detroit kick-oﬀ
Code forAmerica Team Detroit with KnightFoundation’s Rishi Jaitly and Mayor Dave Bing