a professor’s fight to save college place

A few weeks ago, we had a conversation here about a somewhat involved Eastern Michigan University “beautification” plan that involved, among other things, tearing up a local street and replacing it with lawn. Well, as you might recall, my friend Mark Higbee, a professor at EMU who leaves comments here on occasion, was very much against the idea. Well, I’m happy to report that Mark has decided to put his money where his mouth is and actually do something about it. Mark has formed an organization, which he’s calling the Ypsilanti-EMU Alliance, and he’s trying to stop the project from going forward. Following is his letter to the Regents of EMU:

I write as chair of the Ypsilanti-EMU Alliance, a group of local residents and EMU community members, to urge you to table or reject the proposal to close College Place to create a $1.3 million dollar “pedestrian mall”. Given the sharp cuts in support for academic needs and student services on campus, where so many urgent needs go unmet, this money can be better spent elsewhere.

Sadly, no public forums, no community meetings, no open discussions, on the College Place closing has been held by the Administration. This failure to consult the public at large (as opposed to officials) is a recurring and classic error for poor planners, and it’s an error for which the costs can be tremendous. This failure to allow meaningful public comment on this drastic step of closing an important street is sufficient reason to table this proposal.

In addition to our objections based on its extravagant costs and the closed decision-making process, we also believe that this plan to close College Place is ill advised on the merits. Yes, College Place needs repaving — which the city will do without charge. But College Place is a very effective street: it brings people to campus quickly and connects EMU to several neighborhoods. Because the street, and the last block of Forrest, work and work well, they are the preferred route for many residents and students. Indeed, College Place is the main entry point to campus from town. Yet the Administration is asking you to close this street. Why? To replace it with grass — a pedestrian mall. Yet pedestrian malls, the planners’ fad of the 1970s, are now well known to be incapable of generating desirable activities; at best, they support nearby activities.

Look at what now exists on campus immediately to the west of College Place: A large pedestrian mall, running from Pierce Hall to McKinney. It is both beautiful and nearly empty most of the time. It works well. But EMU has no need to enlarge that pedestrian mall by closing a much needed street at the edge of campus. College Place and Forrest are at the edge of campus, not at its center, and the edge of campus must merge into the town. Yet this plan erects a barrier between campus and town. It will literally make it harder for Ypsi residents to “see” the campus! This is a serious mistake.

It is not smart for the University to take a very busy, useful street, one of the busiest and most frequented access points to campus, and spend a fortune to convert it to a huge nearly always empty pubic space, where women at night will likely feel unsafe, as is often true on deserted pedestrian malls.

Another likely result of closing College Place will be a terrible bottle neck for cars, trucks, and buses, a real choke point, on narrow little Perrin Street. Perrin is going to be expected to carry all its current traffic plus all the College Place traffic, plus buses and bus stops. This will make getting from town to campus and vice versa harder and slower. The plan practically requires stalled traffic on Perrin. This will give people reason to avoid EMU and the Cross Street area altogether. Bus riders to campus will now have a longer ride and a longer walk, too.

And the project eliminates all 20 metered parking spots on College Place, and dozens more on the Perrin Street. Yet the #1 complaint on campus is inadequate parking! Reducing this on street parking will harm the revitalization of Cross Street. (President Fallon’s October 17 “Periodic Update” errs by calling the possibility of some “additional parking” open to the public at metered spots in the Pease lot as being “mutually beneficial to the city”: The plan to eliminate all parking on two streets equals a large decrease in the total amount of parking in the area, and those metered Pease spots would not be new parking spots, just newly metered. A net decrease in parking is no benefit to the public, students, or Cross Street businesses.

Outdated notions of campus planning, a poor understanding of the real connections between Ypsilanti and the campus, and an unawareness of the felt needs of the EMU community are driving this plan. There is no strategic vision behind it.

The long term results of this project will likely be an underutilized space, one to be hurried thru rather than used, a new barrier between campus and town, and a disruption to existing successful traffic patterns, traffic that serves the campus well. The edge of campus should be an access point.

Claims that this plan will enhance bike access to campus, or meaningfully connect bike routes far to the north or south of Forrest and College Place, are laughable. I ride to work each day, or walk, and I assure you that College Place does not hinder either non-motorized mode of transportation.

While the problems with this proposal are crippling, the Ypsilanti-EMU Alliance believes that there are easy and workable solutions: Let the city repave College Place, and let’s have EMU finally push to get approval for one of the common sense provisions of the 2004 Campus Concept Plan: convert Perrin and Lowell into two way streets, which will be a basically no-cost step to connect campus to town better. Plant some more trees in appropriate spots. Put up more bike racks. Don’t block off campus from its town! Let College Place and Forrest serve the vital traffic/access purposes that they already do. And the Regents can save a million dollars of public funds in the process!

More ambitiously, EMU could take the lead by buying vacant properties on Cross Street, converting them into new buildings, to be sold and occupied by residents and businesses. That would be meaningful revitalization, not faux-efforts. It could be a major and real part of revitalizing Cross Street, and thus helpful to both Ypsi and EMU.

And please do approve the downtown parking lot lease — it has no intrinsic connection to College Place except as a bargaining chip with the city. Leasing it to the city is a win-win, even without the lease’s value as leverage.

The EMU Administration is made up of a lot of hard working individuals. We respect them. We want to work with them. We regret that they failed to seek or welcome real public comment on the College Place vacation plan. Everyone can make mistakes. This mistake can be fixed before it is too late. Please vote this down or table it in order to allow meaningful public comment

Sincerely yours,

Mark Higbee, Chair, Ypsilanti-EMU Alliance
Professor of History
Ypsilanti resident

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28 Comments

  1. edweird
    Posted October 26, 2006 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Higbee rules. So how can we help?

  2. mark
    Posted October 26, 2006 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t heard anything from him, but this sounds like the kind of thing that might warrant a public meeting of some kind. I’ll ask Mark, and get back to you.

  3. Mark H.
    Posted October 26, 2006 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Mark —
    Thanks so much for posting this letter to the Board of Regents. Right now we’re trying to get all the information we can on this plan from EMU (and we’ll soon see how cooperative they are).

    The Ypsi-EMU Alliance does want to have some public meetings. No decisions yet on when. Maybe we’ll host a debate….if any Welch hall official would dare discuss this expensive project in an open forum.

    And we’re going to sponsor a contest for EMU students, EMU community members, and Ypsi residents — “How do you think EMU could Better Spend $1.3 million dollars than on closing a street, reducing parking, and planting grass?” The exact details on this contest are not yet figured out – but one requirement is that the $ be spent on meeting student needs (not an old idea at many universities, but at EMU it would be a revolutionary principle!).

    So….any readers of MarkMaynard.com want to help put this contest together?

    And oh yeah, we want to set up a web site for the Alliance. Any volunteers to help us do that? We want the web site to be able to hold posted information, a petition, and hopefully permit comments from readers too.

    The premise behind the Alliance is that what’s good for EMU has to be good for Ypsi, and vice versa. The Alliance is for all people who agree with that idea, and who also think all university resources need to be devoted to student needs…,

    You can email me directly at mhigbee@emich.edu,

    Ypsi is a lovely town. EMU is a fantastic school. Let’s stand together to stop EMU’s administration from erecting a barrier between the town and the campus.

  4. ol' e cross
    Posted October 27, 2006 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Describing a line of trees as

  5. ol' e cross
    Posted October 27, 2006 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Describing a line of trees as

  6. Jim
    Posted October 27, 2006 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a drawing of what is being proposed:
    http://www.emich.edu/focus_emu/100306/crossstreet.html

    I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion about this proposal, but I have to agree that the EMU administration should have sought the input of the public and the university community. On first glance the plan doesn’t look entirely well thought out. For example, having an outdoor stage across from a busy street is a very bad idea–the street traffic would make this a unpleasant performance space.

    I’d like to offer a few factual corrections to Ol’ E. Cross’s post.

    It is not correct to say that most of the money will come from the state; at its Oct. 20 meeting the Board of Regents appropriated $840,000 “out of uncommitted University reserves” for this project. The administration hopes to pay the remaining costs by winning a MDOT grant of “up to” $442,590, but it’s far from certain that MDOT will award this full amount.

    I’m not sure what editorials Ol’ E. Cross is referring to. A Free Press editorial did say that the faculty should discontinue the strike, but that editorial appeared after the faculty had already returned to work, and did not say anything about the substance of negotiations.

    This recent Eastern Echo article dealt with a small number of faculty members who receive large payments in addition to their salaries for enrolling large numbers of students in their online courses:
    http://www.easternecho.com/cgi-bin/story.cgi?11483&highlight=online+teaching
    The faculty union does not condone this practice, and neither, I believe, do most faculty members.

  7. Jim
    Posted October 27, 2006 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Also–it is not the case that this discussion was initiated after decisions had already been made. Mark Higbee presented his letter to the Board before they voted to appropriate the money.

  8. Mark H.
    Posted October 27, 2006 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Hey Ol’ E. Cross — thanks for the attention, but let’s get our facts right. The EMU administration plans to spend $1.3 million on this, and $840,000 will come from EMU’s “unrestricted reserves’, not from the state. Management hopes to get the rest from the state, thru federal funds….but still, it’s $840,000 that could be spent on anything that EMU wants to spend it on. And if MDOT does not decide to waste $ on this grant, EMU will pick up the rest…at least that’s what Director of Finance Steve Holda told the EMU Board last week, despite the fact that this is not in the papers he submitted to the Board for their approval.

    And hey, I am a EMU faculty member, but I am a critic of how the AAUP leadership handled negotiations and the strike this year. And while I have asked the President of the AAUP to distribute, to all EMU-AAUP members, the Alliance’s letter to the Regents, so far he he has not done so…That kind of kills the theory that objections to the College Place plan are just an AAUP hatchet job. (I hope the AAUP will soon send it out to all the faculty, and I’ll be grateful if they do.)

    And I have been a critic of the College Place plan for years. Spoke to former Pres. Sam “The Mansion Builder” Kirkpatrick about it in 2004, when a different version of this bad idea was put into the campus concept plan.

    If the EMU administration had had any public forum on closing College Place, they’d have been resoundingly criticized, hence they avoided it. The people pushing this plan were all put into positions of power by Sam Kirkpatrick, and it’s the same kind of mindset: cosmetics before substance.

    And what’s wrong with College Place being used for a drop off for students? Don’t we want them to come to campus? Why make that harder, and why get rid of a nicely located bus stop and bus route, and why cut out 70 parking spots?? Less parking at the point where the town meets the campus is bad for EMU and for Ypsi. Most of EMU’s open green space is nearly always empty…so we need $1.3 million more of empty green space, at the edge of campus? College Place can be beautified and kept open for traffic for a lot less money than this boondoggle of a plan.

    And do you really think EMU’s greatest need for spending its “unrestricted cash reserves” is for planting grass and tearing up a street? What about funding a winter biology lab? Or photocopies for students? Or improving the dorms, or….make your own list.

    Let’s get together, Ol’ E. Cross, and have coffee and talk over all these issues. Sorry to go on for so long!

    mark higbee

  9. edweird
    Posted October 27, 2006 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I remember when the new library was built. What a gloriously beautiful building. Just one problem: they didn’t bother to save any cash to update the book collection. This was typical of Eastern while I was there and it seems it hasn’t changed much since. The school does not need any more wasted space for future muggings. What they should be doing is looking at student services. What do the students need most and can it be accomplished with the funds at hand? This is the question Mark is asking. I think it deserves and answer. The students are the customers. So how is Eastern serving the customer by cutting them off from the city, taking away parking, and creating a potential log jam on a tiny side street. Oh and that whole mugging thing too. That sounds fun.

  10. ol' e cross
    Posted October 28, 2006 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the delayed response, I

  11. ol' e cross
    Posted October 28, 2006 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the delayed response, I

  12. Mark H.
    Posted October 29, 2006 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    I appreciate your response, Ol E Cross. Now that you’ve reconsidered your position on this plan, I know of not a single EMU faculty or staff member who supports this boondoggle (by staff, I don’t count the high paid administrators, who have to march in line, at least publicly).

    Couple of things. Yes, the College Place & Perrin parking spots are largely empty at night. But if Cross St. businesses take off, as we hope they will and as we should try to ensure they will, parking at night then may be more in demand. Reducing no cost parking now is a bad strategy for the future.

    “Muggings” is not a word I’ve used for the College Place plan. But perceptions of lack of safety are a real problem, as is too often an actual lack of safety, in pedestrian malls than are usually empty. If at night College Place parking spots are empty, why will College Place as a pedestrian mall be any more filled up – and safe?

    That said, the terrible fact is that in recent times the places on campus where the worst violent attacks have taken place are inside of academic buildings. EMU has simply failed to adequately protect our buildings. To a very large degree, this still remains true a year after a series of terrible attacks.

    By the way, there’s less than a snowball’s chance in hell that the faculty will be striking in December. We’re in fact finding. Spread the word – that means no strike can possibly occur.

  13. Pete
    Posted October 29, 2006 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    There is a City Council public hearing on this land swap proposal on Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 7:30PM in the Council Chambers of City Hall, One South Huron St.

    Also there is a city council discussion of this issue at the Meeting of August 22 which can be viewed at http://www.ypsinews.com/2006/08/ypsilanti-city-council-videos-on-line.html starting at time 1:42 and going for abot an hour. The letters and documents they refer to are not available, so sometimes it is a little hard to follow.

    Also for an idea of the City’s Cross Street plans go to http://www.cityofypsilanti.com/services/comm_econ_dev/cross_st_pln for the City’s Cross Street Improvement Plan.

  14. edweird
    Posted October 29, 2006 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Ok, maybe I was being a tad facetious with the “muggings” statement, but having been on campus at night and having drunk frat boys or frat boy wannabes mess with me because I happened to “look weird” wasn’t fun the two occasions I had to deal with it. Security on campus at that time wasn’t very good and apparently, according to Mark, hasn’t changed much in the five years I’ve been away. Maybe EMU could spend that money on better security.

  15. mark
    Posted October 29, 2006 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    My guess is that there’s a battle at the highest levels the University as to what they should be doing relative to the city. I suspect that there are some that genuinely want to build stronger links with the city, believing that the two can move forward together. I know that there must be others, however, that think the city of Ypsilanti is, on the whole, a negative for the University, and always will be. Those people, I suspect, are the ones most in favor of project such as these which effectively cut the University off from the town.

  16. BVos
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Just a few points of clarification here:

    -The 60 parking spaces that will be lost with College Place closing and Perrin becoming two-way (an unrelated project that will go forward with or without the MDOT grant) will more than be made up at the EMU Psych. clinic lot at with the reconfiguration of the Pease Lot. The Pease Lot will be switched around so that public parking is near Perrin and EMU parking in the interior near College Place.

    -The proposal includes connecting Washtenaw County’s Border 2 Border bike path system through the EMU campus with the block of College Place that will become a pedestrian mall being the link to W. Cross St. Right now there is no bike path connection from Huron River Drive through the EMU campus or to Cross St. This will complete a missing piece of the B2B trail system in Ypsi.

  17. ol' e cross
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    If I’m allowed to drive my go-kart on the bike path, then I’m back on board.

  18. ol' e cross
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    If I’m allowed to drive my go-kart on the bike path, then I’m back on board.

  19. Dave
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mark:
    You are a cunt.
    Cheers!

  20. mark
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Higbee, is he talking about me or you?

    Of course, I suppose it’s possible that we’re both cunts.

  21. Posted November 29, 2007 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I didn’t know that we were allowed to call each other names. This make this blog much more fun.

    Dave, you are a nebbish.

    Ol’ E is a …….

    Oh, I feel better already,

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  22. Robert
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    “Allowed” to call each other names? I thought it was the whole point of these blogs.

  23. Mark H.
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I don’t know which of us this “Dave” is calling names. And i don’t know who this “Dave” is. I have a couple of guesses, and they all work or used to work at EMU, but i’ll not guess here. I think it’s clear that “Dave” is a person without honor.

    If someone wanted to call Mark Maynard names on markmaynard.com, there are a lot of places to do so — why go to a year old posting to do it? So i fear that it is me that is being called this name.

    I suspect that “Dave” means the C-word in a viscious kind of way. Maybe I am misreading the text here – i am a historian, not a literary analyst — but it does not seem to be used as an endearment, does it? Anybody have an alternate reading? Do i have a secret admirer – or does Mark M – out there in markmaynard.com land? Is there any way to read this as a friendly comment? I guess not….

    But lots and lots of better and far people than me have been called “cunt” thru out the ages, so I’m gonna take it as a kind of compliment: To be insulted in such a base way, by someone who apparently hasn’t the brains or courage to state their actual objections, is no insult at all.

    It’s kinda like being on Nixon’s enemy list — good company to be in. No doubt “Dave” has huge problems in his professional and personal life, and i have nothing but sympathy for him. Perhaps someday he will be able to reason and articulate thoughts. This 5th grade name calling habit of his is probably a real bore to everyone who knows him.

    Excuse me for going on so long.

  24. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    “Ol’ E is a …….”

    Let’s see, seven dots, seven letters wait, I’m good at hangman, what’s a seven letter derogatory term? Mother… No…Shi… no, that’s eight. Pri… no. Wait! I got it! Asswipe! Yes. That’s it. Asswipe!

    It’s okay, I admit it. You can say it. I am an asswipe.

    Sadly, so much these days seems to come down to whether you’re an asswiper or a “……-…….-….-….-…..-…….-…..-…”

    I am flattered that you thought of me. (smile, wink.)

  25. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    “Ol’ E is a …….”

    Let’s see, seven dots, seven letters wait, I’m good at hangman, what’s a seven letter derogatory term? Mother… No…Shi… no, that’s eight. Pri… no. Wait! I got it! Asswipe! Yes. That’s it. Asswipe!

    It’s okay, I admit it. You can say it. I am an asswipe.

    Sadly, so much these days seems to come down to whether you’re an asswiper or a “……-…….-….-….-…..-…….-…..-…”

    I am flattered that you thought of me. (smile, wink.)

  26. Mark H.
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    i left out the word “better” after “far” in the 2nd to last paragraph above. (“Too lazy to edit himself right the first time…what a C—!”)

  27. Robert
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Ol’ E Cross, I was guessing C-U-P-C-A-K-E.

  28. Posted November 30, 2007 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Ol’ E, the seven dots were a result of me falling asleep and my nose coming rest on the keyboard. I woke back up when the computer starting beeping because the keyboard buffer was full, (these old IBM AT’s just don’t have a very big keyboard buffer).

    Lets see ……… WAKE UP! oh yeah, Dave is … Dave is … I go it!

    Dave is a shmekel.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

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