"Affordable housing" for Water Street, and Ypsilanti's dreams of gentrification


I was asked for my thoughts on this proposal for Ypsilanti's Water Street property, which would put a 76 apartment development on a 3 acre chunk (pdf) at the rear of the site. The piece of ground in question is fill, and requires extra work to build on -- I'd be pretty surprised to NOT see it linger vacant as the last piece of land left vacant -- and the development would also construct several blocks worth of new city streets, water, and sewer to serve itself. Following is my (lightly edited) response to that ask:

Link dump on municipal consolidations underway in Michigan

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Several communities around the state are having conversations about mergers between municipalities, ranging from Onekama Village and Township (total population < 1,000) to Grand Rapids & Kent County, which, as a single municipality of 606,000 people, would be the 24th largest city in the United States, right between Seattle and Washington, DC. No time to process right now, but some assorted links...

One Kent:

Ypsi home prices swinging up?


Last week, as part of the 3rd now-annual Ypsilanti City-wide Open House, I toured about 15 houses for sale around town. The only ones that might make me wish to "upgrade" all cost now at least what we paid for our house in mid-2006, which I colloquially refer to as "the peak of the market" in our neighborhood. This made me feel pretty good about my house, but, in combination with the latest discussions of the city budget, made me wonder where the market is at.

The Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors handily provides monthly market reports of MLS listings and sales, broken out by school district. A little quick and dirty scraping and spreadsheeting later, and I can make a couple observations:

The S.L.U.T. gives a disappointing ride.

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Seattle's easy mark for cheap jokes these days is the South Lake Union Trolley, a working name for the newly opened transit line put out in the latest round of failure to proofread by planners who should have learned their lessons after those flyers advertising "pubic input sessions", complete with snacks, that every beginning planner produces at some point. The official name is now the Seattle Streetcar, but I expect the "SLUT" won't stop.

Part of the basis for the teasing is that the trolley is apparently seen by the neighborhoods hipsters, punks, and just folks as a tool of the gentrifying developers who even west so far as to impose a new name on the neighborhood "South Lake Union"). But a transportation planner's vantage provides so much more room for criticism. The SLUT is a pretty poorly implemented transit line, which makes an easy example for future critics to use when attacking other transit proposals. Badly done transit really annoys me. But, hopefully, some of the problems can be fixed over time - the SLUT has only been running for three weeks now, so there's still time to fix the obvious failures of foresight.

The perils of living where you work

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Probably every planner has at some point used the phrase "live where you work". It has a few contexts - one is a general recommendation that commuting by car has negative social consequences, and that therefore people ought to live in the community they work in. Another is more equity-minded - that communities should guarantee enough affordable housing supply that the people who are working in the community can have the choice to live there; this is particularly used in reference to public servants in gentrifying communities, such as teachers, policemen, etc, but also for the people who serve you coffee and pump your gas. Finally, it's a exhortation to planners themselves that living in the community one plans for is the best way to comprehend that community, as well as building the community's trust in you because you've essentially put yourself in harms way for any mistakes you might make.

I've always subscribed to the "planners ought to live in the communities they work for" theory, but it has its downsides. Not least of all is that you can't really turn off - wherever you go, people will be asking you about planning, so it's hard to get a mental or emotional day off without leaving town. Thus far, though, I've always found that the people who corner me at the food co-op or Bombadill's are people who are asking questions in a friendly vein. They're interested in what's going on around town, they know I might know, and they know me well enough to be comfortable asking. I don't mind that at all. There are plenty of people around town who probably have reason to be sore at me for my work related capacity, some of whom I run into, but they typically avoid eye or other contact.

So getting cornered and harangued yesterday at the Shadow Art Fair was somewhat new to me. Here I am, my recently purchased beer in one hand and recently purchased art in the other, coat over my arm, searching for Linette to summon to the Severed Unicorn Head Superstore table, when I get flagged down.

"Say, you're one of those planners, aren't you?" says the guy, "Richard something?"

"I am. I'm sorry, I don't remember your name?" (he gives his name; I recognize him, but not in regards to anything work-related I can remember anything about)

"Have a seat. I'd like to know, what's next for Ypsi? What are you up to?"

"Well, actually, I'm trying to find somebody, so..."

"Fine. In two words or less, what are you all doing? I mean, you kicked out 555, you tried to steal the Freighthouse, and locked it up when you couldn't have it - what are you going to ruin next?"

Um. Right. So I admit, I did in fact miss a beat at this point while trying to decide between fight or flight.

MI Legislature RSS feed!

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Wow! Wow wow wow!

While looking up the legislature mentioned in the DetNews imposing a permanent moratorium on new highway billboards (and trade in three existing billboards for one new one), I discovered the Michigan Legislature's Bill Update RSS Feed - updated every ten minutes while leg. is in session with status on bills.

So many forms of geekery in one. I can't begin to express my glee.

Brookings on "The Vital Center", rebuilding the Great Lakes Region

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A reminded to myself to read this later, and a pointer to all of you whom I know will be interested: The Vital Center: A Federal-State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region.

From the executive summary:

With one foot planted in a waning industrial era, the other in the emerging global economy, the region is teetering between a future marked by growth and innovation, and one that conforms to the “Rust Belt” label applied to the region due to the decline of its factory-based economy.

The time is now for Great Lakes leaders to articulate a meaningful agenda for what the states of the region and the federal government can do together to ensure that this economic giant steps in the right direction.

GIS grants for redevelopment of vacant/abandoned properties

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Mark H. just tipped me off to a grant program by ESRI, Magellan, and the National Vacant Properties Campaign to provide $50k in GPS and GIS hardware, software, and training to 10 governmental agencies to develop applications for "producing or enhancing property inventory and encouraging redevelopment of vacant or abandoned properties within the United States." Applications are due December 1. Who wants to help me develop a proposal for Ypsilanti?

I think we've got a pretty good shot:

  • We've got some vacant and abandoned properties

ArcMap frustrations of the day

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I really hate discovering silly problems in ArcGIS, especially as ESRI's documentation is not the easiest stuff in the world to use. Many of the solutions are things I discover by inference from the documentation. Here's this week's two:

Problem: I would like to Join a Table to a Shapefile / Layer. (Specifically, I'd like to Join a table that has tax parcel id / address / owner address records, exported from the City Assesor's database, to the County's parcel Layer.) Obviously, I right-click the Layer, and use "Joins and Relates -> Join..." I receive no error message, and the Layer has all of the fields from the Table included in it. With no data. Just blank fields.

Malthus in RSS


Over the past few weeks, I've been deriving low-level geeky pleasure from the fact that the US Census Bureau has an RSS feed for their US and World estimated population clocks. Everytime I check Bloglines, the US is a few thousand people closer to the 300 million mark.

Now, if only this were somehow useful information.

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