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impact2005 live-blogging

14. September 2005 • Murph
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I’m writing from the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce’s impact2005 event – it took me until the end of the first panel discussion to find a way to get a connection, so I’ll cover that very quickly while trying to pay attention to the second panel.

Jim Epolito of the Michigan Economic Development Corportation spoke first, with a focus on Michigan’s perception – especially self-perception. When he visits his hometown of Pittsburgh, he says, people ask when he’s coming back, and they don’t think about leaving. In Michigan, on the other hand, we have the second lowest retention of college grads – they don’t have any perception of what’s here for them, either in the job or lifestyle domains, “and we’re not doing a good job of telling them.” Image and marketing continued to be a major theme.

National Panel

The first panel featured three regional development professionals from across the country, including Greg Horowitt of San Diego’s Global CONNECT, Paul Pescatello of Connecticut’s CURE, and Leslie Rubin of Meridian Incentive Advisors, Inc, based in Indianapolis. They spoke in general terms about lessons learned from their successes.

Horowitt spoke in very Richard Florida terms, of not chasing after big companies, but cultivating talent and letting the companies come to the talent. He made the claim that “technology transfer is people”, and described knowledge and innovation as using people as “viral carriers” to spread through the economy. Pescatello seemed to focus on experience with pharmaceutical companies; he and Rubin both looked more at the relationship of governments to companies. Rubin especially spoke of avoiding local competition within a region, and encouraged regions to look at themselves as allies against common competitors – China being the easy example for manufacturing.

During the question session, Horowitt continued to focus on talent development – referring to outsourcing as a product of a skill deficit, forcing either importation of talent or outsourcing of work. When asked about how a state with bans on stem cell research and same-sex health benefits can recruit young, talented workers (a question that drew some snickers from the audience), Horowitt cited Florida’s “tech, talent, and tolerance” as the keys to innovation, while the other two shrugged off the question. When asked what advantage Southeast Michigan has over other regions, Pescatello gave the (interesting to this site) answer that a major benefit is the absence of a single, strong, central city. Lots of firms want to put operations in one-story buildings with plenty of parking at the periphery of a city, and Southeast Michigan has lots of space that fits that description. (Horowitt disagreed somewhat, looking at the economic clusters around strong central cities like San Francisco and Boston.)

Local/Regional Panel

The second panel features (present tense; I’ve caught up) three people who work with businesses locally and brought observations from their interactions: Robert Ficano, Wayne County Executive; Ken Rogers, Executive Director of Automation Alley; and Rick Snyder of Ann Arbor SPARK. The format is purely question-and-answer, so it’s harder for me to make generalizations on the fly.

All three stressed the importance of regional cooperation in economic development – no part of the region stands on its own, and bringing Toyota to Washtenaw, for example, will benefit the rest of the area through strengthening supplier chains. In order to be regionally competitive, we need to eliminate intra-regional duplication. Don’t compete within the region for business. Work to combine and streamline governmental functions – Ficano mentions the possibility of a multi-county jail to ease the regional crowding problems, rather than each county expanding jails independantly.

Attitude seems to be another theme – Snyder asked, “How many fanatics did you see at the Stadium on Saturday? How can we be more fired up over college football than in our children’s futures?” Ficano phrased it, “We’re not as good as we would like to be, but we’re not as bad as the media thinks we are.”

Transportation and communications infrastructure are seen as important, in various ways. Air transportation is a first priority for global trade, especially freight. With competitiveness “measured in hours”, there’s interest in expanding Willow Run’s runways to handle direct-to-China flights. Mass transit is getting mixed opinions. Ficano supports the Ann Arbor-Detroit rapid transit project as supporting economic development along the I-94 corridor (one of them described I-94 as a “gold coast”, between the universities, airlines, and corporate headquarters it connects); Snyder thinks it is important in long-term success, but, in the short-term, communications is more important. Rogers seems unhopeful about mass transit in Southeast Michigan’s built form – having served on SMART’s Board for a few years, he’s seen huge problems with getting people from home to transit lines, and from transit lines to work. Reinvesting in existing road infrastructure seems to be high priority. All seemed very positive about Wireless Washtenaw and similar efforts in Oakland and one other County.

Snyder thinks a problem with attracting skilled people to Michigan (or keeping them here) is the possibility of failure with no safety net. “In California, if you lose your job, you can walk down the street and get another one.” He suggests the idea of an insurance policy – allowing people who relocate to Michigan (focused on start-ups?) the opportunity to pay into a program that will help them to move anywhere they want in the country if that job disappears and they want to leave – with the hope that some of them will decide to stay. Ficano says something similar – “I’ll tell you what makes a ‘cool city’: economic opportunity.” (Is this a chicken-and-egg issue, in the Floridian view? – Ficano agreed with that question afterwards, when I asked.)

Wrap-Up

Alan Barr of Creative Change Associates, and one of the organizers, presented some summary questions to the audience:

  • Attendees felt, by a 2/3 majority, that “growing our own” businesses was a better strategy than “attracting businesses from elsewhere”.
  • The audience was evenly split between a broad, collaborative effort and a smaller, focused approach.
  • Quality of life was seen as most important (over “jobs” and “family”) to keeping people in the area.
  • “Breaking down barriers” between education, business, and government was the leading long-term priority, followed by “fixing the City of Detroit”
  • For immediate strategies, a regional asset map and 5-year plan led, followed by identifying a broader group of stakeholders and “thought leaders”, and creating assistance (and capital) for start-ups.

Roger Newton, inventor of Lipitor, claims that we need to make a strategic choice to look beyond focus and efficiency and harvest success from a wide variety of sources, referencing a metaphor of “plantation vs. rainforest” made ealier by Pescatello(?). Even while Pfizer was agglomerating and growing, the State made the choice to fund 10 biotech start-ups around Kalamazoo – broadening our opportunity for success.



  1. I found the most interesting/best things about the forum that everybody who spoke explicitly promoted a regional view – Detroit was not irrelevant and Ann Arbor can’t stand without the rest of the region. Sounds familiar…The linguistic trend of referring to every other metropolitan area by its center city but referring to this one as “Southeast Michigan”, unfortunately, was present in full force.

    I was a little disappointed in the format; there wasn’t any kind of organized discussion. I would have liked some kind of directed group activity – hand out questions to tables for discussion and reporting back or something similar.
       —Murph.    Sep. 14 '05 - 01:41PM    #
  2. Thanks for going, Murph, and for your good notes. I take it you might have been the only urban-planner-blogger in the audience?
       —Edward Vielmetti    Sep. 14 '05 - 02:29PM    #
  3. Well, considering that “urban-planner-bloggers” is a category of 3ish, yes. Aside from Matt Lassiter’s class or concerts at Arbor Vitae, it’s hard to get us all in one place.

    AFAIK, there were two other urban planning students there, and one other blogger in the audience, but I’ll wait for a post from that source to link to…

    Several people were familiar with the site, though.
       —Murph.    Sep. 14 '05 - 05:36PM    #
  4. Murph, just an aside. I’m a quite middle-aged AA-ite, and I always talk up this weblog. To Joan Loewenstein, and Rapundalo. (Who, btw, has GOP opposition in the regular election.)

    People know about it, and part of we have here is a dialogue that’s nonexistent in public elsewhere. I really, really value this, and would love to see more of my Luddite friends get into it.

    Thanks for going to the conference. Was my friend Phil D’Anieri (sp?) there?

    Let me know when the next workshop about downtown is.
       —JennyD    Sep. 14 '05 - 05:51PM    #
  5. Great writeup. Me and a friend wanted to go, but were discouraged by the whole Ypsilanti factor. Hello, Ann Arbor Chamber? Ann Arbor?

    Was anything discussed in terms of community involvement, with schools or communities?
       —Matt Hampel    Sep. 14 '05 - 09:33PM    #
  6. Hey, any time Ann Arbor anything wants to hold their events in Ypsi, I’ll support it. (Though this was south-of-94, so I’m not sure it was actually in Ypsi?)

    Fairly little discussion of schools – one of the regional speakers mentioned K12 education, but one of the national speakers explicitly said that K12 education was not as important as often thought. (I think s/he meant in terms of workforce development, rather than family recruitment? Can’t remember exact context.)

    As far as “community involvement”, the closest I can remember was something like “What can the average citizen do to support economic development?” asked of the regional panelists. I think that was when one mentioned education and the other two gave variants of “don’t despair – take pride in your region and be willing to get involved.”
       —Murph.    Sep. 14 '05 - 10:33PM    #
  7. Jenny –

    I did see Phil, in a cross-the-room sort of way. He was over in the same area as Peter Allen that I never managed to get over to.

    The next workshop on downtown is next week Thursday, 6-9pm, Courthouse Square. There’s also a related lecture on transportation planning tomorrow evening, 7pm, at the Art/Architecture building on north campus.

    I, alas, have class Thursday evenings, so I can only catch the lectures on CTN replay. (Comcast is coming to install tomorrow morning. Yes, I am getting cable explicitly for this lecture series. And the Daily Show.)
       —Murph.    Sep. 14 '05 - 10:39PM    #
  8. Murph,

    Thanks for coming to the event and helping spread the message… every little bit helps!

    As one of the organizers of the event I can tell you all that it’s a tough job trying to pull together a region-wide conversation. What topics or themes to discuss? What speakers to invite? Which venue to choose? Dates? Times?

    This year’s event was a pretty significant departure from years’ past. Our hope was to begin a real regional conversation… not just an Ann Arbor-centric chat fest. Some of us work with organizations across the region (and the country) and see that no one community can truly compete in the global economy by itself. When a company thinks about moving into a community it checks out the entire region, as that is where its employees and suppliers will live and play.

    What about the various school systems? How are the many tax rates? What is the condition of the roads that connect the many communities? How are the parks and recreation facilities? What are the primary cultures? Etc. It’s a regional picture they need, and we have not, in years past, pulled together a regional response.

    In order to help design this year’s event we did quite a bit of “research”. We conducted focus groups with business leaders to find out what issues were on their minds. We facilitated focus groups with MBA students who came from outside the region to learn both what they thought of the region (perceptions) and also what they planned to do after they gradtuated … almost all will move to areas where they see more career opportunities. We surveyed the Chamber members to learn what was on their minds re: regional issues.

    We consulted with several experts on regional development/economic development to learn what some of the “best practices” might be. Lots of conversations and tons of reading and research went into impact2005.

    Was it an ideal design. No. Venues that hold a large number of participants, and especially those that can be set up as dialog circles containing hundreds of participants, are almost non-existant in Washtenaw County. And, not everyone is comfortable sitting in a dialog circle with hundreds of others and baring their personal thinking for several hours.

    On the other hand, we did manage to get almost 400 folks together for an important conversation that could impact us all. Over the total number of attendees, 91% said they would like to remain engaged in some regional develpment efforts.

    My personal hope is that this year’s event is simply a stepping off point for a continuing and growing effort. I hope that the 91% for said they want to help do indeed keep their word and stay involved. I hope that others join the conversation from every sector and demographic. We need every voice to come to the table and share their thinking. We need to come to a shared vision of what this region is and what it can become. We need to create a strategy that begins to move us in that new direction. We need to keep gathering together in conversation so that we do stay connected as a region.

    Please get involved. Please come to the conversations and add your voice and thinking to the mix. Please help in any way that you can. Please let me know what we can do better to more fully engage the people of the region in the effort. Please invite me to come speak with, and learn from, you and your classmates.

    I’d like to think we’ve made a good start. I am hopeful that we can grow this effort into the transforming process we need it to become of we are going to stay relevent in the global economy.

    Cheers!

    AlanB
       —AlanB    Sep. 15 '05 - 08:03AM    #
  9. “Some of us work with organizations across the region (and the country) and see that no one community can truly compete in the global economy by itself.”

    “I am hopeful that we can grow this effort into the transforming process we need it to become of we are going to stay relevent in the global economy.”

    Alan,

    As the global oil supply begins to decline (perhaps within the next year), is it wise to gear up for global-level economic competition?

    I also wonder if those of us who’d like to stay relevant in the local economy will be allowed to make use of our fair share of regional infrastructure and resources for that goal (i.e., will future changes suit our needs?) or if they’re reserved for those who want to be global competitors.

    Any chance that attendees could be asked questions along those lines?
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 15 '05 - 11:27AM    #
  10. My own feeling is that relevance in the global economy will necessarily involve strengthening the local economy. (And that the means to strengthening the local economy will require strength in the global economy for as long as it remains relevant – whether that’s one year or forever.) They aren’t opposing goals, and pitching them as such, from either direction, is every bit as destructive to our ability to achieve either as are other types of intra-regional competition.

    (Have to run – can’t provide supporting arguments right now.)
       —Murph    Sep. 15 '05 - 12:05PM    #
  11. Good point, Murph. However, while global focus can overlook and potentially result in insufficient resources to support a local network of businesses, the reverse is less likely. Would you agree?

    Also, I didn’t note in my last post that global (and local) cooperation is another goal to consider, which I’d appreciate thoughts on from Alan or others. As you pointed out, Murph, “All three [panelists] stressed the importance of regional cooperation in economic development”.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 15 '05 - 02:30PM    #
  12. Murph,

    I agree with your point about the regional view being one of the most important aspects of the conference. Much as we would like to, Ann Arbor cannot stand alone and we are somewhat tied to the success of detroit and other communities in southeast Michigan. That doesn’t mean local issues aren’t important, it means there are important things we have to look at regionally.

    I don’t think southeast Michigan is a bad word. It’s an expedient way of being inclusive. Otherwise you run the risk of leaving out important sections of the community in this region.

    In reality, to the outside world, I think there are two brands—Detroit and Ann Arbor. I don’t think people in California have ever heard of Oakland County or Macomb County or Brighton. And we are kidding ourselves if we think the Ann Arbor brand is anywhere near as recognizable worldwide as Detroit.
       —Brandt    Sep. 16 '05 - 11:10AM    #
  13. Matt,

    We are the Ann Arbor Area Chamber. Having an event in Ypsi is ok.
       —Brandt    Sep. 16 '05 - 11:12AM    #
  14. I would say my thoughts are well stated by the phrase ” think globally, act regionally.” I believe the global economy is impact our region… some examples of which include China & India emerging as economic forces and affecting the prices of petroleum and concrete (among other things).

    Much of our region’s economic backbone is in automotive design & manufacturing… an industry that’s certainly losing ground to the global economy.

    I think we need to do several things:
    a) conduct a regional asset map to lay out the real strengths and weaknesses of the region (in terms of being able to compete and grow economically)
    b) form and develop/train an Angel Network to help nurture in the broadest, most holistic way, new business ventures
    c) continue to hold conversation across the region with leaders and citizens from every sector (political, business, non-profit, educational, etc.) to build relationships and explore what may be possible cooperatively and collectively

    Much of the rest of the world seems to view us (Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, etc.) through the “Detroit Lens.” All of the grad students I’ve spoken with through focus groups, interviews, coffee conversations, etc., have shared this frame of mind with me. They’ve heard of Detroit and all of its problems, and that’s the lens they have for the region. We’re being judged by venture capitalists, business leaders, and all the others based upon this perspective. If we can’t (or won’t) come together as a larger region and help address the issues with Detroit, I believe we’ll eventually be sucked down the same drain.

    All of the local communities (cities, villages, townships, counties) have unique pieces to add to the mix and I think we all need to come to the table with our ideas and energy and figure out what we can and should do to “fix things.”

    I see the future happening to us unless we do come together and work for a shared vision of what we want. I see the global economy affecting us whether we enjoy it or not. I see some tremendous local and regional assets that can be brought to bear on these issues. I see us needing to come to some collective regional priorities so that we are laser focused and not diluting our efforts or competing internally with each other.

    I love this region and want to see it remain relevant and sustainable. I want us to thrive, and be held up as a model for other areas. I really believe that a rising tide will float all boats, and that if we do unleash our economic strengths we’ll all be better off. The more economic power we create, the higher quality of life we’ll be able to sustain (parks, fresh water, great schools, entertainment, etc.).

    Sorry for the long rambling response… I’m feeling very charged up about this whole regional development effort.
       —AlanB    Sep. 16 '05 - 04:34PM    #
  15. I don’t know what Ann Arbor can do besides continue to try and convince its citizens that growth is a good thing. It will always be what it is now: a smallish, well-to-do, well-educated midwestern city, with a few nationally known institutions (U of M, Borders, Domino’s)—unless, that is, Detroit gets its act together and starts serving as a regional hub. It still has some of the institutions it needs, and it does draw some people downtown, sometimes to stay, but it’s nowhere near the state it needs to be if it’s going to support the kind of dynamic region that people want. We’re more dependent on the outcome of the Detroit mayoral election than we think.

    One problem that comes to mind is so much of SE Michigan is Oakland County, but Oakland County and Washtenaw county are worlds apart (though growing closer.) I think the problem there is, there’s nothing in between them (except maybe Plymouth…which is already starting to turn into an outpost of Oakland county nightlife, from what I hear—look for continued growth there in the near future), so they tend to think of themselves as completely different creatures (which they used to be). Without Detroit to serve as a link between the two areas, there won’t be a regional vibe for people both here and elsewhere to identify with.

    Take two other cities on the poorest cities list: Miami and Atlanta. Are people turned off by the fact that Miami and Atlanta are among the five poorest large cities in the US? No! In fact they’re among the most popular places to live. That’s because they have a good image: Miami has South Beach and a nightclub scene, and Atlanta has…well, I’m not sure what Atlanta has, but it has a reputation as a growth area (and rightly so), and it might just be climate (which is something Miami certainly has in spades.) I’ll tell you what I think it is: it’s the combination of downtown business development (i.e. business real estate—all those new buildings) plus suburban growth (to support the workers for those new downtown offices, which in turn spawns suburban-centered businesses). Detroit doesn’t have that. I don’t really know why ( though it might be the ugly politics which has poisoned Detroit-Oakland relations for so many years…but this is a wild guess.)

    Obviously, Detroit can’t capitalize on its climate. But if it’s going to become known as a growth area where business and entrepeneurs want to locate to, the SE Michigan needs to begin cultivating a sense of being a single place. Right now, it’s three places: Oakland County, Detroit, and Washtenaw (plus Livingston and Macomb, but those are more peripheral in terms of business areas). Washtenaw and Oakland are probably more alike than either is to Detroit (i.e. Wayne county), but as I said, they’re separated with nothing in between, and secondly, Detroit remains the area with the most potential for the kind of urban lifestyle that young entrepeneurs and young often want. Obviously it’s not there yet, and that makes things harder for Ann Arbor’s growth.

    (The other side of things is the large population in Ann Arbor who don’t want any growth or change and just want their nice small post-hippie town back. I sympathize with them, but I think if Michigan is going to be a prosperous state in the future, there’s no going back; if we want people to live here and businesses to thrive here, Ann Arbor is going to be one of the places they’re going to want to live (unless Detroit turns the corner a lot faster than anyone expects) and that’s just going to mean change. So we should focus on how to accomodate that change, while still making space for everyone, rather than trying to stop growth.)

    (And for its part, Oakland County doesn’t do enough I think in promoting itself as a place young people might want to live. Sadly, this might be due to the problems the auto industry is having: they’re doing all they can just to keep the jobs they have. Just my two cents. Anyway, I think they would also benefit from bridging the gap with Wasthenaw—or Detroit, for that matter.)
       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 16 '05 - 07:24PM    #
  16. AlanB, Good point about China’s and India’s economic impact on us. All the more reason that moving more in the direction of globalization is not in our long-term interest. Or do you see a different ‘out’ from that predicament?

    Your points a, b, and c sound positive. I think it would be great if you would be willing to turn around and come back toward us instead of stepping away to look from the outside in.

    “We’re being judged by venture capitalists, business leaders, and all the others based upon this perspective. If we can’t (or won’t) come together as a larger region and help address the issues with Detroit, I believe we’ll eventually be sucked down the same drain.”

    Again, all the more reason to become more self-reliant if our economic survival currently depends on outside perceptions (of Detroit, which is largely beyond our control.) What’s the appeal of regionalism to you? I’m getting the vague impression that it’s about ‘action’ for about 10-20% of the population, and I think a clearer perspective on that would help (me.)

    “Think globally, act locally” was originally intended as a reminder that our actions affect the global environment and so we should behave in ways that acknowledge that awareness in order to minimize our negative impacts on others. Your rephrasing seems to have misappropriated it as a call to get what we can from the world by putting on a good face.

    I appreciate your enthusiasm and energy and obvious love of your home region. Please give my comments some consideration as you proceed.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 16 '05 - 08:43PM    #
  17. “It will always be what it is now: a smallish, well-to-do, well-educated midwestern city, with a few nationally known institutions (U of M, Borders, Domino’s)”

    Hmm. Sounds pretty good.

    YUA, would you share with us why you want Ann Arbor to grow? Or do you just see it as inevitable? Allowing this discussion to develop on an unstated ‘growth-for-growth’s-sake’ basis would be a wasted opportunity.

    Also, your comments about Miami and Atlanta come across as being much more concerned about nightlife than with the plight of the poor. Is that a fair interpretation? What do you think and feel about the poor in SE MI? For example, is your interest in Detroit based on it’s potential to benefit Ann Arbor or to benefit Detroiters? Of course, “both” is the obvious answer, but I’m hoping you’ll go beyond the pat answer and see what your motivations are. After all, they’ll impact your ideas for change.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 16 '05 - 08:44PM    #
  18. Steve,

    Again, all the more reason to become more self-reliant if our economic survival currently depends on outside perceptions (of Detroit, which is largely beyond our control.)

    Are you envisioning “self-reliance” as something that Ann Arbor can do on its own, rather than as part of the Detroit region? I personally think that the Detroit/Southeast Michigan region is the smallest unit that can hope to function as a cohesive local economy – if Southeast Michigan as a region is hopeless, then the solution is not “well, let’s just build a wall around Ann Arbor and work on that level”; the solution is that there is no solution. If Detroit is “beyond our control”, then we’re just screwed.

    And, even if that weren’t the case, I’d argue that “Sounds pretty good” is an attitude that reinforces Michigan’s dominant patterns of social (in)equity. If a solution that involves Detroit seems hopeless, does that mean we’re justified in accepting things the way they are and just fending for ourselves in a hyper-local economy?

    I’d recommend Jane Jacobs’ The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations (not the usual JJ!) to you; she’s the only person I know of who has presented a powerful vision and cohesive argument for a regionally-focused (as opposed to nationally or globally). I say this as somebody who goes up to the Media Union and reads a year’s worth of CoEvolution Quarterly in a sitting when bored – much as I romanticize that approach to things, I am specifically calling Jane “powerful” and “cohesive” in opposition to that vision of localism. While building strong, well-connected, conscious small communities is definitely (I think) a huge part of the solution, I think that doing that in exclusion of (with ignorance of a kind of exclusion) the area around you is a path to failure.
       —Murph    Sep. 17 '05 - 11:13AM    #
  19. And you ask about “growth for growth’s sake” – I think it’s good to realize that “growth” is never a good reason for “growth” (invoke Edward Abbey, cancer cells, etc.), and that we have to have better reasons.

    I’m going to play the “not growth but development” card, where growth means getting bigger, development means getting better. “Should Ann Arbor get bigger?” is a red herring – Ann Arbor is not the important unit of measurement. Unlike Manhattan, it’s not really possible to spend ten years at a time not leaving Ann Arbor – the city has context, and that context (the region) is the important unit of measurement.

    Blind Ann Arbor anti-growthism is no better than blind Ann Arbor growthism – look at the fact that Southeast Michigan’s population is growing at a cosmicly low rate (SEMCOG estimates less than 1.5% since the 2000 census). While Livingston County might be “growing” explosively, it doesn’t count as growth. It’s just moving people around. In the “growth is bigger, development is better”, I’d argue that Southeast Michigan is currently experiencing negative development – it’s not growing, it’s getting worse. “Growth” in any place is not “growth” – it’s coming at the expense of good things.

    What we need to do right now is turn that around we need to make sure that “growth” happens in the places where that growth and the corresponding shrinkage combine to make positive development rather than negative development. Why is it important that Ann Arbor “grow”? Because “growth” in Ann Arbor is part of regional “development”. (While “not growth” in Ann Arbor encourages “growth” in Northfield Twp, which is part of regional “anti-development”.)

    Now, obviously, we can’t just look at Ann Arbor. You can’t live without a car in Ann Arbor if Ann Arbor is the only place in the region that is supportive of a carfree lifestyle, because Ann Arbor is not an island – it’s part of a region. In order for Ann Arbor to participate in/experience development (getting better), Ypsi, Dearborn, Flint, Ferndale, Grosse Pointe, and Detroit all need to be on board with us – we need to get them on board with us. Denying regionalism is accepting regional worsening, and thinking that Ann Arbor can coast along unscathed while the region worsens is short-sighted.

    Yes, this is long and pedantic, but I agree that defining “growth” and our reasons for discussing it is immportant.
       —Murph    Sep. 17 '05 - 11:32AM    #
  20. “You can’t live without a car in Ann Arbor if Ann Arbor is the only place in the region that is supportive of a carfree lifestyle, because Ann Arbor is not an island – it’s part of a region.”

    I’m not following the argument here at all. Perhaps because the only time I personally leave Ann Arbor is when I go to the airport.
       —Bruce Fields    Sep. 17 '05 - 04:55PM    #
  21. Murph, I’ve already put JJ’s writings on my reading list based on your previous mentions of her.

    Outside perceptions of Detroit are largely beyond our control, as is Detroit itself, if ‘we’ is Ann Arbor/Ypsi. (I think I wasn’t quite clear which point I was making, though your interpretation is consistent with my use of “is” instead of “are”.) I think that Detroit is and will be under the control of those who live and/or (to a lesser extent) work there, which I think is appropriate. Those of us who do neither, but who visit, can provide energy, encouragement, and money, but that’s not control, or at least I don’t believe that it should be.

    Ask YUA what he/she sees as undesireable about his/her description of Ann Arbor. I’d think that by now you would know that I’m aware that we have problems and am interested in addressing them. YUA seems to think “growth” is the answer.

    I’d also think you’d know that I’m no isolationist (or romantic.) I wrote “more self-reliant”, as in not so enamored with looking for sugar daddies from outside the region. You know, personal responsibility, decentralization, community-based economics—all that Green stuff.

    Clearly, Ann Arbor cannot be self-reliant. (I’m having trouble just writing something so obvious, especially to you.) I’d say that Washtenaw County has a shot at being largely self-reliant, which is about the level I’d think is sane to desire in the long run, given what we’re up against with climate change and less than 50 years or so of oil and natural gas. SE MI can perhaps be somewhat more self reliant as a region than can Washtenaw, since Oakland and Wayne counties have far less available land for farming (unless you look inside Detroit, and then the soil is an issue, if it exists at all) and would most likely provide some necessary manufacturing capacity.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 17 '05 - 05:59PM    #
  22. I would very much like to get a few of us from the blog together to talk in depth about some of the issues being raised here in the last couple of days.

    I appreciate everyone’s insights and energy and would like to learn more from a focused conversation over a couple of cups of coffee… if anyone’s interested and has the time.
       —AlanB    Sep. 17 '05 - 08:36PM    #
  23. “impact2005” could turn out to be an ironic title if this year is later determined to have been the time of the world oil production peak.

    SE MI residents will be dealing with issues of survival in coming decades. Will the drinking water infrastructure hold up? Can the sewage system be maintained? How many people will die due to heat in the summer? How many from cold in the winter?

    Additional sprawl will quickly become a non-issue in our (ever-more) depressed region. Existing sprawl will be a major problem, but there’s little we can do about it at this point. Perhaps the best development we can promote is hands-on skills, tree planting, home insulation and other energy efficiency measures, and general economic downshifting (i.e., decentralizing/localizing and getting out of debt—and out of the car.)

    Regional planning has to reflect the likelihoods of post-fossil-fuel existence for the millions of SE MI residents. Even sustainable development has to be considered differently than it was ten years ago.

    Thanks to our federal government, our military will most likely have burned more oil than the marginal amount that they’ll secure through their efforts, along with the capital we need to make the minimal preparations.

    Regional planning is probably necessary. It may be a very positive opportunity. What it won’t be is what people thought it would be in the past.

    Look, I don’t believe anyone can see the future, least of all me. What I do believe in is the value of future focus, which requires context. I hope you’ll all just take my comments as necessary context. If you think we have fifty years, adjust that to five and act accordingly. If you think we have twenty years, adjust that to two.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 17 '05 - 11:18PM    #
  24. Hi Steve—
    I don’t think there’s anything undesirable about my description of Ann Arbor—I’m just describing the situation as I see it. I think that if Detroit is going to remain a growth region, then it’s going to take a regional solution, and Ann Arbor won’t drive it all by itself. For those who aren’t interested in turning SE Michigan into a large region with medium to high growth (in terms of jobs and housing), then you basically get the Ann Arbor you have now (in my opinion, though I’m the first to admit I might be an idiot), and the job would then be to manage the medium-sized growth and migration in order to produce a city that people basically want to live in. Hopefully that would mean retaining as much of the old flavor of Ann Arbor as possible, though I admit I’m not as attached to some of it as other people might be. Nobody wants to live in Big Box Ville, but we have to admit that we live in a Big Box world, so how are we going to balance local flavor and ownership with today’s economic realities? Hopefully through careful planning and deliberation, which this is a good example of.

    I myself would be happy to see a growing region, with a dynamic Detroit interacting harmoniously with well-managed suburbs. I think that economic growth (which I take to mean population growth, though I guess they’re not necessarily linked) is a good thing that produces prosperity. I do see growth in Ann Arbor as inevitable, but I don’t see growth on the same scale across SE Michigan as inevitable, I guess. In terms of the poor, I think that economic growth is necessary for helping to alleviate poverty (though of course that doesn’t mean it necessarily leads to alleviating poverty.) If you have a nightlife, you have an opportunity for alleviating poverty, though of course you need to take advantage of that opportunity. I think a growing, economically stable, or even vibrant, Detroit would benefit not only Detroiters, but the whole region—which in turn would feed back into Detroit.

    (BTW, while the idea of farming on abandoned lots in Detroit certainly tickles me, I don’t think we’ll see it in 50 years.)
       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 18 '05 - 12:43AM    #
  25. “enamored with looking for sugar daddies from outside the region.”

    I think that’s one of the biggest problems in Detroit. Always trying to impress money from the outside without any thought given to the neighborhoods. Additionally, the city gives huge tax abatements to existing corporations, but won’t give a penny to a Detroiter who’s just starting out. Every national brand had to start somewhere!

    I think Florida’s main point was that people are the source of economic activity; not corporations. The “creative class” creates jobs for themselves and the second, larger wave of people returning to the city. His book is a study of the founders of start-ups and cities they want to live in.

    Anyway, Detroit is going to loose population until it can provide decent basic services to the neighborhoods, especially police, fire and comprehensive mass transit.

    (I’d love to come out for a cup of coffee, but it would literally take all day. That can’t be good for business regionally.)
       —Hillary    Sep. 18 '05 - 02:19AM    #
  26. While I’m still going to take a slightly less immediately pessimistic position, I should note that I do essentially agree with Steve on a lot of points.

    I do think that we need to radically overhaul our water, sewer, and transportation systems, our food systems (everybody here with a Victory Garden, raise your hand?), etc. Last year the Dean of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment was a guest lecturer in my real estate development class, and presented a very compelling argument that it will take an immediate 100% changeover in our thoughts on development in order to make changes in the way we live (and use energy) 50 years from now, since that’s the kind of timeframe that the built environment changes over on.

    Steve says, “If you think we’ve got 50 years, make it 5,” and, dear me, I certainly hope not. 50 years is the kind of horizon we need in order to save ourselves, but then only if we start acting as if the change needs to happen in five years.

    In this context, and YUA’s follow-up, I’ll again pound the distinction of “growth” and “development”. If we want to think of economic growth as measurable in “increase in well-being” – and let’s keep our sights Rawlsian rather than Utilitarian – then, yes, I do think some economic growth is needed unless we’re planning to save ourselves and leave the poor behind, but I do think that “development not growth” is still an important statement. The way to create opportunity is not to bring ever more WalMarts and IKEAs into the region to provide “jobs”, or to bet the farm on keeping Pfizer, or attracting the next Pfizer. We need to think about whether the kinds of growth we’re pursuing are actually “development” – whether we’re actually making things better or just providing more opportunities for wealth to be siphoned out of the region.
       —Murph.    Sep. 18 '05 - 10:51AM    #
  27. End of the Binge

    The exhaustion of our energy supply may end affluence as we know it.

    by James Howard Kunstler

    “Among the strange delusions and hallucinations gripping the body politic these days is the idea that the so-called global economy is a permanent fixture of the human condition. ...”

    For some more useful, broad (Katrina-related, as it happens, but click around for more) context, here’s a reasonable place to start. Especially if you haven’t already read Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency” article from Rolling Stone or anything similar. Or else Google “world peak oil” and you’ll find loads of material ranging from the nihilistic Jay Hanson’s “dieoff” site, to the peace-loving people at The Community Solution, to the professional deniers of the corporate state.

    What’s it all got to do with regional planning? It’s context. Incredibly important, necessary context.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 19 '05 - 11:43AM    #
  28. Whether we like it or not, the economic health of the Ann Arbor area is directly tied to the economic health of Detroit and the rest of the state.

    The U is the largest economic driver here, and it depends in large part in state funding, which in turn depends on the general health of the state’s economy.

    If the state’s economy continues its slide, funding for U-M (and MSU, WSU, etc) will get cut, and this will not be good for Ann Arbor.

    Washtenaw is not, and cannot, be self-reliant.
       —tom    Sep. 19 '05 - 04:42PM    #
  29. “If the state’s economy continues its slide, funding for U-M (and MSU, WSU, etc) will get cut, and this will not be good for Ann Arbor.

    Washtenaw is not, and cannot, be self-reliant.”

    Aside from the latter statement being both true (“is not”) and false (“cannot”) at once, and aside from the fact that no one here has argued that Washtenaw try to be (totally) self reliant, the former statement (in line with the broader consciousness) demonstrates both why “is not” is true and “cannot” currently seems to be.

    (Not to mention how the rest of the state feels about Ann Arbor being the favorite.)

    Let’s travel through time and make the same statements in 2050, shall we? No doubt they’ll be true in the same ways if we believe them to be true now.

    From answers.com: Self-reliant (adj.)—Free from the influence, guidance, or control of others.

    In other words, responsible for ourselves. Hmm, maybe totally self reliant would be a good goal after all. (Keep in mind that good goals don’t necessarily have to be achievable—they just provide a clear target in the prefered direction.)
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 19 '05 - 05:10PM    #