Stories indexed with the term ‘urban planning’

Ideas Floated for South State Corridor

An informal session with University of Michigan urban planning students gave Ann Arbor planning commissioners more ideas for possible changes to the South State Street corridor.

Danielle Thoe, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle, South State Street corridor, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning

Danielle Thoe, a University of Michigan graduate student in urban planning, explains a concept for creating a boulevard for pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate better the I-94 overpass along South State Street. (Photos by the writer.)

The Nov. 27 meeting included a presentation by four graduate students in urban and regional planning. They had analyzed the corridor between Ellsworth and Stimson, which the city has also been studying. The presentation came in the context of a draft report currently under review by planning commissioners, with more than 40 recommendations to improve the corridor. [.pdf of draft report]

The students approached their work by identifying changes that could have an immediate impact on the corridor, while also looking at more visionary, long-term goals. Shorter-term suggestions included replacing and widening sidewalks, and adding new sidewalks in sections where there are none.

A more ambitious idea is to transform the broad center turn lanes on the I-94 overpass into a protected bicycle/pedestrian median. Currently, navigating the freeway interchange on foot or by bike is daunting. The approach could serve multiple purposes. If bioswales and landscaping were in place along the outer edges, it would help with stormwater management and provide a physical barrier between vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists. The greenery would also have visual impact for people exiting the freeway, indicating that you’re entering a city that values the environment and alternative transportation, according to the students.

Creating a sense of identity along the corridor was a common theme, with an additional focus on safety issues, stormwater management, and functionality/aesthetics.

The meeting was attended by four of the eight current planning commissioners, as well as planning manager Wendy Rampson. The commission is expected to make a recommendation on the city’s draft corridor plan at either its Dec. 18 or Jan. 3 meeting. The Ann Arbor city council would need to approve the plan before any action is taken toward implementing its recommendations. [Full Story]

Active Use of Work Space: Film Premiere

On Wednesday night at the Workantile Exchange – a membership-funded coworking space on Main Street, between Washington and Huron – local video producer and urban researcher Kirk Westphal premiered his two newest films.

Workantile Exchange Urban Planning Council Manager Form of Government

Pre-premiere socializing at the Workantile Exchange for films on urban planning and forms of local government. (Photos by the writer.)

The first film, “The Great Street Toolkit,” focuses on urban planning. The second, “The Council-Manager Form of Local Government,” is an introduction to how the council-manager system is different from a strong mayor system. The city of Ann Arbor uses a modified version of the council-manager form.

As Westphal himself noted lightheartedly, it was the “true wonks” in the audience who stayed for the second film – on council-manager government.

And it turns out that most of the 30 people in the audience were true wonks.

But linked indirectly to the evening in multiple ways was one person who was not in the audience at all –  local developer and downtown property owner, Ed Shaffran. [Full Story]

Planning: Banks, Parks and Roundabouts

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Nov. 3, 2010): Banks provided a leitmotif for the most recent regular meeting of the planning commission.

PNC Bank building in Ann Arbor

The PNC Bank building in Ann Arbor, at the corner of Main and Huron, illustrating planning commissioner Kirk Westphal's point that banks tend to create urban "dead zones."

A request to add a parking lot at the University Bank headquarters in the former Hoover Mansion was revisited during public commentary – the proposal had been discussed and postponed at the commission’s Oct. 19 meeting. Bank president Stephen Ranzini returned and spoke during public commentary on Nov. 3, citing additional reasons why commissioners should grant the request, which planning staff had recommended rejecting.

Later in the meeting, commissioner Kirk Westphal reprised a cheeky slideshow he’d given during the recent annual conference of the Michigan Association of Planning. One slide showed an image of a bank robbery taking place, as Westphal narrated: “I contend that what this thief is stealing from the bank doesn’t even come close to what underused banks, like this one, steal from the vitality of a downtown.”

Commissioner Evan Pratt also gave a presentation that he’d delivered at the conference, focused on the use of roundabouts as an alternative to a traditional intersection, or the “axis of evil.” Their presentations were given in the “Pecha Kucha” style – Chronicle readers might be familiar with a similar format if they’ve attended Ignite Ann Arbor events.

Intersecting the topics of parks and planning, but without the playful overtones, commissioners passed a resolution recommending that city council distribute a draft of the Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan to neighboring communities and stakeholders, as required by state law. The draft plan, revised every five years, will be posted on the city’s website for public feedback after council approves distribution. [Full Story]

Know Your Kirk: Public Servant

About six years ago, Kirk Westphal was living in New York City with his wife, Cynthia. So it’s a fair question to ask: “How did you get here?” Sitting in one of the cozy lounge chairs in the the Espresso Royale on Main Street, Wesphal talked about how he gets to places like the café, how he came to his current line of work, and how he made his serendipitous move to Ann Arbor.

Kirk Westphal seems to recognize the guy on his video-editing screen. (Chronicle file photo, June 2010.)

“[My wife and I] were on a run in Central Park one night and we thought, we love New York but we’d be open to going someplace else,” Westphal recalls. When asked by his wife where he would want to move, Westphal’s automatic response was one that surprised her: Ann Arbor. “Her jaw went to the floor, ‘cause she didn’t think I knew anything about Michigan,” Westphal says, “which I didn’t.” The next day, Westphal’s wife searched online for jobs at the University of Michigan, and found an open faculty position at the School of Music. “One thing lead to another and she got that job,” Westphal says. “It was a message.”

Though Westphal may be a recent “import from New York,” he has already accumulated a range of community service experience in his six years here in Ann Arbor. Westphal serves as vice chair of the city’s planning commission, having been a member for four years, and also holds a spot on the environmental commission. He’s also serving on the design guidelines task force that is working on the final piece of the recent rezoning of downtown, known as A2D2. [Full Story]

Column: Visions for the Library Lot

Local developer Peter Allen and Stephanie Simon, a student in Allen's course at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Local developer Peter Allen and Stephanie Simon, a student in Allen's urban development course at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Simon was part of a student team that had developed a project for the Library Lot – they presented their work to library board members on Dec. 17. (Photo by the writer.)

It was a telling moment. A group of graduate students from the University of Michigan had just finished making presentations to members of the Ann Arbor District Library board. They were part of a class on urban design taught by local developer Peter Allen.

Some of their class projects had focused on development of the Library Lot, and two teams were on hand to show their work to the board.

When they were done, Allen talked about why the student perspective was important – for the worldview they brought, and the insight they could give on how to make downtown Ann Arbor attractive for the 25 to 35-year-old professional.

The moment came when Prue Rosenthal, the board’s treasurer, asked this question: “How many of you plan to stay here?”

Silence – then some awkward laughter. None of the six students, it turns out, intend to stick around Ann Arbor after graduation.

That alone isn’t a big deal – it’s a small sample, after all. But it was striking when combined with the vision these students had for downtown development – a vision very different from what’s typically proposed for Ann Arbor, or from what actually gets built. But it’s a vision that, if realized, might compel these young professionals to make a life here. [Full Story]

Teeter Tottering in Traffic


The southern-most roundabout on North Maple Road was the site of teeter totter ride number 170.

The southern-most roundabout on North Maple Road was the site of teeter totter ride No. 170.

[Editor's Note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks appear on The Chronicle.]

I first met Zak Branigan outside the UPS store at Westgate shopping center, when I was dropping off a load in the course of my bicycle delivery duties. He’d recognized me by the sign on my bicycle trailer for ArborTeas, which is run by a friend of his, and alum of the totter, Jeremy Lopatin. [Full Story]