The Loveland Blog

A Bird's Eye View of Google Street View

By Alex Alsup on July 15, 2015

A Farewell to Street View

At LOVELAND Technologies we love Google Street View. Really, so much, it's all love.

More than just an unprecedented way to drop in on almost any street corner in the country to see what's happening (as if that wasn't enough), Street View is a massive, and largely untapped, collection of street-level property data.

I use Street View extensively on my Tumblr, GooBing Detroit, to document the decline of Detroit property since the financial crisis. Street View's Time Machine feature, which allows you to go back and see Street View imagery for every year Google has driven a city offers an incredible near-past archeology of cities around the country.

Post-financial crisis, property decline in Detroit, captured by Google Street View Time Machine

So we are sad to say that when you click on a parcel in LOVELAND, you will no longer see an image of the property as captured by Google Street View. But do not fear -- we would never leave you imageless. As of today, when you click a parcel on LOVELAND, you will see the property as captured by Microsoft Bing's Bird's Eye oblique aerial imagery, along with the ability to rotate around the property:






But, before I get into that, some background on the departure from Google.

Section 10.1.1(g)

About a month ago we received an e-mail from Google (no signature or contact name was provided) noting that LOVELAND was in violation of section 10.1.1(g) of the Google Maps API terms of use "which generally prohibits developers from using or displaying certain Google Content (as defined in the terms of service and in the Maps API Documentation, including but not limited to Street View images, Places data, and geocodes) with a non-Google map."

LOVELAND's base map comes from Open Street Map, and our map tiles are hosted on MapBox. We've spent years developing the system that supports LOVELAND's national parcel mapping, and the prospect of migrating to Google so we could continue using Street View was simply not feasible.

So we spent most of the last month trying to reach the right person at Google to whom we could explain our situation. We felt that our mission to put every parcel of property in the country online, each augmented by a Street View image, the data and imagery available for free, was worth the exception that the word "generally" in section 10.1.1(g) seemed to imply existed. We were more than willing to pay the Maps API for Work subscription price to include imagery in our paid service, Site Control.

Despite the valiant efforts of a number of current and former Google employees, we never seemed to reach the right person. It's understandable -- Google has 50,000 employees, and we're a tiny mapping company in Detroit -- I'm sure they have more pressing matters to address. Still, it would have been nice to have the chance to make the case for Street View in LOVELAND on the merits of our work and mission.

However, LOVELAND continues to use Street View in our Great American Parcel Survey project -- an effort to survey every property in the country using Street View imagery. We think this use of Street View is ok because the Survey app is entirely Google Maps based. Hopefully as the project grows we'll have something that shows Google our ability to use and explore Street View in new and unprecedented ways. Note that when you click a parcel in LOVELAND, you can click "Survey this Property" to open the property in the Great American Parcel Survey, see the Street View imagery, and survey the property:





A Bird's Eye Solution

Having spent time with Bing's StreetSide in the past (which runs on Silverlight) we knew there was no equivalent opportunity to consume an API and display StreetSide imagery on LOVELAND. However Bing's Bird's Eye imagery did offer an API we could consume, and more lenient terms of use than Google's Maps API. So as we sought a resolution with Google, we began to prepare in the background to switch to Bing Bird's Eye.

In some ways Bird's Eye offers benefits over Street View:

Greater Parcel Image Accuracy

The Street View API often returns an image that is a parcel or two off from the one you've clicked on LOVELAND (an issue we seek to rectify through the Great American Parcel Survey, which actually lets you refine Google's API endpoint for a given parcel). With Bird's Eye imagery, we can outline the parcel you've clicked in the aerial image, so you know you're looking at the right place.



Ability to Rotate Around Property

When you hover over an aerial image on LOVELAND, you'll see rotate icons appear on the screen. Click those to see the property from each of the four angles Bird's Eye captures imagery.



The Future of Street View and Loveland

We're happy with Bing's Bird's Eye imagery, and for the channel it opens with Microsoft. We think Bird's Eye offers interesting new angles and insights on properties in LOVELAND, and we're glad that, should the opportunity open up to do more with Street View in the future, we know how to navigate both imagery sources, all towards the end of continuing to provide the public the best system in existence for understanding the parcel fabric that makes up our country.

We hope you enjoy exploring LOVELAND obliquely :-)

Portland Tornado Damage Survey

By John Grover on July 14, 2015

In June of 2010, the town of Millbury, Ohio was hit by an EF-4 tornado that killed seven and left over 50 buildings destroyed. As one of thousands of volunteers who helped with the cleanup, I saw firsthand the incredible damage caused by the tornado, and also the incredible efforts of first responders to bring order to a chaotic situation. Police, Fire, and EMS worked long days and nights to identify homes, help the residents, and coordinate cleanup efforts. The experience left a very deep impression on me.

 

Lake High School, destroyed in the Millbury 2010 tornado

 

One of the guiding principles at Loveland has been how we can take parcel data and use it to improve accessibility to data. After the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, we started to look into how parcel data and surveying could be used in disaster relief situations. First responders often lack basic information about structures damaged by storms or earthquakes, making it difficult to accurately assess damage. How could our survey technology and methodology be used to improve disaster response?

On June 22nd, 2015, a large complex of thunderstorms moved across the midwestern United States, spawning 27 tornadoes, six of which touched down in Michigan. At about 2:30PM, an EF-1 tornado touched down about 3 miles west / northwest of Portland, MI, a small city of around 3,800 people, and cut across the city, severely damaging homes, businesses, and churches.

 

Drone footage of the tornado damage

 

The first images from the city were stark and haunting: roofs ripped off of churches, collapsed houses, huge trees snapped in half or uprooted. Fortunately, only two people were injured, and there were no fatalities. The National Weather Service estimated wind speeds of up to 100 MPH.

As with the Millbury tornado five years prior, our first instinct was to help. To that end, we began planning a survey of the tornado damage in Portland, with the goal of making this information available at no cost to first responders, academics, and the general public.

Scope

 

The first step was determining the scope of the damage and what parts of the city would need to be surveyed. As the parcel-hunting team worked to secure the parcel map of Portland, we considered our survey options. Ultimately we decided against going immediately to Portland unless we could get authorization from a local agency, otherwise we might end up obstructing recovery efforts. Four days after the tornado, we drove to Portland to conduct a preliminary survey to establish the rough geographic boundaries of the damage and what types of damage we would need to survey.

 

 

Using the information collected, we were able to draw an outline of where the tornado damage was located. Out of the 1,574 parcels in the city, about 500 were located in the path of the tornado. These would be the properties to survey. The parcel team contacted Ionia County and got the parcel shape file for Portland. With this uploaded to Site Control, we could now set up a survey area and questions.

 

The survey area.

 

For the purposes of this survey we used the standard question set with a few additional questions to quantify specific types of damage - whether a structure had been damaged, how badly, condition of the roof and windows, and if trees had been damaged.

 

 

Surveying

 

Nine days after the tornado, we sent a crew of eight surveyors out to survey over 500 parcels in and around the path of damage left by the tornado. Teams of two surveyors fanned out across the city and surveyed all of the properties within a specific zone, taking pictures of each property, talking to residents, and looking for visible damage. This information was logged with wireless tablets using the Loveland app. It took about six hours to survey 500 parcels.

 

 

What the surveyors found was damage ranging from broken tree branches to structures that had totally collapsed. Of the 505 properties surveyed, 225 properties had tornado damage of some sort.

 

 

156 out of 207 structures had suffered some structural damage.

 

First Baptist Church, which dates back to 1840

 

 

The severity of damage was concentrated along a thin corridor through the damage path. Buildings just outside the this path suffered minor or no damage.

 

 

The level of tree damage was fairly consistent with structure damage severity. Properties that had uprooted trees suffered the worst structural damage, although some properties on the periphery with especially tall trees escaped major damage.

 

 

Portland has a lot of old growth trees, many of which were snapped at the trunk or completely uprooted.

 

 

Major tree loss between James and Bridge Street

 

 

Findings

 

505 properties surveyed
225 properties with some sort of tornado damage

156 structures damaged
60 minor damage
60 moderate damage
24 major damage

12 collapsed
105 light roof damage
30 heavy roof damage
9 roof gone

92 repairs underway

184 properties with tree damage
69 broken branches
44 tree snapped trunks
64 tree uprooted

170 residential structures damaged
24 commercial / mixed-use
9 institutional
6 parks / gardens

 

What we learned

 

Based on survey results, we found 156 structures damaged in and around the path of the tornado. Damage followed a fairly concentrated path, through which trees were uprooted and houses sustained severe damage. In other areas though the tornado seemed to have “skipped” over houses or streets, leaving them relatively undamaged - most notably on the west bank of the Grand River.

There were limitations to the survey that make qualifying the accuracy of the data collected difficult. Not all structure damage was visible from the outside, as we found with some properties where the owners were able to give us more detailed accounts.

The amount of time between the tornado and the survey - nine days - meant that much of the damage, especially tree damage, was already cleaned up by the time that surveyors got there. A more accurate picture of the damage would have been gained had we surveyed just a few days after the tornado, however, our presiding concern was that we not interfere with recovery efforts and give the residents of Portland some time to decompress.

The experience we gained through this survey led to us making some changes to how we approach natural disasters and the questions we ask. Specific questions about roofing and tree condition can provide useful information about wind speed. Future surveys will use more detailed questions, and also work with local residents to survey and upload real time information via the Loveland mobile map.

Click Highlighted Parcels to Explore Surveyors' Findings of Tornado Damage

 

Check out the full map here.

Introducing Site Control: More Power For Your Parcels!

By Jerry Paffendorf on June 4, 2015

This video is a silent teaser for our new Site Control service. Hit play and scroll down to learn more.

In addition to our free site, we now have a paid service called Site Control for privately making maps and surveys and sharing them when you're ready. Get in touch at team@makeloveland.com or 313-649-5263 to set up a demo.


LOVELAND's mission is to map and survey every parcel of property on the planet, and our mandate is to make public information freely available to the public.

Now we're excited to introduce a paid service called Site Control that takes everything from our free site and puts it into your own private LOVELAND universe with new super powers for you to enjoy.


Site Control is incredibly valuable to anyone who works with property information:

  • Block clubs and neighborhood associations

  • City planners and governments

  • Real estate developers and investors

  • Reporters and journalists

  • Researchers and academics

  • Drum roll.........and more!


With Site Control you can:

  • Make your own beautiful parcel maps just as easily as you write and send emails

  • Survey parcels using your own custom questions from a mobile device in the field or from your desktop

  • Easily perform and save complicated searches to find the needles you're looking for in parcel haystacks

  • Import parcel data from an incredible array of sources, including your own spreadsheets or open data portals

  • Style your maps and share what you want with who you want, including publishing them publicly

  • Drum roll.........and more!


Our introductory launch pricing starts at $5,000 a year for group accounts, and $500 a year for individuals. Monthly payment options are available.

Please contact us at team@makeloveland.com or call us at 313-649-5263 to set up a demo.

We can't wait to show you and hopefully get you on the system! It's sort of freaking us out how sweet it is.

Jerry Paffendorf

CEO, LOVELAND Technologies

Mapping a Week of Detroit Fires with Site Control and StoryMap

By Alex Alsup on May 6, 2015

Knight Lab's Toolkit

One of my favorite toolkits of late comes from Northwestern University's Knight Lab. I made use of their image comparison tool, Juxtapose, in an earlier post looking at change over time in a Detroit neighborhood.

This time around I wanted to try out StoryMap -- the Knight Lab's fabulous contribution to displaying a series of events on a map supported by video, photography, social media, and text. For a subject matter to explore, I thought I'd take a look at a week's worth of structure damaging fires in Detroit.

The Subject

Surveyors working on Motor City Mapping keep close tabs on every structure damaging fire in Detroit -- each is surveyed usually within a day of the fire. The city is especially vulnerable to structure damaging fires -- arson in Detroit is a well known and persistent problem.

Telling this story is challenging. Conveying the scale of damage across the size of the city, the challenges faced by the Detroit Fire Department... Detroit's Motor City Muckraker has taken on the task of documenting each of the city's fires, and while StoryMap wouldn't be ideal for presenting thousands of fires, it is perfect for presenting a slice of time that is indicative of the whole. In the map above you'll see 53 structure fires over seven days in Detroit. Typically Detroit averages 14 fires / day, the week above is around 8 / day.

The Process

As I started building my StoryMap I realized I was following a very repetitive process -- saving the image, titling the photo with the address, copy & pasting the notes. My colleague, Mike Evans, saw what I was doing and said, "Hey stop that, I bet we can publish automatically from Site Control."

Site Control is LOVELAND's (coming soon) software that gives you access to all the parcels and data that we present publicly, but in your own private LOVELAND universe. You can develop your own survey questions, pipe in data from open data portals, build and color code parcel maps, and build queries of the information in your maps.

Once you've done all that in Site Control, we want to give you options if you want to share and publish your maps. Of course Site Control maps are embeddable, or shareable in read-only formats, but now, you can also publish a Site Control map to StoryMap. That's what you see above. Thanks to some deft and thoughtful work by Mike, you can select data and photography in Site Control that you want published, and your StoryMap will generate with the selected content.

Even better, if you publish a StoryMap via Site Control and then continue surveying property in the Site Control map you've connected to your StoryMap, the new imagery and information will pipe into your StoryMap automagically.

We're still working on some things -- like making sure the progression through the story map matches the chronology of data in your Site Control map -- but this little proof of concept was too interesting not to share. More to come!

The Ghost Parcels of El Paso

By David Mieksztyn on April 16, 2015

Scanning some parcel data for El Paso County, Texas (a newer edition to the LOVELAND explorer), I noticed a lot of subdivisions with larger parcels around them. When I turned on the satellite view I thought we had some bad data for a moment: thousands of subdivided parcels in the middle of the desert. Not only are there parcels with no structures, but sometimes no actual roads underneath, just the outlines of roads which should be there based on the parcels themselves. That is when I discovered the cautionary tale of real estate investment gone wrong.

It turns out these desert parcels are no accident but instead spearheaded by a devious real estate corporation of the 1960’s. The company was called Horizon Corp., and back between 1962 through 1975 it “was one of the largest sellers of undeveloped land in the Southwest” ( El Paso Times, 2011). Unfortunately for those who purchased plots of land from Horizon Corp. in the middle of undeveloped Texas desert, there would never be any development of utilities like water, electricity and roads. People from all over the world encountered extremely aggressive salesmen from Horizon Corp., the kind who likely would sell you two encyclopedia sets, the second just to get them to leave.

El Paso East, Horizon City Area

(Click on the image, turn on Satellite view, and explore the area, particularly east of Horizon City)

If this were not enough, it turns out those who own the parcels of land are now stuck with them due to a Texas law attempting to solve a different issue. The Colonia Act of 1994 makes the selling of properties impossible if they do not contain water and utilities. Worthy of further investigation for a later story, Colonias are an issue in Texas, as they are developments primarily along the Mexican-American border that have substandard services and utilities, are often in floodplains or other undesirable lands, and have homes constructed by the residents themselves with haphazard building materials. Though this was never the intention of the subdivisions of Horizon, the parcels of land nevertheless fit the criteria since they are without utilities.

Using the LOVELAND explorer tool enables entities like the Horizon Communities Improvement Association to further plan how to handle these properties. As the homeowner association of the area, they have assembled properties from owners in order to offer larger lots to developers to actually develop the land as habitable properties. Regardless of what becomes the fate of the Horizon City area, it is fascinating to view these desert ghost parcels of El Paso and discover other parcel mysteries in America.

Example Area of Horizon Parcels

(Click on picture to go to map, and turn on the satellite view. Horizon Communities Improvement Association parcels highlighted.)

See Seven Years of a Detroit Neighborhood Unfold

By Alex Alsup on April 14, 2015

Drag the Slider Below to see the Spread of Vacant Homes in a Detroit Neighborhood


A Property Surveying Time Machine

The ability to drop in on almost any corner of America via Google Street View is an unprecedented and, we at LOVELAND Technologies think, under appreciated bit of magic. But it was the release of Street View's "Time Machine" feature last year that turned the magic of Street View into a full on superpower, letting you rewind and see a city's recent past.

By combining Street View's Time Machine with LOVELAND's suite of parcel mapping and surveying tools that let you collect and visualize lots of parcel data quickly, you can monitor a neighborhood, a city, or a whole country's change over time, trace its trajectory, find causes for growth or decline, and reveal problems before they metastasize. It's a powerful concoction. We tested it out in the Detroit neighborhood shown in the parcel map above.

The Experiment and The Tools

Over the weekend, I surveyed a 190 property area on Detroit's east side, just across the street from the shuttered Alexander Macomb Elementary School. I knew from Motor City Mapping (a project LOVELAND worked on in which we surveyed all 385,000 properties in Detroit) that the area was distressed and had a high vacancy rate, as the neighborhood at large does. What I didn't know, and wanted to try to find out, is:

  • When did people start to leave the neighborhood, and are they leaving in greater numbers now, or in the past?
  • What factors might have informed, or forced, their departure?
  • What is the impact of all this vacancy on property values?


To figure this out, I surveyed the area in 2008, 2011, and 2013 (via Google Street View) and present day (April 2015) with surveyors in the field using the LOVELAND App*. For every parcel, I recorded whether there was a structure on the site, whether the structure appeared occupied, and, if a structure was present, whether it was fire damaged and to what extent. These are all pretty quick indicators of a Detroit neighborhood's overall health.

Unfortunately, Google's Street View API does not support access to Time Machine imagery, so for 2008 and 2011 I sat there like a goof, taking pictures of my computer screen with the LOVELAND App (pretending like I was out in the field surveying property) and collecting survey data. For 2013, which the Street View API does support, I contributed to LOVELAND's Great American Parcel Survey, and surveyed the 190 properties in a wonderfully speedy hour (an example of that survey process is animated below).


I used LOVELAND's Site Control platform to visualize data on each of the 190 properties in the neighborhood for each of the years surveyed. Site Control is LOVELAND's parcel mapping platform that gives you the tools to work with parcel data and build parcel maps anywhere in the country where we have coverage. I built a series of maps with Site Control that shows properties color coded as either vacant lots, occupied homes, or vacant homes. You can explore the maps for each year at the bottom of the post, and click parcels to see data and imagery for that year.

The Findings


The chart above shows the breakdown of occupied homes, vacant homes, and vacant lots for each year surveyed. The surge from 2008 to 2015 of between 41 and 46 vacant homes is shocking (ambiguity due to demolitions and properties with unclear occupancy status) but it's worth noting a perhaps less obvious number, too: In 2008 there were 62 vacant lots in this neighborhood. At some point, many of these properties likely had a single family home on them.

Detroit, of course, has been in decline for decades, but the financial crisis unleashed a new and virulent wave of devastation on the city that is still rumbling through with potent aftershocks. With Street View, which started collecting imagery at the very moment the 2008 financial crisis began, and LOVELAND's tools, we can see just how this latest collapse unfolded, and some of where it's heading. To return to the initial questions:

When did people start to leave the neighborhood, and are they leaving in greater numbers now or in the past?

The 2010 U.S. Census estimated there are 2.86 people per household in the census tract that contains this area. Using that as a guide, and knowing that we're only dealing with single family homes in this neighborhood, we can estimate population for each of the years surveyed. Those estimates are represented in the graph below.

Clearly the steepest population drop occurred between 2008 and 2011. Though the slope is still downward from 2011 to 2015, it is trending towards a tapering off, or at least a deceleration. So, it seems safe to say that the most dramatic population loss occurred in the year or two following the financial crisis.

What factors might have been informing, or forcing, residents' departure?

There are plenty of reasons one might have left Detroit just after the financial crisis -- jobs, crime, education (Alexander Macomb Elementary closed its doors in 2009, and certainly could have contributed a reason not to stay in the area), to name a few. One force unique to Detroit is tax foreclosure -- 62,000 properties in the city face foreclosure in 2015.

There has always been something of a chicken or the egg dynamic with tax foreclosure: Do vacant properties fall to tax foreclosure because their former residents left and are no longer paying property taxes? Or do residents become unable to pay property taxes, and wind up leaving once they've lost their homes to foreclosure, or perhaps are forced from their homes by speculators?

By surveying tax foreclosed properties both before and after their foreclosure, as we did here via Street View, we can see the order of operations, and develop a more informed understanding of how tax foreclosure and vacancy interact. (Of course, this should be tested across a larger sample size, but the results are revealing at this small scale.)

In 2012, thirteen properties from the surveyed neighborhood were tax foreclosed. As the graph below shows, vacancy amongst those thirteen properties cropped up both before and after their foreclosure, and in equal number.

By 2011, four homes that were occupied in 2008 had gone vacant -- a year before the actual foreclosure date (there is a three year fuse on tax foreclosure, so presumably residents may have known it was coming). By 2013, one year after foreclosure, another three homes were added to the vacancy list. The four homes that remain occupied did so in an interesting way -- they were all foreclosed, and all four passed through the foreclosure auction without a bid. Today, all four remain occupied and are owned by the City of Detroit.

Though this is a small sample size, it rings true with our experience monitoring tax foreclosure across the city: Tax foreclosure is both a cause, and symptom, of vacant properties in Detroit. In what proportion this is the case would be very valuable to examine across a number of different kinds of neighborhoods.


Property speculation, the practice of bidding on auction properties from afar in expectation that they will be worth more later with no effort for the buyer, does not appear to have been the cause of any vacancy in this neighborhood: Of the 34 properties in the area that went to foreclosure auctions between 2011 and 2014, only one property sold -- for $500.

26 of those 34 foreclosure properties are now vacant homes owned by the City of Detroit -- properties that will likely need to be demolished at a priced tag of $10,000 - $15,000 per home.

What is the impact of all this vacancy on property values?

Detroit Assessor's data does not show a property sale in this neighborhood since the $500 purchase of a foreclosed property in 2013. Another 15 properties in the area face tax foreclosure in 2015, three of which are occupied. Of the 66 occupied homes that remain, 23 are next door to, or back up to, a vacant structure, putting these properties at increased risk of fire damage among other hazards of being in close proximity to vacant properties.

Below is a scatterplot of available sales data for properties in the survey area (note this graphic only includes the latest sale, not ALL sales), with trendlines showing the weight of property sales trajectory.

If foreclosure begets more vacancy, and vacancy leads to more foreclosure, a vicious cycle driving down property values will continue.

Conclusions

We're only scratching the surface of what time series survey data can do when collected at scale, at the parcel level, and merged with governmental data like foreclosure information, tax assessments, and more. The flip side of surveying Detroit's decline is looking at the rapid development of growing cities. Across the country there is a wealth of information contained in the archive that is Google Street View, and with LOVELAND's tools and ability to organize and present property data, there are insights close at hand.

Explore the parcel maps for each of the years surveyed, below, with Site Control.

Written and Assembled by Alex Alsup

*A note on the survey methodology: A street level assessment of properties is revealing when it comes to occupancy, but not 100% foolproof. If you happen to know the neighborhood and see any assessments that you think are incorrect, let us know at team@makeloveland.com

2008 Survey Data



2011 Survey Data



2013 Survey Data



2015 Survey Data

Happy Birthday Tom! The Legacy of Jefferson and the Land Ordinance of 1785

By Ian Stuart on April 13, 2015

Thomas Jefferson was a driving force behind the original U.S. Public Land Survey and today, April 13, is his 272nd birthday.

For more on how the land survey happened in the first place, Andro Linklater’s Measuring America explains the prevailing political and economic conditions of the time, as well as the origin of the seemingly arbitrary units that were used to plot the vast lands west of Appalachia. Fundamental questions remain about how the U.S. assumed the right to sell off these lands to boost federal coffers, but the impact of the survey stretched clear to the Pacific and is still easily visible today. In honor of Tom’s birthday, we share some examples, best explained with pictures:

Virginia Farmland

Farmland in Jefferson’s home state of Virginia, near Monticello. Irregularity reigns.


Ohio-Pennsylvania Border

The border between northeast Ohio (left) and northwest Pennsylvania (right). Emphasizing secondary roadways, this map shows the influence of surveying methods based on the cardinal directions (Ohio) or lack thereof (Pennsylvania).


Kansas Sections

The landscape near Lebanon, KS (bottom left), the geographic center of the contiguous 48 states. Most visible are quarter sections, half a mile on a side and 160 acres - a quarter of one square-mile section. Different plantings and roads along section lines make these regular units especially clear.


Los Angeles Streets

A street map of Los Angeles, revealing a stark difference between lands that were subject to the survey (conducted in the 1850s) and those that were not. Downtown (on the right) retains the grid of the original Spanish pueblo, while the streets to west are oriented according to the baselines and meridians of the Public Land Survey System.

So next time you hop on a plane, grab a window seat and see if the legacy of the land survey shows through below.

(Sources: Mapbox, Openstreetmap, kcet.com)

How Do Michigan's Parcels Work?

By David Mieksztyn on April 2, 2015

When gathering every single parcel possible and putting it into the LOVELAND Explorer, sometimes you need to gather a few people (or an entire state) around a table. Several states already have either a fully developed statewide parcel data layer (New Jersey, Montana), or are presently curating and offering informational resources towards statewide standardization (New York, Massachusetts). LOVELAND thus turned its attention towards its own local home state of Michigan.

LOVELAND partnered with a group of students from the University of Michigan's Social Venture Fund (SVF) at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business to conduct a survey of Michigan's parcel data accessibility, cost structures and overall maintenance practices. Along with support from Michigan's Office of Technology Partnerships (OTP), SVF students administered an online survey to county assessors, GIS departments, and vendors who maintain parcel spatial data for Michigan counties and municipalities.

The results are linked below in a pdf. The hope is to continue on with this preliminary step and bring action within Michigan towards creating a free, accessible and well maintained parcel dataset of all properties within the state.

Report: University of Michigan Social Venture Fund Winter 2015 Loveland Capacity Building Project

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 6.06.57 PM

The survey questions are as follows and the report includes 34 maps to illustrate the answers across all 83 counties in Michigan:

• Overall County Response to Parcel Survey

• Who Maintains Parcel Shape Objects? (Showing "County" only)

• Does The County Maintain Digital or Manual Parcels?

• Which Department Maintains Parcel Shape Objects?

• How Often are Parcel Shape Objects Updated?

• If County Maintains Assessment Data, How Often is Data Updated?

• If Cities and Townships Maintain Assessment Data, How Often Does County Recieve Updated Assessment Data?

• Can County Attach Assesment Data to Parcel Shape Objects?

• Is There a County-Wide Complete Parcel Data File?

• Does the County Maintain Parcel Metadata in Conjunction with Parcel Shape Objects?

• How Often is Metadata Updated or Reviewed for Accuracy?

• Can the Public Access Parcel Shape Objects?

• Can the Public Access Assessment Data?

• Can the Public Access Complete Parcel Data?

• What is the Cost of County-Wide Parcel Shape Objects?

• What is the Cost of County-Wide Complete Parcel Data?

• What is the Cost of County-Wide Assessment Data?

• Is There a Cost for an Annual, County-Wide Data Update?

• Is There a Cost for a Bi-Annual, County-Wide Data Update?

• On Average, How Many Sales are Made Per Year of Complete Parcel Data?

• On Average, How Many Sales are Made Per Year of Parcel Shape Objects?

• On Average, How Many Sales are Made Per Year of Assessment Data Only?

• What was the Total Revenue from Data Sales in 2014?

• On Average, How Many Annual Data Updates Does the County Sell?

• When Was the Current Data Pricing Model Enacted?

• How Often is the County's Data Pricing Reviewed?

• Does the County Provide Free Data Access to Certain Groups?

• Does a Vendor Collect and/or Maintain Parcel Shape Objects?

• Does a Vendor Collect and/or Maintain Assessment Data?

• Which Company Provides Online Viewer? (map built from combining survey results with web research)

• Does the County Have an Open Data Policy?

• If the County Does Not Have an Open Data Policy, is the County Currently Working on One?

• To your knowledge, is the county engaged in conversations to participate in the state-wide open data policy?

• Are You Interested in a State-wide Parcel Layer?

Now go read the whole thing! And let us know if you have any questions or ideas at team@makeloveland.com.

The Faces of Foreclosure

By Lauren Hood on April 1, 2015

You’ve likely already seen the staggering numbers when it comes to people facing foreclosure in Detroit. But here they are again: in 2015 around 62,000 Detroit properties were given tax foreclosure notices by Wayne County, including 37,000 occupied homes.

Each of those numbers represents a person with a story. It’s easy to ignore the human side if you don’t have to look into the faces of actual people being affected. We make a lot of assumptions about who those people might be.

After spending a week at COBO Hall for the Show Cause hearings and attending various foreclosure counseling meetings in different neighborhoods around the city, I can tell you first hand, that for every person who came though, there is a distinct, unique set of circumstances that put them at risk for foreclosure. Not one time did I ever encounter a person who had the money and CHOSE not to pay their property taxes. Most of the stories involved a loss of income associated with some sort of illness or injury that prohibited the individual from maintaining employment. That set of circumstances led to tough decisions where choosing between paying property taxes and necessities like electricity, phone bills, transportation cost, child care, etc. were a regular occurrence.

One might think, well “I’ll never be in that situation,” “I have a stable income”, “I have support systems in place”, “a lot that would have to go wrong before that could happen to me”. The attached stories help to dispel some of those misconceptions about what the face of foreclosure actually looks like. Sometimes it’s people we know. People that we would never expect to be facing these kinds of challenges...

The first is our friend Olayami Dabls--esteemed fine-artist, museum curator, and historian, who has lectured extensively on African Material Culture to international audiences for over 30 years. As a curator, Dabls is a founding member of the African American Sports Hall of Fame, housed in the Wayne county building. He was also Artist-in-Residence at the Museum of African American History (1973-1982) as well as at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute (1985-1989). Dabls has served as Executive Director for the Rosa Parks Arts Center (1982-1984) as well as produced and hosted a radio program on WNEC4 (1978-1981).

LOVELAND Tiny Movie On Re-Measuring America

By Jerry Paffendorf on March 31, 2015

Well, it finally happened. LOVELAND has gone Hollywood. Thanks to our friends at Detroit Lives! we have a snazzy tiny movie for our new site and The Great American Parcel Survey.

It involves Thomas Jefferson and time travel, of course. Check it out:

As background, the theme of the video and survey developed after reading "Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History" by Andro Linklater.

The book tells the surprisingly little-known story of the original US Public Land Survey which followed Thomas Jefferson's idea to grid the country into perfect square mile sections and six-by-six mile townships. These plots were then sold, further subdivided into parcels, developed, and incorporated into counties and states. They attracted immigrants, funded the young country, and literally set the stage for American democracy.

I found it so deeply fascinating that I bought a copy for everybody on the LOVELAND team, and highly recommend reading it.

A blurb from Publisher's Weekly:

"American democracy was less a product of revolutionary war and constitutional ferment than it was of a particular way of measuring land, argues British historian Linklater in his delightful new study. Private ownership of land was a new concept in England in the 17th century, one that was grounded (so to speak) in the developing science of surveying, in particular, Edmund Gunter's simple new surveying system of squares and grids. But the idea that land could "be owned as a house or a bed or a pig was owned" was central to the new United States. Thomas Jefferson and others contended that property belonged to those who could purchase it and labor upon it. Thus, when the land west of the Ohio River was purchased by the United States, a new wave of settlers headed there with the intention of owning their own patch of land. Before the land could be sold, however, it had to be measured in roughly equal plots, and the surveyors used Gunter's method of drawing the boundaries of land in square miles. Linklater's detailed chronicle of the physical development of early America demonstrates the ways that the desire to own private property grew out of the individualism of the frontier and shaped the peculiarly American notion that the individual's right to property is both a foundation and a guarantee of democracy."

As you explore the country with LOVELAND, you'll see evidence of the original square mile survey absolutely everywhere. If you live in America, you live in its echo, and its constraints literally shape your world.

We hope you find the notion of resurveying America to see what we've become as exciting as we do. Please try it out and let us know what you think at team@makeloveland.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

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