Saturday, October 29, 2005

City Life

Come to the New West Side/Ann Arbor Alliance City Council Candidate Debate Wednesday, November 2. 7 pm - 8:30 at the Henderson Room of the Michigan League.

This debate is structured so that candidates must directly address the most important concerns for students and renters. For that reason, it is important that students and renters attend this event -- these groups can begin to shape the debate and the direction of politics within the city of Ann Arbor, an impact they have not had for about three decades. I just watched part of the League of Women Voters' Candidate Debate on CTN and I was fairly disappointed with the "debate" that ensued. Rich Birkett (Ind) worked to distinguish himself clearly from Leigh Greden, but much of the rest of the debate was bland discussion about things like working to preserve city services while keeping taxes from going up. I note in the latest Observer that there are still two leaf pickup dates for every neighborhood this year, while the Housing Inspection office has no appreciable presence within the city. And candidates should not expect softball questions about downtown density (with Bob Johnson calling 5-8 story buildings "tall.") Answer me this, candidates -- are you going to accept greater density in YOUR neighborhood? Will you see to it that EVERY neighborhood accepts greater density? Why or why not?

As a bonus, free food will be served at this event and attendees can submit questions for consideration at the debate itself. Don't miss this chance.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Espresso Vu

This post comes from the Espresso Royale on Gainsborough St. in Boston a day after the Head of the Charles (they wouldn't punch my Ann Arbor card. Bastards.) Let the word go out to hipsters and proto-yuppies everywhere -- Allston has got it going on. A western village of Boston, just north of mega-chic suburb Brookline, Allston and Farrington Inn, a sort of flea bag rooming house just off the T played host to your newly engaged commentator and his rower girlfriend (now fiancee) this weekend. Home of lots of restaurants, great shops and friendly people. If only a theater venue were offering something last night, I would have put it atop my list of places I'd like to live. In between Boston College and Boston University, that part of Allston (Brighton and Harvard Sts.) is on its way back from typical 1970s urban desolation, though it's not too yuppified. Even still, real estate is crazy affordable (in Boston terms) there. You can get about 600 square feet for 200k (not much more than downtown Ann Arbor, I might note.) Buildings out to the sidewalk, sidewalks, T connections and buses going everywhere -- Boston's rep for walkability is well-deserved. Did someone say "get me out of Ann Arbor"?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Letter to Jim Chaconas

Jim Chaconas is the leasing agent for McKinley, which owns or manages a crapload of real estate in Ann Arbor. Since Shayani Oriental Rugs is going out of business, the retail building next to the Madison House is going to be available. God, I hope they don't bring in a bank.


Mr. Chaconas --

I live in the house immediately next door to what is now Shayani Oriental Rugs (106 W. Madison). I see that you are handling the leasing of this building and I have heard that several banks have inquired about this property. As a resident of this area, I strongly recommend against bringing a bank into this location. A much better business for this location would be a coffee or sandwich shop. There is a great deal of foot traffic on Madison -- students, faculty, and staff who live in the West Side use this route to go to central campus. (I see THOUSANDS of people walk by this location on football Saturdays.) In addition, this is something of a retail center just on the edge of the DDA area. Todd Leopold of Leopold Bros. has said that the best thing for his business in this location would be a sandwich shop -- the two locations are about 100 meters apart. Washtenaw Dairy is another nearby retail attraction. During the summer, Washtenaw Dairy has groups in the dozens hanging around outside their shop; during the winter people go there for beer, for ice cream, for eggs, and for milk. Less than a block to the south, the South Main Market has a few shops that would not only benefit such a retail business on the corner of Main and Madison, but would also be strengthened by the development of such a food retail cluster. Finally, developing this type of cluster, really a block and a half from the existing downtown, will only strengthen the expansion of "downtown" by drawing pedestrians from the limited number of blocks north of William, and will provide other leasing opportunities for the
nearby properties.

Please give this scenario -- the attraction of an affordable, preferably locally-owned, business serving food and drink to the local neighborhoods -- your consideration. Shayani Oriental Rugs was unable to tap into this foot traffic potential; I am sure a bank will have little to contribute to the neighborhood, either. Please let me know of any questions or concerns you
might have.
Dale Winling


Thank you for the E-mail, we are not talking to any banks. I am also
trying for the same type of business as you inquired about. I am the
agent that put the brewery in there space. Please feel free to inquire
anytime you may like.
Jim Chaconas

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Nickel in the slot

Having had my cell phone stolen by a thief who should be arrested shortly for making several local calls on it, I had to make a phone call on a pay phone recently. You may have noticed the empty nooks and closets in public places that once housed several pay phones. Pay phones seem to be on the decline at the hands of the cellular phone. I found the process of locating a pay phone and making a call annoying and nigh unto impossible. I wonder how many other people find the situation as difficult as I did.

Richard John, an historian of technology, gave a paper at the Urban History conference last fall about the nickel-in-the-slots, an early form of public phone. The thinking has long been that the telephone, in allowing the public to communicate in real time across long distances, allowed cities to get bigger and subsequently allowed business to be conducted across the continent -- another of the forces leading to the end of urbanism (in Doug Rae's words). Now we have almost completely scuttled our public-access phone systems, meaning that it is nearly impossible to make a phone call if you don't have a cell phone or your own office. I can't help but think this is a terribly foolish decision in terms of equity, one which we will come to regret like tearing up our trolley tracks. We are making the marginal -- those who can't afford cell phones and service -- even more so by eliminating any reasonable means of communication, particulary one that doesn't require significant long-term commitments. Not only that, one cannot make a long distance phone call from a pay phone in Michigan anymore. I was totally stymied.

I read an article in The Economist about Voice Over Internet Protocal winning out over digital cell telephony, since it would be so much cheaper. I hope they're right, and that we can essentially make land lines (necessary for VOIP) plentiful again, and hopefully cheap. I've still got a year-plus on my cell phone contract, but I'm wondering if trying to switch to a land line wouldn't be a better idea.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Back in Business

I'm back to my pre-summer posting schedule, which is to say, rather infrequently. However, I encourage you to check out the New West Side page for a radio interview and information on getting ready for winter. Also, Wednesday November 2 will be a City Council candidate debate at the Michigan League.

The New York Times today had two features on New Orleans and Katrina, one by Nicolai Ourosoff on the city's pumps and pumpmen during the storm; one in the NYT magazine by Moneyball Michael Lewis, who returned to his hometown of NOLA right after Katrina hit. I don't have much to say except that this topic continues to interest me very much. I also think it is a terrible mistake to rebuild in the below-sea-level parts of the city. Most of that development was a 20th century phenomenon, wherein politicians, plannners, and engineers thought that humans could win against nature. You can't. Stop trying.

Two quick notes: Soon I'll have an ode to Sanborn maps, one of the greatest documentary aids to historians of the urban built environment. And check out the hippy city in California that imposed strict no-growth restrictions and became a town for millionaires. Sound familiar?