Update on "inchvesting" in Detroit

TURNING INTO GODS - 'Concept Teaser' from Jason Silva, a resident of the Imagination Age in Loveland, who believes that it's possible for life in our hybrid community to go on forever, and ever, and ever...

If you saw a tiny inch-tall horse standing among thoroughbreds, would you bet on it? You might if you suspected it could grow during the race and at some point, before the finish line, turn into a flying dragon. That's what I thought about when Jerry Paffendorf first told me about his plans for the Loveland project in Detroit.

I bought one thousand square inches (for $1 each) in Loveland's first microhood, Plymouth. This neighborhood is called the Imagination Age. There are 588 residents of Plymouth including Jane McGonigal, Christian Renaud and Stephen McGee and dozens more in the Imagination Age, among them Grady Booch, Frank Rose and Jason Silva

Some "inchvestors" have been letting Loveland unfold before hatching development plans, but others have been ignited by the pace set by the project's directors. Loveland recently applied for support from the Knight Foundation to support development. Check the project out if you're interested in the future of news and creative approaches to making Detroit the city of the future once again.

Amanda Peterson, an Urban Planning Masters student at the University of Michigan recently reached out to me with her housemate Erin Guido to collaborate on the Imagination Age's urban augmented architecture project: Inchvisible Houses. "Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement, has been a great inspiration on the path to Inchvisible Houses. The rise of the small but beautifully designed home is just beginning, and so is the rise of young people creating their own futures.


  1. I heard that community was hit by a lot of burglaries….which kind of cemented my opinion that Detroit is a lost cause. Wouldn’t go there without carrying, anyway, and I’m not too sure how big Michigan is on issuing permits.

  2. Holy ponzi scheme, Batman!

    This is Detroit we’re talking about, right? Detroit? Where entire neighborhoods of houses are just sitting around abandoned?

    Detroit does not need microhouses. Tokyo needs microhouses.

    Detroit does not need to sell real estate by the inch. Hong Kong needs to sell real estate by the inch.

    Detroit does not need smug hipsters feeling good about themselves because they contributed to a Cause. Detroit needs actual manufacturing investment, or, failing that, a strong breeze and a match.

  3. Detroit needs investors that can do math… at 6272640 square inches per acre, charging $1 per inch is placing a value of more than $6 million per acre on the land being bought. Somehow I don’t think anything like that is being paid for these parcels, or will ever be plowed into the projects to take place on them. A dollar a square foot might be more like it. And, hey, at least then in theory if you ever went there in person you could actually *stand* on one or two microparcels, if not yet developed.

  4. Beelzebuddy wrote: “Detroit does not need microhouses. Tokyo needs microhouses.”

    To which I reply: “This Earth does not need any more MacroHouses.(tm)”

    1. Anon replied: “This Earth does not need any more MacroHouses.(tm)”

      To which I retort: “This Earth doesn’t have needs.”

  5. “In the science of today, we become artists. In the art of today, we become scientists.”

    Dear Jason Silva,
    Please put your shirt back on and shut your piehole. In the science of today, the scientists are still scientists and they’re not doing anything you’d be interested in.

  6. Fucking metric, how does it work?

    (ok, i’m, like, rilly, rilly sorry for the ‘fucking rainbowz’ joke.)

  7. I really think its great someone is this into something… anything. But its trivial to me. Sure its art aimed at gaining something which is good its what they aim for that shocks me. We live in a society that may have changed radically the last 20 years but it still is the same old class society where some live like shit and die young and some don’t and the base reason for that is the current form of our economical society. Technology can change things, art can inspire but when what we aim at is some middle class art school fantasy its just depressing in a way. Its cute, its also great and aweinspiring but still damn depressing that THIS is the height of their dreams.

  8. Will echo the statements about the $1/inch. With homes in Detroit selling for as little as $500, that works out to less than 7 cents/square inch (assume 5,000 sq foot lot).

  9. I’m still trying to figure out what inchvesting actually does for Detroit. Yes, I read the linked site; it didn’t make it clear to me at all. What the heck is a “payment-integrated social map”? How do you “place the microhoods in the same map as urban neighborhoods”? How does it help build community and revitalize the real-life city of Detroit to have people make up fantasy homes and businesses on their inch of land, then “log into their land” and use it as a social networking site? Why use the word “residents” when the inch-owners don’t live there?

    I’m left with the vague feeling that people are playing Farmville with a real city, and forgetting about the actual people who actually live in Detroit.

    The most I can piece together is that this is a method of raising money to buy land and make public/community gardens? Yes?

    1. I’m still trying to figure out what inchvesting actually does for Detroit.

      I’ve only found a vague promise to, at some undefined point in the future, donate some portion of the “profits” to Detroit. They have also used funds to purchase a solar-powered webcam with which to view your Lilliputian fiefdom.

      This is more akin to buying acres of land on the moon than any charitable endeavor, though with a dose of apparently unironically patronizing mockery.

      If this takes off, I’m totally calling dibs on “COG, the Collectible Orphan Game.” See, how this will work is, through my site you adopt a random orphan (or several!) from one of those African shitholes Jane Fonda always films from. Then, you can wager your orphans as currency in a variety of competitive online games (“cogs” again, see? Marketing!) or trade them with others if having a neat collection is your thing – nationality, disease, remaining limbs – the possibilities are endless!

  10. $6,272,640 per acre? You’ve got to be smoking crack! At least you’ll fit in with the other residents of Detroit.

  11. The rise of the small but beautifully designed home is just beginning, and so is the rise of young people creating their own futures.

    Lets tackle this one backwards. “the rise of young people creating their own futures [is just beginning]” ? What kind of parallel universe has a person who thinks this been living in for the last, oh, 5000 years? can i even find a single generation in the history of any even vaguely civilized society in which this idea was not part of the zeitgeist? i mean, good grief, what would the hippies, the beats, the jazz generation … what would even hermann hesse’s crowd of young nature loving frolickers say to the notion that their age(s) had no chance for young people to create their own futures?

    now to those small houses. they are very, very lovely. extremely lovely. but before one starts reinventing something as basic as “the house” or even just “shelter”, the fact that we’ve been doing this stuff for several thousand years leads to a certain intellectual responsibility to start, not from gorgeous aesthetics and a certain hip attachment to “less volume is better”, but from a historical perspective of why existing houses are the way they are.

    although there are many distorting and ugly influences on the homes that most Americans live in, these are not the only influences. some of the more benign ones have really been quite influential. ideas like “a place to practice my hobbies”. or “a place to store stuff i use 6 times a year”. or “a place to put a really large object that i treasure for reasons that may or may not be inexplainable to you”. or “a corner of the house where we can fuck like rabbits without the kids hearing us”. or “a kitchen where i can prepare food for 12 friends”. or “somewhere i can put my bike to protect it from rust etc.”… obviously, the list goes on.

    most of us have phases in our lives where this kind of small house is not only ideal, but strangely attractive. some of us might even have multiple phases like that. its good that options like this should become more available and that we don’t shoehorn everyone into a 3 bedroom family house etc. etc. but by the same token, its also important to understand why our homes evolved in the way that they have done, and that the extra bits that get added to bridge the transformation from “tiny house” to “big(ish) house” aren’t all just idle fads or nefarious jones-keeping-up-with BS. many of them represent the fulfillment of the actual, real life needs of dreams of many different ordinary people.

  12. I can’t believe I sat through that video. I have seen male impotence drug commercials with more information and less innuendo. In fact, I could say the same about the entire site. WTF exactly have they done? What do they plan to do? Can they explain either of these things without babbling in innuendo?

    I can’t help but think with this much complete and total lack of information this is either a scam or really good intentioned delusions of grandure.

    Can anyone explain, concretely and without spaming me with made up words or fluffy adjectives that involve “hope” and “imagination”, WTF it is these people have done to date and intend to do in the future?

  13. As I said to Paffendorf the last time Rita King posted on this, the whole thing is shady. No one is actually “buying” anything. They are giving money to Paffendorf’s business, Why Don’t We Own This LLC, and getting nothing tangible in return. And Paffendorf had better watch how he describes this venture, because he’s skating the edge between fluffy dishonesty and fraud.

    1. Mithras,

      I thought what you said in the other post was incredibly important, so I’m taking the liberty to repost it here. If you’d prefer I take it down, let me know, and if it’s violating the comment policy, I apologize.

      “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.

  14. $1000 on this? I hope Ms. King really felt good after that. $1000 to established charities or social justice organizations in Detroit probably could have done a lot better than this bizarre art project/fuzzy idea/scheme.

  15. What an infuriatingly cheesy, pretentious, devoid-of-content video. I wanted to punch my screen. Truly AWFUL. Okay I get that it’s a “teaser”, but it failed to make me want to ever see anything that guy makes ever again. Ick.

    As for the project, I don’t really get it. It would be great to rescue Detroit, but it’s going to a macro effort.

    Pretty soon, you might be able to purchase entire swaths of contiguous Detroit real estate for under $0.10 per square foot (that’s 144 square inches). I’m talking entire neighborhoods of foreclosed properties that the banks just want to offload. Maybe someone with a lot of cash and know-how (Trump?) should go in and buy up some of those neighborhoods, and then rebuild them so that people actually want to live there again.

    Problem is, nobody will want to live there unless the crime problem is solved.

  16. Detroit is not a valid option to move to for most people.

    There are 4 grocery stores in city limits and those are discount chains not normal stores.

    They steal brick walls in Detroit. Brick walls. Some of the brick is worth a lot of money so they come along and chip off the top row of bricks, hook the wall to a truck, pull it down and sort through for the expensive bricks.

    This is the same place that urban hunting for small game is making a comeback.

    One of the valid options on the table is to relocate people and buldoze vast stretches of the city.

    If you want to be a free spirit and live cheap there are many other ways to do it that aren’t as life threatening. You could get a sailboat and anchor in a harbor and use a dingy to go to land (puget sound). You can gut a bus and live in the desert for cheap. You could trade maintenance or odd jobs for a parking space somewhere. Even taking a horrible job on a fish processing ship, cruise ship or roughnecking in an oil field is probably going to be safer than living in Detroit.

    If you are willing to do a bit of eco-homesteading and live off the grid and frugally there are lots of cheap lots across the country in boondock areas that you can live in. BUT there is a reason they are cheap. In most awesome areas the cost of living is expensive because people want to live there so it drives the cost up.

    If you really wanted to go crazy and had a job that you can do over the internet you could go live in a foreign country like Thailand or Costa Rica. The problem is with many low cost foreign countries is that the property crime can be tremendously higher than it is here and renter’s / homeowner’s insurance is not available.

  17. Those “small but beautifully designed homes” are indeed aesthetic marvels.

    I wonder how much they cost per square foot compared to rehabbing existing homes, a la Habitat for Humanity?

    And I wonder why they are all shown in lovely rural settings, rather than on lots in Detroit, or Philly, or Gary?

    Jus’ wonderin……..

  18. Those of you concentrating on “ownership” are missing an important point. Inchvesting and buy-a-frame exec producing are new fund-raising schemes for artists, especially those not located in LA or New York. Internet technology lets artists fund their projects with micro-donations.

    And remember this is an art project, not a community reinvestment project, although community reinvestment often happens with projects like these, even if it only consists of the local economy getting a few thousand dollars per year spent by the artists, income they wouldn’t have had without this kind of new tech-enabled micro-investing.

    I hope, as a documentary filmmaker without rich friends or important connections, that this kind of innovation may be supporting my crazy art projects in the next few years.

    1. So Marence, this is functionally the equivalent of a PayPal tip jar. “Like what I did with this trashed house? How about dropping a buck or two in the jar!”

      Which is a perfectly OK thing by me as long as the artist is out front about it. This Loveland group seems to be doing everything possible to cover what they are really doing with a patina of community development buzzwords.

  19. I’ve been aware of inchvesting for a while, and I have to say that Jerry has a really inspiring project on his hands. Thank you for featuring it on Boing Boing. Jerry and crew are doing something, they’re making things, and y’all are responding. Sadly, I’m sorry to see that the reaction is mostly negative (or confused), but that’s the nature of art. I’d rather have someone loathe my art, than have no opinion of it.

    I agree that it doesn’t make sense to install hundreds (or dozens) of micro-homes when there are vacant homes that could be restored (unless they’re on individual inches). And I am confused on where I stand in the life-extension / humans-are-gods movement, but without bringing up these ideas, it would have taken me a long while to consider them, or try and improve them. So I say: keep doing things Loveland, haters gonna hate.

      1. Trav, you’re supposed to love and endorse anything as long as it’s termed “art”. Didn’t you get the memo??

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