Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

December 22, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Digital response to Detroit's blight problem

To put it mildly, Detroit has a lot of problems. The city is bankrupt, struggling and full of abandoned buildings.

Many are buildings that need to be torn down. However — exactly how many of those are there? No one really knows.

“They often use the number 78,000,” said Glenda Price, one of the three co—chairs of a high—powered task force on blight. However, she added, soon we should know exactly how many buildings need to come down, as well as the state of every structure in the city.

Starting this week, three—person teams are fanning out across the city, surveying and photographing each of estimated 350,000 parcels of land. They intend to let neither snow, sleet or neighborhood pit bulls keep them from their work.

They hope to complete their task by the end of January, when Data Driven Detroit, a non—profit demographic firm, will assemble them into a searchable data base.

“This will be given to the city, and hopefully, constantly maintained and updated,” said Price, a Philadelphia native in her early 70s who came to Detroit in 1998 to revitalize Marygrove College, a small, struggling Roman Catholic institution.

She succeeded in doing that, with the help of an innovative and profitable distance learning program. By the time she retired in 2006, she found she had fallen in love with her adopted city. By then, she had a reputation for being a can—do administrator more interested in getting the job done right than in who gets the credit.

Naturally, Glenda Price soon found herself in demand.

Last year, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed her to Detroit’s financial advisory board, as part of the “consent agreement” meant to help Detroit try to avoid being taken over by the state.

That effort failed, but Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr kept the board, and divided it into teams. Her team, which she chairs with Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and a community activist named Linda Smith, is charged with getting a handle on blight.

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