Telling A Story About Detroit’s Abandoned Buildings

Blog Post created by jkerski-esristaff Employee on Dec 20, 2012
 Earlier this year, I created a map in ArcGIS Online showing the location of selected abandoned buildings in Detroit.  A book entitled Lost Detroit features stories that the author, Dan Austin, wrote to accompany each of the grim but fascinating photographs of these modern day ruins taken by Sean Doerr.  These include the Grand Central Railroad Terminal Building, the Michigan Theatre that is now a parking garage, the Grand Old Army of the Republic building, the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, and many more.

Why did I create this map?  I have always been fascinated by maps and believe that mapping is a natural way to tell a story.  Detroit, and indeed all cities, are dynamic entities that have a unique and interesting story to tell.  ArcGIS Online also allows for the easy integration of multimedia elements to tell a story, and I created popups from online photographs of the selected buildings that ArcGIS Online easily geocoded.  Lastly, I wanted to see the spatial distribution of these buildings, which I could only do by mapping them.  As expected, many of them are downtown, but the Vanity Ballroom and others are scattered throughout the core metropolitan area.  This project illustrated the dynamic nature of the built landscape:  Since the book was published, I discovered that one of the buildings featured in the book, the old Cass Technical High School building, had been torn down.

Earlier this month, I went further and created an Esri StoryMap that allowed a rich integration of maps, text, and images.  The StoryMaps templates are easy to modify to suit your objectives.  I created this StoryMap, and another one that shows changes in landscapes, climate, and land use along 40 Degrees North Latitude, by modifying just two of the Esri-provided files, and then moving these two files along with the other required files and folders to a web server.lost_detroit_screenshot-300x226.jpg

What places in your community are important enough to map?  What buildings or other landmarks in your community do you believe are important enough to protect, and why?  How might you use ArcGIS Online or Esri StoryMaps to tell a story about your community and its landmarks?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager