Knight News Challenge: EmergenCity

Team Name & Project Title: EmergenCity

Team Members: Yash Bhutada, Nadia Todoroff, Jacqueline Gamache

Requested Amount: $10,000 for development of website and application

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 4 weeks

Description:  EmergenCity will be a website and mobile application focused on uniting, informing and empowering citizens whose city governments have been appointed emergency managers. Our goal is to take the protests online where actual progress can be made. Citizens’ concerns about public safety, health, the environment and economy will be tallied and addressed. Detroit’s recent appointment of Kevyn Orr has resulted in peaceful protest and demonstrations throughout the city. Orr has been left tea bags representing taxation without representation and Oreo cookies symbolizing black leaders acting in the interests of corporate White America. Lawsuits have been filed in the name of democracy and protection of voting rights. These latent actions may be buzz worthy, but do not help to focus on solving the problems with this new leader. Our website will provide a “To Do List” to a newly appointed manager so that he or she can act in the best interest of those who live there. The site will have three sections. First, all relevant news articles will be uploaded automatically and organized by issue, making it easier to stay informed. A search algorithm similar to Google Alerts will be used to create this constant stream of news from a variety of online news sources. It will no longer be necessary to visit multiple web sites to view all sides of the issue. Secondly, users will be required to create Facebook-linked profiles in order to post comments, engage in discussions, take surveys and participate in polls. Data can then be passed along to the emergency manager summarizing overall concerns of participants and their demographic biographies. If managers fail to meet the requests and instead cater to the needs of powerful industries, then voters will have proof that the emergency manager model is flawed. Lastly, action plans, desired outcomes and timelines will be provided by Orr and easily accessible for the public. Analysis of success or failure of these plans will be completed by residents in the discussion/survey/poll section.

What unmet need does your product meet? Concerns have quickly gained momentum in the media and are fueled by the protection of voting rights for those living in the six cities now under control by an appointed emergency manager. Currently, 50% of these cities are African American. Protests, lawsuits and numerous articles are not enough to help solve the real problems in these cities. Our website and mobile application will give a collective voice to residents and help prioritize the needs of citizens for emergency managers.

Interviews: Overall, residents feel well informed about the fact that there is an emergency manager, but many are still unclear about his action plan. They feel a website or application would be useful to receive updates once the plan is in place.  

Mohammed Rafid (morafid@gmail.com)
Age: 20 Gender: Male Occupation: Student Town of residence: Ann Arbor

Most of Rafid’s general information is gathered from Bloomberg, Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, Bloomberg, CNN, New York Times and Wikipedia. Rafid feels well informed about the appointment of Detroit’s emergency manager. Originally from the area, he feels crime rate, poverty, education, abandoned buildings, entrepreneurship, deficits, and the health of the business sector are important issues that need to be addressed. He is “happy that Detroit was appointed an emergency manager” and says, “Kevyn Orr seems to be a good fit given his past experiences, attitude, and proposed actions.” He would not want an application only devoted to the actions of emergency managers, but would want an application that outlines specific plans the city will enact, and should explain the problem it will solve, when the plan will be done, and its expected results.

 Lolita Hernandez (lolahern@umich.edu)

Age: 63 Gender: Female Occupation: UofM Lecturer Town of residence: Detroit

Hernandez uses local and national papers, MSNBC, and politically active locals to receive most of her news. Detroit residents and officials need to be concerned about jobs, the emergency manager, Detroit Public Schools, crime, and the lack of local political leadership. She feels “informed enough” about the emergency manager appointment and “is against it. The people of Michigan voted against having emergency mangers and no data shows that they work.” She would use both a website and mobile application dedicated to this topic and hopes each can be easily sorted.

Nassem Ramin (nasseem.ramin@gmail.com)

Age: 28 Gender: Female Occupation: Attorney Town of residence: Dearborn

Ramin feels the biggest issues in Detroit are currently mismanagement, city services, public schools and crime. She feels the appointment of the emergency manager is “unfortunate, but probably necessary.” She has visited freep.com a few times a week, but does not feel well informed on the subject. “Given his background and the state of the city, I think we can expect prepackaged bankruptcy.” She prefers to seek the information out herself. “When an e-mail or alert comes to me and I don’t have to read it at the moment, I just delete it.” She would like to see a website dedicated to Orr’s actions and plans for the city with weekly updates and projections.

John Tafelski (jtafelski@gmail.com)

Age: 32 Gender: Male Occupation: Educator Town of residence: Dearborn

Tafelski sees “the size of the city and the lack of a tax base” as an important Detroit issue. “It is simply not sustainable to have trash pickup for two houses in the middle of nowhere, let alone police and fire coverage.” He feels that the appointment of the emergency manager is “a great move. They have so many issues, and the city government is so corrupt. An emergency manger is the best route to go. When the mayor’s first comment is ‘I finally have a partner,’ I think that speaks volumes.” Tafelski doesn’t feel incredibly informed about the plan. Until he sees the issues at hand, he will not truly know the direction he needs to go in. He feels the most convenient way to access information about the emergency manager is through the Free Press. Tafelski also follows Mayor Bing on Twitter. A website with “measurable objectives, i.e. we will cut 10% from the budget, we will knock down 400 houses, and the progress made on those objectives, would be helpful. I care less about the plan and more about something being done.”

How big is the potential market for your idea? The potential market is anyone interested in Detroit’s happenings. This ranges from high school students to retirees. Specifically, the target markets include high school students interested in government, social and economic issues, college students who are affected by Detroit’s policies, adults who have a job in the area or live there, and retired individuals in Detroit. It will be relevant to men, women, and others. Currently, there are about 700,000 people in Detroit. Our idea will be relevant to about 70% of those people, in which 30% of the population of Detroit is children under the age of 18.

How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing?

EmergenCity is an innovative project primarily because nothing like it has been done before. The issue of an emergency manager coming to Detroit without the consent of the public is problematic for many Detroit residents, due to the fact that the public had no say in the matter. Our project gives a voice to the community by providing community members with an application and/or online website where they can discuss their opinions and concerns with the support and suggestions of their fellow community members. EmergenCity provides a unique online discussion system reflecting on the issues deriving from the newly appointed emergency manager, and can be utilized in any city around the country that has been appointed with an emergency manager. EmergenCity strives to provide a collective, community-based discussion forum that is well organized and easy to access. As of now, the city of Detroit does not have any online resources that provide a place to discuss issues and concerns regarding the emergency manager.

How will your idea be financially sustainable?  Our idea is financially sustainable because after our mobile app and website are developed, the level of maintenance for both of these are minimal. Our team has already established a business partner for both the application and website, and we have secured a fee to create both. After this one time fee, Yash Bhutada has the skills to maintain the website and keep the mobile application updated. His experiences as the Media & Design Chair for the South Asian Awareness Network taught him how to maintain websites and use HTML, and also work with coding for mobile applications. Thus, the second part of the project will not require any additional fees – simply time for updates and maintenance.
 
Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?

Our group is ideal for implementing EmergenCity because we have found that many Detroit residents find the concept of an emergency manager to be extremely unfair or unconstitutional. Detroit residents are struggling to get their voices heard and with the newly appointed emergency manager, now is the time to mobilize. Our group wishes to represent these people by providing them with a constructive outlet to voice their opinions about the emergency manager.

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2 Responses to “Knight News Challenge: EmergenCity”

  1. Wow, this is a great way to get the community to have a conversation about this very important topic in Michigan right now. I do have a couple of things to note that you may want to consider.

    First off, you may consider making your proposal a little less biased. If you do want the Michigan state government to take your demands more seriously, you will need to inspire thoughtful and constructive debate from both sides of the issue. As your proposal is worded now, it seems that it is catered mostly to people who are opposed to this city manager policy. Those who are for it may resent the tone of your project and possibly react more negatively than you want. Of course if you’re catering to one side, your polls are unlikely to represent the true opinion of citizens, and thus may lose credibility.

    Secondly, I realize this is a timely issue, but have you given any thought on how you could support the longevity of this site? After the city manager steps down, whether that be because they achieve their goals or they are persuaded by the citizens, what will happen to the site? Will it take up new issues? Or could it be more encompassing than just this specific issue?

    Finally, how will you get residents outside of Michigan to weigh in on this topic? Or do you think they should be able to weigh in?

    Overall, I like the idea. I really do wish there were more ways for young people (and old) to engage with the issues facing their communities and state. We are too often desensitized and its too easy to block that stuff out, if you’re not making an effort. You just made that effort all the easier!

  2. I give you big points for a clever name and connecting with a very passionate, timely and important issue that will impact millions of people over a short period of time. You’ve also identified an area where news aggregation is needed for various reasons.

    So, you had me there.

    And then you lost me.

    As has been pointed out already, your proposal is already sort of biased in its language in a number of cases.

    A couple assumptions and generalizations concern me especially: you talk about African-American cities. I think you mean cities with higher population percentages, densities, etc., but I’m not certain. Not at all the same thing. You shift from a plan to develop a web site to “a web site and an app too.” Boom. Just like that. Is there really a need or use case for making this an app too? You glaze over a mention of finding a business partner without any details at all. What is the plan? Who’s kicking in? How much are they ponying up? We’re I doling out funds for this I would pounce on this like the stars of Shark Tank. Also, saying you have a business model does not mean you HAVE a business model. Would people pay to access this site? Would anyone advertise here? What would bring back returning eyeballs? While we’re on the topic I think you’ve grossly underestimated the costs and time investment required. Ask for more. How much? Double? Triple? Even quadruple.

    Now, I do think there is a lot of potential with an idea like this. For example, as the EM gets to work there will be a real fundamental need to track decisions, quantify them, update the status of specific projects, and so on. This is something MSM is not well positioned to do. BUT I also don’t think it will be something you could script or automate as easily as you indicate. This goes to the very nature of authentication: what is a reliable news source? Do blogs count? Tweets? Videos? Personal Facebook posts? In the right situations, yes, all of the above. That will take careful scrutiny and diligent effort to gather and share all the relevant data related to a particular topic.

    God luck. You’ve got the seed of a very strong idea here.

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