DPS teachers spend their summer mapping dangers

D3’s Erica Raleigh (left) and DPS teacher Patrice Hopkins inventory dangerous lots near schools.

For some kids living in Detroit, a task as simple as walking to school can be dangerous. Walking through fields of debris, over glass-strewn sidewalks and by burned, unstable structures can be detrimental to the health and safety of children. In areas where sites have been abandoned for years, residents aren’t necessarily aware of the hazards these structures pose.    

Data Driven Detroit and a team of Detroit Public School teachers are taking on this environmental issue by locating hazardous sites near Detroit high schools and recording their geographical location. The teachers, who are part of the Wayne State University Summer Institute, hope to get this information to residents and policymakers who can eliminate these hazards and create safer neighborhoods. 

“No one has this information,” said Erica Raleigh, D3 research analyst. “Collecting this data will allow us to overlay it with a lot of our other datasets, like the Residential Parcel Survey, vacant land data and data on elevated blood lead levels. This will allow us to see the how the land was used in the past, which could reveal more hazards. We may be able to find a correlation between health troubles like high lead levels and the areas they live in.” 

With a goal of locating brownfields—previously used or industrial land that contains burned structures or illegal dumping—data analysts and teachers examined Detroit neighborhoods near Southeastern High School, Communication and Media Arts High School, Detroit International Academy and Detroit City High School. The teams documented the conditions of the sites and which elements on the land posed risks to children. 

There are many contaminated substances that can be found in vacant lots and burned homes, said Raleigh, including leaking gas cans, lead paint and scrap metal. 

“Many times kids like to take short cuts when they’re walking to school and are sometimes less aware of their environment than adults,” she said. “They may happen to walk through one of these sites and pick up something on their clothes or shoes or if they’re wearing shorts, they may brush up against something like a piece of scrap metal or broken glass.”   

In the neighborhoods near Detroit City High School, the data collectors found numerous abandoned structures and some vacant homes that weren’t boarded or properly secured. 

“I think the most surprising thing was the fact that so many of the vacant lots and structures were heavily concentrated close to the school,” Raleigh said. 

Teachers affiliated with the institute hope to share their findings with their future students, teaching them how to record data using GPS units. Patrice Hopkins, a teacher at Detroit City High School, said “I’m glad that I’m getting out here and I’m finding out how to use the equipment and learning about how others use the equipment to gather data.” 

Hopkins hopes to teach her students how to record GPS data, and how to analyze their findings.  

D3 is proud to be a part of a project that is pushing for the safety of Detroit residents and children.  

“Putting this information together and making it accessible to the public gives them a leg to stand on when they go to the city as one voice and say ‘this is a problem and this needs to be fixed,’” said Raleigh.