Wireless organizing in Detroit: Churches as networked sites in under–resourced urban areas

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Media Outlet: First Monday

Access to the Internet is a vital resource in low supply in low–income urban communities in the U.S., and the community development and relationship–building potentials of increased Internet connectivity align strategically with the historical and present–day outreach and social service missions of urban churches. Based on the geographic, demographic and environmental patterns of both Internet adoption rates and the high concentration of churches as built–environment features in older American cities, we propose a model of church–based Internet sharing. Using four case studies drawn from our work in Detroit’s urban core, we illustrate potential benefits and drawbacks of church–anchored neighborhood wireless networks. It is clear that churches offer advantages for neighborhood–scale communications infrastructure build–out; yet the impact of these efforts on churches and their communities is diffuse and hard to measure. Current evidence points toward the lack of defined physical impact of digital networks on surrounding neighborhoods, though this may change as current and future efforts progress. The intangible social impact of church–based Internet sharing is much more discernible in the short–term.


Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.

Joshua Breitbart, a former senior advisor for New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, coordinated a team of researchers, organizers, graphic designers and technologists to learn how people adopt new technologies and participate in discussions of telecommunications policy.