Detroit continues to rebuild itself post-financial collapse and the city’s locals continue to heed the call-to-action. In the words of Group Executive of Planning and Facilities’ Karla Henderson, “The eyes of the world are on Detroit…and we have a DIY spirit.” The Detroit Brigade began shortly after the city, community groups and Code for America’s 2012 fellows presented the Apps for Detroit Challenge. Local NGOs, city staff and community groups sent their challenges to the event participants over a number of days and within two weeks, the group had inspired 15 apps, opened up six datasets and inspired developers to build 3 transit-related apps on top of the city’s open transit API. Someone even went so far as to build a solar-powered kiosk at a Detroit bus stop. It was then that the Detroit Brigade emerged as Mike Evans stepped forward as Captain. To get involved check out the Code for Detroit Facebook Group or email Mike at mevans[at]codeforamerica.org.
The projects the fellows developed are transforming thousands of Detroiters lives right now. This has been one of the most incredible experiences in my professional career.
Karla Henderson, Group Executive of Planning and Facilities for the Mayor’s Office of the City of Detroit
Funded by the Knight Foundation and Kellogg Foundation and led by city contact Karla Henderson, fellows Matt Hampel, Alicia Rouault and Prashant Singh kicked off their Detroit fellowship in style. In their first week of residency, the fellows attended the Detroit Internet Club and Why Don’t We Own This creator Jerry Paffendorf’s meetup event. For the first time in CfA history, a fellowship team was offered a coding soundtrack as a gift from a local community member. It was in this spirit that they began work on two distinct projects.
After extensive research and interviews, the team came upon their first project after speaking with a woman waiting alone at a bus stop. With the poor economic climate at the time, she was worried about keeping her job and being on time for her work shift. Meanwhile, with more than 80,000 abandoned properties across Detroit, her nightly wait might also mean sitting at a bus stop on an eerily quite street. It was then that the fellows worked with the Detroit Department of Transportation to release a real-time transit API and build the TextMyBus bus notification system. Launched in September 2012, the app received 1400 users upon launch day and continues to serve the community. The project has since received funding from the US Economic Development Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities and the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
In addition to TextMyBus, the fellows also built an app to standardize location-based data collected by data analysts and community groups. In the past, data analysts and community groups collected data using a pen and paper only to find that inconsistencies and errors made it impossible to share data across organizations. Localdata offers a mobile collection tool with a map interface as well as a paper collection option that can be scanned and uploaded for data syncing. In pilot projects, Detroit users surveyed 9000 commercial parcels of land in just six weeks. The project has since gone on to win the Knight News Challenge, joined the Code for America incubator and has expanded into a full-fledged civic tech startup company.