Young Talent, Innovation, and the Growth of Ann Arbor

Introducing a meditation on the underlying themes in a discussion of  the future of Ann Arbor.

Concentrate, the online magazine that has a strong pro-development stance, recently (March 4, 2010)  sponsored a speaker event called “Downtown Development – a Generational Divide”.  The intro on the website was ominous. “Who decides what Ann Arbor’s downtown looks and feels like? Are we making it a place where young and talented people want to be? Is density good for our community?”  Many of us who are tired of being called “NIMBYs” for supporting neighborhood integrity and historic preservation found ourselves on the defensive, since it seems to imply that the old folks better get out of the way and let development blossom, because that’s what the young want.  (Some of the comments on AnnArbor.com’s story reflected this defensiveness.)  But the talk wasn’t like that, and the panel, which consisted of two “younger generation” and two “older generation” types, avoided all the pitfalls and pointed the way to a number of discussions that we are having and should continue to have.  The evening also highlighted the need to examine the underlying assumptions that are guiding much of the talk about Ann Arbor’s future.

Dan Gilmartin, executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, was the speaker.  He has apparently been giving the same talk all over Michigan.  (The MML is an educational organization that promotes the causes of cities.)  His message is blunt: Michigan is sinking fast, and it’s never going to be the way it was.  We have to change.  But much of this was predicated on the loss of the auto industry, less of an issue for the Ann Arbor area.  (We are the company town for the University of Michigan, which looks as though it is staying put.) Still, he made an important point.  It is important for a city, including ours, to attract and retain young people who will bring their vitality and creativity to bear on making new kinds of economic opportunity.

Gilmartin was supporting a campaign that has come out of Detroit, called Let’s Save Michigan. A handout passed out at the talk had the following bullets, not visible yet on the website.  I wish they had done a little copyediting before putting it out.

What We’re For

  • Attracting and keep (sic) a talented/educated workforce by offering livable communities, green jobs, vibrant downtowns, and arts and culture.
  • Targeted economic incentives by bringing jobs to cities and urban areas.
  • Improved quality of life by promoting bars and restaurants, parks, and museum in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.
  • Innovative job creation by incentivizing entrepreneurship and small business.
  • Smart city redevelopment by rebuilding downtowns and repopulate mixed-use areas.
  • Sustaining and improving existing infrastructure by maintaing (sic) and improving public transit in urban areas.
  • Appropriate taxation policies that reflect our modern economy and promote better use of existing infrastructure.

The language is garbled and sometimes opaque on careful reading, but the theme is a familiar new urbanist one with a strong dose of “Cool Cities” (what the points about economic incentives indicate are a mystery).

Gilmartin’s talk was easier to understand and well-presented.  He started right off by saying that there was a cultural and attitudinal divide in discussions of Michigan’s future.  “Michigan is in such a funk.”  Everyone in Michigan is, he said, basically managing the decline, right down to the municipal level, where we talk about how many police and firefighters to lay off this year or next (sound familiar?).  He urged us to change the conversation.

Much of the talk was around the idea that Michigan has to move beyond the old paradigm of a one-industry state where people could get a good job without a college education to one that entices the young talent to stay here and create a new economy.  In 2008, Gilmartin said, Michigan was 37th among the states in per capita income.   Meanwhile, the young Millennials (defined here as young adults under 35) are not staying; 46% leave Michigan after graduation.

Now here is where we get to the crux of his thesis.  He says they are not leaving because they don’t have jobs, but because they don’t find the experience of living here sufficiently enticing.  While in the old paradigm, people moved to where the jobs are – now (young) people move to where they want to live, then create the jobs.

“Place attracts people.”  With the global economy, knowledge-based industries are the future and people can work anywhere because of the Internet and general connectiveness.  So young people will choose where to live first, then look for work. They are choosing urban centers.  Citing a study in Fast Company magazine, he said that the young innovators choose “fast cities” like London, where one out of eight work in a “creative industry”.

What this means about jobs is that we are relying on these young innovators to create them. “We need to measure job creation in ones and twos instead of thousands.”  So for job growth, we have to bring the creative innovators here, where they will make the jobs.

And what do the young creative innovators want?  A sense of place. An urbanized area where they run into lots of others like themselves (but not too much like, they treasure diversity).  Open space. (Hooray for the park on the Library Lot!) Museums and cultural opportunities.  Walkable communities. Cafés. Bike paths. Informal “third places” where they can gather (Commons, anyone?). Green design.  They want communities built around happiness and well-being, that aim for excellence, not mediocrity.  Accessibility.  Sociability.  Much of this is about what commentator Alice Ralph later characterized as “density of experience”:  what Gilmartin called “1000 nights” worth of activities.  (That’s two nights a week for 50 weeks a year for 10 years, after which the Millennial gets married and moves to the suburbs.)

Except maybe for the 1000 nights concept, there is little here that any thinking sensitive person would contest, and it seems that Ann Arbor already fills a lot of those criteria.  But then we launch into a new discussion: the role of density in achieving all this.  As Gilmartin said, we hate two things: sprawl and density.  “You gotta figure that out.”

It was clear that moderator Jeff Meyers and the institutional host of this talk, Concentrate, wanted to make the discussion about density and development, though that was not the major focus of the talk.  The panel, Anya Dale (a planner who works for Washtenaw County), Ray Detter (of the Downtown Citizens’ Advisory Council), Richard (aka Murph) Murphy, (a founder of Arbor Update and until recently the Ypsilanti city planner), and Alice Ralph (a civic activist who most recently wrote the Commons proposal) neatly side-stepped most of his efforts to make the subject contentious on a generational level, as the title implied.

In answer to a question about whether the Millennials felt too entitled, the panel agreed that we need a diversity of options for all ages, including more housing choices (other than, as Dale said, single-family houses or expensive downtown condos).  Meyers then asked who gets to define the character of a neighborhood (and, he added, is this question too focused on aesthetics);  he interrupted Ralph to ask whether that should be current or “future” residents.  The panel generally answered that the “neighbors” (current residents)  should decide, regardless, as Murphy said, of age and tenure (he left the operational question of contacting future residents aside).  Detter also made the point that increased downtown density should not extend to the near-downtown neighborhoods that come under the Central Area Plan, where scale and character were considered important by the plan and the residents alike. (This was not a direct answer to the question but met the implied challenge, since much of the recent controversy has been about the near-downtown Germantown area, where one of Concentrate’s principals has an interest in the Moravian project.)  Ralph made the insightful comment that the presentation was about encouraging a positive social development, not about encouraging business, commercial and development interests to create more of what they already have. Murphy observed that some near-downtown neighborhoods (the Old Fourth Ward) already were quite dense (density being defined as number of housing units per area) and that other near-downtown neighborhoods could help meet the challenge of increasing density without altering scale or character by allowing accessory apartments.  This would acknowledge that many households are quite small now (1-2 people) and allow more people to live in that area.

Meyers then asked if you couldn’t have medium-size buildings in between, but Dale said that is not how a successful community works; the solution is transit.  There was then a turn of the discussion to improving transit, so that (young) people can live many places in the area (not just downtown) and get places they need to go efficiently.  Murphy mentioned that there are areas elsewhere besides downtown that could accept a lot more density (State Street/Eisenhower being an example); if good transit systems exist, this is a good workable solution.  All four panelists agreed that regional transportation as well as local transportation was important.

So the panel was able to show pretty fair unanimity on this question: how do we create more diverse housing and greater residential density in our community?  But some of the underlying questions were not addressed.

1. Does the thesis put forth by the speaker that we can and should intentionally create a community that will draw young talent to Ann Arbor in order to provide for a future economic benefit make sense?

2. If so, is residential density at all part of the strategy?

3. What is the current state of that demographic in our city?

4. How does this idea fit into our overall hopes for Ann Arbor’s future and where we go from here?

UPDATE: Jeff Meyers, the editor of Concentrate, wrote a lengthy comment and rebuttal to much of this post, which I have posted below under comments.  (It was sent to our gmail address after he was unable to post a comment in the ordinary way on the site.)  I won’t comment on his statements except to acknowledge that I was evidently in error regarding Newcombe Clark’s current involvement with Concentrate, for which I apologize.

SECOND UPDATE: Crain’s Detroit Business has a story about 20-somethings who have come back to Ann Arbor – for the quality of life, among other things.

Explore posts in the same categories: Basis, Business, Neighborhoods, Sustainability, Trends

19 Comments on “Young Talent, Innovation, and the Growth of Ann Arbor”

  1. Leslie Morris Says:

    An interesting and fun downtown is not the only requirement for those young creative types who want to build the new economy. My husband, Mike Morris, who is a teacher and researcher at the U. of M., has been very interested in watching the development of new businesses in Silicon Valley. (He is also interested in the role of Stanford in laying the groundwork for this development, but that is another whole story.) The founders of Google met here in Ann Arbor, and developed their first ideas here, but they had to go to Silicon Valley to give their business an adequate chance. This was not just because it’s more fun for young creative types to live in Silicon Valley, but because there are venture capitalists there who will invest the necessary funds to give flegling businesses a chance to grow. Michigan venture capital has been very conservative, and has for a long time focused too much on the automobile industry. This has damaged our chance to build a new economy. New businesses need capital. We in Ann Arbor are doing fine in providing bars and restaurants, and we have large amounts of already-approved high-density housing that has not been built. Approving more is not going to turn us into the next Silicon Valley.

  2. Tom Whitaker Says:

    What’s wrong with promoting this goal:

    “It is important for a city, including ours, to attract and retain [] people who will bring their vitality and creativity to bear on making new kinds of economic opportunity.”

    I simply removed the word “young” as an adjective for people. I don’t buy the premise that cities need to attract the young or they will die.

    What I think we all want is a liveable city that attracts all manner of creative and entrepreneurial types, as well as the worker bees who want to follow those creative, entrepreneurial folks. Why have the people pushing this “Young Professional” message come to the conclusion that only the young are vital, creative and entrepreneurial? There are plenty of older folks in this city with those same qualities, plus other equally important qualities like experience, knowledge and maturity.

    Finally, what works in Ann Arbor may not work in Flint or Alpena. “One size fits all” approaches are hard to take seriously–especially when they incorporate sweeping generalizations about demographic groups.


  3. Michigan Future has some interesting research about what regions are succeeding and which are failing, and their conclusion is that “talent wins.”

    I believe that part of why Ann Arbor is faring the economic storm better than the rest of Michigan is our talent.

    Regarding Tom’s point, Michigan Future doesn’t argue that “young talent wins.” So does it make sense to focus on young talent?

    I think it does, here’s why: People leave, retire, or die, so we need to renew our talent bank. That means we need to recruit outsiders or train and retain insiders. We can recruit at all ages, but much of the train and retain efforts will be focused at young people.

    Also, as Vivienne’s quip about people moving to the burbs after their 1000 nights of entertainment hints at, people are often more mobile in their younger years. The young people I see (especially the recent grads) are looking for a reason to stay, wheras the people who are established here usually need a reason to leave.

    In some ways it comes down to segmented marketing. I agree with Tom that we need to address people of all ages, and that means providing different things to different interest groups. Young professionals do tend to have different things they are looking for in a community, we need to address that. And we need to address the quality of our schools for when they are a bit older, and on and on.

    Okay, that’s a long answer to question 1.

    Question 2, is density part of that effort? I think it is. Again, in the self-selected group of young professionals (including ones with families) and college students I hear from, they tend to reject the cultural wateland of suburban sprawl. If they don’t want to be in suburbanland, we need to find places for them in urbanland.

    Question 3: right now I don’t think we have the right mix of downtown, near-downtown, and key-corridor housing to meet their needs.

    And while question 4 is an important one, I can’t take the time to write cogently about it tonight. My wife is pregnant, and since we’re not moving to the suburbs, we have to start getting our place ready. Right now my hope for Ann Arbor’s future is getting our closet doors installed and having a 2nd bathroom for when family come to visit :)

    • varmentrout Says:

      I’m glad to see some good discussion. Chuck, my quip about the young talent moving to the suburbs after 10 years was actually something of a quote – the speaker himself made a comment to that effect.

      I was pleased to see that you are typifying all of Ann Arbor as “urbanland”. I agree, we are a city and that includes our neighborhoods. Concentrate’s title and some of the questions implied that only downtown is “urban”. I get very tired of hearing our single-family or lower-density neighborhoods being typified by some as “suburban”. One thing that has made me rejoice is seeing some of our older neighborhoods repopulate with young families. They are choosing an urban neighborhood, not “the suburbs”.

      And congratulations!

      • Murph Says:

        This reminds me of the recent discussion on MarkMaynard.com of “where does Ann Arbor stop and Ypsilanti begin?”, the answer to which, of course, is “it depends”.

        Similarly, what do we mean by “urban” or “suburban”, well, it depends. I certainly wouldn’t call everything within the City limits “urban”, but it’s a very, “I know it when I see it,” distinction – part architectural, part urban design, part “what can I walk to in five minutes?”. I’m thinking back to when we were house-hunting – there was a certain hazy line where, once we got far enough out Packard or Miller, well, it just didn’t /feel/ like we would be meaningfully IN Ann Arbor anymore. Once we got to the point where we thought, “Okay, at this point, we might as well take the advice to buy in a Township for lower taxes,” we were in a “suburban” neighborhood, for our own personal definition thereof.

        Certainly, I’d call neighborhoods like the Old Fourth Ward, Old West Side, Lower & Burns Park, Lower Town “urban neighborhoods”; I’m less inclined to apply the label to, say, anything south of Stadium Boulevard, or to most of the city northeast of about Plymouth & Barton Drive.

        This is not meant to be a slur on those neighborhoods that I see as “not so urban” – to each their own, and the not-so-urban neighborhoods just aren’t for me. But I’d go back to my comment on Thursday night, about availability of choice, that the area has LOTS of options for somebody looking for a single-family home on a medium to large lot in a neighborhood of similar (or a unit in an inoffensive condo complex) but dramatically less choice for those looking for something else.

  4. Murph Says:

    Handout: “Targeted economic incentives by bringing jobs to cities and urban areas.”

    You: “(what the points about economic incentives indicate are a mystery)”

    My guess is that they’re talking about things like the 2006 Good Jobs First report, The Geography of Incentives: Economic Development and Land Use in Michigan (pdf). This report examined Michigan’s use of Industrial Facilities Tax (IFT) and MEGA tax abatements, compared to large-scale layoff notices, and found that the tax abatements were skewed towards sub/exurban, greenfield communities, while the layoffs were skewed towards central city and “industrial town” communities. Not only does this help drive sprawl and urban disinvestment, but it creates problems for job seekers with limited mobility (in the car sense, rather than the ADA sense).

    (Interestingly, re-reading through that report, I note that they categorize City of Ann Arbor as “developed, at-risk”, and Ypsilanti Township as “stressed” – labels that I think many residents of those communities would have questioned in 2006. (Or even today.))

    Digging further, I find this piece from their blog, using GE’s announcement of locating in “Visteon Village”, with tens of millions dollars of State tax abatements as the context to ask, “If the state is going to go to such lengths to bring jobs to abandoned facilities why don’t we see to it that those jobs are situated in places that will generate the greatest economic impact? Just think of the impact those 1,100 GE jobs would have had if they were situated in Downtown Detroit, or Ann Arbor, or Pontiac instead of in a sprawling office complex in the middle of nowhere.”

    • varmentrout Says:

      Interesting, thanks, Murph. The handout was probably telegraphing something already understood (and this could have been it) but that did not communicate to the not already informed.

  5. Jack Eaton Says:

    Vivienne, thanks for covering this event. It appears that in spite of its provocative title, the discussion included some important issues. If urban density includes open space, as mentioned by Mr. Gilmartin, and near downtown neighborhoods represent urban density, as Mr. Murphy’s comment suggests, then density advocates and neighborhood activists may be able to identify common goals.

    A problem that persists with arguments over urban density is that it is ill defined. For some, density is a defense for any huge development that is being proposed for any location. If we agree to discuss urban density in a manner that accepts protection of near-downtown neighborhoods like the old west side, then density will gain more support. If we can agree that urban density must be concentrated in predetermined areas, such as the D-1 and D-2 zoning districts, then we can agree that it might lead to walkable areas.

    If density advocates allow density to be misused to defend non-residential projects like the library lot conference center, it dilutes the whole livability premise. If density is used as an excuse to put student dorms in the backyards of historic houses outside of the D-1 and D-2 zones, then it loses credibility as a means of achieving downtown residential density.

    Conversely, if we can agree that placing large residential projects in an identifiable D-1, D-2 area will create the density needed to draw grocery stores and other retail outlets, as well as restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues to an area that allows for a full life within walking distance. Density is distinguishable from scattered huge developments such as 42 North, the Moravian, Lowertown Village and Plymouth Green Crossings.

    Lastly, we may need to agree that density of the kind that draws the young, hip entrepreneurial residents we seek will not reduce urban sprawl. The exciting city center that draws the young to their “1000 nights worth of activities” is not going to draw township residents like Roger Fraser into the urban core. In fact that vibrant city center may push parents to move far enough away from the youthful fun of the urban center to shield their school children from that life.

    Hopefully, this event can help start the dialog that identifies the common interests of density advocates and neighborhood activists.

  6. varmentrout Says:

    Here is a comment from Jeff Meyers, editor of Concentrate. He said that he was unable to post it on the WordPress blog site, so I am cutting and pasting from his email.

    —-
    Vivienne, I think your comments are, well, a mix of good insight and some obvious politicizing which, unfortunately, only feeds further balkanization of the issues.

    I really do believe it is necessary for sides with differing views to try to find common ground and compromise. Asking questions and allowing for answers from both sides does that. Recasting comments, throwing in innuendo or only highlighting certain points to the exclusion of others doesn’t, in my opinion.

    “where one of Concentrate’s principals has an interest in the Moravian project.”

    I’m sorry, but that statement is incorrect. Newcombe Clark (who I assume you are referring to) hasn’t been with Concentrate since August 2009. Even then his involvement was strictly on the business side, securing underwriters for the publication. The suggestion that his involvement somehow orients my or anyone else’s in the company’s position is naive at best and manipulative at worst. IMG has hundreds of people in its employ over 7 states. The idea that we would be in lock-step over one former employee’s project is just silly.

    Similarly, your statement that Concentrate is pro-development is as loaded as the NIMBY description you say you abhor. The magazine is mostly pro-density (in relation to how it helps to create a more vibrant –re: 24 hour– downtown neighborhhod) but has no allegiance to development in general. There are good and bad examples of development. We can differ on how we decide what features matter more but to claim a simple pro-development is reductive and not worthy of the discussion you say we should have.

    Similarly, since I was the originator and host of the event I can hardly be accused of steering the conversation off-topic to density. I kind of defined the topics. However, I didn’t ask any questions on density until the issue was brought up by the panel (I had prepared over a dozen questions. I only used 6). Second, I happen to believe density and the lack of variety in housing options are at the crux of the generational issue… along with many other issues (like sustainable living, pollution, economic efficiencies, public safety, diversity, etc). And I am hardly alone in this view. That’s why I asked the question.

    “Meyers then asked if you couldn’t have medium-size buildings in between, but Dale said that is not how a successful community works; the solution is transit. ”

    Actually, you misinterpreted and misquoted Anya’s comment …which was meant to be the exact opposite sentiment. She inidcated that she believes there needs to be more than just big buildings downtown and single family houses on nearby streets. She vigorously supported the idea of a mix of close-in housing options – a comment she repeated several times throughout the presentation.

    As a personal point of reference… my decade of living in Portland proved to me that neighborhoods can offer those options without sacrificing character, livability or attractiveness. I owned a home 3 miles from Portland’s downtown that was built in 1863, sat on a tree-lined street filled with families …and we had four 4-6 story developments within 4 blocks of our home. My neighbohood was more ethnically, economically, and age diverse than any I’ve seen in Ann Arbor. And Portland is hardly diverse. Blacks make up only 7% of the population. But this kind of planning can be done, and it can be done well. ADU’s are a good idea but I have yet to see a good example
    where that strategy alone significantly impacted density. It should be one of many arrows in a quiver of solutions.

    Similarly, my point as to who defines “character” was an important one (though I regret the interruption). Are the only people who should have a say in how a neighborhood evolves be those that currently reside there? Doesn’t the community-at-large have a say? Don’t renters? Don’t leaders who see evolving demographics? If not, how do you allow for other preferences, incomes, age and ethnic diversity etc.? Small communities have a way of defacto redlining when left to their own preferences.

    From my perspective, most younger people are simply requesting that their wants and desires be included in the mix, that room be made for them as well. Accommodation is not capitulation. It is a recognition that all citizens matter, not just the ones who have been here longest. I think an unfortunate mentality has taken hold in Ann Arbor that every project, every new development is a line in the sand over which battle must be waged. It’s an unproductive and ungenerous way to build a community.

    Does that mean everyone will see eye to eye on what is the appropriate character or scale of a neighbohood? Of course not. But working together means BOTH sides must compromise. I rarely see much of that here. And it doesn’t speak well of our character in my opinion.

    Finally, if you don’t believe Dan Gilmartin’s premise that we need to do a better job of attracting young talent to our community consider this: I have been told by no less than 3 officials at U-M that the university is having increasing trouble recruiting the younger professionals they want for positions at the U. I have witnessed this very dynamic in my wife’s own department.

    In particular, single women are rejecting jobs at U-M because they perceive Ann Arbor as a place oriented toward students, families and retirees. Not singles (a growing demographic). They look at housing, social opportunities and the dating situation and percieve it as lacking. Now, you might say, so what? But the implications for both the U and area companies is not good if they are struggling to find the talent they think they need. And that has a trickle down effect on our community at large. I personally would prefer that we don’t become a two tier community: students and retirees.

    I think sites like yours are important to the continued conversation …but I frequently see attempts to debunk claims and semantics by people you don’t agree with rather than understanding their positions and concerns and trying to find a solution that at least partially satisfies both sides rather than viewing everything as a zero-gain contest of wills.

    • Tom Whitaker Says:

      Is this the pot calling the kettle black or what? Have you ever read Concentrate, Mr. Meyers?
      Some select quotes:

      “Nothing is built in Ann Arbor without some sort of rebellion. Developers always scare the NIMBY neighbors out of the woodwork in Tree Town, provoking the stereotypical fight between greedy businessmen and hysterical local residents.”

      “To combat sprawl, residents call for high-density urban development in their city center with friendly and aesthetically pleasing buildings featuring affordable unit prices for everyone. Yet, neighborhood associations form and voices are raised against these projects when they’re proposed.”

      “Not to mention that most of the housing they propose to raze is old single-family homes that have long been sliced and diced into barely maintained student housing. The type of near off-campus student ghetto that dominates the University of Michigan’s campus and makes both students and townies turn up their noses in disgust.”

      “Bands of local residents who either live nearby, are preservation minded or just curmudgeonly averse to any kind of change, usually form in opposition to the project.”

      Curmudgeonly? Is that Concentrate’s code word for old?

      To make matters worse, the author of these statements wrote four articles about City Place that placed it “on Fifth Ave. next to Blimpy Burger.” He even included pictures of Crazy Jim’s and the houses next to it. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and sent the author an email. He changed the text to “a block from Blimpy Burger” and kept the photos. Clearly, not the kind of in-depth knowledge and understanding of the city one would expect before deciding opponents of a bad neighborhood development were curmudgeonly NIMBYs.

      It’s one thing to claim you are for the general concept of urban density, but quite another to promote developments in neighborhoods that are simply a more localized version of urban sprawl (developers pushing urban boundaries in order to take advantage of cheaper land).

      There was little or no opposition to projects like 411 Lofts and Ashley Terrace that were built in the true urban core recently. I’ll let others debate the aesthetics, but I don’t think anyone could honestly argue that these expensive units were “affordable to everyone.” But there was little opposition because these projects were built in the true downtown, where five years of community master planning concluded that they belonged.

      Finally, I sat in a room of fellow landlords this week as part of a focus group on the R4C zoning district and I can tell you these folks take great pride in the care of their rental houses. There are a few absentee landlords out there who don’t maintain things properly, but the market (currently soft) will weed them out soon enough and someone else will come in and fix the house up again. Once a bad development wipes out a whole block, we are more or less stuck with it forever. (Or stuck with a vacant lot when the developer fails to finance it.)

    • Jack Eaton Says:

      I was amused by Mr. Meyers’ inability to post a response on this site. His on-line publication often fails to provide a means to allow reader comment. For example, a recent piece about the “need” for a downtown conference center cited only the comments of conference center advocates and made no mention of contrary views of the project. That piece had no link to submit responses.

      That minor amusement pales in comparison to my laugh out loud response to Meyers’ reaction to your characterization of Concentrate as “pro-development”. Has there ever been a development that Concentrate did not provide favorable coverage? Has there ever been a Concentrate article that fairly characterized the views of neighborhood activists?

      As to the idea that our failure to approve urban density projects is the cause of UM’s inability to attract young female professionals – which pending project is geared toward that market? It the Moravian student housing project market-tested to attract that demographic? Is the student dorm, City Place, situated 10 feet from the windows of historic neighboring homes meant to attract young female professionals? The library lot conference center is also irrelevant to that market.

      I was encouraged that after Concentrate organized this forum and provided it with a divisive title, that the discussion turned out to be quite reasoned and fair. I certainly hope that Mr. Meyers takes this opportunity to review the editorial posture of his publication. I hope that Concentrate finds better balance in its reporting.

      • John Hilton Says:

        I agree, Jack, it’s profoundly ironic that Jeff takes advantage of Vivienne’s openness to post this long, self-justifying response. His own publication not only provides no opportunity for discussion, it refuses to correct factual errors.

        And Vivienne, thanks for eliciting the news that Newcombe Clark is no longer involved in Concentrate. Last year, their coverage of the Near North project was not only pro-development in the shallowest sense, but repeatedly wrong about the most elementary facts. As an opponent of the project and an editor myself, I was shocked to learn that a) Concentrate’s publisher had an interest in a similar project, and b) Concentrate is publicly funded.

        In April 2009 I emailed the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to ask about its conflict-of-interest policies for the publications it subsidizes. I was told that my question had been referred to the MEDC’s legal department, which never responded. I repeated my question in June, with the same non-response.

        How about, Jeff? Does the MEDC have a conflict-of-interest policy? Does the Issue Media Group?


  7. John, is MEDC enough of a government organization to be subject to FOIA? I don’t know the answer to that (and it might take a judge to elicit the answer) but I suspect that you could force a response from them on that point.

  8. John Hilton Says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, Ed. It appears that, like Concentrate, MEDC feels no obligation to answer to the mere mortals who fund it.

    My own planned next step was to talk to my elected representatives in Lansing. But since Jeff poked his head out here, I thought I’d start by asking him.

    • varmentrout Says:

      The MEDC is a governmental entity so certainly should be subject to FOIA. I hadn’t realized that this media outlet (which competes with other, independent and self-supporting media outlets) was publicly funded. I hope that you (John) are able to get some answers.

  9. Lou Glorie Says:

    How does one contact “future residents” to ascertain what kind of development would lure them to our humble town? Future residents, being an abstraction are rhetorical weapons against the real, here and now community’s claims of involvement in directing its future.

    The 1000 nights idea of a downtown dominated by youth was well depicted in Disney’s Pinocchio. Welcome to Pleasure Island. The Coachman is the perfect metaphor for the out of town developers who have a life-style to sell. Though many of my friends’ children are now moving to Portland, NYC, Seattle, those who are not fueled by trust funds cannot remain there without work and do not have the funds to “start something up”.

    This migratory trend already has some lessons to offer us on the imperatives to tart ourselves up to attract the young and the restless: Williamsburg, and now Greenpoint in Brooklyn are two areas of NYC that were long considered no-go zones for the young and talented or wealthy. But what happened was that places like Little Italy started to attract developers and little by little the graphic artists, writers, musicians and artists (members of the working and middle classes) were driven out. Williamsburg and Greenpoint were largely working class areas when some of my friends moved there. No one had to clear these neighborhoods of the two, three story bldgs or drywall the factories. They loved the Polish bakeries, the Mexican and Polish restaurants and butcher shops, bodegas, the babas with their shopping carts, the scale of the neighborhood. The Bedford stop on the L was not yet so crowded that you couldn’t get on a train. It was already a very dense neighborhood, but many of the three-story apartment bldgs or duplexes had back gardens.

    But the future of these communities was not in the hands of those who lived there. It was being decided by well connected developers and Manhattan bureaucrats–the experts. The manufacturing that remained had to go, the small garden apts. had to go, the small stores, restaurants, the “babcias and djasdjas” had to go to make room for the future.

    Some of my friends also had to leave Manhattan. Some have left NY, a couple found shelter in Astoria. Aside from the questionable, contemptuous processes that turned Williamsburg and now Greenpoint into pleasure isles for the young, restless and trust-funded, there are questions about the infrastructure. This is a prime example of transit oriented development gone wrong– the key word here is “development”.

    Williamsburg’s Bedford Station is the first stop across the river on the L Train. The L had not upgraded the line or the station in advance of the development. The sewers and water services have not been upgraded and when a high rise construction project damages adjacent buildings, the small property owner is up against what can best be described as a cartel of interests who have the resources to keep complaints from slowing a project or hurting the bottom line. Greenpoint was spared until recently because of relative inaccessibility.

    I’m sorry that there is so little skepticism on the part of those trained as planners or those flogging these projects for a few crumbs or a gratuitous appointment.
    When some of my friends from Ann Arbor moved to NYC in the 80s, they could not take over an area of the city and change its character because they were not themselves making that much money and developers were not there to lend a hand. They had to settle in, actually shop in stores where people might speak another language or not share their “life-styles”.

    Developers would have us believe that the millennials are incapable of tolerating the funky or making their own entertainment; that they are helpless and that their creativity would be stunted in an environment nonconforming to the sanitized, corporate version of urbanity. This is not the reality.

    My children and their friends are creative and adventurous. They do not fear the unfamiliar but seek it out. They can adapt to the imperfect and effect change–as all of us do as we tread and live on this planet. Hubris and bombast are not required. But the “live, work, play” city of 1000 nights is a creature of the boardroom and it bears no resemblance to vibrant human habitat. This is a dystopia for a lobotomized, helpless horde of consumers rather than producers of culture. This population may exist, but I am placing my bets on the quickened wit and imaginations of the real millennials who live here now. Their friends will come. We and they will adapt.

    Alice Ralph’s comments reported here strike the heart of the matter. There is the social environment to consider. The social fabric of a town cannot be woven of speculative projects. The projects we need now would call for investors who are willing to look at the long term. I would like to see a slow, neighborhood initiated process for the introduction of mix-use development outside of downtown. But it must be consensual. And the city should not be cramming “the right thing” into the places people call home.

    Meyers’ question about who decides was designed to alienate us from one another. Divide and conquer is a worn tactic and most of us are not taking the bait. He may feel more aligned with the development community than his neighbors. That is his choice, but there is no reason why the rest of us should follow him down that rubbly path.

    It should be noted that other commentators here have an interest in cooperating with the DDA and Chamber of Commerce. Their characterizations of their fellow citizens as nimbys or obstructionists along with their support of developer designs for Ann Arbor have not disqualified them, or their spouses from development related employment. Whether or not there has been a quid pro quo, their interests should be clearly disclosed: “I was a DDA intern and then got a job as a planner in a nearby city and am now working for…”. Or “My spouse is employed by an organization initiated by the DDA and the Chamber of Commerce and I…”. Or “A quasi-public entity is a funder of the publication that I edit and I’m hoping for…”.

    These commentators often speak with the authority of an “expert” or from a righteous green-veneered pedestal. The discourse is tainted by a sense that they are speaking from the truth rather than contributing to an uncovering of a path we must explore together. For the sake of honest discourse, their relationships with pro-development entities should be disclosed whenever they speak to these issues.

    • varmentrout Says:

      Yes, Lou, I too have noted the erosion of established neighborhoods and pressure on local populations where an area becomes trendy. (I lived along the coast in Southern California.) Of course “future” residents have a right to live where they like too. But money drives out what is often a complex, well-established community and the social effect is often a homogenization.

      With regard to slow introduction of mixed use into established neighborhoods, I’ve finally been persuaded that maybe allowing accessory apartments in single-family neighborhoods would be a good way to accommodate more and younger people into some of the older neighborhoods, especially those where old, large (and often historic) houses make a tempting target for rental conversion. Accessory apartments would enable a single, a couple, or even a young family to afford and maintain one of these older houses while making a housing opportunity for another one or two people.

      • Lou Glorie Says:

        RE Mixed Use. I’m primarily concerned with the reintroduction of commercial infrastructure into areas that are to me residential deserts. The post ww2 zoning craze deprived neighborhoods of those very important third places.

        One model for the reintroduction of correctly scaled commercial into residential areas calls for allowing x number of houses to be repurposed for shops, cafes, bars etc.

        The West side of Detroit along the Mich. Ave corridor was a great model of a mixture of uses–factories, bars, bakeries, shops, churches, schools, Coney islands–and the conviviality of those neighborhoods has remained an ideal for me.

        One of the saddest results of the way development has happened here in Ann Arbor is that it has probably encouraged the entrenchment of the cafeteria plate mentality that has reigned in the states for 50+ years. If recent downtown projects had been more reasonably scaled (and not so ugly) and had the central area neighborhoods not been threatened with out of scale developments, there might have been more push for the return of shops, cafes etc in those neighborhoods.

  10. John Floyd Says:

    Lou et al,

    1) While some may contact “residents of the future” via Ouija boards, crystal balls, spiritual mediums, or the Oracle at Delphi, I myself prefer the old tried-and-true Roman method of examining the entrails of owls. Give it a shot!

    2) What does housing aimed at single young women seeking dates look like, and how do I finagle my way into it? Am I the only one to whom this sounds like an all-female college dorm? Knew I should have held on to my toga….

    3) Does anyone believe the underlying premise of the Dense, that Ann Arbor can/should replace Detroit as the central city of Michigan?

    4) If we built 10,000 units of housing for The Young & The Restless in central Ann Arbor, how would that effect the demand for single family homes in, say, Webster Township?

    5) Last I looked, most near-downtown neighborhoods already contain a large number of apartment buildings, most erected in the 1960′s. Out Pauline, past Stadium, there are tons of apartments. There is an enormous apt complex on the North side of Washtenaw, a tad east of Carpenter Road. Knob Hill Apts, at approximately Main & Hill, is a large apartment complex just as “downtown” as The Moravian would be. An 800-person apartment complex just opened up next to North Campus, off Broadway, a far from Downtown or Central Campus as is Pauline past Staduium. I’m having trouble seeing how Ann Arbor is short on intentionally- build apartments, that young people won’t live “away from downtown” or how it lacks “housing options”. Have I missed something?


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