Thursday, December 23, 2010

Grease and desist

Last week, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine urged Mayor Bing to place a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in the city. This group repeatedly cited the fact that Detroit was home to 73 fast food restaurants, which seemed to be a substantial under-count. To explore this issue and determine the number and location of the city’s fast food restaurants, I looked to perhaps the most reliable sources: the fast food companies. I copied the location information for each company’s franchises in Detroit from each company's website. I compiled information for A&W, Burger King, Church’s Chicken, KFC, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s, Popeye’s Chicken, Subway, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and White Castle. According to the fast food companies, Detroit is home to a total of 195 fast food restaurants.

Every company has a presence in the city. Contrary to my own expectations, Subway is actually the chain with the largest presence in the city, with 52 locations.

As the map indicates, fast food restaurants are distributed evenly across the city – no area has been spared from a fast food restaurant. (Although it does look like the west side has a bigger grease tooth than the east side.)

In fact, if you are in Detroit, you’re never more than about a 5-minute drive – 1.5 miles – from a fast food restaurant, unless you are on the southeast corner of Belle Isle.

Unfortunately, however, this problem extends far beyond Detroit’s boarders. I tracked the same restaurants in a diverse mix of eight Detroit suburbs and the City of Grand Rapids. Shockingly, Detroit is the second-most under-served municipality. I calculated the number of fast food restaurants per 5,000 residents in each city, based 2005-2009 ACS population data.

These numbers question the wisdom of the committee’s plan – why focus on reducing supply of fast food in an area that has a comparatively low supply per resident?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Space-age Transit

In honor of Metro Detroit’s ongoing transit-planning process, this is the first post in a series looking at previous transit planning efforts. Although the city has a storied – and well-documented – transit history, the city’s transit planning history remains more of a mystery.

City records suggest that Detroit’s first transit planning effort began in 1914, with a proposal by the long-defunct Board of Street Railway Commissioners for a subway along Woodward between Jefferson and Milwaukee. Subsequent Detroit transportation authorities – primarily the Rapid Transit Commission – have produced more than 20 wide-ranging plans that evolved with the city, transit technology, and public opinion. Among these plans is one of my favorites, the Miriani-era 1958 Rapid Transit System And Plan Recommended For Detroit And The Metropolitan Area.

At its core, Rapid Transit Commission’s space-age 1958 plan called for the city to construct an elaborate network of elevated, suspended “duorail” lines along the city’s arterial roadways, with spur lines along some of the outlying major east/west and north/south roadways. This system was to be built upon 28’ tall, concrete and steel “T” and inverted “L” shaped pylons that would support tracks for the large, 58’ long boat-shaped cars. As this artist’s rendering shows, the cars were to hang from the tracks, 18’ feet off the ground. Although cars were supposed to have an average speed of 40 mph along busy routes, the cars were to exceed 70 mph in outlying areas.

The plan identifies seven reasons why Detroit and its suburbs need a unified transit system, including current concerns such as reducing congestion, increasing accessibility, and encouraging compact commercial development. It’s greatest concern, however, was that the CBD was beginning to decline. As the plan notes, “…downtown valuations [assessed value] decreased by 38.5% between 1930 and 1953, and citywide valuations had no change. What is indisputably evident here is the definite and gradual decline of the property valuations not only in the central business district but also along the major commercial thoroughfares in the city.” The commission strongly believed that these space-age trains would draw people to arterial commercial zones and the CBD, and reinvigorate these areas.

This artist’s rendering is supposed to illustrate the benefits of overhead transit to the Book Cadillac area of downtown. (Please ignore the potentially illicit transaction occurring in the lower right-hand corner.)

But just how would this look for the city and the region? Based on the lists of routes and stops provided (no map was included, oddly) I’ve mapped out the system, in the London-subway-map style.

The plan does not outline the exact routes beyond the city’s boundaries, so I’ve just indicated their final destinations. What is most interesting about this plan, perhaps, is the distribution of service - the areas east of Woodward have a far greater concentration given the area's relative size and population, compared to the west side. The choices for suburban terminuses - Mt. Clemens, Pontiac, Farmington, Ypsilanti, Grosse Pointe and Rockwood - illustrate the evolution of the suburbs; today, only two of these - Mt. Clemens and Pontiac - are commonly discussed as possible transit destinations.

Today, as much as in 1958, the City of Detroit needs more transit options. Hopefully, by evaluating our past we can better plan our future.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stay Tuned

We're famous! The wonderful folks at model D featured this blog in last week's buzz section.

I'm afraid I'm slightly tied up with work and school matters this week, so I'm unable to post, but be sure to check back next week for some new posts. I'm working hard on a post examining the decline of Detroit's bowling alleys, a Bill McGraw-suggested 1950 bar map, and a post challenging the "food desert" discourse.

In the meantime, check out Dirtbombs legend Ben Blackwell's Detroit record label map.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Last House on the Prairie

Journalists - and particularly out-of-town journalists - seem obsessed with the life of the city's most isolated residents. A typical news story about the city's developing right-sizing plan almost always begins by interviewing an isolated resident whose house is the last one on the block. In a standard article, this homeowner usually bemoans their isolated location, but insists that they will never leave. These stories usually cite these residents as both a reason for, and an obstacle to, efforts to right-size the city.

NPR, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, Lost Magazine, The Metro Times, Harper's Magazine, Fox 2 News, Forbes, and Architect Magazine all subscribe to this narrative. In fact, almost every national or local paper - except for the Detroit Free Press and Model D - has run at least one article on the city featuring an interview with one of these "last house on the block" (LHB) residents. NewsBank and Lexis Nexis return stories from more than 30 newspapers featuring an LHB resident. This resident on St. Aubin, for example, was interviewed earlier this year.

But just how common are these rural Detroiters? Does the size of the city's LHB population warrant the attention? Using Detroit Residential Parcel Survey and City of Detroit data, I tried to measure this phenomenon. I used the radius of a short block, 300 feet, as my threshold for isolation - if a resident's nearest neighbor was more than 300' away, I included them as a LHB.

Perhaps Detroit is not home to enough rural residents to warrant the attention. In total, only 134 occupied homes in the city were more than 300' from the nearest occupied home in 2009.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Detroit's Liquor Stores

According to liquor license data provided by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, Detroit leads the state in liquor sales and active liquor licenses. Not only does Detroit have the most active liquor licenses of any local jurisdiction, but the city's liquor stores, bars, and alcohol-serving restaurants have higher liquor sales than any city or county in the state.

Based on 2009 liquor tax collection data, this graph shows that Detroit sells more liquor than the rest of Wayne County or any other city or county in the state.

Similarly, Detroit had the most liquor licenses per resident (measured here as residents per liquor license to avoid comparing small fractions) in 2009.

Clearly, no area in the city is without a liquor store or bar. In fact, every resident of the city lives within .7 miles of one of the city's 810 liquor stores or 560 bars.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Michael Kelly & Matthew Tatarian, Continued

This map may offer more concrete evidence of Michael Kelly and Matthew Tatarian's business model. This map, created using SEMCOG and City of Detroit Assessor data, shows the properties owned by Kelly and Tatarian, and notes whether the properties are within 45' of a parcel owned by the City of Detroit, the Wayne County Land Bank, or a local non-profit. (I excluded the State of Michigan, Wayne County or the Federal Government because these governments do not usually collect property for parcel assembly- rather, they usually focus on disposition.) I chose this distance based on the distribution of street widths and lot frontages throughout the city - nearly all of the city's lots are between 30 and 40 feet wide. Using this metric, a 45' radius includes properties adjacent to, and two doors down from, a Kelly-owned property without including properties further away. Similarly, this radius includes properties across alleys and streets, without including properties across both a street and an alley.

Clearly, this map suggests that Kelly and Tatarian seek properties in areas near properties owned by non-profits and property-assembling governments. Nearly 75% (1048/1405) of properties owned by Kelly and Tatarian are within 45' of city- or non-profit-owned properties, about twice the rate for other properties.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Michael Kelly & Matthew Tatarian

Detroit faces serious challenges from property speculation. Investors such as Allen Shiffman, Matty Moroun, Michael Kelly and Matthew Tatarian often buy property from the city and county at steep discounts with hopes to resell the properties to other parties - including, ironically, the city and county - at a huge profit. The business models of each speculator range drastically, however, so it is difficult to predict their behavior at auctions. Using SEMCOG and City of Detroit Assessor data, this map suggests that Kelly and Tatarian focus their purchasing in several areas of strategic importance to the City of Detroit. As of 2009, the two own about 1,500 properties. This map details the density (# properties/square mile) of their holdings.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Density of Vacant Lots and City-owned Property

Ultimately, it seems that the City of Detroit becomes the owner of the the city's most vacant areas. This map attempts to illustrate this point. Look at the close correlation between the areas with the greatest concentration of vacant land and the ares with the greatest concentration of city-owned land. Click on the image to see a much larger version.

This map was made with City of Detroit Planning & Development Department and City of Detroit Assessor data.