Matt Kenyon and McLain Clutter
Detroit Discensus-Research on the City. Taubman College Liberty Research Annex October 2013.
With McLain Clutter.
This project is about the relationship between “big data” and contemporary urbanization. Using Detroit as a testing site, the project forwards design proposals that hack the conventional characterization of urban space in commercial data models.
GEODEMOGRAPHY: The use of geodemographic data has become ubiquitous in the regulation of urban land use and development. Defined as the study of the geographic distribution of demographic data for use in marketing research, geodemography is increasingly influential in determining the character of the built environment. City planning commissions use geodemography to aid in the implementation of policy, and private corporations reference geodemographic data when purchasing, selling or developing real-estate. Demand for geodemographics has created a vast apparatus of corporations engaged in the collection, collation and amalgamation of geodemographic data. Among the products of this apparatus are commercial market segmentation data sets, which are complex combinations of census data, consumer-spending statistics, figures scraped from Internet usage, information about income, consumer tastes and more. Market segmentation sets amalgamate these data to describe synthetic consumer identities, and link these identities to their spatial locations in our urbanized areas. These data sets attempt to make the distribution of identity across geographic space scientifically knowable, privileging extant quantitative variation over latent qualitative difference and accept as scientific fact distinctions about race, gender and ethnicity that are merely naturalized.
When market segmentation data is used to influence site selection, the resultant buildings deeply implicate the synthetic identities targeted. The presence of the shopping malls, big-box outlets or fields of coffee houses that result encourages the predicted consumer behavior. These entities become territorial beacons for the collection of a specific combination of consumers. United in space, this combination of consumers – in effect – becomes the synthesized identity described in the operative geodemography. Thus, development guided by market segmentation geodemographics forges a complexly solipsistic relationship between constructed consumer identity, and the construction of the built environment. These practices serve to reify artificial sociocultural divisions based on the categories of data collection and limit potential urban development to the repetition of conventional consumer building formats.
Detroit’s financial and physical decay is well known. This condition is confirmed through the geodemographic data documenting the city and its residents. This is because a major source of identity-based geodemography is the household unit, from which data is gathered through the monitoring of package deliveries, Internet use, television viewing and other activities. Among Detroit’s most salient physical problems is the massive number of domestic vacancies throughout the city. While Detroit’s vacancies amount to a vast network of spatial voids, they also amount to a massive network of data voids. The depravity of data produced by Detroit’s evacuated neighborhoods reiterates its physical conditions. A conventional application of geodemography would therefore recommend little in the way of future development. This constitutes a vicious circle between Detroit’s blight and one metric that might be used to drive development to counteract such blight. Hacking Geodemography, Domestic/Data Occupations forwards strategies to intervene in this vicious circle, projecting transgressive design occupations of Detroit’s domestic vacancies that will produce data eschewing the city’s present image in data.
This exhibition consists of three parts. First, is a set of mappings used to assess how Detroit’s present urban context supports activities contributing to the prevailing image of the city’s neighborhoods in conventional market segmentation sets. From these mappings, three sites have chosen for occupations that produce data to subvert their received data-images. Second, a mapping of the corporate apparatus of geodemographic data collection and aggregation is included. This map and an accompanying video explains the relationships between a vast network of corporate and governmental interests involved in contemporary geodemography, highlighting their interconnections with contemporary real-estate development. From this map, activities that might be hosted in Detroit’s domestic vacancies in order to produce aberrant data have been gleamed. Finally, this exhibition includes videos and devices that articulate three domestic/data occupations in diverse sites in Detroit.