Blight Elimination - Surveying a Small Community

by Pam Jackson
Mar 7, 2016

Blight_Surveying a Small Community

The EPA defines a Brownfield as real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. In the state of Michigan that definition goes even further to identify blighted properties as brownfields as well. Marquette County has received a number of grants and loans to help fight blight and redevelop brownfield sites. Working with the county on an EPA Assessment Grant's Area-Wide Planning program, we were asked to identify the level of blight in a targeted area of the City of Ishpeming designated the Inspiration Zone. To help the county understand the distribution, number, and condition of properties in the area identified as the Inspiration Zone, Envirologic developed a plan and the necessary tools to survey the properties. The collected data will help the city, county, and residents develop a plan for redevelopment, repurpose, or demolition of the blighted structures. Additionally, the results provide a snapshot of community service issues that affect this targeted population.

The project began with the development of a Blight and Brownfield Property Survey and a Google Earth map that the County Planning Department built delineating the parcels of the targeted area. Determining what needed to be included in the survey, and how the survey would be conducted, were the next steps in the process. There are a number of blight survey apps available for data collection, but the cost associated is often out of reach for a small community. We determined the best way to proceed was to build our own survey model and method and then share the data in the free (and public) Google Earth platform and through other related Google services.

Blight Survey

Understanding what needed to be assessed within each parcel was relatively straightforward as the area is primarily residential. Our team spent time discussing various components that together determine if a property or building is blighted. We then turned that list into a one-page, user-friendly survey that could be completed quickly, but would include all of the necessary data the Marquette County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (MCBRA) was looking to collect. In addition to completing the paper survey, the team was also asked to photograph each property for reference purposes.

The team, which included a community leader, city and county staff, and an Envirologic team member, spent 2 1/2days surveying the Inspiration Zone completing 136 property surveys. We found it was important to include a community member as part of the survey team to validate the work being done. Before the actual survey date, a letter was sent to all property owners explaining that the area was serving as a pilot project and the data collected would be used to identify areas of concern, redevelopment opportunities, programs that could assist homeowners, and possible future funding sources.

Once the process was complete, the survey information along with property photographs were uploaded to Google Earth. This provided those involved (and interested community members) a simple way to review the data. Additionally, we compiled the results in data sets and graph formats which the County Treasurer shared at a public meeting with community residents and county stakeholders. The survey answered important questions about the condition of properties in the Inspiration Zone and provided the necessary data to make informed redevelopment decisions. Below are two examples of the disparity in this target area, but also demonstrate what could be if the correct tools and assistance were in place to support struggling (or absent) property owners.

Blight Survey Home #1 Blight Survey Home #2

If your community is looking for incentives or assistance developing a Blight Elimination Program, Envirologic would be happy to meet and discuss your needs. In addition, there are other organizations and resources available. In Michigan, the Blight Elimination Guidebook ( is an excellent resource, and on the National level, the Center for Community Progress offers a wide range of support services (

If you have questions about the Ishpeming survey or if you need further information about the work we do, please contact company President Jeff Hawkins. He can be reached at (269) 342.1100 or by email

Download the article here.

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blight  blight elimination  blight survey  ishpeming  envirologic  inspiration zone

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