By Susan Crawford
August 22, 2014 Bloomberg View - The urban blight that has been plaguing Detroit was, until very recently, made worse by a dearth of information about the problem. No one could tell how many buildings needed fixing or demolition, or how effectively city services were being delivered to them (or not). Today, thanks to the combined efforts of a scrappy small business, tech-savvy city leadership and substantial philanthropic support, the extent of the problem is clear.
The question now is whether Detroit has the heart to use the information to make hard choices about its future.
In the past, when the city foreclosed on properties for failure to pay back taxes, it had no sense of where those properties were clustered. The city would auction off the houses for the bargain-basement price of $500 each, but the auction was entirely undocumented, so neighbors were unaware of investment opportunities, big buyers were gaming the system, and, as often as not, arsonists would then burn the properties down. The result of this blind spot was lost population, lost revenue and even more blight.