Oh, Deer – Managing the Public

Posted December 17, 2014 by varmentrout
Categories: Sustainability

In our previous post, we suggested that a rational planning approach for the deer management project had been abandoned in the course of the public engagement process*.

A hunter in a tree stand.  He'll use carefully delivered shots to take out a deer.

A hunter in a tree stand. He’ll use carefully delivered shots to take out a deer.

Why is public engagement so crucial in this particular case, though always important in any governmental plan?  Because the issue of deer and how to cope with them is highly charged emotionally, as we have noted.  The point is that urban residents who seldom encounter deer have some difficulty in contemplating the only (sorry, but true) means of population control, namely killing some of them. This is called “culling”.  Typically the carcass is immediately transported to a processing facility and made into steaks, chops, summer sausage, and a variety of other meat cuts.  Often they are donated to food pantries. But asking an urban population to adopt a culling program requires information and careful inquiries about acceptability of this method.

The city’s consultant, Charlie Fleetham of Project Innovations, proposed the “public engagement strategy” as his major work product. There have been three stages thus far.  The first was out of view of the general public, consisting of one-on-one meetings with designated stakeholders.  The second was a survey made available on the city’s A2 Open City Hall site.  The third was a public meeting held on December 10.  The slide presentation by Fleetham and a video of the meeting are viewable on the city’s Deer Management Project webpage.  The Ann Arbor News published a brief account of the meeting.

The Stakeholders

The term “stakeholders” is becoming a buzz word in governmental circles, meaning the “people who have some investment in this issue”.  In this case, the starting point was “partners”; other governmental agencies who might assist or cooperate.  As the May 2014 Council resolution on the deer problem stated, city staff was asked to

“partner with the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Department and Commission, the University of Michigan, the Humane Society of Huron Valley and other interested parties to develop information and strategies needed for deer management, including conducting deer counts; researching damage caused by deer to wildlife, native vegetation, and forest regeneration; and obtaining assistance from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division”.

(Note that Washtenaw County took a lead on the issue with a Working Session on February 20, 2014, and discussion at the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting before that. Subsequently, the County contracted with a naturalist to study the effects of deer on native vegetation.)

The slide from the presentation listing "stakeholders".

The slide from the presentation listing “stakeholders”.

The implication of “partners” is that a cooperative arrangement is formed in which expertise and tools from various sectors is applied to address a problem.  But in the hands of our consultant, these became “stakeholders” who were merely asked for some opinions. The names of the individuals who supplied these opinions are not given, though we can guess in most cases.  This might be important. Most are institutional entities, and the individuals who represented them may or may not be offering personal opinions, expert knowledge-based opinion, or merely be representing the interest of the institution. We are not given their actual responses or even very much about the actual questions asked. (The single slide and limited description of their comments from the December 10 presentation is shown below.  We recorded the presentation to verify quotes.)

  • Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance is evidently the stand-in for those who would like the city to address the problem (their website has many reasons and much information). This was evidently a group interview. But this small group of citizens is not the entire population who are affected.
  • The Humane Society of Huron Valley contracts with Washtenaw County for a variety of animal control services, including humane wildlife removal (deer are not one of the species included).  Its President and CEO, Tanya Hilgendorf, is one of the most vocal opponents of lethal approaches.
  • The Ann Arbor Police Chief is John Seto.  He would be able to comment on vehicle-deer crashes.  Presumably those were excluded from the reported comment that there are “no significant public safety issues”.  Apparently our police chief is cognizant that deer limit their home invasion and theft to gardens and have not yet committed any homicides.
  • The Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation Service Manager, Colin Smith, is presumably responsible for the comment, “There are a few complaints from park users.”  (Note the lack of information about actual damage to park vegetation.)
  • The Natural Area Preservation Program Manager, Dave Borneman, seems to have little to say here, though he presumably supplied a graph showing songbird counts (not shown here).
  • MDNR (the Michigan Department of Natural Resources) was presumably represented by Kristin Bissell, the wildlife biologist for our area.  She was also interviewed as part of the program.
  • The Washtenaw County Parks Director, Robert Tetens, does not appear to have contributed much to the published remarks.  Washtenaw County has been addressing the issue of deer in its own natural areas, but I would guess that Ann Arbor City would not be considered within their jurisdiction, so circumspection would be called for.
  • The University of Michigan spokesperson is not identified.  The UM is a large campus with many different units who could be differentially affected. If the Community Relations Director, Jim Kosteva, was interviewed, he likely demurred from having much of an opinion, since he would not have an institutional response at hand.

The results from these interviews are summarized in one slide, which is structured to indicate that opinions fall on a wide spectrum.  As Fleetham commented, “You can see the same wide dispersion, what we call in the business a polarity.”

This single slide from the December 10 presentation summarizes the stakeholder interviews.


All the expert time that was presumably invested in the interviews has resulted in what amounts to a quick survey of opinion.  Without identifying the particular observations of each person’s position, the only real takeaway is that there are many different responses.  The nuances and underlying special information that might have informed these responses are not indicated.  Also,  we don’t know how many interviewees are not represented here at all, or whether one or more had a disproportionate voice. Certainly, we have come a long way from “partnerships”.

The presentation of these points on a spectrum is rather strained.  Many fragments don’t necessarily belong on a spectrum, depending on their contexts.  “We are investing to protect our plants” is shown as a middle of the spectrum, yet it would be perfectly consistent with “we have an acute problem”.  “Adopt latest non-lethal biological techniques” should be no different in spectrum location from all the other non-lethal techniques mentioned – so most of that spectrum suggests non-lethal techniques in comparison to culling.  And “ban feeding”, together with “improve road safety” and “educate public…” would all be logical additions to complement a culling program, rather than representing a middle ground.  There appears to be an effort to make the point that there are a wide variety of responses (opinions), presumably all of equal weight.  One would instead have liked to see an evaluation of different approaches.

In addition to the Stakeholder interviews, the presentation also featured a scripted interview with the MDNR wildlife biologist and a review of survey results.  (The edited survey is available on A2 Open City Hall until January 2.)

In future posts, we’ll review the survey and some other information presented on December 10.



* A little joke here: rational planning is contrasted to Project Innovations’ trademarked “Unrational Leadership”. From the proposal:

From the proposal. Click for bigger image.


Oh, Deer – Will Ann Arbor Find a Solution?

Posted December 15, 2014 by varmentrout
Categories: Sustainability

The air seems to have gone out of Ann Arbor’s effort to find a solution to the deer problem.  This was evident at the December 10 public meeting. A video of the meeting is published on the city’s Deer Management Project webpage.  The slide presentation is also provided there.

Some History

A young buck pauses in an Ann Arbor back yard.

A young buck pauses in an Ann Arbor back yard.

Deer have been invading back yards (at least, mine) in Ann Arbor for about 10 years.  They have also been making their mark on automobiles in the area.  A vocal response to this situation is relatively recent. A group called Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance formed early in 2014 (their website is rich in data and reports, and more is added almost daily) to express concern about the loss of natural diversity caused by the overpopulation of deer in Washtenaw County’s natural areas.  This account of their presentation to the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission lays out a number of the issues.  The WC4EB includes people from groups such as the Wild Ones who appreciate native plant communities and the other wildlife (birds, small mammals, butterflies) that they support.  They called upon the County to take action to protect the natural areas that have received strong support from County taxpayers.

Meanwhile, in certain neighborhoods of Ann Arbor, notably those of the Second Ward, deer have been causing expensive damage to landscapes.  CM Jane Lumm has been the lead on this issue and reported a large volume of correspondence from constituents about the problem. On May 5, 2014, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution on the deer problem that directed the City Administrator to look into the issue and provide a report.  Discussion at Council that night is reported here.  Accordingly, a report was issued by Sumedh Bahl on behalf on the Administrator, dated August 14, 2014.  On August 18, 2014, Council passed another resolution that authorized the hiring of a consultant to “develop a community endorsed deer management plan”  The resolution noted that “Development of a community-endorsed deer management plan will require substantial work, including public engagement and information collection.”  The city issued an “RFP for Consultation Services for Development of Deer Management Plan”.  Evidently the only bidder was the favorite consultant of city staff, Charlie Fleetham of Project Innovations.  Here is the proposal he submitted.  (A great deal of this is his usual proposal boilerplate; the actual proposal begins on page 12.)  A link to a survey was provided on the page about the project.

Solving a Problem

The approach that local government officials usually take to come up with a “plan” to solve a particular problem is familiar and fairly straightforward.  (Spoiler: it isn’t being done in this case.)

1. Frame the question.

This would customarily be done either by the leadership of a task force, board or commission, or by staff.  To some extent, this was done in the August report to Council, but not very concisely or usefully.  It might instead have been done like this:

Concern has been expressed about the increased population of deer in Ann Arbor and the effects, which may include vehicle accidents involving deer, damage to landscape plantings, and damage to vegetation in natural areas.  The City needs to determine the extent of problems. Possible solutions, their costs, and their public acceptance need to be examined.

2. Present a data overview.

Aerial counts are best done in the winter, when contrast is best and there are fewer leaves. Photo by Shawn Severance of Washtenaw County Parks Dept.

Staff or specially qualified consultants  would then assemble information for a background document.  In this case, useful information would include quantifiable data on local deer populations (from surveys) as available, a brief overview of deer biology and behavior, and data on vehicle accidents (from reports), damage to landscapes (this would be anecdotal but an effort could be made to collect information from complaints) and information about damage to native plants in public parks and natural areas (from surveys and data kept by the maintainers of those areas).  Where information is needed but not available, that should also be noted. The data overview could also include some generalizations based on data from elsewhere, where similar situations occur.  Regulatory information (laws and regulations, mostly from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources) should also be included.

It is clear that such information was anticipated in the original (May 2014) Council resolution.

From Council resolution of 5/5/14

From Council resolution of 5/5/14

To some extent, this was accomplished with the August report to the Council.  However, in many instances the data were not available or were simply elided.  (There is no information about vegetation damage, either in landscapes or in natural areas.)

3. List alternatives

Next is a list of the available options for addressing the problem, with limitations (legal, practical, or cost) noted.  Experience from other communities in similar situations should be summarized.

The August report did list some approaches taken by other communities, and offered a brief evaluation of methods.  However, there was little in-depth detail, data on effectiveness, or documentation.  It would be expected that such information would be part of a final plan.  Apparently the staff anticipated that this work would be done by the consultant.  From the RFP job description:

“Assist in drafting a community endorsed deer-management plan which includes specific objectives of the plan, delineation of deer management area, selected method(s), public communication and other necessary elements.”

4. Ask for public response

For most plan exercises, “public engagement” means presenting a draft plan to the public, with alternative solutions or with recommendations.  However, this is where the Ann Arbor deer management project has veered to a different target.  It appears that the objective has now become to manipulate or manage the public to a particular conclusion.  Meanwhile, analysis and data collection seem to have fallen off the back of the truck, as have any attempt to picture possible approaches.




Oh, Deer! Ann Arbor’s Herd Problem

Posted December 3, 2014 by varmentrout
Categories: Sustainability

In the end, the question of what to do about Ann Arbor’s excess deer is as much about values as about science.

deer watercolor B 1000x685

Slightly modified from a watercolor by Andrzej Kwiecinski, 1948-2009, Canadian artist

Deer are beautiful creatures.  To glimpse one peering out from a wood is like looking briefly into the absolute, in a way that few other animals evoke.  The perfect symmetry and wide-set eyes are arresting.  They are also beautiful in motion. Such grace.

Unfortunately, they have become noxious pests in the City of Ann Arbor.  And, incidentally,  in many other areas of the Northeast, especially in parks and areas that are intended to be devoted to wildlife and natural beauty. Locally, there has been plant damage at the Matthei Botanical Garden.  Aside from damage to vegetation, they are responsible for a notable number of auto collisions.  (View this neat animation by Dave Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)

These two circumstances, both true, have set us up for some terrific conflicts.  Our local officials are facing contradictory calls, both to take measures (which generally involve culling, or killing, part of the local herd) and to save the lives of these beautiful creatures.  Emotions are high on both sides of the issue.   Council and the City of Ann Arbor have now, through issuance of a report and the hiring of a consultant (Project Innovations, headed by Charles Fleetham), brought us to a place where there will be a public discussion in an effort to find an approach that will meet some sort of community consensus.  A meeting is scheduled for  December 10, 2014, in the Media Center Room at Huron High School, at 7 p.m.   Here is the page on the City website about the project.

We’ll just have to accept the following premise:  Some residents in Ann Arbor believe fervently that no matter what the cost to others, the local deer herd should not be harmed and if any means are employed to limit them, they should be non-lethal (this usually involves contraception).  This belief is not likely to be altered by any presentation of data.

Others, including policymakers, recognize that there is a rising chorus of voices expressing consternation at the growing deer herd and the damages it can cause.  They are looking for information about causes and solutions.  (Disclosure: I am in favor of a solution that will reduce the local deer herd, likely some approach to culling, or killing, deer in public lands.)

A local group, Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, have been making the case to Washtenaw County and City of Ann Arbor officials that some proactive control of the deer population is needed.  Here is a good report of their presentation at a county parks commission meeting, from the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  WC4EB’s website has many statistics and reports listed in their resource section.  As both that website, the Ann Arbor City report, and an excellent report on Washtenaw County deer populations explain, many communities in our immediate area have chosen to initiate some sort of culling either by sharpshooters, bow hunters, or opening selected areas to hunting.  Often the meat from the deer is then donated to food pantries.

It’s all about values

There are lots of data, studies, and reports that can elucidate the dynamics of deer populations and how they affect the rest of the world around them.  There will be opportunities to discuss and debate them.  But ultimately, the ground on which this (the question of whether to cull the local population) will be fought will be about values that individuals hold.  And those are hard to deal with on a rational basis.

  • Some people view venison as a legitimate and desirable part of our food supply, recognizing the historical role of deer as a food animal.
  • Others view the taking of deer, and in some cases, of any animal life (vegans in particular avoid even the consumption of animal products such as milk or eggs), as morally repugnant.
  • Some people place high value on their landscapes and garden plants and see the deer who make those part of their food supply as outright pests.
  • Others enjoy seeing deer in the vicinity of their homes, and even put out food or salt supplies to attract them for enjoyment.  They may not be gardeners, or not concerned about plants in their own properties.
  • Some people see deer as only one part of the natural environment, while other species such as wild plant communities, songbirds and other animals dependent on a diverse natural environment are equally important and worthy of protection in a “balanced” natural setting.
  • Others discount the damage to plant communities such as wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, as of less importance or a different order of importance than the lives of the deer.

In more rural areas, there are different issues, such as crop damage vs. easy availability during hunting season.  But those have less resonance with city dwellers.

So how do policymakers deal with these contradictory values?  They put out a survey and hold a public meeting.  After we all express our views, someone will have to make a decision.  We hope it won’t have to be too Solomonic.

Regardless of your view, here is your chance to express it.  Take the survey.    Note: the presentation is confusing.  You must hit the blue button to take the survey.  It won’t be submitted until you are finished.

UPDATE: The agenda for the December 10 public meeting has now been published.  The only interaction with the public is a public comment period.

SECOND UPDATE: Read a thoughtful overview on the subject by a well-respected local blogger who is also a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment. 

THIRD UPDATE: Here is the Ann Arbor News’ coverage of the December 10 meeting.



Feeling Blue – Ann Arbor and UM Football

Posted November 1, 2014 by varmentrout
Categories: Trends

What is the future for University of Michigan football and how will it affect Ann Arbor?

Photo Services, Kim Haskins

Ann Arbor’s life is inextricably bound up with the University of Michigan.  By “Ann Arbor’s life”, I mean both the daily course of life as it is lived here and the economics of the city and its citizens.  Of course many UM staff and faculty live here (though that is an increasingly small fraction) and we all enjoy the range of cultural events available through the University, not to mention the occasional stroll across the Diag.  The yearly influx of students affects both housing affordability and the mix of businesses on State Street.  But the most impactful aspect of the UM that touches life here may very well be UM football.  Thus, when UM football is in crisis, Ann Arbor is in crisis. The recent history of UM football, which has now culminated in the resignation of Athletic Director Dave Brandon on October 31, 2014, can fairly be said to be a crisis.

I became aware of the importance of UM football on the day of my introduction to Ann Arbor.  We arrived for a house-hunting tour on a cold November day just after a fairly big snowfall.  Our realtor picked us up at the Sheraton just after breakfast.  His first act was to take us to the UM Stadium.  At the time, access was fairly open, and he hauled us up the stairs to look over the expanse of field and bleachers.  Waving exultantly to indicate the magnificence of the view, he invited us to take part in the wonder.  I was cold (since I possessed no real winter clothing), slightly jet-lagged after a transcontinental journey from Southern California, and stressed by the prospect of house-hunting and moving.  My response was impatient.  He was greatly offended and scarcely spoke again for several hours.

This was in the golden age of Bo Schembechler, and one of our new neighbors was such a football fan that our whole block reverberated on home football days.  There were banners.  The front page of the Ann Arbor News was completely occupied by football news and three-inch headlines led by “BO”. To this non-sports fan, all this was quite exotic.

Big Business

UM football continued to expand its profile and influence, even as its prowess on the field declined.  (Bo’s successor,  Gary Moeller, endured a couple of years being called “Mo” by the Ann Arbor News, but the team did not reach its previous heights.)  It has long been impossible to drive anywhere on city streets in the hours preceding a game, or to find a restaurant table on game day.  The stadium reopened in 2010 after an extensive renovation that included premium suites with a private elevator.   (These “skyboxes” elicited a protest based on the loss of egalitarian access to the community tradition.)  Two years ago, the City of Ann Arbor began permitting the closure of Main Street during football games.  The UM constructed an electronic marquee on Stadium that far exceeds size and placement permitted by Ann Arbor’s sign ordinance.  As described by the Ann Arbor News,

The marquee is indeed the largest of its kind in the Ann Arbor area: it stands 21 feet above the ground and is 27 feet tall and 48 feet wide. It runs 18 hours a day, displaying four promotional messages per minute. On game days it shows video starting four hours prior to the game.

One reason the UM football machine has been able to expand its footprint on the city has been its profitability, founded on its faithful fan base.  Joe Nocera, writing in 2010 about the stadium expansion in the New York Times,  noted:

Even if its football team has a string of bad years, it still has an immensely loyal fan base, it will still secure the financial rewards that come with being in the Big Ten and it will still fill Michigan Stadium every time the team plays a home game.

But that fan base has been badly eroded during the tenure of Dave Brandon, who was installed in 2010 as Athletic Director.  Brandon, who has been a CEO at Domino’s Pizza among other such high-profile positions, set out to exploit UM Football’s popularity for profit.  He made his intentions clear in an early statement (quoted here from Crain’s Detroit Business):

“We’re going to need to grow our revenues, we’re going to need to continue to find out ways to stimulate growth in our external revenue streams and maybe create some new revenue streams that afford us the ability to grow,” he said.

John U. Bacon has written for years about Michigan football with sensitivity and acute perception.  Bacon, in a column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle, described the practice of seat licenses (requiring an upfront “donation” for the privilege of buying tickets) and other changes that Brandon introduced to increase yield from the fans. He mentions that with his two seats, the cost is $1,700 (presumably for the season). He later identified the problems with the way fans were being treated and exhibited prescience in this June 2014 column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle:

This fall, Michigan is in danger of breaking its string of 251 consecutive games with 100,000-plus paid attendance, which started in 1975. Treat your fans like customers long enough, and eventually they’ll start behaving that way, reducing their irrational love for their team to a cool-headed, dollars-and-cents decision to buy tickets or not, with no more emotional investment than deciding whether to go to the movies.

There were many other grievances that will be detailed in the host of obituaries for this era.

I have been amazed at the trouble and expense that fans will go to in order to experience UM football.  Some drive a long distance.  They find parking ($20-$50), often arriving before 7:00 a.m. for a spot, or even pay to hire a party area for the perfect tailgate. There are anecdotal reports that people have bought downtown condos solely to have a place to stay on the 5-6 fall football weekends.  This willingness to spend has been a boon to Ann Arbor’s hospitality industry.  Hotels and restaurants may depend on those few weekends the way retailers count on Christmas. Clearly, that level of commitment and investment has been essential to the success of Michigan football.

The Concussion Issue

UM has had a miserable football season, with many games lost and worse, much critical comment about the quality of the play overall.  But the last straw was the treatment of an injured player on September 27, 2014.  (Timeline from Ann Arbor News)  Quarterback Shane Morris was seen to take a fall and behave shakily, with contemporaneous reports that he seemed to have trouble standing. But he was then sent back into play by coach Brady Hoke.  This scandalized viewers at the time, and the hue and cry only increased later.  At first, both Hoke and Brandon denied that Morris had had a concussion, but in a statement the next day (reported by Crain’s), Brandon acknowledged that Morris had “a mild concussion”.  The account only calls in to question the behavior of those charged with safeguarding the health of players, with evident poor communication at the field.

Concussions sustained while playing football have now been recognized as a serious medical problem.  The CDC emphatically recommends that concussed athletes should be removed from play.  Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (changes in brain structure) is now thought to result from repeated head trauma.  A number of former NFL players who suffered from various cognitive problems sued the NFL and were tentatively awarded a settlement.  But this has not satisfied the critics. There are now increasing numbers of calls to regulate football at all levels (Compendium of New York Times coverage).  There are also suggestions, even from lovers of the game, that it may be immoral to continue a game which results in a lower life expectancy for many players, with a high degree of risk for dementia or suicide.

Coinciding with this controversy is the increasing call for college football players to be better compensated, or to be able to join a union.  The NCAA rules maintain that these are students and are compensated by the football scholarships they are awarded.  But as this column by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar points out, the NCAA made billions last year, and coaches typically have salaries in the millions.

While these coaches and executives may deserve these amounts, they shouldn’t earn them while the 18-to-21-year-old kid who plays every game and risks a permanent career-ending injury gets only scholarship money — money that can be taken away if the player is injured and can’t contribute to the team anymore.

Students, Academics, and the Mission of the University

All of this calls into question the inherent fallacy of the concept of the “student athlete”, at least as the game is conducted today.  I don’t know whether there are any studies showing how many UM football scholars are able to attain professional positions apart from professional football itself.  In the past, football players for UM went on to often distinguished careers (Dave Brandon was himself in UM football back in the Bo Schlembacher days).  Given the intense training and extended season for football nowadays, it seems to be quite a lot to surmount.  The tradition of intercollegiate athletics comes from the “mens sana in corpore sano” ideal, in which one might be studying the classics on Thursday, play a game over the weekend, then back into the classroom or library the next day.  Many college athletics programs still adhere to this ideal, as students in various departments might participate in music or theater along with a major.  But it is questionable whether UM football still affords that flexibility.

It may be that the new UM President, Mark Schlissel, will be the person to lead a transition in the way the UM and its football program are joined.  He has sent signals about this conundrum since his arrival here early last summer.  He landed immediately in a controversy with the Regents over fireworks at the Stadium (a fight Brandon lost).  Here were his remarks at the time:

What I want to be sure of is that athletics exist in an appropriate balance with everything else the university does. Athletics isn’t part of the mission statement of the university. We’re an academic institution, so I want to work on the appropriate balance between athletics and academics.

I also feel strongly that the students who come here to be athletes – are students and that they have all the opportunities for education and to take advantage of everything that goes on here at the university, as well as pursue the sport that they love.

Dr. Schlissel is a true scholar (his field is the area of gene regulation in immunology, a very hot subject) and clearly has a view of the University in its historical context as a community of scholars, advancing the preservation and continuation of knowledge. Now the UM is positioning itself as a premier international research university.  There has been a lot of expansion, both within UM departments and in offshoots.  There are reputations to be made, and money.  There are thousands of academic careers to be advanced.  The UM has a collective interest in the highest standards and performance. There are other things happening besides football.

Schlissel is clearly struggling with the role of UM football in a thoughtful and careful manner.  Here is what he said in recent days after all the eruptions.

I think the sport of football and college athletics in general is certainly a matter of discussion and debate around the country. I’d like to develop clearer opinions. I’d like to work with our interim and our new athletic director to contribute to the process of evolution of college athletics in a direction that I think is more closely linked to the fact that there are academic institutions and students are here both for education and for the pursuit of sports they love. That’s as far as I’m able to go now.

He will have a great deal to reconcile.  There are the finances – the program took on a lot of expenses with the stadium renovation, and Brandon seems to have made a number of investments in anticipation of the continued growth in revenues. There are some very influential and motivated alumni who want to see the program continue.  First among these is Stephen M. Ross, who gave the UM $200 million last year.  This brings his lifetime donations to $313 million.  (So we now have the Stephen M. Ross Business School, and the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus.)

He’ll also have that great cloud of traditional UM football fans, many of whom are also alumni, to deal with.  I suspect that at times he can hear the massed sound of those beating hearts.  The passion is so great.

And then there are the business interests in the City of Ann Arbor.

Black September and October

A great deal of money flows into Ann Arbor during the home football games.  We’ve gotten used to it.  I am comparing it to Black Friday for retailers.  People rent their lawns for parking.  People work the Stadium in various ways, including the cleanup.  There are sales of memorabilia.  And the hospitality industry (hotels and restaurants) are usually up to full capacity.  But a bad football season can cause worries, as detailed in this article in the Ann Arbor News.    It quotes Mary Kerr of the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (which is supported by the hotel industry via an accommodation ordinance tax) about the economic impact of the UM football season.  Most of the figures come from a study in 2007, which estimated that each UM home football game has an impact of $14.8 million to the overall economy of Ann Arbor.  A more recent study estimated that visitors to Ann Arbor associated with the UM (not clear whether they distinguished football and other sports from academic visitors) are responsible for $257 million in economic impact.  Obviously, UM football is an important asset from the viewpoint of those affected by the dollars spent here.

An Uncertain Future

Will UM football just go on as it has, with a better administrator and some minor course corrections?  Or will there be some real changes in the way the program relates to the University and, ultimately, the City of Ann Arbor? Can UM football escape the more global changes in the sport of football itself? The answers will doubtless result in some effect on our local community, whether or not we are individually interested in the sport itself.

UPDATE: This article on the Ann Arbor News site appears to be a rather comprehensive overview of the economics of Dave Brandon’s tenure as Athletic Director.

SECOND UPDATE: A couple of articles from Ann Arbor News indicate the difficulty Schlissel will have in reconciling academic concerns with Michigan football culture.  On November 10, he spoke at a UM committee meeting on the balance between athletics and academics.  On November 11, he found himself apologizing to the football coach, Brady Hoke.  Here are his official comments.

THIRD UPDATE: Coach Brady Hoke has been relieved of his position as of December 2, 2014, according to a statement in the University Record.   This followed yet another disappointing loss, to the Ohio State Buckeyes, on November 29.

FOURTH UPDATE: Amid speculation and fragmentary news reports that UM has offered an expensive contract to NFL coach Jim Harbaugh, the Detroit Free Press quotes a Forbes report that UM football is the third highest “valued” college football in the country. The basis for calculating the value is interesting: it includes “community value (which) is the economic impact generated by home football games”.

 FIFTH UPDATE: Mass jubilation has ensued over Jim Harbaugh’s hiring as head coach.  As this article from Crain’s Detroit Business describes, his early history was based in Ann Arbor and UM football, and he quarterbacked under the legendary Bo Schembechler.  But questions about the meaning of college football remain, amidst all the hype.  A thoughtful article in the New York Times analyzes the contradictions between the big-money position of college football and the academic setting in which it is played.

End of Ann (Arbor) Era – The Chronicle Closes

Posted August 9, 2014 by varmentrout
Categories: media

A sad day for those of us in Ann Arbor who care about local government and want to keep up with issues.  The Ann Arbor Chronicle has announced that it will be ceasing publication on September 2, 2014, exactly six years after its launch.

In-House-Ads-DavidActually, this should read “Dave Askins has announced…” because this publication has always been about its two principals, Dave Askins and Mary Morgan.  It has been an intensely personal project for this married couple.  Both the launch and the closing are scheduled on their wedding anniversary, as we have frequently been reminded.  The online-only publication has incorporated many personal touches, like the use of the watch (evidently a gift) and plays on that word, like the Stopped. Watched. section (our title for this post deliberately incorporates a pun in homage to the enjoyment of language often displayed).  The ads requesting subscriptions are portraits. (Caricatures by Tammy Graves.)

In-House-Ads-MaryIt has been a quirky venture, with a number of idiosyncratic features.  One is the cartoon series Bezonki, by a local artist (Alvey Jones).  Most frequent comment following publication of the current segment:  “I don’t get it.”  This also spurred the Bezonki Awards  (I was honored to be among the first group receiving these) for people deemed to have made local contributions. Honorees were allowed to foster one of several sculptures made by Jones for a year, then pass them on to the next generation.  The Stopped. Watched. feature invited guest contributors (anyone, really) to post observations, which could be as trivial as noting traffic congestion or minireports of major events, often with pictures.  Some of the longest comment threads were conversations spurred by these.

Before launching an online newspaper, Mary Morgan was a long-time reporter and editor for the old Ann Arbor News.  (A publication only very distantly related to the current online/print version of the Ann Arbor News,  part of a statewide, mostly online, news organization.) She has written very affectingly about the demise of that community newspaper.  Dave Askins has not had a career in traditional journalism, though he hosted an online site called Teeter Talk for several years.  (This consisted of interviews of people he considered local notables whilst they were balancing on a homemade teeter totter.)  He is something of a self-made phenomenon who adopted the nom de plume “Homeless Dave” (abbreviated HD) for these early postings.  According to an article that I once read in the Ann Arbor Observer, Dave adopted that moniker after someone described him as “that homeless man” in passing him on the street, evidently misled by the beard.  They combined these histories to create a unique news site.

One of the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s great attributes has been its habit of archiving. This overview has many links to past news stories about the Chronicle, as most regular readers refer to it.  Here is the Crain’s Detroit Business article about the closure, which notes that “The online-only Chronicle focuses on government coverage and civic affairs, and does in-depth long-form reporting. It’s aimed at the educated residents of a major university town.”

Yes, and there is its strength and its weakness.  After many years in which governmental actions were covered only sketchily and often with a distinct bias by the old print version of The Ann Arbor News, the political junkies of Ann Arbor were delivered a real treat.  Mary and Dave literally did chronicle almost every public body, nearly gavel-to-gavel.  Thus the line “It’s like being there”.  While in the past the Ann Arbor District Library Board, the county Board of Commissioners, and the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Commission were scarcely ever even mentioned in the news, much less given in-depth coverage, it became possible to follow them in depth.   The Chronicle had to give up coverage of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (it had been done by a free-lancer) and then coverage of the University of Michigan Regents.  But they have still been following AADL, the BOC, and PAC, as well as the Planning Commission, the Greenbelt Commission, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, the Downtown Development Authority, and of course the City Council.  That’s a lot of sitting on hard benches.  The result has been a lot of serious reading, the sort that even the most dedicated student of local government has to set aside time for.  I’ve heard comments from several friends that they don’t have time to read the Chronicle, and I’ve sometimes put off reading certain stories for days in order to have time to digest all the material.  This in-depth coverage has provided what amounts to minutes of all these bodies, and archives that are valuable for historical research.  Often they contain links to important documents referenced in the story.

One thing the Chronicle’s reporting has not featured has been much analysis, though there have sometimes been columns that offered opinion and analysis, usually on a subject of interest to Dave Askins.  He has been a strong proponent of open government, adherence to the Open Meetings Act, an issuer of FOIAs for information that should have been available and wasn’t, and has been a critic of Ann Arbor’s City Attorney, Stephen Postema.  But most news stories are reported in a flat factual narrative without much inflection or explanation.  This is valuable as a record but sometimes leaves a lot of heavy lifting to the reader.  Also, there is very rarely any followup with interviews of the parties involved, which could add missing depth at times.  On the other hand, it means objective reporting.

The loss of this reporting is hitting many of us in Ann Arbor with a sensation of the floor dropping out from under us.  How can we find out what is happening in government?  Do we actually have to go to those meetings and sit through them to find out what happened? Happily, the newly reconstructed Ann Arbor News now has a number of young reporters who are doing a decent job at covering some aspects of government, but not at anything like the scope and depth of the Chronicle.  The question is going out by email – What do we do now?

According to Dave’s statement, the effort has been sufficiently profitable (revenue is both from paid advertising and voluntary donations), but they are simply worn out.  This is understandable.  No breaks. Many long meetings.  On top of that, they do not use an automobile, but rely on a bicycle (Dave), a scooter (Mary), or public transit.  This story describes one example of how that can complicate the life of a reporter (Mary).

In her requiem for the Ann Arbor News, Mary says,

I believe the newspaper could have survived if its leaders had better engaged and embraced this community – not as sycophants or vacuous boosters, but as people with a vested interest in the lifeblood of Ann Arbor, its politics and government, arts & culture, schools, businesses, nonprofits – and in the people who live and work here every day, who, like us, call this patch of Michigan home.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle certainly did that.  They are leaving us richer, but sad. Thanks, Mary and Dave, for all that hard work.  You have the best wishes of many.  I hope that the next venture is as successful, with less wear and tear on its creators.

POSTSCRIPT: An immediate question asked by many is, what about the archives?  We have a special interest in this, since many of our posts use multiple links to Chronicle articles.  Evidently the site will remain more or less as is through 2014, and some efforts are being made to house the archives in the Ann Arbor District Library.  The AADL has already performed that service for archives of the Ann Arbor News (check the Old News section especially) and portions of the Ann Arbor Observer.  It is rapidly becoming a major historical source for Ann Arbor.

It is not clear whether current links will continue to be operative once archives are placed at the AADL, but it would be good to preserve the substance.

UPDATE:  Mary Morgan kindly sent along this column from 2010.  It has some great reflections about the meaning of local journalism, and also shows that that they were already planning ahead to have their archives housed at the AADL.  Mary indicated that the AADL has already been in touch, so it looks like a go.


The Placemaking Agenda and Ann Arbor Politics

Posted July 30, 2014 by varmentrout
Categories: Basis, politics

The Placemaking Agenda and its corollary, the New Economy Paradigm, are on the Ann Arbor ballot this August.

For a decade or more, Ann Arbor’s city politics have been driven by two contrasting views of its future. While political contests have sometimes revolved around personalities and personal loyalties, the crucial question underlying almost every race has been that of what kind of community Ann Arbor will be in the future and who (or specifically, what groups) will benefit from that future direction.  At the heart of this divide is the emergence of the Placemaking Agenda.

As has been well discussed here in the past, the traditional party divide (Democratic vs. Republican) is of little value in understanding Ann Arbor politics, since nearly all the action takes place in the Democratic primary.  But there is a real divide, not only in ideology but in the political actors.  This has been thrown into sharp contrast by a recent analysis in the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  What is unusual about this analysis is that, rather than displaying the candidates and those who donated to them, it lists prominent political actors and their donations to individual candidates.   The Chronicle, true to its fastidious ways, avoids attaching labels to the two factions.  But it does note that the candidates of one faction are endorsed by the Michigan Talent Agenda.

Michigan Talent Agenda endorsed candidates:

Christopher Taylor – Mayor

Don Adams – 1st Ward

Kirk Westphal – 2nd Ward

Julie Grand – 3rd Ward


The Talent Agenda

Lou Glazer is the founder of Michigan Future, Inc.

Lou Glazer is the founder of Michigan Future, Inc.

This sounds off-hand like something related to the entertainment industry.  But actually it is related to a drive to replace Michigan’s fading manufacturing-based economy with a “knowledge-based”, i.e., information technology-based, digital-age economy. This has been very clearly enunciated by a recent report, The New Path to Prosperity, from Michigan Future, Inc.  What Michigan Future says directly that it wants to achieve is a high personal per capita income, and not a high employment rate. From the report:

Our answer: a high-prosperity Michigan—a place with a per capita personal income consistently above the national average in both national economic expansions and contractions…Places with low unemployment rates, but also lower personal income, aren’t successful to us.

How is this to be achieved?  By bringing in the young “talent” who can participate in the knowledge-based economy, either as entrepreneurs or simply the needed workforce.  The key is to make our area a place where they want to be.  By increasing the attraction of the place, it will be transformed into a New Economy.  That is the kernel of the Placemaking Agenda.


The origins of the placemaking conception are lovable and sweet.  As explained by the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking as a word and concept grew out of the movement to create shared public spaces where a sense of community could be built.  It comes from the environmental movement and emphasizes a connection with nature and other people.  It calls for places where people can move around freely (pedestrian access), with shared activities, often artistic, joyful, and nurturing.  Pictures usually involve lots of young children. It is about places where the human family is at home.  A good Ann Arbor representation of this would be FestiFools, which takes over Main Street for a couple of days each year.

It also connects to the idea of the sense of place.  As we described in our previous post, this is a consciousness of what our community looks and feels like in a whole sense. This comprehensive environment can affect our experience of life.  A recent MIT review has an excellent history of placemaking as part of the evolution of an urban sensibility (see the second chapter).

But the word has been taken over to mean a formula to create an attractive location that has economic benefits. Michigan State University has established an entire department, the Land Policy Institute, around this concept.  As one would expect, it has generated a number of academic studies, workshops, etc. A substantive data-driven study by LPI, Drivers of Economic Performance (BIG file!) lists a number of elements as increasing desirability of a location.  It also unequivocally pairs placemaking with the New Economy (emphasis theirs).  “…the New Economy has created a scenario where people move to places with high endowments of amenities, and jobs follow.”  LPI has now published a study on placemaking that contains this triumph of plannerspeak:

Placemaking can be defined as the development or redevelopment of value-added real estate that integrates essential elements of local and regional allure (e.g., mixed use, walkability, green spaces, energy efficiency) to generate an improved quality of life, a higher economic impact for the community, enhanced property tax revenue and better return to the developer and investors, while minimizing negative environmental and social impacts.

(You’ll notice that we have shifted ground from the soft and fuzzy to the real estate.)

Beginning with Jennifer Granholm’s Cool Cities campaign (2003), the emphasis has been on making cities places that will attract the young, especially young professionals who are members of what Richard Florida called the “creative class”.  The idea was that if you make the city a place these valued workers want to live, they’ll flock in and create a positive economic environment for all.  Here are some of the most commonly cited attributes:

  • Walkability
  • Transportation alternatives (transit, bicycling)
  • Third places (places to hang out; cue the “vibrant downtown”)
  • Green infrastructure (parks, etc.)
  • Active public spaces with things to do
  • Cultural amenities, including public art
  • Attractive built environment (including historic buildings)
  • Environmental sensitivity, such as energy efficiency

Want to hear this beautifully explained by a current candidate?  Here is Christopher Taylor’s statement on behalf of  “the young”.

Glazer and his group have been very influential in setting the state agenda for economic development based on Talent.  Governor Rick Snyder, whose professional career was grounded in the field of information technology (he was the Chairman of Gateway Computers, which he left in 1997), has embraced the objectives and language of this “New Economy” effort.   The core concept is that Michigan must create the types of communities and regions (through Placemaking) that will attract Talent.  As MIPlace.org (supported by a consortium) highlights, Snyder has emphasized “place-based governance”, or more simply, “placemaking” from the beginning.  Here are some excerpts from his address to the Legislature in 2011:

Today, I am announcing our next steps to help communities build the kind of places that will enable them to compete in a global economy.

  • Establish a process for evaluating the performance of economic development and placemaking activities.
  • Encourage new initiatives that support local and regional programs involved in economic development and placemaking.
  • Promote best practices for local and regional economic development and for placemaking activities.

Michigan government has indeed gone through some realignment in these directions.  Here is an interview on Bridge Magazine of Gary Heidel, “Chief Placemaking Officer” of MSHDA.  He explains:

The idea behind placemaking is simple: By improving the quality of life in downtowns and neighborhoods you will create more walkability, which will attract talent, creating jobs and economic development…Quality of life investments from both the public and private sectors focus on housing, mixed use, transportation, public spaces and recreation, entrepreneurialism, historic preservation, arts and culture.

Now MSHDA, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority,  is the state agency that is supposed to “create and preserve safe and decent affordable housing”.  But it is now providing personnel and funds to promote placemaking.  It is, for example, one of the supporters of Concentrate magazine.  We reviewed a speaker event that was sponsored by MSHDA via Concentrate in 2010.  Here is a report from MSHDA that seeks to integrate MSHDA’s traditional responsibilities with placemaking.

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. It influences business development and expansion decisions, inspires downtown revitalization and historic preservation, builds community identity and pride of place, promotes diversity and stimulates the growth of creative enterprise. Placemaking has long been a key organizing idea behind MSHDA’s community development projects. Together with our many partners, we invest in Michigan communities to:  Enhance the quality of life of our residents; To attract and retain businesses, entrepreneurs and workers throughout the state. Place-based economic development—creating vibrant, sustainable communities—is a winning economic strategy that will provide the foundation for a new Michigan.

If one skims through the numerous memos available on the MSHDA website, it is evident that this “placemaking” dictum has penetrated even to the most basic of affordable housing funding applications, including the CDBG and LIHTC.  The 2015-2016 Qualified Allocation Plan description lists “A strengthened focus on project location and placemaking concepts” as the first item in priority changes.  To that end, it indicates further in the document that projects will have to submit WalkScores (walkability) and distance from the nearest transit stop.

The MSHDA details are illustrative of how a ruling paradigm can overtake an entire governmental substructure.  There are many more examples and policy issues that could be brought forward.  Quite a few of them can be seen resonating through Council actions of the last decade.  Just one example: Percent for Art was launched with many public statements that Art would make us into a community that would attract the Right People. (As the guy said in the movie, “but that’s another story”.)

The Golden Future – but for whom?

As with any political agenda, there are likely to be winners and losers with this one.  While not voiced fully, those opposing the “talent agenda” candidates have identified some of the issues.  Who will benefit from bringing in this favored demographic via the potential cost in public money and altered community priorities?

Some of the supporters of the “talent agenda ” candidates have derided opponents as being old fuddy-duddys who don’t want anything to change.  Joan Lowenstein, for example, is the gift that keeps giving.  From labeling residents as “sulky”,  and then elderly, she has now moved on to “prissy”.  But doesn’t classic economic theory suppose that people act according to their own best interests?

There are many more reservations about the “talent agenda” than a simple resistance to change or the wish to be able to stay in one’s home in a nice community.  What kinds of people do we want to support in Ann Arbor?  Do we only want to make this an affluent community or do we want to retain our diversity of incomes and occupations?  This is a regional question as well as a city-based one, but one reason I personally moved to the 5th Ward is its yeasty mix of all kinds of people.  I love our little houses (and bigger houses) with people from all walks of life.

Why am I bringing out this populist theme?  Because the New Economy folks are pretty unambiguous that the point is to make wealth, not to make a diverse community.

The report from LPI cited above also has this paragraph:

Increased creative class employment is associated with positive population change and higher per capita income. This is consistent with previous findings (Adelaja et al., 2009). However, creative class employment is associated with a lower resident employment level. This indicates that the greater the percentage of professionals employed in the creative class, the better the community’s potential for future population and income growth, but not resident employment levels.  (see p. 44)

Get that? Current residents will not see a positive increase in employment.  This is consistent with an article by Richard Florida (yes, the Creative Class guru).  What is now being called “talent clustering” is beneficial to the talent class but not to service and blue-collar workers.  Indeed, they suffer because of higher housing and other costs.  Florida concludes,  “It’s not just a vicious cycle but an unsustainable one — economically, politically, and morally.”  And this is the guy who originated the whole Creative Class idea!

If you reread the statement by Glazer and Grimes, you’ll note that  the point is not jobs, not employment, but an opportunity for high levels of personal wealth.  (Note that a high per capita income is an average and can be driven by a small percentage of very high incomes, while a median income figure would better denote the income status of the population as a whole.)  So it appears that the “Talent Agenda” is quite inequitable.

Something to think about before voting in a Democratic primary.

NOTE:  All but one of the “placemaking” candidates won the primary (Don Adams did not succeed in toppling the First Ward incumbent, Sumi Kailasapathy).  Like every political race, reasons for these results are complex and vary with each contest.  For example, Christopher Taylor far outspent any of his rivals, and there was a three-way race in the Third Ward.  We can’t draw any conclusions about the weight of the placemaking agenda in this outcome.

UPDATE: A post by Washtenaw County planner Nathan Voght, writing on Concentrate magazine, makes a forthright argument for placemaking.

Why is creating “places” a key to transformation of the corridor? Millennials and Baby Boomers together make up the largest segment of the population. Attracting and retaining these age groups is critical to building communities now and in the future, as Millennials will make up most of the work force and represent the future of the economy, and Boomers are downsizing, looking for walkable places with amenities, and have disposable cash. These segments are driving a shift in housing and quality of life that “places” provide, where access to transit, downtowns, and walkable communities is the highest priority.

Voght is the manager for Reimagine Washtenaw, which has incorporated plans for transit-oriented development of denser housing alongside the corridor.  However, it seeks to create the walkable community in an area where most people will be living only to travel elsewhere (downtowns and employment centers) to work and shop.

SECOND UPDATE:  A thoughtful article in The Guardian warns against the cool city push (another way to express the placemaking agenda).    It calls this “policy-making by tribalism” and points out that often tangible benefits to people who actually live in a city are ignored.  From the article:

Those benefits are the heart of the matter, though, and city planners should not limit themselves to the things that will attract young, well-educated people. Their central focus should be to make their cities more affordable and diversified than they were before. When the focus of city governance shifts away from winning spots on magazine lists and towards useful service provision for as many constituents as possible – cool people, uncool people and the vast, middlingly cool majority – the US will finally have the urban renaissance it has been promised.



Ann Arbor’s Secret Sauce: Our Historic Buildings

Posted July 27, 2014 by varmentrout
Categories: Historic preservation

Cities have personalities, and these influence their fates. The civic persona derives partly from economic circumstance (oil boom towns differ from cities where most income is from farming, or from a dominant industry), partly from the individuals who possess the means of power and influence (think of Chicago without the history of Richard Daley), and partly from the origins and mix of the people who live there.  But the physical environment has a strong influence.  When one first encounters a city, it is the sense of place that forms a first impression.  Like first impressions of a person newly met, this may be formed from superficial features, but it is often fairly accurate.

So what is the first impression that a visitors  might have of Ann Arbor?  If they are lucky, they’ll see lots of trees, open green spaces, and our charming downtown.  They’ll also see an attractive central campus and perhaps drive or walk through some of the near-downtown neighborhoods, like the Oxbridge area, Broadway, the Old West Side.  They’ll see that we have many architecturally interesting buildings from different historical periods.  If they are being given a tour, they’ll stroll through the Nickel’s Arcade (a replica of arcades seen in London, England) and perhaps get a look at the Law Quad.  Our historic buildings are Ann Arbor’s secret sauce.  Take those away and you just have a really bad highway system and some shopping malls.  (Okay, and some nice parks.)

A Sense of Place

The importance of  experience of place has been acknowledged for decades. Here is what Tony Hiss said in his book, Experience of Place (1990, Random House) :

“…our ordinary surroundings, built and natural alike, have an immediate and a continuing effect on the way we feel and act, and on our health and intelligence.  These places have an impact on our sense of self, our sense of safety, the kind of work we get done, the ways we interact with other people, even our ability to function as citizens in a democracy.”

More recently, a sense of place has been discovered as an economic driver.  A recently published overview by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a good historical review and a number of case studies of the practice of  “placemaking”, which often focuses on public spaces but also on cultural amenities.

“Place” has many benefits.  It means everyone gets a nice place to live and a better sense of community.  It is also good for business.  Employees are likely to be more attracted to a “place”, and businesses based on  tourism are more successful.  But I question whether it can be developed overnight according to a plan.  It takes years for a community to develop a sense of place.  And it needs nurturing.  Preservation of our historic buildings and neighborhoods is part of the needed sustenance for our sense of place and quality of life, not only for those of us who live here, but for those we want to welcome in the future.

Historic Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor's historic districts, courtesy AAPA

Ann Arbor’s historic districts, courtesy AAPA

Fortunately for us, we have many dedicated individuals who have been helping the cause of historic preservation in Ann Arbor for years.  Since 1975, historic preservation has been recognized as a public purpose, and we have a number of historic districts in which the Historic District Commission oversees changes in historic buildings.  The Ann Arbor Preservation Alliance, a group of citizens who advocate for historic preservation, have produced a brochure describing this process. (Click on the figure for a larger view.)

One name that immediately springs to mind when talking of historic preservation in Ann Arbor is Grace Shackman.  She has been studying and writing about historic Ann Arbor for decades.  Notably, she has published many articles in the Ann Arbor Observer, under the title of Ann Arbor, Then and Now.  These have been pulled together into a book, Ann Arbor Observed  (but more articles have been written since that publication!).

The Planada, before its demolition by the UM. Photo Stan Shackman

The Planada, before its demolition by the UM. Photo Stan Shackman

An excellent example of her articles is this one, Ann Arbor’s Oldest Apartments (note that this and many articles that preceded the Observer’s online presence have most thoughtfully been made available on the Ann Arbor District Library’s website).  This article not only describes many historic buildings but the political decisions being made in 2004 that would affect their future. (Sadly, the City Council led by John Hieftje failed to preserve the Individual Historic Properties described.  “Then and Now” indeed.)  It also shows the mix of archived (old) photographs from Grace Shackman’s research and the contemporary photographs made by her husband and collaborator Stan Shackman. (The Shackmans collaborated on two photographic essays as well, Ann Arbor in the 19th Century and Ann Arbor in the 20th Century.)

HistoricAnnArborCoverFrontAnother name that springs readily to mind in discussing Ann Arbor’s historic legacy is Susan Wineberg.  Like Grace Shackman, she is the author of books and articles, and a longtime student of Ann Arbor’s historic buildings. (An archive of her documents is maintained by Eastern Michigan University.) Her book, Historic Buildings of Ann Arbor,  is evidently out of print but is available as an electronically accessible version.

Now Wineberg has put this long experience into a guidebook, Historic Ann Arbor, published by the Ann Arbor Historical Foundation.  Together with her co-author Patrick McCauley (who has been active in restoration and is the current chair of the Historic District Commission), she has organized information about the currently existing historic buildings in Ann Arbor so that it can be used in different ways – an individual look-up of a given building,  with use of an index for historic figures associated with different buildings, a look at one’s own neighborhood, or even a walking tour.  (The book is organized by geographical sections with maps. Each map is marked with numbers that refer to the buildings, named in sequence.)

The book begins with a succinct and useful summary of architectural styles, with pointers to Ann Arbor examples.  Knowing the style is useful in appreciating an individual building, and this book takes us from the Federal Style (1780-1840) to the Brutalist Style (1955-1975).  Happily for Ann Arbor’s charm quotient, the latter style has few representatives here.  Regarding the Federal Style, it is a reminder that Ann Arbor became a village in 1833, before the founding of the State of Michigan.  So we go way back.

Then, arranged by neighborhoods with those useful maps, the buildings are listed with approximately a page of description each, and a black-and-white photograph.  Each entry has a number of interesting notes about the history of each structure.  Who knew that the Fleetwood Diner was from a kit produced by the Dag-Wood Diner company, ca. 1948?  Or that Gloria Steinham was the featured guest at the Hermitage reception to benefit the Ann Arbor Feminist House (1972)?.

This book should be on the bookshelf of everyone who lives in Ann Arbor and values any sense of our history and architectural diversity.  As Grace Shackman says in her introduction to the book,  “Susan and Patrick’s love of Ann Arbor shines through every page.”

(Our previous posts on this subject are now indexed under the Historic Preservation category.)

ADDENDUM:  The price for Historic Ann Arbor: An Architectural Guide is $35.00 plus tax.  It is available at several Ann Arbor independent bookstores and can be ordered through Nicola’s Books or shipped by arrangement with the Mail Shoppe 734-665-6676 (email is MAILSHPPE@AOL.COM) (there is a shipping and handling charge).










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