The line between speculation and investment can seem arbitrary. In fact, some of the largest speculators in the city of Detroit often characterize their activities as investment. In 2010, Manuel “Matty” Moroun told the Free-Press his holdings represented his commitment to the city. “Our fortunes are linked to the city. If the city doesn’t have any prosperity, we don’t have any value in the land, right?” Another of the city’s largest speculators, Michael Kelly, invoked the frontier to justify his activities to the Detroit News in 2011. “People went out West speculating for gold. That’s what it is. You need speculators. It’s called investors.” One of the difficult parts of this project was finding a line between speculation and investment.
The absence of Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert on Property Praxis has drawn attention from media (here) and some users. If one were to measure property holdings solely on square footage, Gilbert is one of the largest property owners in Detroit, but based on parcels he is way down the line, at under a 100. That Gilbert’s holdings did not appear on Property Praxis was a surprise to us and demonstrates the strength of the definition of speculation within the project to demarcate speculation and investment. What sets Gilbert apart from many of the large property holders on the list is that his holdings are sites of active investment.
There are very real impacts in Gilbert’s remaking of downtown Detroit into a modern company town has on long-time residents, particularly the poor and people of color. There is more commercial activity in the core, but it is accompanied by hyper-surveillance, increased security patrols and higher rents pushing people out and generating increased pressures on those that remain. Quite simply, Gilbert is not waiting for someone else to make an investment to increase the value of his property. Though there is a long term strategy in his buying that is similar to Moroun, this urban renewal plan requires density so adding apartments and office workers require immediate renovations in hopes of filling storefronts and pushing land values higher. That’s a long-term bet that requires a lot of money, both private and public, up front that may or may not pay off.
But this could change. One can be a speculator and investor at the same time. We are currently working on an update of the map using recently released city assessor data. The flurry of announcements, particularly those regarding Brush Park over the past year, may present a much different picture of the landholdings of Gilbert and his array of companies.
*Property Praxis is a data and design collective. All work is open source and freely available to those interested in developing similar tools in their cities. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured painting by Ian Matchett
GALLAGHER, J. (2010) Matty Moroun and his big slice of Detroit. Detroit Free-Press, May 11.
MACDONALD, C. (2011) Private landowners complicate reshaping of Detroit. The Detroit News, March 3.