Map: Paradise Valley, the Original Innovation District



History is the most crucial context of any city. In thinking about the “lifecourse of place,” or the evolution of a particular geography over time, socio-demographics provide deep insight.

Detroit’s Black community was restricted in where they could legally purchase housing, so there had long been a concentration of Black households in the Paradise Valley area, north of Black Bottom.

Overlaying the current 7.2 square mile boundary onto this map of 1940s non-white households give stark contrast between history and current redevelopment.

Map originally presented by Josh Akers’ in a Book Review of Rebecca Kinney’s book, “Beautiful Wasteland: The Rise of Detroit as America’s Postindustrial Frontier.”

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Where is Dan Gilbert, Detroit’s parking garage and skyscraper king?

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  

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.

Speculation and the City “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

Property speculators own nearly 20 percent of all property in Detroit. The parcels caught up in this web of speculation are spread across the city and come in a variety of forms. At their worst these owners are buying and selling houses that rapidly decline into vacant and abandoned shells.

Too often neighborhoods and the public are forced to bare the cost of these activities from the daily reality of physical deterioration, to declining property values, and increasingly costly demolitions. The recent mortgage crisis created a large inventory for speculation while most government response at the federal, state and local level is dedicated demolishing the aftermath of these activities. What is not addressed is the production and producers of these conditions.

In Detroit, speculation is the third largest category of ownership after individual owners (50 percent) and government agencies (30 percent). Property Praxis is a visual representation of these speculative activities. The intent of this project is to show who is speculating on properties across the city and where these are located. It is a tool for understanding and action. Property Praxis uses data from the City of Detroit Assessor to identify these property owners and their holdings across the city.* It allows you to see both the size of a speculators holdings and where these properties are located. In addition, it identifies the owners or members of limited liability companies (LLC). These organizations are shell companies that protect owners’ personal assets, such as their own house, in case they are sued or go bankrupt, but it also can hide a person’s identity. An exhaustive review of records filed with the state of Michigan or the state where an LLC was incorporated identified over 98 percent of owners or members.

If you are in Detroit and would like to meet up please let us know. If you are interested in building a similar project in your city it is open source and available to you.

*The City Assessor labels the current data 2015. We refer to this as “City Year” as it is clear from the analysis that not all records are up to date. There is a lag time in recording and city record keeping. Once the 2016 data is analyzed the site will be updated.