Detroit is a cartographic smorgasbord

Detroit is a cartographic smorgasbord

Yeah, there’s Google Maps, Apple Maps… even MapQuest if you’re feeling nostalgic. But if you aren’t just looking up directions, there are some more niche maps for navigating, classifying and surveilling the roads and buildings of the Motor City.

CityLab wrote this week about how Detroit city officials started using the program Mapillary after realizing two years ago that they weren’t using a centralized map to track projects across agencies, whether adding bike lanes or structures receiving blight tickets.

“That’s when [Dexter] Sluskarski stepped in, and when Detroit embarked on its current journey to become the best mapped city in the U.S.,” CityLab’s Laura Bliss writes, with Sluskarski getting “handed city cash to strap GoPro cameras to a beat-up van and drive down every street in the city, snapping pictures foot by foot.”

The images are stitched together to create an increasingly comprehensive, 360-degree snapshot of the city on Mapillary. It’s like an open-source version of Google Street View — though that’s just a piece of their tools. The software uses AI to categorize objects in the images, like pedestrian crosswalks, street signs and trees. It’s a faster and cheaper way to catalogue city assets, whether from a bird’s eye view or way zoomed in.  

So far, the city has uploaded about 743,800 of those images, covering about half of the city’s streets. They plan to reshoot every year, critical for tracking changes, and above and beyond what other cities are doing.  We’ll be curious to hear more about how the city uses this wealth of images and data, and if there are functional ways for residents to use it. For now, though, it’s fun to just explore the building blocks of Detroit’s streetscape on the Mapillary map. 

Screenshot via Mapillary

If you get sick of Mapillary, there are a few other mapping resources worth highlighting:

I’ve lost hours in the Detroit Open Data Portal, another city-run service where you can easily generate maps from databases of city info, like completed demolitions for a certain year, or restaurants with citations from the health department. It’s a really great practical tool, but can also be an odd and delightful pastime — which is how I know that there are five ice cream companies clustered on the border of Hamtramck.

Though property ownership info is available on the city site, Landgrid.com — formerly Loveland — is still the quickest way to get property info, particularly related to foreclosure and the county tax auction. It’s always staggering to see the number of properties that are facing foreclosure.

The Downtown Detroit Partnership has a map of downtown development construction. It’s a decent way to keep track of the status of projects that are hard to keep straight without the visual.

The City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability shared a map last year as they began work crafting the Sustainability Action Agenda that asked residents to add their comments on what they like and what they’d want to change in their neighborhood. Comments are closed, but it’s still interesting to click around and read people’s pros and cons. You can also add to a map of city trees.  

All those maps are editable or at least interactive. But if you want even more niche maps, looking at slices of city history, sociology and culture, there’s a treasure trove at Alex Hill’s blog, Detroitography.

Find anything cool on one of these maps? Did we miss your fave? Give me a shout.

Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl