Motown To Tree Town: The 100th entry

OK, it’s technically the 101st entry — #100 was the link to the Detroiter piece.  And a handful of entries have been throwaway “I’m busy this week and next so I won’t be posting for a bit” updates.  But I figure it’s as good a marker as any for this milestone.

Believe it or not, I’m sitting on 176 draft entries in addition to the hundred I’ve posted to the web so far.  Some are barely started, many others have turned into vast compendia of links and stories I’ve come across over the months since I started blogging.  Most of them will never get finished and published.  I’ve learned blogging is not as easy as it looks – at least not coming up with posts of any length.  The bloggers I most admire, Felix Salmon and Jonathan Chait, churn out several medium-to-long posts each day, but that’s what they do for a living.  For a while in February, March and April I was able to manically put come out with several pieces each week, but I’ve found that aiming for one solid post each week permits me the best balance between my other responsibilities and maintaining my sanity.

For Post #101, I thought I’d take a step back and examine the bigger picture by dreaming big.  Here are a few of my wishes for the next decade, and, where relevant, potential metrics we could use to judge whether they’ve come true or not:

For Tree Town:

  1. That the Washtenaw corridor realize its potential through transit-oriented development and streetscape improvements.  This is, of course, already underway.  We could measure this by how many new trees are planted; adding bike lanes, cross walks, and ideally, designated bus lanes with timed street lights; filling in gaps of sidewalk coverage;  business occupancy rates; and infill development like the proposed Arbor Hills Crossing development.
  2. That the city of Ypsi continues to turn around, benefitting from the shortage of affordable housing in Ann Arbor and attracting residents who value access to public transportation and walkable, historic neighborhoods.   Some ways we could measure this include property values and median household and per capita resident income and educational attainment.
  3. That the controversial new high-rises in the pipeline for downtown Ann Arbor prove their skeptics wrong, providing a better-quality housing alternative to students and young professionals and helping to hold down the district’s escalating rents, without succumbing to low occupancy rates.  Potential metrics include population density, number of residents living downtown, and city-wide housing costs.

For Motown:

  1. That Detroit finally see an increase in educational attainment.  I don’t know what course this could take, but the ongoing crisis of DPS provides an opportunity to innovate and, perhaps, show the country how to solve the puzzle of how to educate minority kids living in concentrated poverty on a big scale.  While this would be the most desirable outcome, a continued influx of educated residents could also attain this goal.  Potential metrics include rates of literacy and attainment of high school, bachelor’s and/or graduate-level degrees.
  2. That Oakland and Wayne Counties finally elect leaders who understand that the region will continue to flounder and cannibalize itself unless it adopts sustainable growth policies.  No more sprawling greenfield development; instead, focus resources on maintaining existing infrastructure, encouraging greater density along transit corridors, and facilitating alternatives to single-occupant driving such as biking, walking, car-pooling, and bus service.  L. Brooks Patterson, God love him, is going to retire sooner or later – he would be 81 by 2020 – so there’s a real opportunity to elect as his successor somebody who prioritizes regional cooperation and gets that unbridled sprawl is not necessarily the best long-term land use strategy for Oakland County.  Former State Rep. Marie Donigan is the type of strong advocate for transit I’d like to see take his place.

For both:

  1. That in 2013, the Office of Management & Budget recognizes the changing nature of the relationship between Washtenaw County, i.e. the Ann Arbor metropolitan statistical area (MSA), and its surrounding counties.  Every decade, it re-defines the boundaries of the several hundred American MSAs to take into account commuting patterns.  Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti bring in substantial numbers of commuters from neighboring counties, in particular, Livingston, Wayne, Jackson, and Monroe counties.  While it’s a somewhat arbitrary decision by federal bean-counters, the MSA definitions have a big impact on how we see ourselves and how we get ranked on the plethora of rankings of urban areas that are continually being released.  I’d like to see Ann Arbor brought back into the officially defined Detroit MSA, or, alternately, to see Livingston, Jackson, Monroe or Lenawee Counties brought into the Ann Arbor MSA, thereby acknowledging the ever-increasing share of residents in those counties who cross the county line to work in Washtenaw.
  2. That Southeast Michigan continue and accelerate the diversification of its economy and employer base away from its dependence on the domestic auto industry (metro Detroit) and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).  Both have seen big job losses from their largest employers (including the latest casualty, Borders) but this could provide an opportunity for more and smaller firms to emerge and take their place.
  3. Finally getting a substantial rapid transit option in both the Ann Arbor and Detroit areas.  I don’t care what mode it is, whether commuter rail, light rail, or bus rapid transit, since public transit experts can argue all day which is optimal and which would give the most bang for its buck in each area.  There are routes in each area that, if properly designed, could sustain adequate levels of ridership, give residents a much-needed option for getting around, provide value for taxpayers and businesses, and boost optimism about our region’s ability to invest in itself.

Readers, anything here you would second?  Anything you’d add that I didn’t include?

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4 responses to “Motown To Tree Town: The 100th entry

  1. I am so tired of the blasting of L.Brooks Patterson.But unfortunately this blog apes most of the other ones. Somehow L.Brooks is responsible for all the ills of Detroit as if he created what a pathetic place Detroit is now.

    There is one thing and one thing only that will bring back Detroit from it’s intractable moribund status_ and that is to reduce crime in a spectacular way.Then and only then will most people embrace all these grand visions of a regional thriving area.

    The proof is in the evidence.Detroit is losing population still and I guarantee the people are leaving because they want safety_ it is that simple.

    I was hoping this blog would be something other then the usual stuff I read on Detroit yes…….guess not.

    • Ziggy, please tell me where I’ve written that L. Brooks is “responsible for all the ills of Detroit.” I make no such claim, anywhere. I’m also curious to know what blogs you think I’m aping.

      I agree with you that crime reduction in Detroit is crucial and that safety is a major factor in its ongoing population loss.

  2. I am impressed with how you have thought through some real improvements to the are and how to measure outputs. The points on economic diversification and transportation are especially well written.

    My additions:

    For DPS, I think county-wide school systems would be a good place to start. I know suburbs in Wayne County like Livonia would really hate this, but I think the education problems have regional effects and should be examined at a more macro level. Current school systems like Pontiac would benefit tremendously from revenue sharing with Troy and Bloomfield Hills. This might hasten suburban and exurban migration; I am not sure if this would be detrimental to Wayne County or if it would provide an unintended boon to counties without many underperforming schools: Livingston, Lapeer, etc.

    For suburban policy, I would like to see suburbs face equal treatment to the urban core: that as they age, no improvements are made to streets, sewers, and all manner of infrastructure. When it’s no longer quality built environment and/or when there is no demand to live there, it can all be torn down and hopefully replaced with something more efficient. Maybe a green belt? That is also on my wish list.

    • I agree, you’d want to be very mindful of unintended consequences from a move to county-wide school systems. What would prevent a county-wide system from falling apart just as DPS did? RE: “as they age, no improvements are made to streets, sewers, and all manner of infrastructure. When it’s no longer quality built environment and/or when there is no demand to live there, it can all be torn down” — our definition of suburb is important here. If we count places like Pontiac, Highland Park & Ypsilanti Twp as suburbs, which technically they are, it’s already happening.

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