Young people in Detroit remain at a severe disadvantage if their households are unable to get online. This project combines publicly available spatial data with information gathered from interviews of high school students in the city in order to map detailed geographies of digital access and exclusion across Detroit’s neighborhoods.
Number of Detroit Public School Students
rely on mobile-only access
Number of Detroit’s school-age children with no internet access at home
As investors pour money into the residential and commercial development of areas like Downtown, Midtown, and Corktown, residents in marginalized neighborhoods lack access to digital infrastructure and the necessary skills to use information effectively once connected. Indeed, despite recent development, Detroit has the lowest rate of Internet connectivity in the United States, excluding thousands of people from the opportunities for education, employment, and belonging afforded to those with the ability to get online. This condition is exacerbated by the economic precarity of many Detroiters, the high costs of individual residentially-based internet access, and uneven broadband internet service provision throughout Detroit’s neighborhoods. Referred to as “digital redlining,” some view disinvestment in digital infrastructure for less affluent, non-white communities as commensurate to discrimination. Many of those affected are school-aged kids that need the Internet to complete their homework, submit job applications, or simply socialize with their classmates. While research shows that most teens have some access to the Internet via schools, libraries, or public WiFi connections, young people remain at a severe disadvantage if their households are unable to get online. As various grassroots and political organizations work to build a robust digital ecosystem, and urban development is increasingly influenced by broadband or wireless accessibility, what kinds of egalitarian spaces emerge under this evolving techno-infrastructure? If the Internet fosters a more complex sense of belonging, how is the built environment reconfiguring to support nascent social structures and promote inclusion? How does access (or lack thereof) to these virtual networks challenge conventional understandings of public and private space? How do teenagers in the iGeneration occupy or navigate a metropolis that is significantly offline? If citizens are emboldened by access to digital technologies, how might a community-driven network architecture breakdown certain hierarchies and power structures commonly found in the city?
To address these questions, this project combines publicly available spatial data in G.I.S. with information gathered from interviews of high school students in the city in order to map detailed geographies of digital access and exclusion across Detroit’s neighborhoods. The project identifies latent opportunities to reimagine Detroit’s disinvested neighborhoods in ways that enable public assembly and internet connectivity, proposing urban design scenarios that are rich with innovative ways to connect physically and virtually. Among other outcomes, the project results in detailed maps that articulate what would be necessary in order to develop strong community mesh networks across Detroit for internet access. By visualizing these invisible networks, this project hopes to create a heightened sense of community, empower citizens to create new spaces for public discourse in their neighborhoods, and redefine what digital access and equity could look like in the urban environment.
Using wearable-based technology to help seniors stay mobile and age in place, while avoiding exposure to falls and environmental risks or hazards.
Structural monitoring of highway retaining walls using remote sensing techniques to assess performance and prioritize infrastructure investments.
Application of real-time sensing and dynamic control on existing wastewater infrastructure to reduce the frequency and volume of Combined Sewer Overflows.
A major source of bridge deterioration requiring constant maintenance is mechanical expansion joints installed between adjacent simple span bridge decks.
Studying rideshare options like Lyft and Uber, with special focus on individuals with limited transportation choices.
Collecting travel data to help Benton Harbor improve travel options for residents, with the goal of increased employment participation and retention.
Facilitating an on-demand, seamless, and efficient mobility service for the Benton Harbor community, especially among low-mobility families.
Rethinking how transit infrastructure can expand access to food, health, learning, and mobility services by creating multimodal hubs.
The project aims to reduce energy use of vehicular travels by incentivizing individual travelers to adjust travel choices and driving behaviors.
The first in a series of health clinic prototypes that bring technology-enabled chronic health care monitoring to remote, underserved global populations.
Using remote sensing and security camera data to better understand how people are using the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy public spaces.
A grassroots train-the-trainer program on how to install, operate and maintain faucet-mounted point-of-use filters to protect for lead in drinking water.
The Sensors in a Shoebox project focuses on empowering Detroit youth as agents of change for their city.
Assistant Professor of Architecture
Cyrus Peñarroyo is a Filipino-American designer and educator whose work explores the complex interrelations between architecture, contemporary media, and digital culture. He is an Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, where he was the 2015‑16 William Muschenheim Fellow. Previously, he taught at Princeton University, Columbia University GSAPP, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Peñarroyo was awarded the 2019 Architectural League Prize and an ACSA Faculty Design Award Honorable Mention. His work has been exhibited at Materials & Applications in Los Angeles, Pinkcomma Gallery in Boston, The New School in New York, Princeton University School of Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the 2014 Venice Biennale.
Peñarroyo received a B.S. in Architecture Summa Cum Laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an M.Arch from Princeton University. He worked for LTL Architects and Office for Metropolitan Architecture in New York, and Bureau Spectacular in Chicago. He was Project Lead on Manual of Section, published by Princeton Architectural Press and Cities Without Ground: A Hong Kong Guidebook, published by ORO. He is a partner of the design practice EXTENTS.