Gary Counts

Gary Counts

An urban revitalization initiative that uses a real-time parcel-level survey and mapping platform to guide its strategic demolition and neighborhood stabilization efforts


Sponsoring Institution
City of Gary, Indiana
Key Milestones
The University of Chicago launches the Gary Urban Revitalization Project, which begins to collect parcel survey data and launches a “311” information platform.
The survey collection drive completes its review, and the White House selects Gary for its Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative.
The Center for Community Progress selects Gary for its Technical Assistance Scholarship Program.
Gary sees a reduction of vacant buildings from 7,000 (in 2012) to 5,700.
Financial Implications
  • Awarded a cumulative $11 million from 2011 to 2017 by the Hardest Hit Fund’s Blight Elimination Program
  • Spent $17.5 million in federal, state, county, and city dollars on demolition projects throughout Gary from 2011 to 2018
  • Funded $500,000 of annual city demolition projects

Select Models Goals

  1. Maximize the use of limited city, state, and federal funds for demolition and redevelopment
  2. Develop an accurate inventory of vacant and abandoned properties
  3. Utilize volunteer capacity to contribute to citywide strategic efforts
  4. Stabilize neighborhoods
Implementation: Model Design
  • The City of Gary and the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy partnered to create an innovative parcel survey methodology and a digital platform that could better guide over $17.5 million in spending on the city’s strategic demolition of abandoned buildings.
  • The parcel survey software platform, developed with an outside provider, launched in 2012 to assemble accurate data on property condition in a city with pervasive abandoned property. This effort was part of a larger strategy, which also included code reforms and an online and phone-based “311” service that residents can use to report blight and other non-emergency problems.
  • A subsequent platform—which integrates parcel survey data with sales, tax collection, and other data sets—was developed in 2017 to further guide comprehensive planning.
  • While community groups have conducted a handful of concentrated updates since 2015, sanitation records are presently used as a proxy for vacancy until another citywide survey data can be conducted.
Key Innovations

The parcel survey is notable for its efficiency: It was conducted using mobile phones and limited to just eight questions: seven yes/no questions and one multiple choice. An easy-to-use app also meant subject matter professionals could serve as volunteers without lengthy technical training. As a result, 67 volunteers working in teams could survey up to 40 parcels per hour.

The software platform was a pioneering effort to visualize city-scale information at parcel-level resolution on a live website. This allowed surveyors and laypeople alike to use mobile phones and tablets in the field to easily contribute and visualize survey data.All data was made free and available for public download.

With grants totaling over $11 million, the City of Gary has one of Indiana’s highest per-capita awards from the Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination Program, a state-administered federal fund for demolition of vacant structures to reduce foreclosures and abandonment post-recession. Stakeholders attribute that high receipt of funding to both the city’s partnership with the University of Chicago Harris School (which provided the survey methodology, preliminary survey data, and technical assistance during the application process) and the city’s efficient procedural apparatus for bringing abandoned buildings through the legal and contracting process to demolition.

Staffing and/or CapacityAn initial five-day survey of 11,651 parcels was conducted by 67 volunteers—including local professionals and residents —and guided by city staff and University of Chicago Harris School students. A second survey phase was conducted by 200 volunteers, who collected data on the remaining 46,584 parcels. The University of Chicago and the City of Gary covered their own expenses, and the city’s Redevelopment Commission contracted LocalData, a geospatial data management software provider (subsequently acquired by Loveland Technologies), to provide the platform. The city’s mayor and planning director were actively engaged at all stages of the initiative, and paid professional staff time was reserved for quality control rather than data collection. The Harris School fostered continuity between successive cohorts of student groups by using a significant share of the Harris School director’s time and hiring a dedicated, ongoing partnership fellow from among the first student cohort.

Strategies Utilized

See also
Yonkers, NY

A program that offers paid summer employment and training in environmental conservation to local young residents—primarily low-income youth of color

Philadelphia, PA

Pairing basic landscaping and site improvements with maintenance services for the creation of public open spaces on otherwise vacant lots

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