Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Community Success Strategy for the Ann Arbor Region

5. December 2008 • Chuck Warpehoski
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At the City Council work session on Monday, Dec. 8, there will be a presentation on the “Community Success Strategy for the Ann Arbor Region” working document (pdf, power point").

The core vision of this effort is “The Ann Arbor Region is the place where world changing innovation happens!”

They propose 3 strategies to develop that vision:

  • Develop, attract and retain the best and brightest minds
  • Execute innovative ideas
  • Government, business, not-for-profit and education work together to achieve success

And each of these strategies has a long wish lists of tactics, from mentoring programs to transit to developing young professionals networks.

What do you think of this effort? Do you think they’re on the right track? Do you think anything will come of it?



  1. This is when I wish Ann Arbor is Overrated was still around, I’d love to hear AAiO’s take on this effort, especially Appendix F, which lists the awards and high rankings that the Ann Arbor area has received.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 5 '08 - 03:46PM    #
  2. My school computer isn’t letting me read the document, Chuck, so I hope this question isn’t repetitive. But I’m wondering what exactly we mean by “young professionals” and “brightest minds”. I ask because K-12 teachers traditionally get left off both lists. I’m certainly OK with being left off the former (given that my working hours are way less than many other professionals and at 36, maybe I’m not young either :)), but when we talk about educators and education, I have noticed that post-secondary is usually what is meant. I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to those folks, but I’d like to see a little love and propers going to us K-12 teachers.
    So…any words on these bright young minds, and educatin partners? Thanks!!


       —TeacherPatti    Dec. 5 '08 - 05:54PM    #
  3. Here are some of the components of the “Developing the best and brightest minds”

    * High quality education systems(from early childhood through postsecondary) * Early childhood education * Innovative education programs * Internships and mentorship programs * A creative education (arts & music, etc)

    They also talk about “Attracting and Retaining talent” with items like transit, affordable housing, cultural events, natural attractions, and diversity.

    So, I don’t see k-12 being ignored. Instead, I see an extensive list of projects.

    There are two ways to read this. One is to say that this is a holistic plan that recognized that many factors must come together for community growth and we have to include arts, affordable housing, diversity, etc.

    The other read on this is that it is a “Christmas tree” proposal where everyone with a pet issue gets a chance to hang their agenda on this like so many ornaments.

    I haven’t had time to read the full report, but it seems to me that if anything is going to happen there will need to be some serious prioritization. Otherwise, it’s just a long wish list of nice things to happen.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 5 '08 - 08:32PM    #
  4. The Ann Arbor News also covered this story. I would like to brag about scooping the News, but I think they may have posted this to their website before I got it up on Arbor Update, so I’m not sure I have anything to boast about.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 6 '08 - 04:32AM    #
  5. Thanks, Chuck! I love seeing a focus on early childhood education, which is a great place for intervention (for my kiddos, at least). Yay! I feel included now :)

    PS: Go ahead and brag, Chuck—that’s a scoop to me.


       —TeacherPatti    Dec. 6 '08 - 05:30PM    #
  6. The report does have a bit of a self-congratulatory flavor to it, Chuck, but I’ll focus on other aspects.

    Primarily, I think that what’s been overlooked is the need to develop sustainable systems—in this case, sustainable communities—as the necessary foundation for future success. We’ve made great progress locally toward a more sustainable community, but there’s much more to do in that regard. It’s odd (to say the least) to sort of overstep those efforts to focus on “success”.

    For example, when natural gas supplies dry up later this winter (or next year or the next—it’s inevitable), will Washtenaw County just be in the same boat as every other part of Michigan and other northern states, or will local residents and businesses have a renewable heat source to rely on? Currently the answer is that we’ll be paying dearly for what little we might get in March. Young professionals and creative entrepreneurs don’t want to spend a fortune on utilities or shiver through the cold, just like the rest of us old dullards. The only component of the report that addresses this sort of concern is the recognition of the need for better mass transit (and that only in the sense of its contribution to economic success, not social equity or environmental quality.)

    In the list of “Descriptive Table of Innovation Companies and Jobs” in Appendix E, the only item remotely related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, food security (a field in which we have many creative, local professionals, like Mike Score, who was included in the process), drinking water security, resource recycling (another field where we excel locally), “green” construction (growing locally), and the like is “Fuel cells, electrochemical generators”.

    That said, I think that my greatest concern with the strategy is the unquestioned assumption that economic growth is both good and possible. You used the term “community growth”, Chuck. What does that mean to you? Is it sustainable?

    The intro states that “[w]e have a window of opportunity to achieve sustained economic growth and enhance our quality of place over the long term.” The lack of acknowledgment of the absolute need for affordable, abundant energy sources to have any hope of such achievements isn’t surprising to me (anymore), and it could well be the failing point of all these good intentions.

    I’m also curious why the dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment wasn’t interviewed along with all the others who were.

    Finally, I’d be interested to hear from Murph, who is listed as one of the “Work Group Leaders and Experts”.


       —Steve Bean    Dec. 9 '08 - 03:25PM    #
  7. Fair enough, Steve, environmental sustainability and energy use planning a fair concerns that are left out of the report.

    I think the Transition Towns initiative will be a good way to address some of those concerns.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 9 '08 - 03:53PM    #
  8. I do too, Chuck. I’ll be attending. I hope that some of our community leaders and policy makers who participated in the “Success Strategy” effort will be able to as well.

    By the way, I’ll be looking for a way to share my feedback with that group in a more direct way when I find the time.


       —Steve Bean    Dec. 9 '08 - 05:09PM    #
  9. I guess that speaks to what I fear is the weakness of this approach. It looks to me like a lot of folks got together and each played their one note. That is, the arts people talked about arts. The transit people talked transit. Now you want to add in peak oil/energy planning.

    All of these are important things, but if the only hope is that people with just one issue will get other people to take on their agenda, it’s not going to work.

    I don’t think, for example, that the Arts Alliance is all of a sudden going to champion your energy concerns any more than I see you becoming a champion for a culturally vibrant community.

    It’s not that Tamara Real doesn’t care about energy or your don’t care about the arts, it’s that you each have your own agendas.

    Will this Success Strategy actually bring in new energy, new resources, new focus, or new collaborations to deal with these strategies? If so, then it has promise. If not, then it’s just another nice report to put on the bookshelf.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 9 '08 - 08:23PM    #
  10. “Now you want to add in peak oil/energy planning.”

    Your words, not mine.

    And just to clarify, I wasn’t suggesting adding “environmental sustainability” either. I think of sustainability in terms of the ‘three-legged stool’ model, where a balance is required among environmental quality, social equity, and economic vitality. This effort’s stool appears to be somewhat lopsided and so it may not support a community sitting on it.

    Last thought: It’s hard to make stone soup without a fire under the pot.


       —Steve Bean    Dec. 10 '08 - 12:28AM    #
  11. Steve –

    Any specific questions, or do you just want to “hear from” me? :)

    I was on the “land use and housing” work group – I think there was a good level of consensus in that group that we were working on a sort of “induced demand” side of the project. Other groups were working on “how do we achieve economic growth?”, while we were looking more towards, “how do we fit that economic growth alongside our other values, such as environmental quality, social equity, and sense of place?”

    If you hit the appendix for that work group, you’ll see our “most important outcomes” look at directing development to infill in the region’s urban centers, rather than sprawl; land use patterns that support non-automobile transportation systems; preserving open space, whether recreational, agricultural, or natural; and investing in affordable housing. I wouldn’t say that the stool was completely one-legged – there were work groups that were considering issues like environment and equity – though economic growth was the focus of the effort.

    I think the interesting piece is going to be getting this effort beyond “leaders and experts” and into “community”. What we’ve got so far is a working paper – in order for any of it to go anywhere, there’s going to need to be some community buy-in.


       —Murph    Dec. 10 '08 - 04:19AM    #
  12. What’s the track record of such “success strategy” plans in other communities?


       —David Cahill    Dec. 10 '08 - 02:34PM    #
  13. David – like all plans, it depends on the implementation. The planning process itself has value in terms of communication and, ideally, coming to consensus, but if you want good results, you have to get out there and get people implementing the plan to make it happen.


       —Murph    Dec. 10 '08 - 07:29PM    #
  14. Sounds like bumpf.


       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 10 '08 - 09:32PM    #
  15. Is “bumpf” similar to “piffle”?

    Always good to “hear from” you, Murph. (That is an odd phrase, isn’t it?) That’s all I was looking for at this point. I may have questions after I finish reading it.


       —Steve Bean    Dec. 11 '08 - 08:07AM    #
  16. I don’t want to detract from anything positive that people are trying to do here to improve things. But I firmly agree with Murph that the problem is really one of community building – and IMO, more about developing culture than building infrastructure. No amount of bounties, grants, and tax incentives can incent people to suddenly “be creative”. But events, mentorship, and enabling spaces that help people form the bonds of community can.

    To that end, we’re organizing a2geeks through “get out the geeks” events like ArbCamp 08 next week, and trying to connect folks on campus and across town to build a more robust geek community that bridges siloed University departments, town and gown. But ultimately, this needs to be the creative class organizing themselves to stay, not some abstract policy discussion.

    I’m not sure a Gang of Six can hierarchically effect a top-down plan for Cultural Revolution – I’d suspect most Millenials and Gen-X’ers would strongly recoil at the idea of this not being a bottom-up, “authentic”, grassroots initiative (esp. as few of these efforts ever actually involve them, as Jeff Helminski pointed out at a recent Michigan Leaders Speak event). At least among geeks, we hope to better organize what’s already here through peer leadership and viral inspiration.

    This proposal does sound like a bit of a Christmas tree, but that’s not necessarily bad. All I want for Christmas is a bigger, badder, stronger geek community, because out of that will emerge the opportunities and transformational economic change that I’ll need to stay. That, and a skatepark. I’m clearly biased, but I do believe the geeks will inherit the earth.

    Mark “winner winner chicken dinner” Maynard recently solicited a similar rant on guerilla economic development from me, so stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.


       —dugsong    Dec. 11 '08 - 09:37AM    #
  17. Did you know that the Ann Arbor District Library provides online access to the Oxford English Dictionary? Go to aadl.org > Research > Encyclopedias and Dictionaries. You have to create an AADL user id, but after that it’s free.

    “Piffle” is an official word (although I have to admit I was using it wrong — it’s a bit too strong for what I was trying to convey — I probably should have just said “trifles”.)

    Piffle: Foolish or empty talk; nonsense, drivel. Also used as an exclamation or retort to express disbelief or disagreement.

    1890 Sat. Rev. 1 Feb. 152/2 If there is..a certain amount of the ‘piffle’ (to use a University phrase) thought to be incumbent on earnest young princes in our century, there is a complete absence of insincerity. 1900 O. ONIONS Compl. Bachelor ii. 18 He’d talk a lot of piffle, wouldn’t he? 1920 ‘B. L. STANDISH’ Man on First xviii. 127 ‘The Hawks have the lead on us, still.’ ‘Piffle!’ said Cady. ‘We’ll even things up to-morrow.’ 1959 Elizabethan Apr. 10/1, I gave you a bar of chocolate on the train from London. So piffle! 2000 Washington Post 28 Jan. C8/1 Behavioral experts..have been probed for reaction, calling the theory everything from irrelevant piffle to groundbreaking.

    “Bumpf” is not in the OED, but the Urban Dictionary reports:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bumpf

    Useless printed instuctions and manuals.
    Originated in England during World War II when English soldiers were overwelmed with unnecessary printed materials and used them as they would toilet tissue or “bum fodder”.

    Again, a bit strong, but I do love these words.


       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 11 '08 - 03:59PM    #
  18. There is now a website, named “Ann Arbor Region Success”.

    “From finding and networking with the next generation of leaders, to capital for start-up companies, to working with government and education sectors to create world class K -12 education, to marketing this Region’s distinctively cool culture, Ann Arbor Region Success has identified the most critical actions needed to achieve long term success.”


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 16 '08 - 07:52PM    #
  19. Good to have you back at AA, Vivienne. The website is useful.

    It’s nice to see they have a concrete call for people to get involved and are recruiting champions, project managers, and team members. Although I’m not sure what level of action they are building teams around. Is is as narrow as “great public transit” or as broad as “Execute innovative ideas”?


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 16 '08 - 09:59PM    #