First of all, if you're interested in Detroit and you don't know Alex B. Hill, you should. He's a Wayne State University graduate student who does some of the coolest data visualizations I've seen. They're cool not only because they're gorgeous, but because they prove important points – for example showing that Detroit's economic recovery is heavily weighted towards white people.
His new series of data visualizations counters one of the biggest media myths out there: that Detroit is a 'blank canvas' waiting to be painted on by developers, hipsters, and whoever else can afford to buy property or open a business there.
Here's what PBS wrote in 2011:
These "creatives," as they are being called, are taking advantage of low rents and the opportunity to recycle this abandoned, blank slate of an urban landscape into something new and exciting.
And the U.S. Green Building Council:
...now, for the first time since it was founded in 1701, the City of Detroit is a virtual blank canvas.
The problem with the "blank slate" or "blank canvas" metaphor is that people still live in Detroit, approximately 700,000 of them.
Hill used data from Motor City Mapping (which is run by controversial tech company Loveland, which has set out to map in detail every parcel of land in the United States, starting with Detroit). He found that over 80 percent of structures in Detroit are occupied.
He also found that 63 percent of all properties in foreclosure were occupied, which is particularly troubling because it means when banks and the state start selling off their foreclosures, a lot of people could lose their homes.
Hill's new data comes as Wayne County (where Detroit is located) is threatening to sell off 35,000 homes in Detroit that are behind on their taxes.
Hill's work provides an important counter-narrative to all the trend pieces about creative-types moving into Detroit and reshaping the city. He's showing that the city is very much alive, if not exactly well.
[Images used with permission from Alex B. Hill]