Archive for the 'Your Ann Arbor' Category

Mar 08 2009

Good People or Good Equipment?

My 21 years in the the Air Force taught me that “Good People” make up for “Bad Equipment” everyday.  The advantage one achieves by having the best of equipment is always fleeting if you don’t have the best people using it, so given the choice I will always choose the best people and try to hang onto them.   

The Russians are a great example of good people making up for bad equipment.  During the cold war the Russians faced chronic shortages of every strategic material and computer available to us Westerners yet they continued to bluff us into thinking they were a superpower for 40 years.  They did it with their intellect and hard work.  Take a look at vintage 1980 Soviet aircraft.  Lacking sophisticated computers and wind tunnels  for advanced aerodynaminc modelling, the Russians just became very good at copying our basic designs and adapting them to their needs.  The results were nothing less than outstanding.  Couple adequate design and outstanding pilots and the results were a talented air force that was the envy of the world.

So if you ask me whether I would rather have a new city hall or a good police force and I am sure you will know what my answer will be.  Don’t get me wrong, we need an adequate place for our policemen and women to call home and then we need to invest in their training to insure that they are ready to protect us.  Remember, our young men and women don’t gravitate to law enforcement for the money!  They do it because of their desire to serve.  Let’s keep the best and the brightest and make our investments in “them” not the building.  We will all be safer if we do. 

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Oct 15 2008

“700 Billion Bailout, Last Gasp of Urban Sprawl” Christopher B. Leinberger

Published by under Development,Your Ann Arbor

 

Ann Arbor, October 10, 2008.  Speaking at the Global Urban Symposium, GUS, on the topic of “Macro-Sustainability and Walkable Urbanism,” Christopher B. Leinberger, University of Michigan professor and noted author of “The Option of Urbanism, Investing in  a New American Dream  declared that urban sprawl caused by unsustainable real estate practices (“Drive till You Qualify”) and government subsidies through agencies such as Fannie Mae, FHA and the gasoline taxes have been a major factor in the collapse in home prices, the sub-prime crisis and ultimately the global financial meltdown.

Leinberger identified two types of urban environments; Drivable Suburbanism and Walkable Urbanism.  As transportation systems drive development, Drivable Suburbanism (Think Brady Bunch) is automobile centric while Walkable Urbanism (Think Seinfeld and Sex in the City) demands a more balanced transportation plan including readily available public transit and non-motorized transportation.  Consequently, Walkable Urbanism is a much more complex (time and money translate to expensive) problem for cities to solve as the infrastructure and neighborhoods are already established. Making space for increased density creates a need for change which many communities are not ready to accept.  Brian Swett of Boston Properties a development firm in Boston, MA offered a good example when he stated that the newly opened Mandarin Hotel in Boston took 13 years to get through the permit and building process.

Leinberger elaborates on just how bad the housing market can get in an article he authored for Atlantic magazine, entitled “The Next Slum”, March 2008.   Most of the loss of property values will occur in the fringe areas in overdeveloped Drivable Suburban markets such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Sacramento and parts of Florida.  Ground Zero in the property value decline will be fringe areas without rail transit and no functional city core. 

The news is not all bad however. As smart cities successfully make the shift to more balanced transportation systems and increased population densities, property values can rapidly increase as buyers are willing to pay a premium for Walkable Urban real estate.  Washington D.C. for instance has transformed a former Low Cost Housing Project into a planned walkable community.  Remarkably, in just five years land values per square foot increased from $10 per square foot in the former rundown crack cocaine neighborhood fraught with all the social decay that is endemic in blighted neighborhoods to a thriving walkable neighborhood with a new major league baseball stadium and a new expanded Metro station.  The entire 97,000 sq foot development (two football fields) was just sold for a $69 million profit for the Metro Authority at land prices that were approaching $712 per sq foot 70 times the original values.   

Conclusion: Walkable Urbanism equal Sustainability equal Profit! 

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Aug 27 2008

Do we need a Conference Center downtown Ann Arbor?

Published by under Development,Your Ann Arbor

The Planning Commission tabled the A2D2 code amendments in May 2008 to consider public comments.  Since then, the A2D2 Steering Committee and the Planning Commission have met several times with staff to revise the proposal. 

The revised amendments are now available for review (see below). 

Changes to the May 2008 draft amendments include:

  • The zoning for the north side of East Huron between Division and State has been changed from D2 (Interface) to D1 (Core). 
  • Properties on North Division/East Ann and North Fifth Avenue that are currently zoned office and located in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District are proposed to remain as O zoning.  For the remainder of the block containing City Hall, the properties are proposed to be zoned D1.
  • Street frontage designations for several blocks have been changed to better reflect the current front setback pattern along the block. 
  • Revised side and rear setback requirements for properties abutting residential zoning districts have been added. 
  • The requirement for active uses at street level has been revised to apply to a smaller group of retail streets and include customer lobbies for banks.
  • The massing standards for several character overlay districts have been revised in allow larger tower diagonals.
  • The requirement for design review has been separated from this draft.

The Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing and action on the amendments for Thursday, September 4 at 7:00 pm in Council Chamber (2nd floor, City Hall).  At that meeting, the Commission will consider making a recommendation on the amendments to City Council. We need to make our voices heard at this meeting. 

 

I am concerned about several permitted uses of land in the Core Downtown areas designated a D1 and the Interface Areas designated as D2.  (You might have other concerns like Adult Entertainment.  Hmmm?) These uses are all listed on page 7 of the revised amendments.  My major concern is a Conference Center.  I strongly believe that a large Conference Center in the City Core will negatively affect  our City permanently for the residents.  We need to discuss this use more.  A significant number of questions should be answered before we move forward such as, how large will the Center be, who will pay for the construction and operation, what other structures like hotels and parking structurse will be required among others? I don’t know any Conference Centers in the U.S. that are profitable.  Most require some form of public subsidy. All require separate parking garages.  

 

My recommendation is that we pull this use out of the amendments before it goes to City Council and then schedule a series of public hearings to decide whether our community wants a Conference Center at all.  

 

Once Planning Commission has made a recommendation on the code changes, they will be forwarded to City Council for public hearing and action. Please plan to attend this important meeting.  If you cannot attend you can e-mail comments on the proposed changes to A2D2Feedback@a2gov.org or send them to me. 

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