Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For What It's Worth

Okay despite being a blogger I really really hate telling people what I think politically, normally doing so when I'm far enough removed from things that my opinion doesn't amount to a hill of beans, or when I hit a wall and have absolutely nothing better to write. But it's starting to trouble me how many people think I agree with them and am actively siding with them at meetings.

I am not an elected official. I am not a neighborhood association president or even officer. Hell I still live with my parents so I don't even pay property tax. I represent nobody but myself. While I might occasionally entertain mad desires to rule the world hachchchahahahaha. (Seriously I should get back to my Civ game. Eat it Bismark.) I'm just a dude and the actual pressure of having real power would probably make me have a nervous breakdown after five minutes. To quote Bill Cosby, "I've seen the boss' job and I don't want it."

But like I said it is really troubling when it's clear people I respect yet fundamentally disagree with think I'm, "on their side." Counter intuitively there is a point where claiming objectivity and trying to maintain the guise of neutrality becomes dishonest.

So against my better judgement I'm putting my chips on the table and telling people what I think of specific Southfield Council policies and decisions.

Yep this is totally going to bite me in the ass later isn't it?

Hail to the Conquering Hoplites (If I weren't apathetic about sports March Madness would be a nightmare though admittedly I'm proud of Ross Weaver, Gabe Watson and Aaron Miles)
I failed out of The University of Michigan's Engineering school went through Oakland Community for a while and eventually got my B/A at Michigan State. I don't talk about it or advertise it. I have complicated emotions and if you really want to get into my head space at the time read my short story "The Fallen Warrior" which as much as I hate to admit it ain't exactly fiction. Sometimes I write to deal with what's going on in my head.

Anyway my point is I spent some time traipsing around both Ann Arbor and East Lansing.

Instead of doing the smart thing prior to graduation and looking for a job I put all  my excess time and energy into making a short documentary for a final project, testing everything I learned and pushing myself harder than I ever had.

...And I graduated having to move back in with the folks, which I still am. I'm not bitter... much.

When I got back home I was disappointed. Partially that the world wasn't my oyster like I had hoped but also that I no longer had access to all the stuff I had taken for granted when I was back at school, both schools.

Ever since I've left I've been quietly pining for college life. Not necessarily the classes or the exams, oh god not the exams. But rather the college town vibe.

  • Walkablity
  • Pedestrian Lighting
  • Public Transportation
  • Interesting and Engaging Activities and Attractions
  • Public Art
  • Public Performance
  • Density
  • High End Efficiency Housing (Apartments and Lofts)
  • Restuarants (I miss New York Pizza Depot and Georgio's I had pizza options back then)
  • Street Activity (Merchants, Buscers, Hot Dog Venders, ect)

The Circle of Control (Application of the Serenity Prayer)
My overall opinion is that Council exercises too much control for those things to spring forth organically. For instance while now people are cool with the Face to Face and DIA Inside/Out art projects Council gave them the screws when they first came to town, so much so that I can't see somebody being able to just paint a nice mural on the side of a building and have them be cool with it even if the building owner was.

No Banksy for us.

Something like The Rock or Wave Field would never fly.

Moreover they tend to micromanage developments and projects. Part of me is cool with that because they're elected but also part of me thinks it really hampers things. They aren't experts. When an engineering firm says they took all of this stuff into account, drainage, stakeholder's meetings, money, traffic, structure, weathering, construction windows, aesthetics,  materials and then somebody on council puts their finger on a map and says I want this moved here it, kind of makes me wince.

In addition to that I think property owners should have more freedom. Unless there is a clear public hazard I should be able to build what I want on the property I paid for. Especially when what council wants is going to have economic impacts on my business. Why can't I build a taller sign or operate at hours of my choosing? There have been some meetings where I heard them complain about the color of someone's marketing logo.

Come On. It Would Be So Cool. Do it! Do it! Ah they aren't gonna. (Said in my head a hundred times)
My second general criticism of Council is the reluctance to try new things. We had a chance to build a bioswale of the first of it's type in the country. In the country. IN THE COUNTRY! How bad ass would that be.

Oh San Fran, beat you to it. Oh what was that Boston? You want to build this thing thing we did months ago? We could have been environmental architectural gods!

Nope. Didn't happen.

Sure we'll get a rain garden. Which by the way I am in support of. But god reach for the stars people! Go big or go home!

And to top it off a grant would have paid for the bulk of it.

Free-Market Development
Well I'm getting the big ones out of they way. I think council is also a little too choosy about development. Before development can happen someone has to buy the property. Even if that happens closing deals takes a while so every time council turns away a developer or even hassles one too much for my liking it kind of bugs me.

It means that the building is almost certainly going to be vacant for at least another 6 months. It just feels like all the dominoes were lined up for something cool to happen and then screeching tires. Even when a project isn't flat out denied I'm uncomfortable with all the changes developers have to implement in order to build  in the city. Like I said my instinct is unless there is a clear public hazard a person should be able to build what they want on the property they've purchased. If the market is over saturated or customers don't like the shop it will fail and something else will go there.

The Buddhist Temple
The most extreme example I can think of is when an already existing Buddhist Temple wanted to add a parking lot so guests wouldn't have to park in the street or in a nearby park.  Oh it got it's parking lot, but god sitting through that was mind numbing. Just give the monk his parking lot already. It's not a strip club. It's not a casino. It's not a bar. It's not a restaurant. It's parking lot for an already existing Buddhist temple. What's going to happen, people are going to be ahimsa'ed out of their homes?

Green Space Run Amok
I greatly respect Councilman Fracassi. He has been involved in Southfield government almost twice as long as I've been alive.  But every time he talks about how the city lacks green space my brain breaks. This is where the generational gap comes in I suppose. I can't see myself having kids for a good long while. And as a result I do not revere lawns like my parents do. They are a hassle. They cost money and time to maintain and the set back is a nightmare for pedestrians and marketing alike. When your shop is a football field away from the road it is hard to see.

There are two acceptable reasons for such heavy green space in my book.

The first is for the event the road gets widened, and honestly I think that one is on government. It shouldn't be a standard thing to keep asking businesses for set backs because the Road Commission keeps getting delayed. It ain't right dang it.

The second is public safety. I hate football fields of useless greenery but I also hate dark alleys with hookers and drug dealers, as well as fire hazards even more.

Note: I forgot to include drainage. Drainage is a good reason.

Overall though, every time I see a big swath of green space that isn't an official park and designed as such I start thinking of all the stuff that could of been put there. Sidewalks, bulletin boards, drive throughs, pedestrian walking trails, vendor carts, bus shelters, benches, pedestrian lighting, utility stations, even outparcel development.

Instead I just get grass. Speaking of which.

The Grass Distraction
This one isn't on council as much as it is on all of us. Metro Detroit has a grass problem. And whenever anyone wants to talk about about how far Detroit has fallen they always bring up the grass.  It's a distraction. Part of the reason why it's such a big problem is because as mentioned, in my book lawns are a luxury.  If it's a choice between rent, electricity, medicine, groceries, and gas for the mower guess which one I'm not choosin'. As a result I feel that suburbanites, me and mines included harping on Detroit's grass problem when there is a 17 percent unemployment rate is a bit disingenuous.

Now an argument can be made that "curb appeal" is necessary for maintaining property values and keeping the economy from sliding more but I am sick and tired of people using the grass thing as a way to somehow claim they are better and "care more".

I Thought I'd Mix Things Up A Little
I also don't think Council has faith in mixed use development. They'll go along with it...kicking and screaming... if it winds up not looking so much like mixed use development towards the end of the day.

Again in the college towns I lived in mixed use was everywhere. You might find an apartment above an Urban Outfitters or even in the same building as music club.

For my two cents it's all about connecting goods services with people and limiting the space between the two. Look I'm not a planning expert so I can't explain it well, but I just liked where I studied, shopped, and ate being close enough together that travel time became a non issue. After class I could without deviating from my route pick up medicine at the pharmacy, grab a slice, and browse at Borders all while still having time to head to the dorm and switch books between classes.

You know that thing I said about green space. Same goes for parking. Word for word.

Not as bad as you might think. You get used to them.

I've said my peace on that here. And even if you don't read it you can probably guess where I stood from everything I just said.

I legitimately think council wants walkability but they don't get two things about it.

It has to about transportation. It's not just oh people want to exercise. It's about encouraging people to use their feet and other modes to get from place to place by reallocating some of the resources traditionally solely focused on automobile transportation to making other types of transportation viable. People don't just want to walk in a circle. You have to connect them to places that have desirable goods and services.

Also I don't think they get scale. When you're walking, a quarter mile or about 1300 feet is about as far as you're willing to go out of your way. Really counting the distance to get back that's a half mile. Design for pedestrians has to keep that in mind. Otherwise there is no change in mindset. You're doing what governments have always done sacrificing other transportative modes for the sake of  automotive transportation. I mind it but as stated in the preface I'm kind of a freak. But still if you're going to shift the balance shift the balance. Call a duck a duck.

Lighting and Sound

Part of what made both Ann Arbor and East Lansing feel safe enough to walk around, especially at night was the feeling that the city was still alive after dark. A huge part of that was pedestrian lighting and night time activity. Two things I think this community just doesn't want. Again I'm kind of a freak.

Nobody is really comfortable having a place stay open past 10 or even keeping the lights on.  Every time a new development comes forth I always hear "When do you close?" and the pressure to close early.  Well don't be surprised when every business in town does.

Not only that but I also hear people complain about lights. Okay I get people may not like them but again I'm not going out when it's pitch black. Lighting is a much needed safety feature.

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