Some folks in my department at the University of Michigan worked last summer with the Detroit Residential Parcel Survey, a huge effort to document the status of every single residential parcel in the city. This is a snapshot that we've never had before, but is useful in considering which Detroit neighborhoods should be targeted for improved transit accessibility, demolition of dangerous structures, or perhaps even relocation of residents to more populated areas (more about that latter strategy in a bit).
If you'd like a little more context for this survey, there is a good Detroit Free Press article here and a collection of maps here. I'm glad to see that some of the survey's positive results were highlighted in the media coverage, notably that 86% of existing housing units in the city are in good condition.
While the results are extremely interesting (approaching 120,000 vacant lots in the city), I am most struck by the interface the project employs to retrieve the data. If you point your browser over to www.detroitparcelsurvey.org you can enter an address in the city to find out data about its immediate neighborhood, by block, block group, and Census tract, and compare that to the city as a whole. For privacy reasons, you cannot look up the condition of an individual address. This is a powerful tool I can see many groups using, and indeed may use myself in future research. Kudos to the many people and organizations that were involved in creating the project.
On a related note, last week Malik Goodwin of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation spoke to the Methods of Economic Development Planning course I'm currently taking. Malik mentioned the possibility of relocating residents in nearly-empty neighborhoods as a strategy to both improve individuals' access to jobs, schools, shopping centers, etc. and to allow the cash-strapped city to narrow the huge amount of space requiring utilities, updated urban infrastructure like sidewalks, and emergency response. Obviously this is a controversial approach, and I'm not advocating it or opposing it here, but there is good news here. Malik reports that when approached, most folks in this situation very much want to move, and eminent domain laws will allow them compensation that can be used toward a down payment on a house in another part of the city. Indeed public participation in designing such a system is very important, to make sure that residents do indeed benefit rather than only the city's balance sheet benefitting. This is only tangentially related to the Parcel Survey, but there is potential to use that data for determining which neighborhoods have the most dire vacancy rates.