Investing in Detroit by the square inch

Boingboing Loveland Image Over a year ago, my friend Jerry Paffendorf showed up at a party with a picture of a ruler on his shirt and the words, "Iʼve got twelve inches in Detroit."

He explained his new project, Loveland, describing it as a series of micro-hoods made of inches that he would sell for $1 each. Some of the people stood around looking puzzled or skeptical about the prospect of a bicoastal urban techno-hipster moving into Detroit to sell tiny parcels -- and for what?

Iʼve worked extensively in blighted cities before, though, and the idea that we should avoid them because theyʼre suffering is, at best, no different than ignoring a sick friend. At worst itʼs contributing to the decay and neglect eroding many American cities. I became the first "inchvestor" in Loveland on the spot.

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Plymouth, the first Loveland micro-hood, shown above on the ground in Detroit. Inches are a powerful metaphor for units of measurement in a shrinking city. The project is a collaborative hybrid-reality experiment, with the idea being that the crisis faced by Detroit is so massive that an inch is a simple platform on which to build, the same way a seed can become a tree. I own 1000 inches in the first micro-hood, Plymouth. 588 people from around the world share space there.

The inches, however, started growing more quickly than anyone had anticipated. By the time I made my first trip to Detroit after becoming an inchvestor, two new properties had already become a part of the project. The first time I saw the Corktown houses, one destroyed by arson and the other shuttered with squatters living inside, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before the collective vision for the spaces became real.

Boingboing Imagination Station

The house on the left has since begun its transformation with massive volunteer effort and brainpower into an art space and the one on the right is becoming a media literacy center. The campus is now known as the Imagination Station.

Two artists have already installed works in the space. Marianne Burrows painted "Reclamation" on the charred walls and Catie Newell recently installed "Salvaged Landscape," a gorgeous piece that creates a new perspective from destruction.

The point of Loveland is to start somewhere, together, to connect with people, amplify the awesome and see where it goes. And so far, as the mayor of Loveland, I find the inchventure tremendous, for all its ostensible tiny-ness. Stay tuned for more as it develops.


  1. I think it’s a cute idea, and I wish the best of luck to anything that results – like the “art space” (though I find those generally to be silly places) and library.

    It does draw attention to the fact that there is nothing physically wrong with these places – if people had the means and motivation, they could build anything in the wastelands of places like Detroit and Buffalo (which is not *quite* as bad as Detroit but it’s where I’m from).

    But, it also makes you realize the futility of it. So, people are investing in a couple small properties – great. How many tens of thousands of similar properties are there as well? Who will be willing to live there – there are no jobs, remember? People can’t even find a job in more prosperous parts of the country.

    There is something to be said for the idea that it takes seeds to make things grow. But to revitalize places like Detroit and Buffalo will take the equivalent of corporate mega-farms of millions of acres, as compared to this which is more like a potted plant you put on the windowsill.

    1. your comments remind me of an ancient proverb. “Man who says something that cannot be done should not interrupt person doing it.”

      The rebuilding of Detroit and other places will happen with creative ideas like this, not with mega-corporations and foreign investments. Seeing the concept behind this at TEDxDetroit sealed my previous commitment to put a dollar towards their idea, and launched my support of Lemonade: Detroit (google it).

      Proud supporter and “inchvestor” of @MakeLoveLand’s “Monumental Kitty” and supporting producer of Lemonade: Detroit

  2. Do you pay property tax on your inches? Can anyone actually develop them, or are they taken out of circulation?

  3. Taxes are a powerful metaphor for units of measurement in a civilized society. The project is a collaborative hybrid-reality experiment in confiscating your toy because you didn’t pay for it.

    1. Taxes are being paid on the parcels, which are purchased according to the laws of the city. The micro-hoods occupy small areas in larger parcels on which taxes are being paid and care is being given, often on parcels that were completely ruined previously.

  4. @penguinchris This project and others like it create a strong community forum in which people can connect on other ideas, including sustainable farming. Over 500 people in Detroit showed up for the party when the first micro-hood, Plymouth, was launched.

    @foobar The land is purchased and developed by Loveland. Taxes are paid.

  5. This reminds me of the guy who sold little squares of space on his one-page website. Although I think the squares of real property in Detroit are are worth less than those pixels.

  6. Brilliant!!! Buy craptastic land in Detroit for $.03 per square inch and sell shares of it for $1.00 per square inch all the while maintaining actual ownership of said parcel.

  7. @foobar, @truthism: I didn’t realize I wasn’t signed in–sorry. I’m the one who replied to you about taxes.

  8. Boo to the naysayers.

    I went and bought 12 inches right away. I think it’s an interesting art project.

  9. Alaska did this year ago when I was a child (now 65) it was a cereal premium. I do not remember much but I do remember getting the fancy deed that I wished I still had today.

  10. @Anon #12 I think Matta-Clark purchased unusable “leftover” lots from NYC auctions with the idea of creating anarchitectural interventions within them. When he died the ownership returned to the city. The project was know as “Fake Estates”

    His “building cuts” were awesome though. Unfortunately, he never wore a mask while wielding that sawz-all. I’m not sure if that was the cause of his pancreatic cancer, but asbestos can be a bitch.

  11. hi all, this is jerry, the person rita mentioned and one of the peeps working on the project. if anyone’s curious and wants to talk more directly about it, call me at 908-343-1981 or hit me at jerry[at]

    one thing i’ll add is that as we work on the microhoods we keep our eyes peeled for ideas that can scale up from inches and have larger impact. there’s definitely a method to the madne…exploration. :-)

    we started a micro grant program earlier this year where a portion of inch sales go to fund other projects in the city (so your contribution clearly makes something real and you become a mini land baron at the same time). branching from that, we just did our first custom fundraising setup for a new documentary about detroit where you can buy frames and become a producer: . we hope to do a lot more “entertainment fundraising” things like that where you can put your dollars into the arcade machine of the world to make real things happen and get cool social ownership rewards (the imagination station is next — working on an alternate currency framework where dollars donated become “watts” that are spendable in the system).

    and check out recognizing there’s not much difference between an inch and a house or a city block besides scale, we’ve begun filling in a map of detroit with real life parcel data and info using the social mapping system we originally built for the microhoods. i think when we snap together the micro payment system with the detroit map and start highlighting more projects and properties to inchvest in, we’ll have something triply special on our hands.

    thanks to the early inchvestors for your support and welcome aboard! we’re here working hard to make it the greatest inchvestment of your life. don’t be a stranger.

    much love from the D,


  12. Wow. I hope if you give them an inch, they don’t take a foot. What if they see these micro parcels as a new source of tax revenue?

  13. I saw Jerry and Mary Lorene speak at TEDxDetroit this year and I was energized by what they’re doing. Sometimes it just takes an idea, and a reason for people to be interested. I’ve got 24″ so far, and I’ve been encouraging my friends to take an interest and get involved.

    It’s easy to be cynical about Detroit. As someone who lived in Detroit, went to university in Detroit and continues to live very close and frequent the city sometimes it takes a crazy idea to get people involved. For those of us who want to make a positive difference this is one way to get our friends to pay attention and to draw them into action. We have to start somewhere, right?

  14. Been done before.

    Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, an Emerson, Lake and Palmer knockoff of sorts (as if the world needed such a thing) gave away deeds to a square foot of land in a poor area of England with each first edition of their album The Good Earth.

  15. I’m going to buy just enough room to put a futon. Then I’m moving in. You hipsters, stay off of my lawn. My tiny, tiny lawn.

  16. I grew up up the highway from some Pottawatamie Indians down 12 mile Bay Road (south of Mactier, Ontario)

    They are the rightful owners of all the land between Detroit and Buffalo.

    When the Americans were forcing Indians to sign treaties after the war of 1812 this particular band abstained from signing and instead moved up to Canada.

    Not Native to Canada, Queen Victoria personally allotted them some land to live on in Georgian Bay.

    The US government has refused for over 60 years to hear their case in court…I wonder why:)?

    Maybe because the U.S. government isn’t willing to return all the land belonging to United Empire Loyalists either

  17. What happened to the squatters in one of the houses? Did they get another place to live or were they just kicked out on the street?

    1. Why the haterade? Everything’s been done before yet nothing like this has been done before. What are YOU doing? Are stories of hope and creativity so troubling to you?

      Mr. Ripley, the squatters have supported the project since its inception. We at the Imagination Station recently shared a well-earned beer with them after the opening of the art installation. They moved to a nearby house (there are plenty more), but return often to visit us and to visit their old digs, inspect the transformation, and appreciate the art. It was really quite moving to walk through the space with them, hear their thoughts on the art, and get their approval on the whole project.

  18. As I said the last couple of times this thing was blogged about on Boing^2, the “investors” don’t actually own anything. So when the Loveland site says, “Buy real land in Detroit for $1 a square inch” it’s a … what’s the word for when you say something that you know isn’t true?

  19. hi mithras, while the terms of service for inchvestors is an evolving process (and really should be left open to “the spirit of the thing” so we can make adjustments for any number of reasons including safety, city decree, neighbor opinions, and just better ideas that expand the underlying concept), inches are indeed backed by real land and are definitely tracked within our system as shares that belong to the individual inchvestors. it’s a bit like a virtual good backed by a tangible asset (sort of like money and gold used to be :)).

    please see a post i wrote at the end of june called “musings on what it means to be an inchvestor” for more thoughts about this:

    a couple of related things to add that have to do with “realness” for inchvestors. when the project started we decided to stay away from a “speculation game” that would encourage people to buy and sell their inches immediately (or just slap up advertising, though that’s a separate thing). along the way we’ve had several people gift, give, or sell inches to others, and have made those updates manually. recently we’ve been revisiting the idea of allowing people to resell their inches through the site. just a simple switch that lets you put up a “for sale” sign and set a price, so that process which we already allow can happen more easily.

    we’ve also looked at formalizing contracts with inchvestors so there’s more iron clad legaleze, but that too seemed outside of the spirit of the thing, creating friction and slowing down our ability to evolve the project. we have made some interesting discoveries while looking into that, though. one of which is that with the right contract inchvestors might actually be able to vote in detroit. something about membership in a condo type association that has a mailing address.

    anyway, the moral of the story is the only L word going on is lovin (and part of the reason we leave it open as we grow is precisely so we don’t break promises even as things change :)). just wanted to clarify that.

    lots of incheresting questions and possibilities sprouting out of the inchventure. that’s for sure.


  20. Mr. Paffendorf,
    I’m not your lawyer. But if I were, I would tell you that you should be more careful about how you describe your venture.

    It seems to me what you are really doing is soliciting donations to your entity, Why Don’t We Own This LLC. People who “buy” land through you are actually making a gift to the LLC and are receiving nothing but warm fuzzies in return.

    I’d be good with that if you were up front about it with the “inchvestors” through a robust, prominent disclosure that said something like, “Despite the word ‘buy’, you aren’t really buying anything. You’re giving money so we can do this really cool project. We’re pretending you own land so you’ll feel even better about the whole thing.” But you don’t.

    Instead, the “join” page on the site says this:

    “Your inches are not legally binding with the city of Detroit so you won’t have to worry about things like paying taxes or other legal implications. The way this works is LOVELAND legally owns the property and is extending social ownership to its inchvestors.”

    It’s true that the “inches” are not legally binding on the city of Detroit. What you aren’t saying it that they’re not legally binding on you, either.

    I am guessing you think using a phrase like “social ownership” will communicate to “inchvestors” that this is just sort of a fun thing and don’t get all hung up on the legalities, man. But on the front page of the site you invite people to “purchase” land. And some people may not understand that “social ownership” does not mean “ownership”. I am not a Michigan lawyer, but under the laws of most states and the federal government, offering to sell something and then failing to convey it after people pay you is fraud.

    And in your response to me, you said something that’s potentially much more problematic for you:

    “[I]nches are indeed backed by real land and are definitely tracked within our system as shares that belong to the individual inchvestors.”

    The use of the word “shares” and the phrase “backed by real land” sounds like shares of stock or an asset-backed security in a corporation. Selling stock or other corporate securities is regulated by state and federal securities laws. Offering to sell securities without issuing a prospectus and complying with many other requirements is also a crime.

    You suggestion that “inchvestors” might in the future be able to sell their inches, potentially for a profit. That would be a stunningly bad idea. A “share” that can go up and down in value and can be sold on a market is the exact definition of “security”. Again I think you’re trying to mitigate the risk by saying “tracked within our system”, to convey the fact that these “shares” are not legally enforceable, but the law usually says the question is whether an average person would understand that from reading your solicitation.

    Maybe most of the people who give you money understand they don’t really own anything. Maybe most prosecutors would not consider you a worthwhile target. But maybe not. Again, I’m not your lawyer, and this does not constitute legal advice. I assume you have legal counsel and I encourage you to consult with them on these issues.

    Personally, I think what you’re doing is kind of shady. Given the way the language on your site tapdances around the issues I raised makes me suspect you’re aware of them and you think you’re being clever. I guess you are if you get away with it.

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