Sustainable Ann Arbor: Georgetown Reborn

There are two competing narratives today about Ann Arbor’s future.  One is Metropolitan Ann Arbor.   In this one, “Ann Arbor” is really a significant fraction of mid-Washtenaw County, and perhaps even beyond. (SPARK calls this our brand,  “Ann Arbor, USA” and this includes a business incubator in Plymouth, Michigan (Wayne County). The actual city itself is the center of a growing nexus of enterprise and development, with high-density residential buildings springing up along transit corridors (Transit-Oriented Development) that use sophisticated rail or other rapid, high-volume transportation, centered around the University of Michigan (see also our post, Our Shining City on a Hill).

The other narrative is Sustainable Ann Arbor, where local (city) residents foster interdependence and build connections and resources that will support us as a community over the long run.  Sustainable Ann Arbor is focused on becoming ever more a walkable and bikeable community where local businesses (run by local people) thrive, food produced in the immediate area is sold in farmer’s markets and local eateries, and where a quality of life and special character that is “home” is fostered.  Yes, I am talking about localization and making our city work for its residents.

Now that the Council is underway with budget talks, these two narratives are competing for resources.  There is plenty of grim news for the Sustainable side of the story.  So for that reason, the news that the ruin that is Georgetown Mall might be redeveloped is very good news indeed. According to, the new development would be called Packard Square and, from the description, would cover a good deal more of the land area at the site than the current buildings do.  From comments attributed to the developer, it appears that this may be the first development to take advantage of the new zoning resulting from the Area, Height, and Placement project (see detail of changes to the previous sections).  Those changes increased allowable heights, but more importantly perhaps for this case reduced the necessary setbacks.  I haven’t seen the proposed design, but the article indicates that  “The retail space would surround a public square, with a small amount of park space and some benches… Beyond the retail space, the apartments would surround a pool area. Parking would be largely around the perimeter of the property, with a total of 450 spaces and some located under the basement of the apartments.”  That sounds much more attractive and people-friendly than the old huge front parking lot.

Aside from a more attractive appearance and functionality, this is very good news because of its location.  This development comes at a time that the Packard corridor has been undergoing a number of interesting changes.  There have been a couple of new businesses near the upscale Morgan & York gourmet food and wine shop.  Fraser’s Pub has evolved from a smoky bar to a family-friendly neighborhood hangout with good pizza.  With the business development at the corner where Food and Drug used to be (NW of the intersection of Stadium and Packard), the area has a deli, a good liquor/wine shop, a coffee shop, and still keeps its Dairy Queen for summer ice cream.  Do I sound like a booster?  Yes, I am, because this is exactly what a sustainable neighborhood should look like, with many different services available within walking distance.  And the Kroger at South Industrial, plus a number of other services, are not far away.

This last year I and my husband have been making an attempt to expand our walking range.  Thus I have taken to using a simple Google-map-based pedometer to calculate the distance to various locations within Ann Arbor.  I am pleased to discover that the distance from our house to the east side of downtown (and the west side of the UM campus) is only 2 miles.  Since we can now walk 1 mile very quickly without noticing it, and 2 miles with a little break at the end, this means that even when our local bus service doesn’t run, downtown is accessible to us without an automobile, at least in decent weather.

My definition of the good life (and the sustainable one) is being able to reach most of the necessities of life without climbing into an automobile.  Ann Arbor still has a very decent local bus system, though Metropolitan Ann Arbor is driving it toward service concentrated on commuters coming in from elsewhere.  Residents of the new Packard Square will be able to reach the intersection of Stadium and Packard by walking only 0.8 miles (perhaps 15 minutes) and the UM campus or downtown at 2 miles.  By bicycle, hardly any time at all.  And AATA’s Route 5 comes right up Packard every 15 minutes, 12 hours a day.

There will, of course, be some issues to work out, like perviousness (swales?) and details of the design as it affects immediate neighbors.   The preliminary plans call for 220 rental apartments and they will be “upgrades”, according to the developer.  There will also be a few additional service establishments. This is what urban infill should look like. No demolition of an existing neighborhood, instead a denser development within walking distance of downtown, in an emerging area.  And the neighborhood will no longer have to co-exist with a ruin.  The New Year couldn’t start off much better.

UPDATE: The Number One exhibit of  Metropolitan Ann Arbor’s tug on our city’s resources is the Fuller Road Station.  The recent article on, reporting on a recent working session about FRS, contains many pertinent comments from readers about this open sink for city funds.

SECOND UPDATE: Today’s story includes a rendering of the project.

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

2 Comments on “Sustainable Ann Arbor: Georgetown Reborn”

  1. I’m hopeful Georgetown site gets redone, and I too support living situations where you don’t have to hop in a car to get where you’re going.

    That said, I don’t think “metropolitan” and “sustainable” are inherently at odds. There are many sustainable features of urbanized environs, as the book Green Metropolis points out.

    • varmentrout Says:

      Thanks, Chuck. I agree that the words and the general concepts they describe are themselves not inherently at odds. I chose those words to describe particular visions of the future Ann Arbor. We are in a small city but some seem to hope that it will become a major urban hub.

      I’ll check out that book. Sounds interesting.

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