This Q&A is the sixth in a series of profiles of Data Driven Detroit staff members.
Diana Flora comes to Data Driven Detroit as a Detroit Revitalization Fellow, but was introduced to D3 years ago through former D3 staff and classmates. Since joining the D3 team, Diana has been the D3 lead on the Motor City Mapping project, which began as a pilot in the Brightmoor neighborhood. She is also involved in a number of other D3 projects, including our work with UIX and the One D Scorecard. Outside of work, she is a member of the Center for Progressive Leadership Alumni Committee and enjoys spending her down time with her one year old nephew, Isaac, and experimenting in the kitchen.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Bay City, MI and grew up in a tiny 1.4 square-mile town called Essexville. 2010 population: 3,446.
Where did you go to school?
I have three degrees from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!).
What is your degree in? Why did you choose your degree?
I have a BA in Spanish and Anthropology, a Master of Public Policy (MPP), and a Master of Urban Planning (MUP). I chose the dual Masters because of how well they complemented each other – urban planners often think about problems and their solutions from a historical and spatial perspective, while policy wonks can be strategic and analytical. I fit somewhere in the middle.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?
After immigrating from Italy, my great-grandpa started a business here in Michigan that my family continues to own and operate, four generations later. What started as a grocery store is now a small chain of restaurants in mid-Michigan.
What is your history with Detroit?
Before moving here in January 2009, I visited Detroit a grand total of three times (two concerts and a class trip to the DIA). I read Origins of the Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue in college and started to pay more attention to what was happening in Detroit. After volunteering as a tutor, a researcher, and an organizer for countless of hours in the city, I finally decided to move to the city through a UM program called Semester in Detroit. The rest is history.
What did you do before working at D3?
When I first moved to Detroit, I was an intern for State Representative Rashida Tlaib. After graduating and completing an AmeriCorps year at Gleaners Community Food Bank, I worked again with Representative Tlaib as her Campaign Manager in 2010. I decided to go back to grad school for my MPP/MUP, and as a grad student, I had the opportunity to work with the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and Mayor Dave Bing as a Bohnett Foundation Public Service Fellow.
What do you like about working at D3? How do you think the work you are doing benefits the city/region?
The people! I’ve been with D3 for almost a year, but already I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many people who are doing incredible work in this city. I’m including D3 staff in that group as well; there’s a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm here that is inspiring.
What is your favorite D3 map or data visualization? I’m a big fan of our City Council District interactive tool, which displays a number of different variables over the new City Council districts. The tool gets people thinking about how to represent assets and challenges with political boundaries in mind, with the intent of holding our elected officials accountable for the community they represent.
What is your favorite type of data?
Spatial data. Being able to visualize the distribution of information across space – whether you’re looking at demographics or socioeconomic, environmental or housing data – reveals valuable insight into where we live, work and play.
Who or what inspired you to take the path to Detroit, data or both?
I was drawn (and continue to be drawn) to Detroit by its history, the people that I’ve met over the years and the incredible energy I’ve felt when spending time here. After I graduated from college, I wanted to be a community organizer, specifically in Detroit. In my first year, I quickly learned after meeting an amazing set of community leaders that being an organizer was not my skill set. As I watched people who were extremely effective at being representative voices for their community, I wondered what my role was. I went back to grad school to figure that out, discovering that I was pretty good at analysis, strategy and making data meaningful to people. Now that I’m back in Detroit, I couldn’t have asked for a better fit than D3.