A Three Year Retrospective: Urban Innovation Exchange

For the last three years we’ve interviewed and talked to thirty different individuals and organizations re-tooling and evolving the idea of social innovation for the Urban Innovation Exchange. The effort, underwritten by the Knight Foundation and supported by a host of Detroit-based foundations and organizations along with ourselves, cumulatively looks at hundreds of efforts across the city and their affect on the trajectory of Detroit. What does the value of a community garden have on a neighborhood? What about the guy with a “gang” of friends that mow vacant parks in Detroit? And we’ve all heard of Detroit SOUP, what’s the cumulative impact of the money they’ve injected in to community level projects? Muralists, incubators, community spaces, street artists, neighborhood philosophers, blight busters– what does it all amount to?

For our part, we created thirty different videos interviewing and examining the work of but a handful of the thoughtful and innovative projects in the city. The idea was to try and understand in greater detail what social innovation actually amounted to. Where it’s easy to value, say, a new hotel downtown, given that it generates a certain amount of tax base income which affects citizens, how do we value those that don’t create traditional capital? It’s still kind of a perplexing question that’s tricky to answer, but certainly enough, the cumulative effect of all these efforts create a recipe for thinking about how next-generation cities grow. The thirty videos we created along with the stories and portraits all across the UIX site provide a springboard for thinking differently about how we evolve as citizens and communities. We were very proud to be a part of this three year effort and have put together a retrospective film to understand a small piece of all the work to date.

See the video on Vimeo.

See the rest of the videos in the series here.

Upworthy showing love for DL! and UIX

Lately, Upworthy has been writing about our work for the Urban Innovation Exchange, which is kind of fun considering the video series focuses on social innovation and re-thinking the way we traditionally “develop” cities in this country. Not a bad message to be sending far and wide. Indication is that Upworthy will be posting a lot more of the videos from the Urban Innovation Exchange, so stay tuned.

For now, see the article they posted about Andy Didorosi from Detroit Bus Company and the second most recent one they wrote on Amy Kaherl with Detroit SOUP.

The videos included in the articles are below:

New Client Work: Green Garage Detroit

We’ve been fortunate enough to chronicle the growth and evolution of the Green Garage over the last couple years in Detroit and have put together a piece looking at their work in the city for the Urban Innovation Exchange. The Green Garage is primarily a co-working office space Midtown, but the building itself is pretty amazing– specifically the fashion in which it was renovated. In 1920 it was a Model T showroom, but beginning in 2008 Peggy and Tom Brennan started its rebirth as a fixture in the community. Over the next three years they conducted a zero waste renovation project which implies that essentially nothing was put in the dumpster in the renovation. Old drain pipes are now rails for the staircase, flooring was re-planed and made in to decorative shelving, shingle and tar materials were sold to the state to go in to paving roads, etc. Pretty incredible. Listen to Peggy talk about the building and the community that is formulating around it, giving Detroit’s entrepreneurial community a nice spark.

Urban Innovation Exchange: Peggy Brennan, Green Garage from DETROIT LIVES! on Vimeo.

Detroit: “Get up off your ass and do something”

For almost a quarter century– geez, that sounds pretty intense– John George has demonstrated boundless energy in the pursuit of making Detroit a more livable and friendly city with his organization Motor City Blight Busters. How? By working to re-activate the 100,000 vacant parcels and structures throughout Detroit by eliminating blight. To be around this guy is like somehow having a direct line of adrenaline tapped in to your carotid artery. He is a machine, speaking only in progress and efficiency. His relentless vision and never-say-die attitude represent the possibility that this city holds if each of us were to take but just a smidgen of his tenacity.

We were very proud to do a piece on John George and his work with Blight Busters for the Urban Innovation Exchange:

Urban Innovation Exchange: John George, Motor City Blight Busters from DETROIT LIVES! on Vimeo.

New Client Work: Urban Innovation Exchange, Soh Suzuki

The latest in the series of short films we’ve been doing for the Urban Innovation Exchange was released today. The piece looks at Soh Suzuki and his work with DAY Project, an organization focused on mentoring Asian American youth.

For more of the work we’ve done with UIX, head over to their website.

The Urban Innovation Exchange: Soh Suzuki, DAY Project from DETROIT LIVES! on Vimeo.

New Client Work: Steve Nawara and Beehive Recording for Urban Innovation Exchange

We’re pumped about a new piece that we just finished up for the Urban Innovation Exchange. Featured this time around is Steve Nawara of Beehive Recording Company (and who you may also remember as the former bassist for Electric Six. Look!:

Urban Innovation Exchange and Social capital as an activator

A confluence of thought leaders, foundations and media partners have come together to launch the Urban Innovation Exchange. The effort is geared towards placing a value on social capital and capturing the impact that such ventures create with a goal of proliferating models and various types of innovation to further the reach and encourage growth of social innovation in Detroit. We are a very proud media partner in this endeavor, developing film content that will be used in profiling hundreds of social innovators over the next year.

In a similar fashion to the way we’ve been developing content for the Speakers Bureau, we will be releasing two new videos a month for the Urban Innovation Exchange. Each video will focus on an individual and their particular social innovation. The first four we have prepared for the launch of UIX discuss social innovation with Bobby Smith (En Garde! Detroit), Delphia Simmons (THRIVE Detroit), Jordi Carbonell (Cafe Con Lecche) and Amy Kaherl (Detroit SOUP). Each short film tries to capture a sense of impact. How does starting a fencing club lead to the growth of a city, and its people? How does a street newspaper empower others to see a better day? How can a micro-funding dinner lead to the growth of influential community leaders? How does a coffee shop serve as crossing ground and cultural point for an entire neighborhood? These are the answers we are searching for, and this is what we will continue to do over the next year alongside the Urban Innovation Exchange.


Oh, and here are all the videos we did for the launch, but go ahead and check out the site in its full glory, it is filled with vibrant images, editorials and community-led thoughts about the forward movements of our city. See the brand new site here: UIXDetroit.com.

Urban Innovation Exchange Will Look at Valuing Social Innovation

Issue Media Group, the parent company for media outlets like Model D and Metromode, is initiating the Urban Innovation Exchange (UIX) with funding from the Knight Foundation.

It’s clear that Detroiters are re-imagining themselves and their city in very unique ways. Sure, there are traditional developments that are occuring that are rather easy to value– ie, a neighborhood development project that costs 1M and a return of 2M is expected, with X amount of resources coming on the heels of such development. But such a large part of Detroit’s allure right now is tucked in the efforts that are harder to value. How do you economically value a community garden that gives kids in the neighborhood a new sense of purpose? This gets tougher. And my hope is that the Urban Innovation Exchange will begin to disseminate some of the many factors that are propelling this new form of social capital forward and really making a difference in the identity and movements of the city.

What’s exciting is that I think the idea in and of itself is good, but it seems as though the muscle needed to make this happen is there. There are lots of players moving this effort forward, including DL!. We are very excited about being a part of this exchange in a variety of ways– creating original content and also playing an editorial role. Other media partners include the Detroit Free Press, Huffington Post Detroit, Model D, New Michigan Media, Thrive Detroit and I Am Young Detroit. Data Driven Detroit is playing a part handling some of the analysis and codifying the information in to valuable data sets and models that are scalable.

It’s funny, I just had a visitor over the weekend from out of town, and just like everyone else that visits, he said there is something special going on in the city. Something real. My hope is that efforts like UIX begin to put some sensible data sets and analysis around the realized factors and efforts that are moving the city forward. Instead of all this meta-Detroit talk that can sometimes be more emotional than tangible, I hope we begin to put in to place models that disseminate the nature of our innovation in Detroit. And then, from there, we scale it up and really have a hand in writing the rule book for next generation cities.