A technology born in the economics department at the University of Alabama is ready to hit the streets to help fight blight.
Blight — like boarded-up windows, boarded-up doors, overgrown grass, and other depreciated properties — has both direct and indirect impacts on a city’s overall economic development efforts, says City Detect’s co-founder Erik Johnson.
“We get really stuck in this static version of the world where we say, this is a blighted neighborhood or this is a blighted property. But blight is a really dynamic process. And blight begets blight,” Johnson told Hypepotamus. One goal of bringing his startup City Detect to market is to help cities better understand how to find property violations and blighted properties more efficiently.
This is done by loading City Detect cameras onto vehicles, including garbage trucks, going throughout a city. Those images are then turned into actionable data using machine learning and AI for city code enforcement officers or other municipality workers.
This data is important because blighted properties affect property prices for neighborhood homeowners and can ultimately drive down property values and assessments for cities.
ACADEMIC ORIGIN, MUNICIPAL FOCUS
The technology behind City Detect came from Johnson, who is an assistant professor of economics in the Culverhouse College of Business at the University of Alabama, with pivotal help from Brendan Moore, executive director of urban development for the City of Tuscaloosa.
In fact, the City of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama teamed up to file the joint patent on the technology.
To help the startup scale, Gavin Baum-Blake joined as a co-founder alongside Ezra Coutre. The team also relied heavily on Theresa Welbourne at The Edge, an accelerator and incubator located in Tuscaloosa.
While headquartered in Tuscaloosa, the City Detect team is “remote-first” with people in Milwaukee, Atlanta, and the DC area.
To date, City Detect has identified 671 blighted properties throughout Tuscaloosa and Springfield, Illinois. City Detect said Robert Hogue, Springfield’s Assistant Corporation Counsel, and Richard Benanti, Springfield’s Building Inspector, “took a chance” on the technology early on to see how it might help the city.
Now that the impact of City Detect has been measured in Tuscaloosa and Springfield, the team is focusing on building partnerships with new cities.
Over time, City Detect believes it can help decrease the number of 311 calls regarding blighted properties a city using its technology receives.
Properly detecting blight is indeed important for city code enforcement offers to best figure out how to allocate resources within a city. But the City Detect team is also deploying its technology to help neighborhoods in need.
City Detect has teamed up with Habitat For Humanity in Tuscaloosa to rapidly identify buildings that would benefit from the nonprofit’s money and resources for important projects like roof replacements.