The NY Times Is Talking About Detroit Again......


The entrepreneur Jerry Paffendorf bought a vacant lot in Detroit for $500 back in 2010. And then he did something truly unusual — maybe even unique — with it.

He created a map that parceled the land on East Vernor Highway Street into a grid of 10,000 one-inch squares, and he invited people to be inch-vestors in the property for $1 a square. About 600 people from all over the world bought them all.

“We had a solar panel-powered webcam so owners could monitor their property,” Mr. Paffendorf recalled recently. In the spirit of online games like FarmVille and SimCity, the project was designed as a provocation. You own an inch in Detroit. What do you want to do with it?

The project received a lot of attention, not all of it the kind Mr. Paffendorff had anticipated. Having lived in cities like New York and San Francisco that were “growing, noisy, thriving, where you had to scream to be heard, I didn’t know how different Detroit would be. It’s like a very big small town. I think a lot of people wondered, “‘Who is this crazy person?’” he said.

Mr. Paffendorff, 34, who calls himself an artist and a futurist, studied fine arts at Montclair State University in New Jersey and science in the Studies of the Future program at the University of Houston. He moved to Detroit in 2009 after working at or creating technology start-ups in Los Angeles, Washington, and Brooklyn.

He said the mapping project introduced him and his collaborators to the world of vacant properties, how they are mismanaged and misunderstood, and how the city of Detroit at that time had no capacity to have any information about itself. “To a shocking extent,” he says, “the city had no mechanism for understanding the space of itself.”

That was no small matter for a city that owned almost 100,000 properties. Mr. Paffendorf realized no one else was going to map them so, expanding on the original “silly inch-grid” idea, he started injecting real-life parcel information into maps, ultimately mapping every single parcel in Detroit, and Motor City Mapping was born.

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