June 29th, 2017
June 27th, 2017
Optimism Prevails in Opinions on the Future of Detroit
by Bill Dutton and Bibi Reisdorf, Quello Center, MSU
Conversations about the prospects for Detroit’s future often expose a divide between those who see the city recovering from a decline in population and financial vitality and those who have given up on the city’s recovery. As part of a research project on the role of the Internet and new media in the development of Detroit, the Quello Center surveyed a random sample of Michigan residents about their perspectives on the future of Detroit. Conducted as part of MSU’s State of the State Survey (SOSS), the sample included nearly 1,000 respondents. Each respondent was interviewed over the phone through random sampling of mobile and fixed-line phones in Michigan.
The results show a divided public, but one in which positive views on the prospects for Detroit far outweigh more pessimistic viewpoints. We asked respondents: “Do you believe that the City of Detroit will decline or improve over the coming years?” More than 7 of every 10 respondents expected the city to improve in the coming years (Figure 1). Just under a quarter of respondents (24.8%) said that they expected the city to decline. Only a small proportion (4.7%) thought the city would stay about the same as today.
Moreover, Michigan residents are more positive about the future of Detroit in 2016 than in 2008, five years before the city of Detroit became the largest municipality in the United States to file for bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. In 2008, there was a more equal split among Michiganders, with 27.7% expecting the city to decline, and a slightly larger proportion (32.3%) expecting it to improve. Fully forty percent (40.1%) expected the city to stay in the same situation in 2008, compared to less than 5 percent in 2016. The drop in those expecting things to change might have declined due to a change in response categories, but opinion has clearly shifted to a more positive outlook for Detroit in the post-bankruptcy environment.
Figure 1. Michiganders Optimistic About the City of Detroit’s Future
However, not all Michganders are alike in their views. Those who are more positive are more likely to be African-American, female, have incomes above $30,000 per year, and live inside the city of Detroit. Detroit residents were more positive in both 2008 and 2016, but race and gender differences were particularly marked and changed overtime.
Figure 2 shows that in 2008, African American respondents were far more optimistic about the future of Detroit than were white respondents. For example, in 2008, 52% of African American respondents thought the city would improve, compared to only 28.7% of white respondents (Figure 2). From 2008 to 2016, there has been a dramatic increase in the proportion of more optimistic African American (52.6-75.4%) respondents, as well as white respondents (28.7-69.8%), leaving racial divides in attitudes about the city’s future less pronounced in 2016 than in 2008.
Figure 2. Narrowing Racial Divides in Beliefs About Detroit’s Prospects
With respect to gender, Figure 3 shows that more women were pessimistic than men (29.6% of women thought things would improve, compared to 35.2% of men), and proportionately more women were likely to believe things would stay the same (44.2% of women, compared to 35.6% of men). However, by 2016, this had reversed, with 74.1 percent of women believing things would improve for Detroit, as compared with 66.9 percent of men. More men and women were optimistic in 2016, but the gain among women surpassed that among men (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Women Become More Optimistic Than Men About Detroit’s Future
It is difficult to anticipate the consequences of this shift in opinion. It is possible that a more positive outlook within the population—especially within Detroit itself—will contribute to supporting a growing number of initiatives underway in the central city and neighborhoods of Detroit, ranging from tech startups and urban farming to programs for vulnerable residents in distressed areas of the city.
The Quello Center will continue to follow shifting opinion as it studies the role of the Internet in networking collaborative efforts and opening access to information to its residents in order to support urban development and citizen engagement.
Dr Bibi Reisdorf or Professor Bill Dutton at the Quello Center at Quello@msu.edu
The State of the State Survey (SOSS) is organized and directed by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) at Michigan State University. See: http://ippsr.msu.edu/survey-research/state-state-survey-soss
Information about the ICT4Detroit Project of the Quello Center is available at: http://quello.msu.edu/research/ict4detroit-the-role-of-ict-in-collaboration-for-detroits-revitalization/
Most of our ICT4Detroit research team met today at MSU’s Detroit Center. We discussed the results of our network analysis of collaboration among non profit civic organizations in the city, and developing our plans for interviewing individuals in some of the key organizations and projects.
The major theme arising during the day of discussion was the sheer complexity of the ecology of actors involved in initiatives to support the revitalization of different parts of the city, from the central business district to some of the most distressed neighborhoods. In this context, one ICT initiative does not fit all. It brought home the challenges for collaboration, open data sharing, and visioning across the diverse actors, areas, and problems of such a dynamic city.
The 2015 launch of Rocket Fiber is poised to add super-fast Internet connectivity to the expanding arsenal of revitalization tools available in Detroit, starting with the city’s downtown central business district, followed by neighboring areas such as Midtown and Corktown. This is an important and exciting development likely to begin reaping benefits in these areas over the next few years.
One of the more challenging sets of questions facing Rocket Fiber–and virtually every effort to revitalize Detroit–is whether and how the city’s rising tide of investment can positively impact those households and businesses most distant—both physically and economically– from the city’s expanding beachhead of tech-fueled growth.
This is one of a range of questions driving the Quello Center’s launch of the ICT4Detroit program.* Through this program, the Center aims to develop research projects and alliances to help address issues concerning how ICTs (information and communication technology) can support the revitalization of Detroit. High on the list of issues central to the ICT4Detroit research agenda is how can the benefits of high speed access and other ICT be brought to more of Detroit’s citizens and organizations.
A big challenge, and a big opportunity
On one hand, a growing body of research has shown that high-speed access and related ICT, such as mobile Internet and the Internet of Things, have potential to boost economic growth, civic life and the quality and accessibility of education, healthcare, transportation, public safety and other government services. Research has also shown that fiber’s nearly unlimited capacity, low maintenance costs, easy upgradability and backhaul support for high-speed wireless connectivity make it particularly well suited to serve as the core of a city’s communication infrastructure.
So why don’t we already have fiber deployed in every neighborhood in every city, including Detroit? The reason, as every network investor (whether private or public) knows, is that high-speed networks are expensive to build, with high fixed costs and business cases heavily influenced by density, take rates and average revenue per unit (ARPU). As a result, the economics of extending fiber beyond Detroit’s central core into areas with low income and relatively low housing density are especially challenging.
The result is a situation with potentially large and much needed social benefits, but also considerable risk and uncertainty for network investors. This high-payoff, high-risk combination cries out for strategies aimed at reducing uncertainty, risk and cost, while increasing the probability and magnitude of benefits for underserved and disadvantaged populations, including those that can help support network capital and operating costs.
In response to this need, the Quello Center has begun to develop an independent research program intended to support innovative and successful strategies for increasing the availability, affordability and benefits of high-speed Internet access in Detroit.
In doing so, we seek input, guidance, support and collaboration from Detroit’s leaders, businesses, technologists, citizens and community organizations working hard to revitalize the city, as well as from others in the research and philanthropic communities focused on digital divide-related issues.
As a first step, we invite feedback and suggestions on this draft outline of the research program we have in mind.
1. Examine the current status of availability, usage and benefits of broadband Internet access in Detroit’s neighborhoods: by individuals, households, businesses and “community anchor institutions” such as libraries, schools, healthcare facilities, non-profit organizations and neighborhood associations.
2. Explore the currently unmet potential demand for broadband connectivity and services by these various segments of the Detroit community, including price sensitivity, revenue potential and externalities.
3. Explore potential demand for high speed connectivity associated with the evolving Internet of Things (IoT), and how this evolution (and its benefits) could be expedited and enhanced by increased availability of fiber-enabled high speed connectivity.
4. Better understand economic and other barriers to expanding demand to levels sufficient to justify network expansion deeper into the city’s neighborhoods, as well as factors with potential to help overcome these barriers.
5. Identify, characterize and prioritize potential near-term and longer-term opportunities to economically expand the reach of affordable and high speed access and IoT connectivity in Detroit, especially in ways that promote economic growth and community development in the city’s economically distressed neighborhoods.
6. Explore creative business strategies (e.g., demand aggregation, pre-subscriptions); technology options (e.g., wireless extensions, low-cost fiber installation techniques); alliances (e.g., with local community organizations and efforts to promote digital literacy); funding sources and strategies, and; local zoning and other public policies with potential to support economically viable expansion and beneficial use of high-speed connectivity in these neighborhoods.
In terms of methodology, we would expect this research to include in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and experts, quantitative surveys of citizens, businesses and community anchor institutions, and financial analysis of alternative strategies and scenarios.
The Quello Center views such research as a potential pillar of its ICT4Detroit initiative, focusing as it does on the key issue of making high-speed access more available, affordable and attractive in a city currently burdened by large economic challenges and low Internet penetration, yet with much potential to benefit from cost-effective expansion of broadband access and usage. A significant stream of prior research has focused on the role of ICT, and the Internet in particular, in social and economic development of urban areas. However, relatively little has focused on the particular historical, social and economic circumstances of Detroit.
We welcome your input and support as we seek to explore the unique Detroit factors shaping the role of broadband connectivity and other ICT in the revitalization of this great American city.
Mitch Shapiro and Bill Dutton, Quello Center
In a series of posts over the past two months, I’ve looked at efforts by private companies and city governments to use unlicensed spectrum to improve choice, affordability, innovation and service quality in the communications sector.
In this post I’ll add another type of entity to the mix of unlicensed spectrum innovators: local neighborhoods, where issues, interactions and initiatives tend to be more personal and place-based.
One focal point for this kind of neighborhood-driven network initiative is Detroit, a city facing severe financial constraints and one of the nation’s lowest levels of Internet penetration (see tables in this earlier post). In this highly challenging environment, a community-based organization called Detroit Digital Stewards, working closely with the Open Technology Institute (OTI), has been developing human and technical systems to support low-cost wireless mesh networks that support local needs. The open-source OTI technology, called Commotion, is also being used in Red Hook, NY following Hurricane Sandy and in projects overseas.
According to an April 2014 report in the New York Times, the State Department has provided financial support for Commotion’s development, as a means to help dissidents use decentralized mesh networks to bypass government surveillance and censorship (ironically this occurred around the same time the NSA was developing surveillance technology later exposed by Edward Snowden).
The State Department provided $2.8 million to a team of American hackers, community activists and software geeks to develop the system, called a mesh network, as a way for dissidents abroad to communicate more freely and securely than they can on the open Internet.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Diana Nucera, Director of the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP), which coordinates the Digital Stewards project. That conversation helped me appreciate that, while it may lack the scale (and certainly the funding) of New York’s LinkNYC project or Google’s Project Fi, the Digital Stewards program (one of multiple Allied Media Projects) has some unique strengths worthy of study, support and sharing. For example:
My sense is that there’s much to learn from the work of the Detroit Digital Stewards team, OTI and Commotion projects in other locations, as they break new ground in bringing affordable and empowering connectivity to underserved communities.
This video presents a talk by Garlin Gilchrist, the Deputy Technology Director for Civic Engagement in Detroit, with Kat Hartman, and Professor Marc Kruman responding. The presentation is about 20 minutes, followed the responses and about 15 minutes of discussion.
Garlin focused on the launch of Detroit’s Open Data initiative, and the work of his office on the role of the Internet and related information and communication technologies in supporting civic and community engagement. He discusses initiatives the City of Detroit has been fostering, as well as other ongoing special projects emerging from groups and institutions working on the revitalization of Detroit. Finally, he underscored areas that could benefit from further research by universities, and other academic institutions.
Prior to his appointment in Detroit, Garlin most recently served as the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org, where he focused on mobilizing MoveOn’s seven million members on issues of civil rights, education, and technology policy advocacy through community organizing and online action. Gilchrist also founded Detroit Diaspora, a network for native Detroiters living elsewhere to connect with one another as well as people doing positive work in the City of Detroit. He was also the former Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change, where he build a base of online supporters to advocate for public policies in the interests of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, and reflect strong community values in ways that ensure that their authentic voices are heard, amplified, and respected. More information about Garlin Gilchrist is available at: garlin.org/about-garlin-gilchrist-ii.html
Our first respondent, Kat Hartman, is a Detroit-based freelance writer, data analyst, and information designer with data visualization firm, NiJeL. She received her MFA from the Stamps School of Art + Design at the University of Michigan and enjoys finding the intersections between design and research. She has worked as a data analyst at multiple non-profit organizations including Data Driven Detroit, a National Neighborhood Indicators Partner (NNIP) with the Urban Institute. She has also designed illustrated health materials for UNICEF in Botswana and German Agro Action in Ethiopia. She is also a former fellow at the Civic Data Design Lab at the MIT School of Architecture & Planning. Her online portfolio can be found here: kathartman.com. Follow her @kat_a_hartman.
Our second respondent, is Wayne State University Professor Marc W. Kruman, who chairs the Department of History, and is the founding Director of the Center for the Study of Citizenship. Professor Kruman is widely published. His current research focuses on the development of the interdisciplinary field of citizenship studies and the history of citizenship. He has been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellowship in the Humanities at Harvard University and a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship. In 1999 he was a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the University of Rome. At Wayne State University, he has received the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award (twice) and a Board of Governors Distinguished Faculty Fellowship.
From the Detroit Free Press (bolding is mine):
Businessman Dan Gilbert is not only buying dozens of buildings in downtown Detroit, he’s also linking them with some of the fastest Internet connections anywhere.
Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, said this weekend he has formed a new “community investment initiative” called Rocket Fiber LLC to provide faster Internet connections in downtown Detroit…Construction is already underway…in the greater downtown area. Eventually the goal is to expand the service to other parts of the city.
Even if Gilbert’s venture decides it’s not economical to extend fiber to every (or even most) locations in the city (a decision that strikes me as very likely), it might be willing to extend high-capacity fiber trunks around the city to feed wireless access links that use unlicensed spectrum to provide affordable high speed connectivity to more of the city’s homes and businesses.
There are already several grassroots community WiFi networks being deployed in neighborhoods around the city by a group called Detroit Digital Stewards, under the Allied Media Projects (AMP) umbrella.
If the price of connecting to Rocket’s fiber trunk lines is low enough, this model could support inexpensive high-speed connections deployed neighborhood by neighborhood by groups like Digital Stewards, which isn’t just focused on connectivity, but also on developing applications that support community development.
It will be interesting—and perhaps important for Detroit’s revitalization efforts—if “downtown-focused” projects like Rocket Fiber can develop strong cooperative relationships with “neighborhood-focused” initiatives like AMP and its Digital Stewards program. And perhaps the task of deploying affordable broadband Internet infrastructure—which can support a wide range of revitalization-focused collaborative activities—is a good place to start building such “downtown-neighborhood” alliances.
The Motor City could certainly use a boost in connectivity. According to an analysis of Census Bureau data, Detroit has one of the nation’s lowest rates of Internet access (see tables below).
Facing the nation’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy, the city of Detroit is emerging as a test bed for initiatives aimed at reversing the city’s longstanding decline. These efforts are coming from a range of sources, including federal, state and local governments, major corporations, startups and startup incubators, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, non-profits and citizen-driven community groups. While the depth and dimensions of Detroit’s challenges may be historically unique, so too are the opportunities for revitalization-focused communication, computation and collaboration afforded by today’s information and communication technologies (ICT).
The unprecedented nature of both the crisis and the potential power of ICT-enabled responses to it raise a set of questions with significance not only to Detroit’s citizens and businesses, but also to cities facing similar challenges in the U.S. and the world.
– To what extent and in what specific ways are ICTs being used to support revitalization efforts in Detroit?
– How is such usage impacting the success of such efforts, and which of these impacts were intended and which were not?
– Does ICT usage and impacts vary by type of organization and/or by the specific goals and sectors they target for revitalization?
– What combinations of organization- and project-type seem best suited to leverage the power of ICT to achieve revitalization goals?
– How important are leadership and organizational structure and processes in determining how successful an organization and project will be in using ICT to help achieve its revitalization goals?
– In what ways does the use of ICT impact the structure, function and effectiveness of revitalization-focused organizations and projects, and to what extent does this impact vary by type of organization, project and project goals?
– To what extent are obstacles to ICT usage (e.g., lack of connectivity, affordability, digital literacy) a constraint on the success of revitalization projects? And are these constraints particularly problematic for particular types of organizations, projects and goals?
Our exploratory research is initially focused on the role of collaborative networks in the revitalisation of Detroit. This focused project will enable us to refine our understanding of the range of ICT initiatives involved in supporting effective revitalization efforts in Detroit and to develop a richer theoretical understanding of the potential for collaboration network organisations, among other types of initiatives, to develop and sustain healthy economic, social and political systems.
This project is being developed by Mitch Shapiro, Alison Keesey and Bill Dutton in its early phases.