US Mayor Article

Creative Partnerships and Unexpected, Non-Traditional Methods Mark Mayor Archer’s City of Detroit Campaign to Count Everyone During Census 2000

March 20, 2000


From colorful murals in ethnic neighborhoods to billboards and radio rap ads; to 20,000 lawn signs to the enlistment of “knowledgeable neighbors” and unique ways of reaching the homeless population, the City of Detroit has left few methods unused in its quest to ensure that every Detroiter is counted in Census 2000. The city’s Mayor, Dennis W. Archer, has encouraged every City employee to be creative in reaching the goal of a complete count for Detroit.

In 1997, the mayor formed a Census Task Force consisting of members from every City department. He gave them their marching orders for the three years that followed: make sure anyone who lives in or does business with the City knows about the Census, fills out a Census form, and mails it in. The results might surprise those who think of bureaucrats as lacking in imagination.

“ I am very proud of our Census team, “ Archer said. “ Every City department has shown real creativity in finding a way to help us assure a complete count. In addition, he said, “We have some great ideas and help from local groups and individuals.”

Every City department that sends mail to residents and businesses is including Census information in its mailings. The City has added a Census sub site to its web site and during the month of March it is including a Census “question and answer “ as a pop-up each day. Departments that make regular inspections of City homes and business establishments are delivering materials to the locations they visit. For example, Health Department inspectors are dropping off Census placards and literature as they make their rounds of local restaurants. Many local groups, such as block clubs and neighborhood associations are engaged in assuring 100% participation from their members. But there are a number of efforts that are even more imaginative than these.

Glenn Oliver, the Mayor’s point person for Census 2000, looks upon the whole get-out-the-count effort as analogous to a political campaign, with the Census as the “candidate.” That’s why techniques such as yard signs and bumper stickers are a part of his strategy. He has also set up the Detroit Census Operations Center, staffed by employees on loan from a variety of departments and housed in an unused City facility.

As an experienced campaigner, Oliver is also recruiting volunteers to help Census takers reach those who don’t respond by mail. The “Knowledgeable Neighbor” program was originally conceived by Mayor Archer. It has been nicknamed “nosy neighbor” by some local radio personalities. The goal is to recruit one person on each block in the City who knows the neighborhood well. The “Knowledgeable Neighbor” then helps Census enumerators count the people who live in each household that does not return a Census form.

Knowledgeable Neighbor recruitment is following the pattern developed in two other City of Detroit efforts which are believed to be the biggest annual volunteer community service efforts developed by any U.S. City. Each spring, more than 35,000 Detroiters participate in “Clean Sweep,” giving the City a thorough spring cleaning by gathering up and carrying away winter’s debris. In the Fall, approximately 38,000 volunteers patrol Detroit Neighborhoods in an anti-arson effort that has turned “Devil’s Night” into “Angels’ Night”— virtually eliminating the Halloween arson that used to give the city an annual black eye. The databases for these activities are the primary source for Knowledgeable Neighbor recruitment.

The creativity and involvement of individuals has also helped the effort immeasurably. A prime example is businessman Nate Shapiro, who has taken a particular interest in helping assure an accurate count of the hard-to-reach homeless population. Working with Mayoral Executive Assistant Edwina Henry, chair of the Census subcommittee charged with reaching the homeless, he has devised a plan and raised funds for an innovative feeding program.

Shapiro, Henry and others have devised a plan to provide free meals at various outdoor locations during the weeks leading up to the Census Bureau’s March 29th count of this population. Any homeless individual counted that day will be given an “I’m important. I’ve been counted” sticker entitling him/her to continued free meals during April. If it is successful, there are plans to extend the program beyond the Census period. 

Additionally, to help foster trust among the homeless about Census participation, a 500-voice choir of homeless men, women and children is being formed. It will perform a concert on Census Day, April 1. Rev. Ann Johnson of the city’s Eastside Emergency Shelter has enlisted other community and religious leaders to sponsor the effort.

In another unique feature of the Census campaign, Detroit’s advertising agencies—usually strong competitors for automotive advertising dollars—put aside their competitive spirit and cooperated to develop a public service campaign on Census 2000. Using the umbrella of the Adcraft Club, the nation’s largest advertising and public relations organization, several agencies worked up potential campaigns. Under the direction of city Communications Director James Turnbull, these were merged into a comprehensive campaign under the theme “Everybody Wins When You Mail It In.” Three different agencies worked together on different elements. Campbell-Ewald did television spots featuring specific benefits that result from Census data. J. Walter Thompson handled print ads, transit cards and outdoor billboards. A third agency, Don Coleman & Associates, created several radio spots featuring rap jingles directed to the young African-American market.   

However, Detroit’s Cultural Affairs Director, Marilyn Wheaton, came up with perhaps the most unusual effort of all. A local businessman, new to the area, had expressed a desire to help with the Census. Ms. Wheaton turned this offer into a project that beautified three neighborhoods and reminded three significant (but typically undercounted) ethnic groups about the Census’ importance as well. The business, O’Brien-Kreitzberg, provided the funding, Focus:HOPE, a respected local jobs training agency, was the project manager. The Cultural Affairs Department identified three artists, each of whom represents a significant ethnic community in the city of Detroit. They created murals that have been installed by the Department of Public Works on centrally located buildings within the communities.

A mural by Hmong artist Tony Vang was installed on Chu’s Oriental Grocery in that community on Detroit’s east side. Vito Valdez, who lives and works in predominantly Spanish-speaking southwest Detroit, has painted a Latino mural on the grounds of a church. A Chaldean mural by community activist William Solomon graces the exterior of the Chaldean Education Center, along a City street lined with Chaldean businesses.

While these murals reach out to non-English-speaking minority groups, they also represent the many different and creative ways the City of Detroit is working to encourage complete participation in Census 2000. As the Wall Street Journal noted in a February 14, 2000 article, ‘ The Census is getting top-level attention in the Motor City.’

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