Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

New West Side Association

28. May 2005 • Scott Trudeau
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ArborUpdate frequent commenter Dale has started a new project, the New West Side Association. This project includes a web site (at time of this posting, still pretty rough) and associated blog, where he writes:

the New West Side Association as a way to provide West Siders—particularly renters and students—with a means of staying informed on West Side events, politics, and entertainment. If you rent on the West Side, if you are a student at Michigan, or if you have an interest in promoting student and renter issues within the city, you should consider joining the New West Side Association. Students and renters need a voice within the city; a forum for debating their values; an organization to effect change. Though Ann Arbor was an active city for student politics in the past, no such organization currently exists. Stay tuned for more announcements and information on the New West Side.

  1. Let me respond to Murph’s first inquiries to kick things off:

    “are you trying to start a student lobbying group there, or a tenants’ union, or a neighborhood association (or a shadow neighborhood association), or what?”

    Background: In both my experience in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor (and in discussion and study of other college towns), I have come across, as we probably all have, the issue of “permanent” homeowners and their lobbying groups and their fairly central role in local politics. This is in contrast to the fairly marginal role that students and renters have had upon local politics despite their enduring presence as a group in Ann Arbor, for example. This, it seems to me, has much to do with student/renter transience, but perhaps more importantly, the inability of residents in geographic areas to identify with one another.

    Where homeowners identify with each other because of common concerns like property values, neighborhood beautification, and schools, students and renters are (on top of their transience) unable to form these geographic associations. Even in my class with urban planners last semester, most acknowledged that they did not know their neighbors, which surprised me.

    It seems to me that, in most areas of the city, students have a strong presence that is not addressed within the local political equation because there is little to bind them together—why would a classics undergrad living on William identify with a computer science grad student living on Ashley? To me, there is plenty—namely that neither has much say in what goes on the city, and unfortunately, neither is kept well informed.

    AAiO and AU I think have been great steps in promoting discussion of off-campus Ann Arbor issues (porch couches, greenway, parking, etc.) and getting students (in particular) to think collectively about what had been their isolated individual impressions and thoughts of the city.

    However, I think that we need more. I don’t see that students (and other “temporary” groups that have been around for decades) yet have the means of collectively acting to protect and promote their interests. For example, I am a dues-paying member of the Old West Side. I have no idea what is going on in this organization. I get an email approximately every other month and a newsletter about several feel-good stories every month or so (until an issue like the greenway comes up) and that is all the communication I have with the group. Emails I send to the leadership get pretty unrewarding responses and I have yet to hear how I can really get involved in setting the agenda (or at least introducing my issues) for the OWS. I suspect that the group’s leadership already has a social network buttressed by school contacts and other organizations they are involved with that I don’t have an interest in—church groups, workout groups, gardening groups—where they identify (or solidify) a common vision for the OWS: good schools, increasing property values, modest density, etc.

    Where does that leave me and other students? On the margins.
       —Dale    May. 28 '05 - 09:47PM    #
  2. Thinking:

    Building off the cross-community awareness that AAiO and AU and people like Murph and Larry Kestenbaum have been promoting and espousing, as well as my own thoughts on community politics, it seems like reconnecting students to their place and others within their neighborhood is the next step in promoting student/renter interests in Ann Arbor. When Chris Easthope puts forth the Greenway resolution and claims that he is thinking about the people in his ward, he is not representing me (a resident of his ward) and I doubt he is representing most of the rest of the renters, who are more interested in affordability in an already liveable city, rather than hyper-proximate greenspace. However, he has not been engaged with students in this ward and has not had to. (He may occasionally talk to student groups, but, as I have illustrated, there is no way for students to put forth a common vision that demands his response or action.) Likewise, when John Hieftje says that he doesn’t want to shove ADUs down neighborhoods’ throats, he sure as hell isn’t being responsive to my interests in this neighborhood (which seem to be commonly held by others here in the OWS and in other areas). There is simply no organized way for us who are interested in these issues to apply collective, organized pressure on these elected officials.

    At least part of the answer in providing a counterweight to groups like the OWS or the OFW (as opposed to a marginal voice within them) is to aggregate interests within these areas and develop a focused vision and voice. Thus, the New West Side Association. I would like to rebrand the West Side as not just a NIMBY homeowner haven (intentional oversimplification), but also as a place where students pay taxes, work, and shop—both in the minds of the larger community and in the minds of students themselves.

    I hear all the time from students “I live on the Old West Side and I think such and such sucks.” “Damn,” I usually think, “I think the same thing. Why isn’t anybody paying attention to this?”
       —Dale    May. 28 '05 - 10:12PM    #
  3. Man… now I wish I still lived on the Old West Side. I used to live at Spring and Hiscock, which was sort of marginal OWS, I think. We didn’t really know our neighbors either (only one of us was an actual U-M student—I was getting my M.A. from an Ohio university and the other was taking classes at Washtenaw, although our upstairs neighbor was a U-M Ph.D. candidate), but they certainly held a sniffy attitude towards US. Dale, best of luck!
       —Lazaro    May. 28 '05 - 10:18PM    #
  4. Vision:

    Since Todd Leopold won’t run for city council (who would pretty much automatically get my vote and be an excellent steward of the city, balancing the realities of business, homeowner, student and other interests), we need something else.

    I envision the New West Side Association not as a single-issue organization, but as a multi-issue lobbying group that also serves as a sort of public sphere for students, renters, and other marginal figures in this part of Ann Arbor. Thus, it will promote identification amongst previously isolated people; it will help these people stay informed about city issues (and regional ones, when relevant); it will facilitate action on their part to protect and advance their interests; it will engage city officials to take action to serve those interests.

    Basically, I would like to put into practice ideas of the public sphere, social capital, and political action in a politically underserved community. I have emphasized students, but I do not rule out other groups’ participation who are marginalized because they are “temporary” and have no other forum for their ideas and issues (which I don’t think will be that far afield from students’). I also do not rule out the participation of homeowners or traditionally labeled “permanent” residents, because, as we have seen, some people (like Larry) “get” it. However, this group does and will have a student/renter-centric agenda focused on a vision of quality of life in Ann Arbor that I don’t think is being adequately represented.
       —Dale    May. 28 '05 - 10:35PM    #
  5. Actions:

    First is getting organized and getting a handful of core people involved. This group is not defined by the boundaries of the OWS, so if you are interested and live between State and Main, don’t feel like we don’t want you. (Lazaro, I’m looking in your direction…)

    Second will be doing some promoting and canvassing, letting people in the neighborhoods know we exist and that there is an initiative for addressing student and renter interests. I’ve looked at the census 2000 info for this area, so I know that in areas west of Main, tenant occupancy ranges from about 70 to 20 percent, but getting a handle on who’s who and what the character of particular neighborhoods will be key.

    Third will be getting some communication devices together. I’d like an “Arbor Update”- type of site for the New West Side. Right now there’s the site and the blog, but there needs to be some medium(a) for people to be informed other than just going around knocking on doors every other week. I know our badass Web dudes here can help whip something up.

    Fourth will be holding some events and activities. One would be a voter registration drive—it’s essential for students to register and vote in Ann Arbor and a neighborhood-based effort I think will aid other such drives. Another would be a candidate forum for the city council elections. I know there are several of these, but not everyone is plugged into the Urban Planning students’ activities and, again, I think an event loosely tied to a couple wards would be more effective both in terms of issues and in terms of engaging candidates.

    Also, my good buddy and roommate Brandon Zwagerman is a master of social organizing, and I’m sure the NWS can combine the social and the political much like the neighborhood associations do.

    So—ask me any questions you might have, and also ask me what’s the deal with the Ann Arbor Community Car Co-Op (A2C3), because that’s another thing I think ties in with a number of issues we’ve discussed on AU and should interest students.
       —Dale    May. 28 '05 - 10:55PM    #
  6. So, Dale . . . what’s the purpose of starting a New West Side blog if you’re just going to spew everything here rather than there? :)

    Myself, I’m currently undecided whether my community organizing project for the summer should be a tenants’ union within my management company’s properties (Plan A), or a StaPaSta organization like your New West Side for my new ‘hood, the triangle between State, Packard, and Stadium. (I suppose it could be TriPaSta, or something similar. I’m not picky on the name. Cara suggests, over my shoulder, the OhSoPasse. She thinks she’s funny.) That would have the advantage of having distinct geographic boundaries, and also being wholly within the Fourth Ward. (In fact, having almost exactly the boundaries of the Fourth Ward, Third Precinct, and also entirely within the 9th County Commission District, so it would have a distinct political meaning.

    I think I’m doing a good job of talking myself into one of these…
       —Murph    May. 29 '05 - 02:39AM    #
  7. What do you think the population of the TriPaSta is? Almost totally renters/students, it looks like, with an owner island or two.

    Say, can anyone throw up a link where we can find voter turnout results for the area? Nov 2004 in particular?
       —Dale    May. 29 '05 - 02:46AM    #
  8. I just posted over at AAiO that I think an umbrella group, an association of associations, but be nice to put together if more than one of these neighborhood orgs puts themselves together, make it easier to replicate. I’m already planning on meeting w/ Dale next weekend. Any other takers?
       —Scott T.    May. 29 '05 - 03:23AM    #
  9. Scott, I’d be down for a meeting. I could bring some stats too.
       —Dan Faichney    May. 29 '05 - 05:29PM    #
  10. I’m not an expert in community organizing, so forgive me if this is a dumb question, but what’s the idea behind patterning these groups after the existing neighborhood associations? It seems to me that most of the student/renter interests you want to promote have very little to do with neighborhood geography. Besides, students are probably a lot less likely than homeowners to identify with their specific neighborhoods—they don’t care about property values, for example, and they move around Ann Arbor from year to year. Just a thought.
       —Donn    May. 29 '05 - 10:24PM    #
  11. I don’t think that they have to be; for me, the idea of a “New West Side” was too good in too many ways.

    First and foremost, it rebrands an area (fairly nebulous) in a powerful way. The idea of the Old West Side suggests that that association is the guardian of tradition (same with OFW) in a way that doesn’t acknowledge the changing conditions of Ann Arbor’s West Side (much as their politics don’t). I think they put a bullseye on their shirts and the NWS is just taking them up on the offer.

    Discussion on some other blogs has promoted the excellent idea of an eventual consortium of student/renter neighborhood associations with boundaries that would probably be determined by equally pertinent factors—student density and population, distribution of local institutions, voting precincts, local issues, etc.

    One thing that is essential, I think, is getting students to think about where they are geographically, getting them to identify with their student neighbors, and getting to work together to improve their areas. That is what makes the homeowner associations so effective (proximate people with proximate concerns).

    So I don’t think anyone wants to just build groups that take on existing homeowner associations or let them determine the boundaries of our concerns. It was just the way it seemed to work out for the NWS.
       —Dale    May. 29 '05 - 10:49PM    #
  12. Dale, this what you were looking for?

    As a sidenote, take a look at Scio’s turnout rate (using the “Precincts Counted” link), which is unusually high: nothing below 75%.
       —Chris    May. 30 '05 - 01:18AM    #
  13. “my good buddy and roommate Brandon Zwagerman is a master of social organizing”

    Apparently you weren’t at my pre-Bang! porch party attended by four people last night.
       —Brandon    May. 30 '05 - 01:59AM    #
  14. I’ve heard homeowners refer to themselves as living in the New West Side when the live in the new subdivisions west of I-94 out Liberty – think Scio Twp.

    Murph, I have a few starts at a “Lower Burns Park” organization going, which you are welcome to co-organize.
       —Edward Vielmetti    May. 30 '05 - 03:50AM    #
  15. Scott, are you giong to overlap organizing with the AU Hackathon? For total global control convergence?

    Dale, you ask about the population characteristics – I live in the boundary zone between Dewey and Granger, which seems to have both student renters and long-term (50-year-plus) homeowners. To the south, between Granger and Stadium, it shades into almost all(?) homeowners, (including such notable townies as Ed and City Councilmember Margie Teall). To the north, from Dewey to the point of the triangle, it shades into almost entirely student rental, the geography of the “Student Neighborhood Association” that Goodspeed set up a while back.
       —Murph    May. 30 '05 - 04:05PM    #
  16. I think it is a great idea to try to find a way to connect students and renters to their neighborhoods. This is something we have tried to do for a long time, but with little success.

    It is interesting in reading all these posts to note that students make as many, if not more, assumptions about homeowners as homeowners do about students. My neighborhood is a nice mix of owners, renters, students, retirees, downtown workers, low-income, and Avalon housing. The SUVs and Jaguars are driven by undergrad students while the owners drive 15-year old clunkers and it is the home-owners and long-term renters who shop and work downtown while the students drive everywhere. We have all tried to interact more with the students and invite them to anything the neighborhood is involved with, but there is little interest. Mostly we just get glared at.

    I think the students need to be more involved—especially with housing and landlord issues, but when you take on something like the couch ban as your big issue and promote housing like 828 Greene Street, people are unlikely to take you seriously when you say you need better housing conditions.

    The New West Side Association can be an important voice for students, but I would hope that the purpose would not be solely to be against everything the OWS does. Attending City Council meetings and OWS meetings and speaking up for this group of residents who are so much a part of Ann Arbor would mean a lot. Sometimes that might even mean you are with the OWS rather than against it.
       —Juliew    May. 30 '05 - 11:23PM    #
  17. I think that “looking out for issues that affect students and renters, and trying to promote some sense of neighborhood in these populations” is definitely a better goal than, “looking out for issues that will tweak the existing neighborhood associations.”

    The couch ban made for a good rallying point. Regardless of how meaningful it may or may not have been, it was an issue that was “clearly” anti-student, and therefore something that students could be gotten mad enough to do something about.
       —Murph    May. 30 '05 - 11:53PM    #
  18. Well, 828 Greene was approved, and the couch ban failed. So someone’s taking us seriously. Or, more accurately, someone’s taking those positions seriously. And I don’t remember anyone coming out in favor of 828 Greene. I remember Murph coming out against it and other people taking issue with certain tactics used to oppose it.

    The couch ban isn’t the NWSA’s “big issue”; they haven’t even mentioned it, as far as I can tell. But it is a big issue. The fact that this kind of legislation was supported by so many influential people says a lot about how students and renters are viewed by this city. And students living in overpriced, decrepit housing are going to fight back when someone tries to take away something that makes living there a little more pleasurable. It was both a symbolic and practical issue, and it resonated with students for a good reason.
       —ann arbor is overrated    May. 31 '05 - 12:09AM    #
  19. A lot of students who didn’t see the plans came out for 828 Greene because it was new and therefore the assumption was that it was nice. But what you got is 6-bedroom apartments with small bedrooms with beds bolted to the floor for $650/bedroom. I think it would have been really good if there had been an organization of students at the time (Murph was the only one who actually accepted our offer to examine the plans) who could have looked at it and suggested changes from a student perspective that would have actually made it good housing.

    I understand that the couch ban was a big issue and that it galvanized students. I agree, I thought it was a stupid ban. But to come out so vehemently against it saying that it was an infringement of students’ rights (when there are many, many things that are far more serious) made it, and the students who opposed it, a joke for so many people.
       —Juliew    May. 31 '05 - 12:54AM    #
  20. The effort exerted to maintain a simple freedom like sitting on a couch on a porch students pay rent for needs no defense.
       —Dale    May. 31 '05 - 01:42AM    #
  21. Check today’s Michigan Daily for a news story on the NWS, an editorial endorsing our formation, and a viewpoint by me. Also, it includes a shout out to Arbor Update and belated recognition for the blogging community.
       —Dale    Jun. 6 '05 - 02:12PM    #
  22. do i understand correctly that residential and business owners—even ones who are interested in “staying informed on West Side events, politics, and entertainment”—are not welcome?
       —peter honeyman    Jun. 7 '05 - 01:10PM    #
  23. Members should be first and foremost advocates for student and renter issues. When we get the blog and other communication tools integrated into the web site, anyone would be welcome to participate in those forums, as they are here.
       —Dale    Jun. 7 '05 - 01:23PM    #
  24. As I see it (as somebody about to start working on a State/Packard/Stadium branch of the Ann Arbor Alliance who’s working on the copy for my own recruitment materials),

    This effort is not by definition exclusive of non-students, or homeowners, or landlords, or businesses. Anyone is welcome to participate in the conversation, and the knowledge and experience brought by members of these groups is in fact invaluable. Since renters and students are the populations who do not already have effective channels for participation and engagement, however, the focus will be on the needs and concerns of those groups. Occasionally, this focus will lead us into conflict with other interests, but conflict for the sake of conflict is not our goal.
       —Murph    Jun. 7 '05 - 04:19PM    #