Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

If I could change one thing about the City of Ann Arbor it would be . . .

3. March 2009 • Nancy Shore
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Two years ago around this time, Arbor Update reported on a City Council Meeting that presented information from the Citizen Survey.

This Citizen Survey got information from 3,000 City residents in January 2007. Apparently the results of the 2008 survey are going to be presented soon.

One of the most interesting parts of the survey is the open ended question component, which asked the question “If I could change one thing about the City of Ann Arbor it would be . . .”

Among the thousands of responses

If I could change one thing about the City of Ann Arbor it would be . . .

  • Public transportation. We need a frequent affordable rail service, from
    Dexter/Chelsea to Detroit to cut automobile traffic/pollution. I agree with the
    mayor on this one. Check out public transportation in Portland, Oregon &
    emulate.
  • Improve parking downtown. I wanted to go to Seyfrieds Jewelers but I know that parking would be questionable so I went to Lewis Jewelers. I have patronized Seyfrieds for years but I can’t trust the parking anymore. My son lived in the Maynard apartments and that is another difficult place to park. Someone stole my neighbor’s car Friday night-January 12, 2007.
  • Preventing the expansion of Ann Arbor city limits. The city works better if it is
    kept small & contained where land use is. Have green space surrounding the city, separating from the out-lying districts.
  • Better vision for downtown including use, transportation and building design to include height of building codes. Stop using water rates to fund programs such as trash bins and building programs. Add highly useable (i.e. irresistible) public transportation. Get the city out of the business of owning vacant property including the YMCA.

This is just the tip of the iceburg. Read all about it here



  1. Thanks for posting that, Nancy!
    I liked all the quotes about having transportation to Detroit…too many Ann Arbor people deny that people (like, oh I don’t know, ME) work in Detroit. Some also deny that it takes not that long to get to Detroit and shit their elitist little panty-waists when I tell them I can get to my school in 1/2 hour from downtown A2.

    One of my favorite quotes was this:
    “To ensure that the city remains accessible to low and middle income individuals
    rather than continuing it path into a playground for highly paid professionals and
    students from wealthy families”. So much word. I remember reading somewhere that a very high % of people who work in A2 cannot afford to live here and those who live here have to work elsewhere in order to make enough to live here. Now maybe isn’t the best time to tackle this (“any job is a good job”, as my union rep told me the other day), but it still should be addressed, some how, some way.


       —TeacherPatti    Mar. 4 '09 - 01:23AM    #
  2. “I remember reading somewhere that a very high % of people who work in A2 cannot afford to live here and those who live here have to work elsewhere in order to make enough to live here…. it still should be addressed, some how, some way.”

    Isn’t this the rub? As we’ve debated here more than once, this is a very complex issue because there’s so many parts that affect the price of housing. Some have argued that if we increase density downtown and in the neighborhoods, we could bring down the price of housing. Others have argued that the focus should be on transportation, freeing people from being slaves to their cars. Others have said that job creation is the key, allowing more people who live in town to work in town. There’s also a sizable group who argue that trying to attract more people to Ann Arbor is the wrong approach as it will drive down property values through increased traffic, development, etc. I don’t have an answer although I think the first three points I listed could help. But I also think it’s been well-established that while many in Ann Arbor talk about the desire to provide more affordable housing, they’re not interested in backing many of the potential solutions.


       —John Q.    Mar. 4 '09 - 04:05AM    #
  3. “a high % of people who work in A2 cannot afford to live here and those who live here have to work elsewhere in order to make enough to live here.”

    I believe that most people who work in Ann Arbor actually could afford to live here if they chose to. The real issue is that people can get more house for their money in communities outside of Ann Arbor. It is a trade-off of sacrificing community services for a larger living space, not an issue of affordability. Affordable housing does not have to mean equivalent housing; it can simply mean housing one can buy for a certain price.

    There are some houses here that do sell between 100k-200K, although they may be small houses. If middle-income earners really want to live here they can. One just needs to choose what they prefer, city living with amenities or township living with more inconvenience.

    Obviously, someone who makes minimum wage or other low-income earners would not be able to actually buy a house in Ann Arbor, but could they do that anywhere else in the county? (I am not sure how equivalent rents in Ann Arbor compare to other places for true “low income” people.)

    This is a different issue than saying “a high % of people who work in A2 cannot afford to live here and those who live here have to work elsewhere in order to make enough to live here.” Not everyone can afford to live in Burns Park or Ann Arbor Hills, but there are other neighborhoods.

    Affordable housing for “low-income” earners should be fully supported because they have limited options, but the middle-income earners are making choices to live where they do.


       —Diane    Mar. 4 '09 - 04:48AM    #
  4. “But I also think it’s been well-established that while many in Ann Arbor talk about the desire to provide more affordable housing, they’re not interested in backing many of the potential solutions.”

    I totally agree, John Q.

    Diane makes a good point, too. My house is 840 sq ft and cost less than $200k to buy. It’s a great neighborhood, nearly Mallet’s Creek ‘brary. We technically could have afforded a bigger house (although NOT in BP or AAH—I don’t think I’d ever be able to afford that), but I’m naturally frugal and opted for smaller. It’s easy for me to say though—we aren’t having kids, so we don’t need a ton of space. OTOH, I can’t believe some folks expectations about houses! My husband has a friend who has the same job I do, and makes about what I do. His wife doesn’t work. They have several kids, so they do need more room. They have a McMansion in Oakland County because that’s what they “expected” and feel entitled to. Sooo…maybe folks need to adjust expectations???


       —TeacherPatti    Mar. 4 '09 - 04:18PM    #
  5. I agree with Diane as well. I live and work in Ann Arbor. My house on the SE side is 967 sq ft and cost around $111,000 when I bought it in 1997. I was making somewhere in the high 30s at the time. I could have gotten more house for my money had I been willing to lengthen my commute, but for me it was more important to live close to where I work. So it’s definitely possible to live and work here, if you don’t require a McMansion or an elite neighborhood.


       —KEF    Mar. 4 '09 - 07:55PM    #
  6. My husband and I also bought a house in Ann Arbor on the far West side that was about 970 square feet for under $200,000 back in 2005. I am about 2 miles from work and my husband is about 3, so we can get along with only one car, which saves us money.

    However, I want to make sure that we do still recognize the need for affordable housing in this community. I agree with John Q. that this is a complicated issue.


       —Nancy    Mar. 4 '09 - 09:29PM    #
  7. Do any of the prior posters in smaller houses have a larger family? One car and 900 sq ft is fine as a couple, but becomes more of an issue with kids, their different extracurricular activities, and all their stuff…

    Also, elementary school and middle school districts drive price differentials as well, which is why the small house on Granger in Lower Burns Park is more expensive than the same size house in S.E. Ann Arbor.


       —jcp2    Mar. 4 '09 - 09:49PM    #
  8. I’ll admit that we don’t have kids right now, but the people who lived in the house before us had 2 kids and our friends that live on the West side in a 900 sq ft house also have two kids and are planning on a third. I guess it depends on the number of kids and how transportation is worked out as kids get older.


       —Nancy    Mar. 4 '09 - 11:17PM    #
  9. To add to the point I was trying to make, if the real problem is that people want more house for their money (rather than there not being a supply of housing in their price range), then what can the city of Ann Arbor actually do about it?

    Do people expect the city to knock down the small houses and subsidize the building of McMansions so middle income earners can live within the city and have as much space as they want? The expensive neighborhoods in Ann Arbor are expensive for the sole reason that everyone WANTS to live there. The more desirable, the higher the price; it is basic economics. Again what can the city actually do about that?

    Reading through the list, the number one issue is housing. I guess I don’t understand what solution the complainers actually want. Was this a true wish list, or a list of things that people actually think the city can change.

    As for the size of some of the small houses in Ann Arbor not everything is under 1000sq ft. You can get a 1200-1500 sq ft house in this price range. When I was looking a few years ago, I saw some 3 bedroom ranch houses that fell in this category, albeit they were in need of some renovation.

    I also feel it is all about expectations as others have already said.


       —Diane    Mar. 5 '09 - 02:20AM    #
  10. Cleaning up the circuit court system.

    Hopefully this can get started late this year by drafting a competent and respected member of the legal community to run against “Downtown” Archie Brown.


       —John Dory    Mar. 6 '09 - 02:09AM    #
  11. “Public transportation. We need a frequent affordable rail service, from
    Dexter/Chelsea to Detroit to cut automobile traffic/pollution. I agree with the
    mayor on this one. Check out public transportation in Portland, Oregon &
    emulate.”

    The region, define this as either Ann Arbor or SE Michigan, simply does not have the density to support an efficient rail system. Trains work in major metropolitan areas or in densely populated nations (e.g., the Netherlands).

    We are wasting our collective efort discussing this ad nauseum.


       —anonymous observer    Mar. 6 '09 - 05:55AM    #
  12. I really did think metro Detroit was still a major metropolitan area.


       —Joel Batterman    Mar. 6 '09 - 07:09AM    #
  13. Detroit once had over 2,000,000 people in the same geography that now has 700,000. That is a substantial decrease in density.


       —anonymous observer    Mar. 6 '09 - 09:36PM    #
  14. Which still makes it one of the largest cities in the country. Many metro regions smaller than Detroit support rail include places with much less density. The facts don’t back up your claims.


       —John Q.    Mar. 7 '09 - 03:02AM    #
  15. That is further evidence of the failure of mass transit in the U.S. Outside of NY, SF, Chicago and a few others – mass transit (and rail in particular) does not work. It is a Green Dream and not a reality.


       —anonymous observer    Mar. 7 '09 - 02:30PM    #
  16. “Outside of NY, SF, Chicago and a few others – mass transit (and rail in particular) does not work.”

    Based on what standards? It works in Portland, Orgeon, population of 595,000 and in Washington DC, population 591,000. Both cities have healthy mass transit and light rail systems. I’m still waiting for some facts to back up your claims.


       —John Q.    Mar. 8 '09 - 08:17PM    #
  17. Washington Dc has an MSA of 5.3 Million.

    The Greenies always point to Portland but Portland may be the exception to the rule. If that is the case we have a grand total of ONE example. Of course, this ignores the fact that Portland is a well planned community – unlike Detroit, Ann Arbor or SE Michigan.

    The push for rail also ignores 2 major issues. 1)Economics – the cost is prohibitively high 2) Lifestyle/housing preference- there is a reason why people in Michigan have generally chosen to live in a single family house on an x.x acre lot. This remains pervasive even in Ann Arbor as evidenced by the uproar whenver a dense project is proposed.


       —anonymous observer    Mar. 8 '09 - 11:44PM    #
  18. Washington DC does not have a MSA of 5.3 million. Detroit and DC MSAs are equal in population:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_urban_areas

    Portland is a core city that’s smaller than others since that seemed to be your argument against light rail in Metro Detroit. How about Charlotte, North Carolina, which just started its light rail in 2005 and already has major expansion plans?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte,_North_Carolina

    It has both a core city and MSA population smaller than Detroit.

    “The push for rail also ignores 2 major issues. 1)Economics – the cost is prohibitively high 2) Lifestyle/housing preference- there is a reason why people in Michigan have generally chosen to live in a single family house on an x.x acre lot.”

    These are the same arguments trotted out against rail in every sprawl city in America and yet when it’s built, people use it (see Phoenix and Charlotte for 2 examples). Or is Michigan somehow different and so successful that we need to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done versus looking at what other successful cities have done and see if there are any lessons we can learn from them?


       —John Q.    Mar. 9 '09 - 12:11AM    #
  19. I agree we need to change. I’m supportive of substantially greater density. If/when that occurs, we should then worry about rail.

    You seem to dismiss the economics but we cannot even maintain our roadways. Investing huge sums in a rail system that may or may not be used is a poor use of limited resources.

    Finally, Washington does have an MSA of 5.3mm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_MSA


       —anonymous observer    Mar. 9 '09 - 01:35AM    #
  20. “Investing huge sums in a rail system that may or may not be used is a poor use of limited resources.”

    We’ve spent decades investing in highways and it hasn’t led to a successful metro region. What makes you think it’s going to work going forward?

    As for the numbers, you relied on a 2007 estimate. I compared actual numbers from the census.


       —John Q.    Mar. 9 '09 - 02:31AM    #
  21. Parking? congestion? public transportation? Really people, go live a big city like Chicago and then move to Ann Arbor and you’ll find these issues are minimized while living in Ann Arbor! Try paying for parking at $30.00/day or commuting in a car for 1 hour to go 12 miles, etc… It’s all relative I guess but seriously every time I drive downtown and park in Ann Arbor, I’m thankful for everything we have and know its 1,000 times better than living in downtown Chicago (although I do miss living in the city at times).


       —a2jon    Mar. 22 '09 - 03:29AM    #
  22. I agree with Post#10: Judge Archie Brown needs to be voted out in 2010.

    A few weeks ago Judge Brown made news by assessing some $18,000.00 in court costs against the plaintiff who filed a Whistleblowers Protection Act lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University in the homicide scandal over the death of a student there. The plaintiff’s attorney, Ms. Faupel, has vowed to appeal

    This is one in a long list of actions by Brown that has angered local civil rights activists over the last several years. His right-wing politics and hardball tactics have no place in Ann Arbor.

    The “Dump Archie Brown” movement is gaining momentum.


       —Kerry D.    Mar. 29 '09 - 12:27AM    #
  23. I support the “Dump Archie Brown” movement. We need better judges in the circuit court and Brown needs to go. The EMU case fiasco cited above is just one example of the negative consequence of a cconservative judge has on the administration of justice.

    Hopefully the EMU case can be overturned on appeal for the benefit of the alleged whistleblower.


       —Lillian Dwyer    Mar. 31 '09 - 04:56PM    #
  24. A number of political activists are already planning to support a candidate in oppostion to Judge Archie Brown. It will just be a matter of getting a few thousand signatures on petitions to put a local attorney’s name on the ballot and the candidacy of the attorney is expected to be announced in the latter half of this year.

    Brown is up for re-election in 2010. The EMU case is another in a string of decisions by Brown that have resulted in calls for his replacement by local citizens. Brown was an Engler appointee with longstanding ties to conservative causes.


       —John Dory    Apr. 5 '09 - 08:44PM    #