Daniel Burnham on civic duty

I had a completely depressing meeting this evening on the subject of Ypsilanti’s financial situation. Sadly, that’s all that I can tell you about it at the moment. I did, however, want to share this quote, which Linette greeted me with upon my return home. It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time… I don’t know how much I can really help, as many of Ypsilanti’s problems appear to be intractable, but, tonight, as I’m sitting here, reading about Daniel Hudson Burnham, I’m inspired to at least try as best that I can.

Burnham, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, is the architect credited with directing the construction of the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893, designing the first skyscrapers, and pretty much giving rise to the entire profession of urban planning. In addition to saying, “To love one’s city, and have a part in its advancement and improvement, is the highest privilege and duty of a citizen,” he’s also credited with having said, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

So, with that as our inspiration, let’s revisit the subject of what we’d like to see take shape on Water Street, shall we? And let’s stir some blood.

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26 Comments

  1. dragon
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    I say we divide water street into 1.65 million different square foot parcels and sell them for 5 dollars each (I will buy one and put up a sign simply stating “ypsi sucks”.) Then we get the Bank of Ypsi Counsel to sell credit default swaps for pennies on the dollar to ‘protect’ my investmen(Priced at 10 cents/square foot). I then realize what a great deal that is and purchase the whole lot for 8.25 million and buy the insurance for 825 thousand and Bingo, Water Street is to big to fail. The bank of Ypsi counsel then gets a state approved bail out to cover the loss.
    Yes, I take a big hit. But I save Ypsi.
    I’m a hero, just like Mr. Beal, who hires guys from the Home Depot parking lot.

  2. Posted October 26, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    dragon’s plan has a far greater chance of success than the Mayor and tail-between-his-legs City Manager’s “because we haven’t yet taxed you enough” plan – I say we go with it.

  3. Edward
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    How about a giant blood-stirring plant?

    Seriously, what I’d like to see there is something innovative and inspiring, like a community owned wind turbine company. It’s a pipe dream, but you said to think big.

  4. Mr. X
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    If you’ll recall, the great Chicago fire was in 1871. It was extremely destructive. But the city rebuilt. And, in1893, when the Columbian Exposition was held, the world took notice of that fact that Chicago had been reborn. Perhaps there’s a lesson there to be learned by the people of Detroit and Ypsilanti. Maybe Ypsi should use the Water Street property for a big event, along the lines of the Columbian Exposition next spring, demonstrating its rebirth.

  5. kjc
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    do it Dragon. then we’ll celebrate you as a person.

    personally i’m gonna vote for obama, who pisses me off, and higher taxes, which probably will too.

  6. Brainless
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I wanna know how it is that Mark is having secret Ypsi budget meetings. What gives?

  7. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Mark lives in the 3rd ward. You’ve never heard of the secret 3rd ward meetings at the tap room?

  8. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    And yea, we’re pretty screwed budget wise. Its pretty terrifying when you start digging into the numbers. That’s just one of the reasons I want to see council take positive actions, such as re-tasking the DDA, improving customer service, and examining long term structural costs, not just proposing more taxes, fees and cuts. We need to attack the problem from all angles.

    As for Water Street, I really, really want to see the Recreation Center deal done. Yes, we surrender the taxable value of the land its built on, but that has no value as it stands now, and hasn’t since the city bought it. It has no realistic prospects for having taxable value, as the most recent interested party for Water Street, a student housing company, is looking elsewhere. (The fact that we need more student housing like we need another Water Street is a whole other story)

    As for location, I say give them the NW corner. Its the least valuable, most difficult to build on due to the Michigan Bridge of all the Michigan Ave frontage. It can’t even have a Michigan Ave entrance (again due to the bridge) so it would have to be entered from River St. and Parsons, which the county says they will at least help build, along with running utilities. The SE corner does have some advantages when it comes to helping to revitalize existing neighborhoods, but anything built there would have 6 or so acres of vacant land sitting in front of it. The Recreation Center, even though its county owned, is still operated as a business. Would you locate your business at the back of a lot with a vacant field in front of it? The NE corner won’t fly with County Parks and Rec, they want to be on the River. There is also the obvious; all of Water Street is worthless as long as no one wants it, and WCPR is the only group that wants it. The suggestion that a Rec Center doesn’t fit in with “an urban, downtown feel” is laughable, not only because many Rec Centers exist in dense cities, but because half of our downtown is currently vacant. Should we make half the Rec Center vacant too, so it fits in?

    Washtenaw County is trying to help us out here. They want to spend a ton of money doing things that will improve downtown, like connecting us to the B2B trail, improving city parks, giving a city that doesn’t even have a recreation department a world class rec center, building infrastructure on Water Street and trying to help draw other development. This isn’t a trap, they aren’t trying to rob us. They are trying to take something we have that is not only worthless, but is bankrupting us, and turn it into something useful. We need this. Its the best, most realistic shot we’ve got to reverse the trend on Water Street and in Ypsilanti.

    No, we can’t say for sure that building a Recreation Center will spur other development, or that the people it brings in will patronize local business, but there is a good chance of it happening. What if the rec center deal gets done and other, private entities decide that make buying a chunk of Water Street make sense? Suddenly the whole debt picture looks a whole lot different, doesn’t it?

  9. gary
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    every time i read something new by andy i get a worse impression of ypsilanti than i had before (if that’s possible). if i didn’t have a lease through august of next year i’d leave this shit hole for some place nice like highland park or gary, indiana.

  10. Oliva
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Mr. X, yes, yes. And I hope you and Mark and other powerhouses with great energy and strong minds/hearts will keep dreaming of what this big thing will be. Meantime, how to figure out the bloody/bleeding way (hopefully w/o real blood, more like thumping hearts) to raise funds to show we have it in us? Can we give money w/o being taxed and possibly have it be enough? Can we come up with clever ways to share more and spend less and put that money toward keeping our police and firefighters and other essential people and services? Pull through this and be a model for the future? (I wish I had specific ideas, will keep thinking.)

    I’ve been listening to a really wise Canadian psychologist who wrote a book called The Globalization of Addiction, who, like the people joining forces to Occupy Wall Street and Beyond, sees the sick, sorry effects of “unbridled capitalism,” though he personally “likes capitalism” (hmmm–why?! doesn’t explain that)–finds the unbridled version that we currently are afflicted with as a beast that fosters a sense of “dislocation,” creating stress and misery, aching spirits, among way too many people and feels sure it won’t and can’t continue. Doesn’t propose any specific solutions, alas, but he calls for greater connectedness among us, something that Ypsilanti has, way better than gold. He studied different civilizations, compares present-day countries, to make his analysis, among other things. Is presently writing a trade version of the book–the published one is academic in style and not so accessible and is a bit pricey. There are several good interviews available at his site: globalizationofaddiction.com. He speaks in the Living Hero interview there quite movingly about MLK and the mountaintop speech and organized labor and our role as members of shared society–it’s pretty wonderful. (Talks of addiction to money and how powerful those who have this addiction are and what damage they do, among other kinds of addiction.)

    And thank you, Linette, through Mark, for the wonderful, reenergizing Burnham quotation. Time to create something astoundingly good out of our fiscal distress. We have the gifted people and the connectedness and care. Now to think up just what . . .

  11. kjc
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    “The SE corner does have some advantages when it comes to helping to revitalize existing neighborhoods, but anything built there would have 6 or so acres of vacant land sitting in front of it.”

    right. i don’t get why anyone would want that.

    “The suggestion that a Rec Center doesn’t fit in with “an urban, downtown feel” is laughable, not only because many Rec Centers exist in dense cities, but because half of our downtown is currently vacant.”

    another thing i don’t get. what’s not urban about it? i keep seeing this concern repeated over and over. i don’t understand.

  12. Star Child
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    How bout a giant bake sale… or get Iggy Pop to headline a concert and call it Ypsi-Aid…

  13. Eel
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for coming back to the site, Oliva. Your sweetness and sincerity has been missed.

    As for Water Street, I don’t know that I have any ideas worthy of sharing in a post with a photo of Daniel Burnham at the top. That’s intimidating. One hundred and twenty years after the fact, the impact of the World’s Fair in Chicago still resonates. While I like the idea of Ypsi trying to do something similar on the spot, and announcing to the world that we’re still alive and fighting back, I have no idea how something like that would be done without money.

    As for a bake sale, it would be great to set up a table in the middle of the Water Street property, with lots of big signs, and about 30 cakes. People wouldn’t know until they approached the table, however, that they’re all priced at $1 million each.

    No, I’m afraid that a traditional bake sale wouldn’t even put a dent in our bill. What we need is to sell 30 kilos of cocaine.

  14. j
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    “another thing i don’t get. what’s not urban about it? i keep seeing this concern repeated over and over. i don’t understand.”

    It completely depends upon the design. They keep using the Meri Lou Murray Rec Center as an example and that is definitely a suburban design. An urban design needs to have the building (preferably multistory) up against the sidewalk with parking in rear, effectively extending downtown across the bridge rather than extending the Fischer Honda parking lot across the street. If we just get another parking lot on Michigan Ave we run the risk of cutting the rest of Water Street off from downtown making it even less attractive; just another vacant lot on Michigan Ave. The goal should be to tie it into downtown, not extend the township parking lots into the center of the city.

    Regardless, even a screwed up county rec center is better than what is there now.

    Offtopic: Probably bad news, the Wolverine is for sale: http://www.therealtytour.com/property/228-W-Michigan-Ave-Ypsilanti-TWP-Michigan

  15. TeacherPatti
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Hey Brainless and Oliva–nice to see you back :)

  16. K2
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    We should put this quote on a banner in town somewhere. (It would be 1000x better than the ones declaring Ypsi a “hip” and “cool” place to be.) If we’re going to make it though this crisis, we’re all going to have to pull together.

  17. kjc
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    thanks j. i thought those particular design specifications were already part of the County’s plan.

  18. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    “thanks j. i thought those particular design specifications were already part of the County’s plan.”

    They are part of the county’s plan. The building would look more like the A2 or Detroit YMCA (The A2 one, with its first floor parking area would be a better fit, seeing as how we’re talking about a flood plane area here) It would have a somewhat smaller footprint that the Merri Lou Murry center, but a larger parking lot is envisioned to the rear. They don’t have the building with a “0” setback, the rough plan the county has presented includes a small plaza area at the street, I think in part because the street is higher than the property at that point. The county would also like to include a play area and B2B Trail head at the back of the property, behind the parking lot. No, that’s not that dense, but last time I checked, green spaces were desired in dense urban areas because they break up the monotony and offer an escape from the concrete. The county intends to connect the area to Riverside Park, build ball fields at Waterworks, and connect to Ford Lake Park, making us an integral part of the B2B trail, instead of a big hole in it.

  19. j
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Anyone have a link to the county’s plan? My google fu does not seem to be strong enough.

  20. Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    The county does not yet have a plan. They have vague concepts, and they stated at Council that they would expect to take 1 to 2 years to develop a plan and take it through the pre-development process after an initial agreement with the city.

    I’m one of those who thought their initial presentation to the city sounded “not urban enough”. They described a building set back 50 to 100 feet from the Michigan Avenue sidewalk, with lawn and landscaping in between. No matter what the building itself looks like, that layout is anti-urban, and anti-pedestrian–and it means you’re taking up 1/2 to 1 acre of land just to provide a “front lawn” in front of the building. Sorry, but I’d like to see Water Street eventually used for more useful, and more lucrative, things than acres of front lawn.

    The other problematic component I heard in the WCPARC presentation to Council was the parking–the County said they wanted to build more parking at this site than they had at Mari Lou Murray, even though they expect a good share of visitors to this site to come by bus, bike, and foot. Excessive parking is a bug, not a feature, especially in an urban context, and especially when taxable value (of the whole site, in aggregate, in the long run) is an interest.

    Fortunately, I don’t think these are insurmountable issues–and the County’s representative at last week’s work session with City Council said that they wanted to work with the City to find a facility, a site layout, and, yes, even a location that met everybody’s interests.

    Let’s make sure that we’re not creating take-it-or-leave-it situations on this site where they don’t exist in real life. This is an opportunity to work together to get a good outcome for everyone, not attack each other.

  21. gary
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    it sounds like andy knows what’s going on with this project and murph is far out of the loop.

    thanks for staying on top of this andy and pointing out the mistakes people are making!

  22. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    They don’t have a site plan, but they have some pretty convincing rough plans.
    I tend to agree with Murph on the parking issue. I don’t really see a need for 250 spaces if we are in a downtown environment. Using other nearby lots or providing for street parking would be far better. I disagree with him about the setback. I don’t remember them talking about landscaping, other than what you would normally find around a public building. I do specifically remember them talking about a public plaza that could be used as a gathering place, similar to the one between the library and B-52’s, including seating areas and maybe even a water feature. The presentation and rough plan can be found in the 10/18/11 council packet. I’ll provide a link below, but I’ve not had much luck linking directly to a council packet in the past.

  23. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    http://cityofypsilanti.com/bd_city-council/Council%20Meeting%20Packets/2011%20Packets/10-18-11_council_packet

  24. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Again, Murph is correct that there is no site plan, only rough concepts, and much of it would need to be revised with city and public input. However, outside of a few minor tweaks like parking, I like the overall plan. The open park land could maybe be scaled back, but I think its vital to put a B2B trail head on the site near the Recreation Center and near downtown (read: not in Waterworks Park) If the county can come through with the a connection to Ford Lake Park and a connection to Riverside, getting the trail off Ypsi’s surface streets, this could be a big feature.. The B2B already runs the length of Eastern’s Campus, all the way to the President’s house and Athletic complex, through St. Joe’s Campus, WCCC’s campus, and out to the River and on to Ann Arbor, and being an official trail head could bring a lot of visitors to downtown. Can you imagine how an interconnected linear park system along the Huron that runs from Factory St. to Forrest Ave would change the face of the city?

    In retrospect, this gives a whole different slant to that vote council took about giving priority to Rutherford Pool vs the Water Street/Riverside pedestrian bridge. Given that council knew about WCPR’s desire to build a Recreation Center on Water Street at the time (it didn’t become public for a couple weeks after that), I think it demonstrates an appalling lack of vision on council’s part. Again, I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think there is serious value in Rutherford Pool, there is. I just think that in a city in the dire situation we are in, you ALWAYS choose to support the project that has the most potential economic gain for the city. That’s just common sense.

  25. gary
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    i can picture hundreds of people working out at a rec center and then taking the b2b trail through riverside park to woodruff’s to hear local music.

  26. kko
    Posted October 31, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Is that crap at the top of the screen?

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