Innovators' Guild:Detroit [for the MIT Media Lab]

*An article follows the photos

 The MIT Media Lab on the Weertz farm in Detroit, MI


The MIT Media Lab teaches youth participates at the Mt. Elliot Makerspace how to "hack" and repurpose off-the-self lighting equipment. 


Members of the Innovators' Guild meet with members of a church congregation on Detroit's west side. 

The MIT Media Lab, the design firm IDEO, and Detroit-area social change agents are collaborating on a project called the Innovators Guild: Detroit. The guild's mission is to use design to solve social problems.

I was commissioned by the MIT Media Lab to document the launch of IG:Detroit in October. Over the course of four days, technology and design luminaries from around the world worked with Detroit do-ers to identify and prototype solutions to social problems in the following categories:

  • DIY Lighting: In 1950, Detroit had nearly 2 million residents. As of the  2010 census, the city had 713,777 residents. The precipitous decline in residency and the corresponding drop in property tax revenue has caused vast swatches of Detroit's lighting infrastructure to go dim. The DIY Lighting team is tasked with finding low-cost ways for citizens to to see and be seen in communities without public lighting. 
  • Digital Community: Social science research suggests that communities become safer and more productive as community members feel more connected to each other. The Digital Community's task is to use technology to foster a sense of interconnectedness in communities all-to-often marred by violence and other anti-social behavior. 
  • Air Monitoring: Air pollution is a seemly unavoidable byproduct of industrialization. The Air Monitoring team's goal is to provide citizens with an accessible way to monitor and report changes in air quality. 
  • DIY Soil Safety: As interest in urban gardening rises, there is an ever-increasing need to identify and remediate harmful soil contaminants. The soil safety team is tasked with creating ways for everyday citizens to monitor soil quality. 
  • Compost Rotation: In addition to being a great way to reuse otherwise wasted resources, compost is a necessary step in a successful urban garden. The compost team's goal is to further refine the urban composting process and increase public awareness of it.  
I was honored to document the launch of this project. I was amazed by how many citizen-oriented solutions the teams were able create over the four days of the Guild's launch. I expect the project's impact to grow exponentially in the coming months.  I believe my expectation is well-founded as the project has the stalwart support of the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation.

For updates on the IG:Detroit project, visit the project's blog. To view the photos from his post with captions, click here. To view the full collection of images, click here.

Noah Stephens  is a photographer, essayist and founder of  The People of Detroit Photodocumentary - a media project dedicated to dynamic, interesting  people in the storied birthplace of American auto manufacturing.  Since its inception in April 2010,  TPOD has received national and international attention. Portraits from the project have appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeekFast Company and other national publications. 

In early 2011, a creative director saw the project on flickr.com and hired Noah to shoot an ad campaign for McDonald's Corporation in Shanghai, China. 

The People of Detroit Photodocumentary is funded in part by a grant from CEOS for Cities and the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation.

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