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February 2016 Featured Article

Featured Article

Smartphones & New Database Initiatives Can Help Direct Community Redevelopment
Triad Associates

New techniques in combatting blight are moving into the foreground. Some of the more significant have been data-driven approaches; creating electronic, open-sourced, public databases that survey properties within an entire neighborhood or municipality. Until recently, most communities found completing a survey at this scale, while also maintaining routine updates, too daunting.

Foundations like J.P. Morgan Chase in Detroit are demonstrating an interest in increasing this capacity for municipalities. Mini-grants were offered in 2014 to organizations to help train and conduct routine property surveys and updates to ensure the new online Detroit database called Motor City Mapping current and accurate. For every dollar a community organization requested in 2014, one property was required to be surveyed ahead of receiving the funds.

A smart app was also created to give residents and community organizations a consistent and easy-to-use format for conducting the property surveys. This technology was made possible through collaborations between Data Driven Detroit and Loveland Technologies—a software company specializing in mapping and crowdsourcing. The phrase “Blexting” was coined to describe use of the app. Residents can voluntarily “Blext” by first taking an image of a property with a smart device. After entering or updating a description of the property’s exterior conditions, they submit their findings for review from the app, ensuring information on the Motor City Mapping database remains up-to-date. Subsequently, the training for residents and organizations in the correct use of the App is referred to as “Blext Bootcamps”.

This data is powerful not only because it gives power back to the public, but also because it creates public databases that track property conditions; great tools for observing progress in blight removal and redevelopment. As Land Bank Authorities continue to form across many U.S. urban communities, a method is required to determine which properties are best suited for purchase to become rehabbed, which should be demolished, which neighborhoods should receive priority for investment and which properties are public nuisances.

This base data can also lead to larger database collaborations. For example, the City of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Land Bank overlays the MLS real estate database with its own property survey database to make more accurate and accountable decisions on where to allocate its resources in redevelopment first.

Foundations like J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America are interested in supporting these tools because of the ease of access to information and the ability to track progress. An important component to any grant-funded initiative is identifying a feasible method of demonstrating success for continued financial support. Enlisting neighborhood residents as part of the crowd sources with simple investments like a smart phone app, can enable municipalities to further their blight removal and prevention measures as well as funding more successfully their redevelopment goals and objectives.

Published February 2016.

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