Friday, December 30, 2005


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Zoo Life

I headed to downtown Kalamazoo yesterday to tool around the place and do some work in a coffee shop. I remember again my many laments that Western Michigan University is not closer to downtown Kalamazoo. Despite its being overpriced, Ann Arbor has two things going for it -- walkability and free wireless internet.

Downtown Kalamazoo is home to the world's greatest magazine store, Michigan News Agency. I take a trip there every time I am home because it's got it all -- much better than Borders or Barnes and Noble. It's also home to the world's best brewery, Bell's (sorry, Leopold Bros). While I cannot vouch for its being the world's best, it also has a damn fine architectural salvage store, The Heritage Company. In addition, it also has a damn fine coffee shop -- Water Street Coffee Joint. The last 3 of these 4 attractions are semi-walkableon the far east edge of downtown; all you have to do is brave several lanes of one-way traffic, and several empty lots as you get there. You also have to get there, which requires a car, since Kalamazoo is, except for a few pockets, a much less pedestrian friendly city. (Check out the numerous surface parking lots on the Google map.)

However, these problems also provide the opportunities for improvement. Kalamazoo has been as aggressive and more successful than Ann Arbor in experimenting with downtown development. A downtown parking ramp went up without crying from downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. This is in part because Kalamazoo was a big city when Ann Arbor was a small town -- there's more (de-)industrial space between the CBD and the neighborhoods. Condo redevelopment has been faster and less contentious, and is more affordable as well. Did I mention cost of living is about a third lower?

Here's a New Year's prediction -- by 2010, Kalamazoo will be a better place to live than Ann Arbor (if it's not already).

Friday, December 16, 2005

Welcome Back to Nightly News

David Gregory's White House reporting and grilling of Press Secretary Scott McClellan over the last 6 months may have won me back to watching network news. Thank God the press is done drooling over how "on message" the Bush White House is.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hats off to the Mayor

I certainly bust his chops now and again. But I'm not above giving him props when he earns them.

This shout out is prompted by several reports that wind energy is, in some cases, competitive or cheaper than electricity produced by coal or natural gas. As seen on CTN several weeks back and detailed at the Leopold Brothers meetup, the city is going to start buying energy from a wind farm going up in the thumb. I was thinking about these kinds of possibilities over the summer and I'm very pleased to see Hieftje is thinking along the same lines (which, with his authority to actually do something about these thoughts, is probably slightly more important). Now I've just got to find the study he quoted that said wind energy could create 9000 jobs in Michigan and use it in my economic development paper.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Get Out Your Schedules

I will be teaching a course in Historic Preservation and Urban Conservation during the spring semester. As I have said elsewhere a number of times, I lament that in Ann Arbor, urban planners and historic preservationists are so frequently at odds. In my mind, preservationists ARE urbanists -- people committed to vibrant city life, friendly neighborhoods, and diverse social networks interacting within the built environment. I expect to incorporate several presentations from local preservation, research and planning figures, and to have some really interesting end-of-semester projects that students can choose from. My main target audiences will be students in the college of architecture and urban planning, as well as undergrads in history, landscape architecture, and even anthropology and sociology -- those whose work engages the built environment and urban settings. I will, of course, be considering input any readers might have, so feel free to rock the comments.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sit-down Strike

A reporter and a photographer from the Ann Arbor News rode the AATA number 3 bus to Ypsilanti to document and get reactions to AATA's commemoration of Rosa Parks' refusal to ride in the seat from the back of the Montgomery bus. As you may recall, upon Parks' death there was a great deal of emphasis placed upon the inspirational power of a working class seamstress' seeming decision that she was simply tired -- that practical concerns and common sense triumphed over a heritage of segregation. Part of the power and romance of this interpretation, to be sure, was that an average person could, with a simple gesture, spark a revolution that would overturn decades of egregiously racist public policy (and with it, culturally embedded segregationist biases). It has since been pretty well documented that Parks' demonstration was a conscious political gesture, planned, promoted, and rallied around for maximal effect; Parks herself, was a longtime grassroots activist. (Kelly Quinn, Sojourner Truth Fellow at TCAUP, has unearthed a letter from 1955 from the city's black community to city leaders, detailing their main complaints about treatment of Montgomery blacks).

For me, the irony that popular media and perception miss is that the buses were and are institutions that promoted economic equity, helping overcome the "spatial mismatch" between residence and work so often seen in urban areas. In so many cases, institutions of mass transit are under attack or are wilting from neglect -- how long will that #3 bus continue to go all the way to Ypsilanti, with the city's financial woes? As we celebrate Parks' inspirational act from 50 years ago, are we turning our backs on today's seamstresses, janitors, teachers' assistants, and food service workers (whatever their race)?

I hope not, but I fear so.