Stories indexed with the term ‘community’

Final Forum: What Sustains Community?

The fourth and final forum in a series on sustainability in Ann Arbor focused on community, touching on topics that contribute to a stronger social fabric – quality of life, public safety, housing, and parks.

John Seto, Eunice Burns

Interim Ann Arbor police chief John Seto talks with Eunice Burns, a longtime activist who attended an April 12 sustainability forum at the Ann Arbor District Library. Seto was a panelist at the forum, which focused on building a sustainable community. (Photos by the writer.)

Community is one of four categories in a framework that’s been developed over the past year, with the intent of setting sustainability goals for the city. Other categories – which have been the focus of three previous forums this year – are resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community.

At the April 12 forum on community, Wendy Rampson – the city’s planning manager, who moderated the discussion – told the audience that 15 draft goals have been selected from more than 200 already found in existing city planning documents. The hope is to reach consensus on these sustainability goals, then present them to the city council as possible amendments to the city’s master plan. The goals are fairly general – if approved, they would be fleshed out with more detailed objectives and action items. [.pdf of draft sustainability goals]

Rampson said that although this would be the final forum in this year’s series, there seems to be interest in having an annual sustainability event – so this would likely not be the last gathering.

The forum was held at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building, and attended by about 50 people. Panelists were Dick Norton, chair of the University of Michigan urban and regional planning program; Cheryl Elliott, president of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation; John Seto, Ann Arbor’s interim chief of police; Jennifer L. Hall, executive director of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission; Julie Grand, chair of the city’s park advisory commission; and Cheryl Saam, facility supervisor for the Ann Arbor canoe liveries.

Several comments during the Q & A session centered on the issue of housing density within the city. Eunice Burns, a long-time local activist and former Ann Arbor city councilmember, advocated for more flexibility in accessory apartments.

Doug Kelbaugh, a UM professor of architecture and urban planning, supported her view and wondered whether the city put too high a priority on parks, when what Ann Arbor really needs is more people living downtown. He said a previous attempt to revise zoning and allow for more flexibility in accessory units was shot down by a “relatively small, relatively wealthy, relatively politically-connected group. I don’t think it was a fair measure of community sentiment.”

Also during the Q & A period, Pete Wangwongwiroj – a board member of UM’s student sustainability initiative – advocated for the concept of gross national happiness to be a main consideration in public policy decisions.

The April forum was videotaped by AADL staff and will be posted on the library’s website – videos of the three previous sessions are already posted: on resource management (Jan. 12); land use and access (Feb. 9); and climate and energy (March 8). Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” “Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality” and “Land Use, Transit Factor Into Sustainability.[Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: In Defense of Detail

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

A piece of string too short to use

A piece of string too short to use

Writing on Damn Arbor, a blog maintained by a half-dozen self-described “grad students, townies, and derelicts,” Quinn Davis wondered recently: “So. If a citizen gasps during a city council meeting but no one reads about it, what’s the point?”

Davis posed the rhetorical question in the context of an article she’d written for the Washtenaw Voice, a Washtenaw Community College publication she edits. About that article, her advisor ventured: “I worry that our readership may not be that interested enough to get through 800 words you have so far.”

Here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle, we would also worry about an 800-word article. We’d wonder what happened to the other 5,000 words.

Count that exaggeration as a rhetorical flourish.

In fact, since since June of last year, we’ve routinely published items shorter than 500 words. These  items are outcomes of individual public meeting votes and other civic events – they’re collected in a sidebar section we call the Civic News Ticker. Readers can view all those items in one go on the Civic News Ticker page. Readers who prefer to receive The Chronicle using an RSS feed reader can subscribe to just the Civic News Ticker items with this feed: Civic News Ticker Feed.

But back to the rhetorical question: What is the point of ever including details that most people might not ever read, in an article that tops 10,000 words?  [Full Story]

Column: Practical Ideals and the Peace Corps

Fifty years ago this week, I was a few days away from ending nine months of gestation in my mother’s belly – which is to say, on Oct. 14, 1960 I wasn’t among the throngs gathered in front of the Michigan Union at 2 a.m., enduring fatigue and drizzling rain to hear John F. Kennedy give a campaign stump speech.

Mary Morgan Peace Corps

A photo taken in 1985 with the Moudyoutenday family at the start of my Peace Corps experience in the Central African Republic. I'm the one looking the least dignified.

But 25 years later, my life was tightly intertwined with that speech, though I didn’t know it at the time. In October of 1985 I was a Peace Corps volunteer, fumbling my way through the first few weeks of life in a mud hut, learning to accept rats and roaches as daily encounters, realizing how much I missed American toilets – teaching English, of all things, to youngsters in the impoverished Central African Republic.

It was a transformative two years for me – but not in the way that recent hagiographic celebrations of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary might have you believe. In fact, I emerged from the experience with ambiguous feelings toward the Corps, and specifically toward the mythos that’s arisen around it.

I was struck by that ambiguity again on Thursday morning, as I listened to speakers on the steps of the Michigan Union describe with such certitude the pivotal role that the Peace Corps plays in fostering world peace. It gets to the crux of my discomfort with this message: While I believe wholeheartedly that the program benefits the mostly single, middle-class, recent college grads who make up its ranks, I’m much less convinced of its lasting positive impact on the countries where volunteers serve. [Full Story]

Column: Leaving the Comfort Zone

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

I don’t willingly leave my comfort zone. And don’t tell Oprah, but I’m comfortable with that.

I don’t skydive. I don’t sign up to melt in a Sedona sweat lodge. And I do not speak to big groups of people if I can possibly help it.

It’s not that I mind being the occasional center of attention. This picture of me, for instance, was taken on my last day at The Ann Arbor News minutes after my boss had left the building.

I am lying on my belly on his desk.

But I was among friends. It just sort of happened. And I didn’t actually say anything. (Unless you count: “If this had been my desk all along, this paper would not be closing!”)

All this is to explain why nothing within me wants to be among those speakers at Friday night’s Ignite Ann Arbor.

And why I already admire the 15 people who will. [Full Story]

Venture Puts Chelsea’s Local News Online

The home page for Chelsea Update, a new online news site.

The home page for Chelsea Update, a new online local news site.

As a journalist, Heather Newman is perhaps best known for the technology column she wrote at the Detroit Free Press. Though she left that newspaper last year for a job at the University of Michigan, the Chelsea area resident has found another way to use her journalism skills. This month, she launched an online news site called Chelsea Update, focused on news and information in the town just west of Ann Arbor. In an email interview, we asked Newman to tell us about her new venture.

What got you started down this road? As you were thinking about the possibility of starting this venture, what were the pros and cons in weighing whether you’d actually do it?

I’d been writing for newspapers for almost 20 years when I left to join the marketing staff at the University of Michigan Press (its book publishing division) in December. Working here has been terrific, but I really felt that journalistic itch, so I was looking for something I could do in the evenings and on weekends to keep my hand in. I’ve lived in the Chelsea area for nine years, so I’m naturally nosy about what goes on there, and the only newspaper in the area is a weekly. It seemed like a great place to start. [Full Story]

Along Ann Arbor’s Busiest Corridor, a Place to Relax

The RelaxStation expansion is expected to be complete in October. Architect Robert Black, left, takes measurements.

The RelaxStation expansion is expected to be complete in October. Architect Robert Black, left, takes measurements.

Seven years ago, Eileen Bristol was about to move to California when the property at Huron and First came up for sale.

“I said, ‘Oh, man, I love that building – what could I do there?” she recalls, laughing.

The building was a former gas station built in the 1930s, and what she decided to do was start RelaxStation, a small walk-in massage business that crammed a lot of personality into the tight 280-square-foot space. Business has been good – so good that “we pretty well maxed out the space,” she says.

It was time to expand, and her project to more than double the space – a $900,000 $90,000 investment – is nearing completion. [Full Story]