urban planning

Family Dollar on E. Michigan Ave?


Ypsi has had a lot of discussion lately about whether it would be appropriate to sell an acre of city-owned land on East Michigan to a developer to build a standalone "Family Dollar" dollar store. Much of the conversation has involved turning up noses about a dollar store "not setting the tone we want" or "not being the kind of development we want" or the like.

In that context, I was tickled yesterday to step out of a meeting and notice the street in front of me.

Economic development benefits of street trees

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Over on MarkMaynard.com, there's an interview with Ypsilanti City Planner Teresa on all things street tree: the trees added to West Cross as part of the recent streetscaping project, the city's tree inventory and urban forestry plan, and the public tree nursery project underway.

Mark asked whether street trees have economic development benefits, on top of the obvious quality of life benefits, and Teresa pointed to a round-up by the Arbor Day Foundation; I decided to go a little further and dig up some primary sources. Copied over here for my own future reference, plus just a little bit of math based on the first source:

$50k median taxable value in Ypsilanti * 3% increase from street trees * 33.67 mills for all local property taxes = $50.51 / year tax revenue increase due to each street tree added to an Ypsilanti home that doesn't have one.

Ypsi (city) foreclosure rate curving downwards

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A few posts ago, I suggested that sale prices of houses in Ypsilanti are starting to swing up over the last few months. How about the other popular metric of the housing market--the foreclosures?

Foreclosure activity, as we expect, is a downward force on home values, because the bank-owned homes dumped on the market soak up buyers. Over the last few years, from city assessing records, we can see that bank sales in the city go for half or a third the price of private sales:

With average MLS sale prices bumping along at $80,000 during that entire two year period, we can see that it was the bank sales dragging down the price. Fewer foreclosures means fewer bank-owned homes glutting the market, meaning prices can start recovering. Fortunately, Ypsi (the city, at least) is on the right side of that curve.

I would have expected more fanfare. And by "fanfare", I mean "gloating".


In reworking ArborWiki's page on the Ann Arbor Greenbelt, I came across an item from Concentrate that noted,

When Ann Arbor initially proposed its Greenbelt Program, local developers worried that it would create competition, scarcity and drive up the cost of building sprawl in Washtenaw County. Now developers are starting to sell land to the Greenbelt.

The Ann Arbor City Council approved spending $626,000 in city money to buy 139 acres of rural land in Superior Township from Biltmore, a residential development company. ... The land is in two parcels along either side of Prospect Road near Vreeland Road.

Gas price mapping

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How the World Works' post Triumph of the City Dweller points to a new mapping tool from the the Center for Neighborhood Technology showing relative residents' gas costs within metropolitan areas, both absolutely, and as a share of the regional median household income, for 2000 and 2008. The outcome? Downtowns win!

Now, yes, as Andrew Leonard points out, "Flash forward to 2008: The entire map is SCREAMING RED" ... with the few outliers of low household gas spending speckling downtown. it emphasizes things are rough for almost everyone - but that would seem to show a compelling need to address people's inability to go about their life without spending a crazy amount on gas.

Covering the mortgage, part 2

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To get a little less abstract than the previous post on the application of housing law during financial meltdown, I think I've satisfactorily chewed over a connection I've been working on.

A week ago, I attended the Global Suburbs conference at UMich (in no small part masterminded by Dale), and caught part of a talk on land ownership and housing costs in Lahore, Pakistan. If I followed correctly, one comment that was made was that Pakistanis had fairly recently received access to financing tools such as the 30-year mortgage, allowing many people the potential to purchase homes who never would have been able to previously. This increased buying power led to increased demand, contributing to rising prices.

There's a parallel here. Over the past decade, Americans have received access to financing tools such as the ARM, the zero-down mortgage, the interest-only mortgage, the no-documentation mortgage, and all sorts of bizarre hybrids. All of these were essentially justified by lenders on the grounds that mortgages were a can't-lose proposition, as well as the adoption of collateralized debt instruments, and allowed many people the potential to purchase homes who never would have been able to previously.

Covering the mortgage through the long emergency

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For snarky, mildly academic news commentary on the long finance meltdown the country is in the middle of, my reading of choice is Salon's How the World Works. Combine that with a Salon feature today on oil prices, and you start getting to immediate questions for my profession:

The bottom line: Oil prices are high today, not due to a temporary disruption in the global flow of petroleum as in 1980, but for systemic reasons that are, if anything, becoming more pronounced. This means news headlines with the phrase "record oil price" are likely to be commonplace for a long time to come. ...

More on "University Village" project

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My post expressing skepticism at the 26-story, 1,700 resident University Village proposal for Ann Arbor's South University corridor has gotten a decent number of hits from this thread in the UrbanPlanet.org forums. One pseudonymous commenter completely misses my point:

So the person's objections about this project has to do with the large number of housing units it will provide in a soft housing market? From what I know even in a housing market like this there is still high demand for units near college campuses. If the developers didn't believe they could fill these buildings they wouldn't propose something at such a scale.

First of all, my objection to the project is not particularly an objection, nor is it specific to this project. What I'm concerned about is the general trend of a large quantity of campus-oriented housing being built all at once - along with a large quantity of general housing being built downtown at the same time . . . all in the worst housing market in 25 years. This particular project is 50% bigger than Bursley, UMich's largest on-campus dorm, and this is on top of the 3 other student-oriented projects underway. Even setting aside the large number of rental units already sitting vacant around town.

Historical census info

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Thanks to Dale, I'm suddenly aware of the National Historical Geographic Information System, from the University of Minnesota. NHGIS hosts census data back to 1790! (An admission of mindlessness: I pulled up 1790 as a test and for a moment thought they only had partial census data, since Michigan wasn't listed. D'oh.)

Now I just need to restrain myself to looking up only the data I actually need, and not geeking out into semirandom data dumps.

My brain is full, and my extrovert buffer overfloweth

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I'm freshly back from 2 days in Chicago, representing my fair Ypsi at the National Brownfield Association's "The Big Deal" conference, and, after 2 full days of being "on", am quite looking forward to hiding in the office with some nice quiet paperwork. (Chicagoans: yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't let you know. This was a very surgical strike sort of trip, with almost no time spent outside of Navy Pier and Union Station.)

I was there primarily playing marketer - the NBA invited us to bring our 38-acre crown jewel brownfield site to their "property showcase", and was nice enough to waive the $400 registration fee. I was the guy uncommitted for those days, so was the lucky representative - and, while I ordinarily can easily talk up Ypsi's virtues at great length (a former faculty member recently asked if I secretly work for the Chamber of Commerce), it's a little more high-stress when the person you're pitching to is representing a private equity firm that's walking around the conference saying, "Hi, we've got $1 billion to spend - what've you got?"

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