Join us to participate in the upcoming 2019 City:One Challenge. 

State of Place: Data-driven citymaking to create sustainable, equitable, and accessible places ALL people love

We help citymakers create places people LOVE -effectively and cost-efficiently- maximizing social, economic and environmental value for all.

Photo of Mariela Alfonzo
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Primary Aims:

State of Place proposes to use its software solution to: 1) set data-driven priority areas within the Michigan Central Station Impact Area; 2) identify built environment changes most likely to improve the quality of life and mobility of the community; 3) enable community-led design and development scenario planning that lead to proposed short-term and long-term proposals that will improve walkability, bikeability, and mobility in a way that promotes social, economic, and environmental value in an equitable, inclusive way; and 4) provide an evidence-based investment case for why the proposed projects that will help garner widespread support and buy-in and streamline the approval and funding process for said projects. It also aims to identify one proposed community-led project that can be implemented via "tactical urbanism" techniques as a demonstration project, during the duration of the Pilot period, if deemed feasible by project stakeholders.

Note that we conducted preliminary analysis within the Michigan Central Station Impact Area last summer when Ford announced its plans to redevelop the Station. In our attachment, you can see exactly how State of Place was used to assess the existing conditions of the area, identify potential ways to improve walkability and livability, evaluate the impact of Ford's then conceptual plan for the area, suggest ways to improve the proposed plan, and forecast the value of doing so. We're excited by the opportunity to build upon this preliminary work - most notably to do so as part of a community-led effort that ensures inclusivity and equity. 

To explain how we propose to use State of Place to accomplish the above objectives, we must first provide some context on State of Place: 

What is State of Place and how does it help citymakers?

State of Place is an AI-driven, built environment database, benchmark, and analytics software. To date, we’ve helped citymakers - municipalities, developers, communities - use data to 1) identify the best ways to make places more walkable, livable, equitable, and sustainable, while unlocking maximum value across the triple bottom line; 2) make the data-driven case for these places by quantifying their benefits, including their return on investment, to get faster approvals, funding, and buy-in for projects; 3) and objectively market and communicate the value of projects that promote more walkable, livable, sustainable places.  

How State of Place Works:

State of Place helps citymakers achieve the above stated aims by: A) We extract data on over 290 urban design features, like sidewalks, trees, and benches, from digital imagery. B) Our proprietary algorithms then aggregate that data into a score from 0-100, known as the State of Place Index, which measures quality of place (including walkability, bikeability, and mobility). C) The State of Place index is broken down into sub-indices that measure 10 aspects of urban design that have been empirically tied to people’s decisions to walk, known as the State of Place Profile. D) Our software visualizes the State of Place Index and Profile, graphically, using charts, and spatially, using heat maps, which makes it easy for users to quickly understand an area’s built environment assets and needs (e.g. why it scored the way it did); prioritize blocks, groups of blocks, neighborhoods, or districts based on their existing conditions and performance (e.g., those that need the most improvement); and inform planning, community-engagement, and development strategies and policies. E) Then, since our forecasting models show that some urban design changes matter more than others depending on what goals you are trying to achieve (e.g., the presence of sidewalks may matter more for increasing pedestrian volumes whereas the presence of benches may matter more for boosting retail revenues), citymakers and communities can receive recommendations regarding which urban design dimensions to prioritize based on their inputted goals, as well as the feasibility of making certain changes over others. In other words, customers can literally click on the goals they most care about - like walkability - and then adjust which changes are realistic for them to actually make (e.g., maybe they can change the aesthetics of the neighborhood but it's too hard to change the street network), and the software will give them a ranked list of which urban design dimensions to prioritize, starting with the most to least important. F) The software also gets deeper in terms of recommendations. Users can actually get a list of the specific built environment changes they should implement that will mostly likely help them achieve their goals, while maximizing social, environmental, and economic value. G) Our Sim-City-like scenario tool then allows users to test unlimited proposals and project ideas and compare how each of those proposed ideas and changes would impact the State of Place Index and Profile; this helps users identify projects that will lead to the biggest increase in quality of place and mobility. H) And finally, our forecasting tool quantifies how the proposed projects that users created via our scenario tool would increase economic value; it also calculates the return on investment of those proposed projects. Ultimately, State of Place serves both as an effective communication tool to justify the value of better urban design, walkability, and mobility, and as a decision-making tool that optimizes outcomes across the triple bottom line and maximizes the bang for the buck. 

Note that historically, State of Place’s proprietary forecasting models have tied the built environment (as measured by State of Place) to higher real estate values (office, retail, and residential properties) These forecasting models have been used to make the investment case for better places -- as well as to identify interventions that are most likely to lead to the most value. We have also worked to expand the rationale for better urban design beyond economic value, and have added a new forecasting model that accounts for road safety (i.e., it calculates how improvements to State of Place impact the likeliness of collisions). We are working to expand the forecasting models to estimate how changes to State of Place impact climate change metrics, health, and wellbeing. We believe that the expansion of our forecasting models to include the safety of mobility is particularly valuable to this proposal. Additionally, we understand that communities are sometimes weary of projecting the increased economic value of redevelopment changes and improvements to mobility. That said, increases in value are an inevitable consequence of making places better. However, it is critical that we work to ensure equitable access to improved places. Accordingly, our forecasting models actually provide a roadmap for communities to plan for potential increases to real estate value to mitigate displacement by using those forecasts to create appropriate policy mechanisms, community development programs, and tax incentives and subsidies to ensure inclusive, equitable access to more walkable, livable, and sustainable places. 

Project Objectives:

1) Collect State of Place data for Michigan Central Station area

We will extract data for over 290 urban design features, like trees, benches, parks, plazas, sidewalks, curb cuts, building facades, building colors, building heights, land uses, the number of vehicle lanes, etc. from digital imagery, such as Google Street View, for all blocks within the Michigan Central Station Impact Area. This will form the basis of the existing conditions analysis needed to give the community an objective understanding of the area's built environment assets and needs (what's working and what's not).

It's important to note that many of the urban design factors we measure get at physical features that impact vulnerable communities - including those with physical disabilities, the elderly, children, and women, disproportionately. For example, curb cuts are particularly important to the elderly and parents with strollers; lighting is particularly important to women, etc. These features are all included as part of the data we collect and hence the State of Place Index incorporates a measure of inclusivity and universal design that ensures "solutions for all."

2) Upload data into software, enabling access to City of Detroit, Ford, community stakeholders, and the community

As noted above, our algorithms will aggregate the data gathered from digital imagery into a simple to understand score from 0-100 and a breakdown of that score into ten areas of urban design performance (or dimensions). This information is presented graphically and spatially and helps users better understand how the Michigan Central Station Impact Area is performing from a quality of place and mobility perspective.

3) Hold onboarding session for all users, explaining how to use software

While the State of Place software is quite intuitive and easy to use, we will hold an onboarding session in which we not only teach stakeholders how to use the software, but explain the data and results of the analysis of the Michigan Central Station Impact Area. 

4) Guide community engagement workshop

While our business model does not normally provide for community engagement workshops (as this is not scalable), we believe that for the purpose of this proposal and for the advancement of our product development roadmap, it is essential make community engagement an integral part of the process. This initial community engagement workshop will be tied to the onboarding session, but focus on getting community stakeholders to use the State of Place software and data to identify priority areas within the Michigan Central Station Impact Area. The community may choose to prioritize areas that need the most interventions (or those that score most poorly on State of Place) or may choose to prioritize areas that need only moderate intervention to improve its quality of place and mobility. It may also choose to create short to medium to long term priority areas. The point of the community engagement process is to enable stakeholders to use State of Place as a tool by which to generate data-driven decisions; but the community is in the driver seat. This contributes as a key  "Community Buy-in" element as identified by the City:One Challenge's priorities.  Our goal is not for us to come in and use State of Place ourselves to "consult" the community on what they should or should not prioritize. Indeed, as our aim is to build a scalable software that can be used by communities writ-large without our intervention (aside from typical customer support). This enables the community to create "Solutions for All," minimizing barriers into the community as is valued by City:One.  For the purposes of this proposal, we see this as part of our Design Thinking process, which we elaborate on below.

5) Use Design Thinking process to refine, develop, and deploy community input tool, including enhanced prioritization feature and 2D scenario tool

Currently, there are two functionalities within the software that can be used within the community engagement process to specifically input community perspectives and needs. This includes our prioritization feature and our scenario tool. 

Currently, the prioritization feature allows users to rank order the ten urban design dimensions that we measure as part of the State of Place Index in order of priority, given the specific aims they want to achieve and how feasible those aims are. This is because, as explained above, some urban design features matter more than others depending on what goals are desired (this is based on our forecasting models), and some features are harder to implement than others once they are in place (it's easier to add a coat of paint than to recreate an entire street network or move a highway). We currently have a separate module that is not integrated into the software that measures community's preferences and satisfaction levels regarding urban design features. So while the algorithm is based on objective measures of whether say, a sidewalk does or does not exist, this community module focuses more on how important said sidewalk is and how satisfied a person is with said sidewalk. This serves as a way to consider the needs and wants of a community alongside other objectives, such as increasing retail revenues or pedestrian flows. It is also a way to ensure that redevelopment projects are indeed designed to provide "solutions for all." However, to date, this module has not been used frequently as it is not incorporated into the software. We believe that this project would benefit tremendously from officially integrating this functionality into the software and using it to assess the preferences and levels of satisfaction of the community stakeholders within the Michigan Central Station Impact Area. Accordingly, we propose to use a Design Thinking methodology to refine, develop, and integrate this community engagement module within the State of Place software. This module will ultimately process the community's preferences and levels of satisfaction into an objective score that will be integrated into the prioritization feature. This will allow users to consider community needs objectively when deciding on urban design priorities needed for an area. 

Similarly, our scenario tool has great capacity to be used within the community engagement process, but is not often used in that way. Specifically, our scenario tool is like a SimCity tool, in which users can choose a block and see all of the data (urban design features) of that block and make changes, like add trees, plazas, reduce vehicle lanes, etc. It will then rerun our algorithm in real time and show users what the new score would be for that block if those changes were made. This would be a great tool to get specific input from the community regarding the changes they would like to see made, and test them in real time. And again, it is a way to ensure that "solutions for all" are indeed created. However, currently, the scenario tool is text-based and written in a way that is more professional in tone, using expert language - so it requires training to use. We believe that as with the prioritization tool, there is an opportunity here to create a 2D, visual version of the scenario tool that will be much more community friendly and allow for more seamless community engagement and community-led development. We believe that this tool in particular would be of huge benefit to achieving the stated goals in the Challenge Brief (to increase quality of place and mobility), but especially in a way that truly ensures  1) solutions for all; 2) community buy-in; and 3) economic value that is inclusive, sustainable, and equitable. Therefore, as part of this proposal, we aim to use Design Thinking to define, develop, deliver and deploy a 2D scenario tool that will be integrated into our software and used by the stakeholders in the Michigan Central Station Impact Area.

6) Gather community input through new prioritization tool

We will guide community stakeholders to gather community input using the enhanced prioritization tool. Specifically, community members will use the prioritization tool to objectively measure how they feel about the built environment features of the Michigan Central Station Impact Area. They will answer questions regarding how important certain features are and how satisfied they are with those features. This will then allow community stakeholders to consider community needs objectively when deciding on which urban design features to prioritize for the Michigan Central Station Impact Area.

7) Gather project ideas using enhanced scenario tool

Additionally, we will guide project stakeholders to gather community input using the 2D scenario modeler. Project stakeholders will facilitate the use of the tool by community members to propose their own ideas for the Michigan Central Station Impact Area. Likewise, project stakeholders will use the tool to create scenarios, based on the prioritizations and recommendations generated through the software, as well as community input gathered.

8) Run scenarios through forecasting model to calculate proposed projects' benefits

Community stakeholders will use the tool to calculate the real estate premiums, value-capture, and return on investment of proposed projects - both stakeholder led and community led. The forecast model will also be able to provide an estimate of how proposed changes would decrease the likelihood of vehicle collisions (that involve pedestrians, bicyclists, and other people-led mobility devices). This information will serve as a roadmap for both the public and private stakeholders to create a mitigation plan to curb potential displacement effects of redevelopment efforts, including policy, financial, and community development mechanisms. Additionally, it can guide stakeholders in ensuring that the economic value generated from these redevelopment efforts benefits all equitably. 

9) Enable ranking of proposed scenarios and choose top scenario for implementation based on ROI and feasibility

We will create a new functionality that enables the ranking of proposed scenarios based on their scores, feasibility, and desirability, which will allow community stakeholders to create a strategic action plan for design and development interventions most likely to support higher quality of place and mobility, while generating a data-driven rationale for those strategic interventions.

10) Implement demonstration project based on top scenario

While State of Place as a software company does not incorporate build-outs (i.e., creating actual developments) as part of our normal business model, we believe that for the purposes of this proposal, and in order to deliver tangible value to the community (not just a plan) that will galvanize the stakeholders involved in the Michigan Central Station Impact Area, we would like to integrate the inclusion of a small but meaningful community-led tactical urbanism type project. We will create a new feature within the software that evaluates the scenarios submitted via the software to evaluate its potential to be borne out as a tactical urbanism project. That said, we understand if this is not a feasible measure to propose as part of this Challenge, and leave it both to the community stakeholders, community, and Ford to deem its appropriateness. The feasibility of this objective can also be tested during the community engagement workshop and design thinking process.

Project Mission:

Ultimately, we are proposing that a combination of appropriate stakeholders from Ford’s Michigan Central Station Development group, the City of Detroit’s District 6, Greater Corktown along with the community use State of Place to create a data-driven understanding of current local conditions AND foster a community-engagement process that leads to the identification of the best alternative visions for the future of the Michigan Central Station Impact Area. This will help create a safer, more inviting environment, one that is community-led and based on characteristics that promote quality of life via healthy, thriving urban design features. Our software will be a tool for the Detroit community to help prioritize urban design changes most likely to maximize walkability, bikeability, livability; create community-led, scenario(s) for specific interventions, and quantify the impact of making places better, more accessible, inviting and more equitable. By developing community-led visions through our software, our proposal not only allows for better futures to be built, it will enable and support the actual implementation of a feasible project in the community to illustrate the impacts of these visions. This will inspire enthusiasm, engagement and support for other visions created during the project timeline.

Because our Pitch Deck exceeds your Attachment limits, we are including a link to it here for your review!

Additionally, here is a link to our Product Brochure!

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

A combination of the private sector, public sector, and lay public will use State of Place throughout the pilot project period. The public sector, including the City of Detroit's Planning and Development department, specifically its Central Design Region and District 6, and the MI EDC's PlanetM will use State of Place to inform their plans for the Corktown area to help "achiev[e] neighborhood stabilization and revitalization and suppor[t] the growth of population and jobs." Ford will use State of Place to inform their redevelopment plan for Michigan Central Station to ensure the delivery of an inclusive, equitable, community-supported project. The lay public will use State of Place to objectively communicate their community preferences and levels of satisfaction with respect to the built environment, as well as plan, prioritize, and create a project that addresses their needs. State of Place will increase the quality of life and mobility of the Michigan Central Station Area community.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Ready to Scale - you have completed and expanded your pilot and are seeing adoption of your solution by your intended user
  • Fully Scaled - you have already scaled your solution and are exploring new use cases

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)

Working with 30+ cities and developers in the US and Europe, gathering data on 8K+ blocks, the most important values we deliver to our customers is being able to: 1) more quickly and effectively communicate the "why" behind projects to get buy-in from multiple stakeholders and 2) use their resources more cost-efficiently by identifying projects and urban design changes most likely to lead to optimal benefits, including walkability, economic development, safety, and quality of life - equitably.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters) - Inspired by growing up in the auto-dominated Miami suburbs, CEO/Founder and walkability thought leader Dr. Mariela Alfonzo, launched State of Place in 2017 (with academic roots dating back to 2003) to advocate for better places and use data to make awesome places people love. State of Place, a minority/women-led team of urban planners and data-geeks with over 20 yrs of experience has serviced over 30 citymakers, including Swiss Railways, and is backed by NSF's SBIR.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Team or Organization URL

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • No

Funding Request

  • $150,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

Software setup and access throughout pilot period (extended for an additional 6 months) = $25K; includes unlimited use of software by community stakeholders; access to key reports; and a public community portal Customized software features to add/enhance community engagement functionality = $75K Community engagement = $25K Implementation of community-led project created using software = $25K (potentially optional) Note this project can also be accomplished with $100K by adjusting price/scope

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

Please see earlier for detailed scope of work and objectives. High level, we this proposal includes: 1) Data collection and software integration 2) Software enhancement via design thinking process 3) Customer-led use of software to design, prioritize, and deliver demonstration project focused on increasing people-led mobility, including walkability, bikeability; inclusivity; and equity. The project will lead to a community-led, data-driven prioritized redevelopment plan for the Michigan Central Station Impact area that will maximize benefits - including improved quality of place, mobility, and economic development - in a cost-efficient, effective way, that ensures inclusivity and equity. We will use our internal resources - CEO, CTO, COO, machine learning specialist, business development director - to deliver the project on time and on budget. Project funds will support UI/UX specialist, augmented reality expert, community-engagement, and project execution.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

We will co-develop success metrics with Ford and relevant city staff and inform our project plan using a user-centered, design thinking approach. Our preliminary success metrics are as follows: Michigan's Economic Development Corporation becomes first state level org to to adopt State of Place's software platform in their work; Detroit Planning and Development Dept incorporates State of Place recommendations (co-created with the local community); State of Place software users report positive user experience at end of program. State of Place users design-thinking to successfully enhance functionality and desirability of existing software product to foster community-led development; State of Place meets all program expectations and delivers reports on time and to a high level of quality. All stakeholders request to work with State of Place after the program. State of Place co-creates a case study highlighting program successes and lessons learned.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

We use a recurring revenue model based on both software as a service (SaaS) and data as a service (DaaS) models. Generally, our customers use the database and software tools to help identify, prioritize, and design projects most likely to both increase quality of place and the benefits associated with that and then communicate that value in an objective, data-driven way. As both cities and developers are continuously trying to create better places, the value we provide is continuously needed.

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Attachments (4)


This is a PDF of a larger presentation our CEO offered at the Walk21 conference for their Keynote. In particular, pages 27-38 provide an overview of how our software works with helpful visualizations. It provides a supplement to our video Demo (provided as a link in the Video section.)


This is a presentation our CEO recently shared at Project for Public Spaces Placemaking Week. It illustrates the impact of our software on pedestrian safety. It provides visuals & data regarding the quantifiable value of the State of Place Index to pedestrian safety.


This is a PDF version of a blog we released in 2018 about the rebirth of Detroit’s iconic train station in Corktown. We quantify the potential impact of Ford's proposed vision to renovate the station. (Originally, the blog post is located online here:


This is a simple one-page marketing sheet we provide to illustrate our product.


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Amazing good luck!!!

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