EDITOR'S NOTE: Richland Source’s Rising from Rust team traveled to Detroit, Michigan from Oct. 28 to 30 for CityLab Detroit, a summit organized by the Aspen Institute, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The story below relates to at least one of the sessions at that convention.
DETROIT -- Data is what drives most of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s decisions. That philosophy seems to have an impact on what’s known as the “Motor City.”
Since elected in 2013, Detroit’s 75th mayor has overseen projects including: a remapped bus system, construction of 11.5 miles of bike lanes (the largest one-year expansion of any North American city), and using data collected by electric scooters to draw businesses to the city.
The city’s population loss hasn’t stopped, but it has slowed to a tenth of its pace the previous decade, according to an article by The Detroit News in May 2018. The most recent information from the U.S. Census Bureau shows population dropped by 2,376 residents in the past year, just short of its previous decrease of 2,770 residents the year before.
When listening to presentations, Duggan would rather speakers get straight to the statistics than bother with eloquent language.
“Otherwise, you’re trading anecdotes, and the person with the best anecdote to the developer ends up driving your project … I really don’t care how good the speech is, I just want to see the numbers, ” Duggan said Monday, Oct. 31
This conversation was one of many breakfast chats that kicked off the two-day summit, which went on to feature others like San Jose (Calif.) Mayor Sam Liccardo and Anchorage (Alaska) Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, both of whom raved about the importance of data to their cities.
In a session entitled “City Innovation: What’s New in 89 Cities Across the Globe, with OECD Champion Mayors,” Liccardo said data helps him make more informed decisions, especially important with a thinly staffed city hall.
“There’s never enough money, there’s never enough resources, there’s never enough staff to accomplish what we want to accomplish, and we’re increasingly realizing the value of data and technology in improving performance,” he said.
The value of data collection surfaced again in another session, this one called “Transforming City Governments to Better Serve Citizens.”
“I don’t think you can manage something if you don’t measure it,” said Berkowitz, of Anchorage, Alaska.
He and three other panelists went on to speak about how they can better determine the best direction for their cities based on the data they collect.
But you’ll read more about that session and the one with the mayor of San Jose in one of my other blogs. Let’s get back to Detroit.
Scooters in Detroit
When seeing other mayors “griping” about electric scooters and the problems they were causing in their own cities, Mayor Duggan decided to act quickly.
Electric scooters hadn’t arrived yet in Detroit yet, but Duggan explained how the city passed legislation to cap the number of scooters allowed, set a speed limit of 15 miles per hour and passed other laws on how they could be used.
“They dropped these scooters, and the damndest thing happened. People loved them and the kind of griping you heard in other cities, they came around here looking for complaints,” Duggan said.
First, the scooters were a novelty, then they became increasingly integrated into residents’ transportation habits. The cap was raised, and more scooters were placed in and around the downtown.
“It’ll be interesting to see as a year or two go by, but it’s becoming more and more integrated in daily mobility decisions,” Duggan said.
Detroit is using the data collected by the electric scooter companies to draw in businesses. Information like starting, ending points and the routes themselves provide evidence about a neighborhood’s traffic patterns to interested businesses.
“When businesses are thinking, Do I want to be here?” Duggan said. “We can show them the data on something like this, the patterns of people being able to come from a mile, two miles around, get in and out.”
When the city raised the cap on the number of scooters allowed, Duggan specifically instructed the scooter providers to place them outside of Detroit’s downtown, including in a neighborhood with lots of vacant storefronts.
“But it’s an area where residents are coming back,” Duggan said.
The scooters, he said, are used. And with the data collected, he can prove that to potential businesses.