From greatamericanpixel on February 1, 2013
Reposted from the WDWOT blog:
Dear WDWOT Members,
Thanks for taking the red pill and becoming the very first paid members of the service! You can see the little Pet Blocks starting to fill in at http://whydontweownthis.com/membership :-)
We’ll try to refrain from over-communicating via email but you can always follow what we’re up to and reach out to us any time through http://facebook.com/makeloveland and http://twitter.com/makeloveland .
Still, we wanted to let you know about some things going on one week out from the first update of 2013 and stay in the habit of updating everyone through one channel or another:
Thursday, February 7th from 7 - 10 PM there’s an open house with food and drinks at the downtown Detroit office space we share with some other great projects called the Department of Alternatives. Info and RSVP if you want to come by and meet: http://www.facebook.com/events/395934023833651/?fref=ts .
Please let us know at email@example.com or the feedback forum if there’s anything at all we can do to improve your experience using the service. Right now we have lots of different kinds of general users and are trying to better define and serve different use-cases. Some of you are actively making maps and surveying properties, some of you are going over foreclosure risks in your neighborhood, some of you are looking up property owners, and others (most) just check in periodically when something in the world piques your interest. Maybe one of the biggest things we’ve noticed is that we should do a better job letting you know when you’re making notes completely privately for your own record, so when you do check in you can easily scribble a note just for yourself without talking to the world.
Meetings, meetings, meetings…
Earlier this week we met with the Wayne County Deputy Treasurer to continue our conversation about keeping our data fresh and helping prevent foreclosures. Next week we meet with the head of Detroit’s Planning & Development Department to see about updating our list of city-owned properties, and after that we meet with the Director of the Detroit Land Bank who will likely be taking ownership of the nearly 9,000 unsold 2012 tax foreclosure properties. You should know that part of our job is developing these relationships to help deliver you more and better information and utility.
Features & Data Updates:
We’re working to get our first mobile photo app up on the Members-Only Labs section of the site. The project code name is “Blexting” and is being developed for the purpose of quickly taking and posting pictures of extremely blighted things to the map. We’re also working on a few new data layers for you to view the city through, likely city-owned, land bank-owned, and bank-owned next.
Business & Block Club Packages:
Alongside individual site memberships, we’ve been developing private, customized, multi-user WDWOT packages for businesses, large projects, neighborhood groups and block clubs, and government departments. We just signed up a large custom project we’ll be working on and are meeting with more businesses and block clubs who are interested in having a version of the service focused on their jobs and communities. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, please let us know.
WDWOT In The News:
We’ve been excited by the number of people talking about the site, particularly the tax status view, which is something no one’s really seen before. A couple of neat articles in particular:
Huffington Post Detroit: “‘Why Don’t We Own This’ Site Maps Detroit’s Housing Crisis With New Tools To Battle Back” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/why-dont-we-own-this-detroit_n_2550299.html
The Atlantic Cities: “Detroit’s Property Tax Black Hole, in Map Form” http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2013/01/detroits-property-tax-black-hole/4517/
Thanks again. We’re looking forward to continuing to develop the service beyond your expectations in 2013. Reach out anytime and share http://whydontweownthis.com with your networks when you see a need,
The LOVELAND & WDWOT Team
(Jerry, Mary, Larry, & Alex)
From greatamericanpixel on January 27, 2013
This is a hopefully more eloquent summary of a short talk I gave at the recent Model D IdeaLab session at the Detroit Revitalization and Business conference at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. The analogies are some of the things that went through my mind as we worked on the new release of WDWOT.com.
It’s not an especially comprehensive list, but I think they’re interesting/useful little vignettes that I attempted to connect in a 7 minute talk. It’s maybe a little goofy in parts, but hey, who do you think is writing this? :-) And I typed it straight through, please forgive any typos.
The Dead Dishwasher Dilemma
& Other Analogies
1. Dead Dishwashers
2. A Pair of Glasses
3. Taxes & Crowdfunding
4. Visions & Vacuums
1. Dead Dishwashers
As we study the scale and specificities of Detroit’s information, disinvestment, ownership, foreclosure, and land use problems, it becomes clearer and clearer that no city has ever had to face a problem this large before, with such a vast constellation of contributing factors and related problems. There can be an understandable criticism of city management when it comes to how these problems are being dealt with, but I want to help put you in a more empathetic and constructive frame of mind when considering the actions or inactions of various city, county, and state departments.
Imagine that you’re a dishwasher. When times are good and things are going well, you’re receiving dirty dishes, washing them, and getting them right back out into circulation.
When things are busy, the dishes start to pile up faster than you can clean them. You have to work harder and stay later, probably for no extra pay and certainly a lot of extra grief.
Then, suddenly, 5,000 dump trucks full of dirty dishes pull into the parking lot, back up to the building, unload all at once, the building collapses, and you die.
You just die.
And the mountain of dishes continue to pile up as the world waits for you to do your impossible job.
So what we have now isn’t a dishwashing problem, it’s a large-scale cleanup and emergency reinvention problem that involves more than soap and water.
I don’t want to torture the analogy too much, but it resonates with my general observation after talking to many different departments about why they haven’t yet shared public data with the public (they struggle to grasp it and keep up themselves), or been able to create new policies that effectively respond to the disaster (when a tornado hits your house, does it make sense to start vacuuming the carpet when there’s a hole in the wall?). I hope we can all empathize with dead dishwashers who were crushed on the job, and think about how we can help dig them out, revivify them, and get the restaurant going again.
2. A Pair of Glasses
[Note, you may need a pair of glasses to read this image, if so go here
I was productively browsing Reddit the other day and clicked on a thread called “What medical condition do you have that you thought was absolutely normal?” One of the most popular reports was people thinking they could see perfectly fine until they put on a pair of glasses, and then having their minds absolutely blown by the new level of detail they could see in the world.
We use the glasses analogy a lot with WDWOT: we’re building regular glasses, x-ray glasses, magic glasses: something that helps you see deeper into the world around you.
I think that Detroit has a very serious vision problem, not just a vision like a long-term vision like the Detroit Future City project is trying to address, but an everyday vision problem that we really can’t see what’s happening right here right now before our eyes. Detroiters need information glasses. We give a damn, and yes, hustle harder, but we’re largely blind and think it’s normal. This means we can’t be as effective as we should be and that even if you understand the city in your bones through a long life here, there’s a whole world of understanding you are missing out on.
One of my favorite comments on the thread was this:
“Before I had glasses I just assumed that everyone saw the same as me. I remember the first time playing cricket with glasses and was amazed at how I could now see the ball after it was hit. It was like everything was in HD now, I spent ages just staring at grass thinking “holy sh*t”“
I laughed because we spend a lot of time looking at parcels of land in the city thinking the same thing. Holy shiz! There it is! The situation, in much more precise and actionable detail. Look at ‘em all! Wow!
To use a topical example where glasses would have helped everybody, recently there was a large land sale of 1,500 city-owned properties to the Hantz Woodlands Project. There was a loud debate about the merits of the deal that took place without anyone wearing their glasses. Actually I think a lot of the heat in the debate came from people’s frustrations that they don’t have glasses. Lots of stories were shared about people trying to figure out what the city owns in their neighborhoods and then purchase or use things just like a much more highly equipped and capitalized developer who was able to make their own pair.
It’s interesting to see the spread of the 1,500 properties, which is very different from what you might blur-ily imagine to be large, contiguous football fields of space. The properties are actually dotted and loose, ducking behind and around people’s houses and other privately owned lots. It’s buckshot. Not what you expect.
And if you put on your x-ray glasses to look at the tax distress map and see what’s likely to go to the foreclosure auction this year, it opens a whole new vista on what’s happening here. It’s also interesting to look at the 2012 foreclosure auction and see that hundreds of properties in the area went unsold for $500, when absolutely anyone anywhere could have purchased them without question. Alex and I were at the Hantz open city council hearing and one of the council members asked, “Have we ever sold this much land before? I don’t think so.” Sure we did. Just a month or so prior we sold about 5 times as much to strangers from wherever with no real notice or mention.
That’s what happens when you don’t wear your glasses. I don’t think glasses are intentionally being kept from people, it just goes back to the dead dishwasher dilemma.
3. Taxes & Crowdfunding
We’ve done a lot of work and experimentation around the crowdfunding of projects, and plan to do more in the future, maybe even working on the crowdfunding and community ownership of properties. Somebody asked me not too long ago: “What is the biggest crowdfundraiser of all time?”
I thought hard about it, and my mind jumped the rails from things like Kickstarter to really thinking about what things crowds of people collectively pay for. Viewed that way you can see taxes as crowdfunding, and the United States of America as perhaps the world’s biggest crowdfundraiser (sort of ironic since when the US started it was to flee taxes).
Looking at the overwhelming tax distress map of Detroit and seeing the nearly half a billion dollar property tax and penalty collection deficit, you can really see why city services aren’t funded. The current situation combines broad poverty where people can not afford to pay what are some seriously high taxes and really crazy penalties, with a culture that doesn’t really see the point. What are we paying for again? We’re not even covering the salaries of city employees much less the actual things they need to do, which is presumably the point of paying them.
This is still a hazy thought, but there is huge room for innovation in how taxes are priced, targeted, and made transparent so that people feel ABSOLUTELY GREAT when they pay them. It’s a general problem of taxes and why no one likes them. You simply feel like money is being wicked away from you without seeing any direct benefit. Maybe Detroit can be an innovator here and use the opportunity of the current tax disaster to create a new, fairer, clearer, more localized system where payments are understandable and lead to direct benefit.
It’s a crude analogy, but right now the city is like a Kickstarter that no one wants to fund, even if they can. My money goes towards what again? Paying for dead dishwashers?
I don’t know what will or should happen, but tax distress is so deep and so widespread that something will have to be reinvented if we’re going to properly crowdfund the city again.
4. Visions & Vacuums
Aristotle gets credit for saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” meaning every space is required to be filled with something, even if it’s just air. As we talk about the future of the city that currently has so many buildings and places seemingly full of nothing, you can be sure that something’s coming.
It doesn’t have to be so scary if we can find a way to better invite and guide things into the vacuum, but let me present a scary thought to you.
As we all know from innumerable news stories and discussions and the felt experience of Detroit’s dire financial situation, we’re quite likely looking at an emergency financial manager or bankruptcy. It’s part of the physics of the vacuum that when things fall apart, some sort of corrective force attempts entry.
Recently a surprisingly serious pie-in-the-sky proposal was made to sell Belle Isle for a billion dollars and create a new commonwealth with its own rules, laws, tax system, and limitations on who can live there.
Setting aside the question of whether it’s a good idea or not (it doesn’t sound like a great idea to me, but it is an interesting vision, articulated more clearly than most), the whole thing sounds so impossibly nutty that you can’t even process the notion that something like that could happen. The thought enters the mind and then leaves. “Yea, maybe we can paint the sky purple, too. Now what’s for lunch?.”
But when you combine the earlier analogy of dead dishwashers, a lack of glasses, and the financial distress of an unfunded city full of vacuums, you need to consider what might happen if the city truly goes bankrupt under these conditions.
Bankruptcy is a situation where a new dishwasher who’s very much alive will sit down with his glasses on and review every vacuum in the city: a judge with total information of assets and debts looking at what there is to be sold off to repay what the city owes. It will be his or her legal responsibility.
I’m guessing a billion dollar offer on a cherished but technically “non-performing asset” like Belle Isle, along with the promise of billions of dollars more in investment, would look like a pretty clear win. Pie-in-the-sky somehow becomes sobriety.
You might be aware of the current debate over whether or not to let the State of Michigan pay for and manage Belle Isle as a state park. To my understanding that hasn’t happened yet basically over the concern of losing something, even if nothing really changes and the loss is largely symbolic to some. You might also view it as an effort to keep something pretty decent-sounding of a vacuum that demands something.
There’s something really important here as relates to how Detroit manages its vacuums and invites investment. There’s no clear way to do it right, and hindsight is always 20/20, but as we put on our glasses and look at the city, we have to get real and become excited about guiding the things we want to see into our vacuums and less focused on pushing everything out. Because if we spend time pushing things out that are ready to go and seem pretty good, not only do we lose out on our best chance of helping make them good and feeling that shared thrill of success, but there will come a point where something less good appears, and choice won’t be a part of that conversation.
Playing chicken with a vacuum just displeases the chicken and covers the floor in feathers. And with that I have clearly overplayed my analogy quota. My apologies.
Some things to think about as we help bring dead dishwashers back to life.
From greatamericanpixel on December 3, 2012
Nothing motivates like a deadline, and there are 2 weeks to raise $10,000 for the creation of Detroit’s first off-leash dog park.
Here’s what I’m asking from you, dear reader:
Check out the Detroit Dog Park project on Kickstarter and watch the video: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/370893558/detroit-dog-park
Look inside yourself and think for a second: Would you like to see a dog park in Detroit?
Since the answer is likely yes, please consider these 2 options:
If money is super tight (if…ha!) or you don’t have a particular dog in this fight, erm, park, pledge something really really small, like $1, or $5 or $10, or whatever you can muster.
Remember! There are 2 numbers that count here: The amount of money raised towards the goal *and* the number of backers: that all-important showing of love and support.
Every single time the number of backers goes up, a ripple of toothy smiles spreads across the entire dog park team and thereby to their dogs. Try it! It feels great!
If you *do* have a dog who will make use of the park (coming to Corktown, right next to downtown, easily accessible to many all around Metro Detroit), or support those who do, consider this:
What is it worth to you as a caring dog owner (or appreciator) to have a safe and inviting place for your dog to run, play, socialize with other dogs, and to meet other such caring folk?
As you can see on the Kickstarter page, the physical design of the park is going to be great, and if you or your business can donate at the $250 level or above you’ll get a beautiful custom brick like so:
Detroit needs more community spaces that give people a reason to stand outside with other people, meet strangers, and talk about the world, while surrounded by puppies.
While I don’t work on the project directly I know the people that do (and live with one…and her dog) and can vouch for their energy and organization to get this done.
Why? One simple lesson I’ve learned over the past 6 months: DOG PARK PEOPLE DON’T MESS AROUND!!!
Thank you very much, and please spread the word,
Jerry Paffendorf, Detroit Dog Park Fan and $250 Backer
From greatamericanpixel on September 13, 2012
Yesterday there was a pretty big technology conference in town called Techonomy. Tickets were $500 so I didn’t really think hard about going (after all you can buy a house for that price around here, which is primarily what’s on our mind with the county auction now in progress and being tracked at whydontweownthis.com ;-)).
Still, it crossed my mind that this is the sort of event that doesn’t happen often in Detroit (which needs more pixels with it’s atoms) and I should probably be there shaking hands and kissing babies to represent LOVELAND’s projects.
Well, I didn’t make it, but I did have a really nice time driving conference-going tech writer Erick Schonfeld around town on a little sampler plate tour (connected via Twitter by mutual friend and cool dude Andy Weissman at Union Square Ventures — the technology, it works…sometimes!), and a tiny clip of me as a talking head shot by Erick on his iPad even ended up on the site along with videos of the conference speakers (which are all posted here). That was a cool surprise!
Here’s the video clip of me, posted first because it’s super short, and a couple talks I found interesting. One with Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey, and another with Quicken Loans can’t-miss-Detroit-investor-skyscraper-fire-sale-family-mafia-man Dan Gilbert.
Jerry AKA me, taken from this post talking about ghosts, somehow — sadly the video ends before my eyes bug out like Large Marge, I disappear into vapor, and Erick wakes up screaming in a completely different city <— woo, working pretty hard to rap in the “directed by M. Night Shyamalan” reference there: