The Internet for Urban Revitalization: Opening and Connecting Distributed Problem-Solving for Detroit

1 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2015

See all articles by William H. Dutton

William H. Dutton

University of Southern California; GCSCC Computer Science University of Oxford

Mitchell Shapiro

Michigan State University - Quello Center

Michael Thelwall

University of Wolverhampton

Date Written: March 31, 2015


The Internet and related communication and information technologies are becoming a new focus of efforts to support urban decision-making and development, such as around the innovative use of big data analytics. While Detroit has been among the most prominent illustrations of efforts to revitalize major US central cities, far less attention has been focused on the use of the Internet to support its development.

This paper reports on a case study of the role of innovative Internet initiatives to support the revitalization of the city’s social, political and economic development. While much of the progress to date in Detroit reflects on-the-ground interactions of dedicated citizens working in brick & mortar organizations, our research focused on the degree that initiatives were being pursued through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), including the Internet, mobile communication, and collaborative data collection and decision-making. Given that ICT-based initiatives could face major challenges in Detroit — including over half of households without Internet access — they could nevertheless be playing valuable roles if individuals, organizations and data distributed across the city were networked to solve problems.

This study is based on early exploratory research that relies on three cumulative methodological approaches. First, we conducted desk and online research for Internet and related ICT projects that have sought to support the revitalization of Detroit. We then examined the Web-based links across these projects, using Webometric techniques, to assess the degree that these initiatives are isolated or linked with complementary projects. This yielded a second set of findings on the networks of projects within this space, including the relative centrality of projects within these networks. Based on these two foundations, we then conducted a set of qualitative interviews with individuals tied to key projects, such as by championing, leading or otherwise being knowledgeable about particular projects. These interviews enabled us to discuss the projects as a whole and provide more in-depth assessments of several embedded case studies of projects that appeared most exemplary of the potential for the Internet to support distributed problem-solving in Detroit.

Our findings illuminate specific ways ICTs have been used to promote Detroit’s community redevelopment goals, such as in civic engagement as well as in technology startups, and the role of such usage in achieving these goals, generally and in relation to specific types of projects, goals and management structures. This work also identifies the key obstacles to the more effective use of ICT-based initiatives, critically reviewing common assumptions about the impacts of a lack of connectivity, affordability, and digital literacy, for example. In conclusion, these case study findings are used to outline further research required in Detroit, and to identify emerging patterns and themes that might transfer to case studies of other cities in the US and globally that seek to use the Internet to support urban decision-making and development.

Keywords: ICT, wisdom of crowd, distributed intelligence, urban, development, citizen engagement, Detroit

Suggested Citation

Dutton, William H. and Shapiro, Mitchell and Thelwall, Michael, The Internet for Urban Revitalization: Opening and Connecting Distributed Problem-Solving for Detroit (March 31, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

William H. Dutton (Contact Author)

University of Southern California ( email )

3502 Watt Way #304
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

GCSCC Computer Science University of Oxford ( email )

Department of Computer Science
Robert Hooke Bldg 010
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3PR
United Kingdom

Mitchell Shapiro

Michigan State University - Quello Center ( email )

406 Communication Arts Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
United States

Michael Thelwall

University of Wolverhampton ( email )

Wulfruna Street
Wolverhampton, West Midlands WV1 1SB
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics