Ann Arbor to millennials… “We hear you like trains and tall buildings. How many of each do we need before you’ll look beyond our sexism and homophobia and move here?”

I was hoping that this kind of thing had died with the career of Richard Florida

millenialsA2

I understand that it’s well intentioned, and I don’t disagree that Michigan needs to find a way to keep bright, innovative young people in the state. With that said, though, this reeks of desperation. And it brings back painful memories of that time when Jennifer Granholm, after hearing someone speak about the importance of the “creative class” at a meeting of the National Governors Association or something, got the bright idea to start labeling a good number of our failing cities as “Cool”, in hopes that maybe some percentage of 20-something professionals would suddenly stop moving to Chicago because of it. As though a banner pronouncing a place to be “cool” was enough to make it so. And it depresses me to learn that Ann Arbor is now seeking “expert advice” on how to be more attractive to this same elusive class of people, who, if we could just keep them here after graduation, would magically make everything better. It brings to mind images of sad and lonely men paying to attend lectures on how to “pickup hot young women” by employing tricks, rather than dealing with the more substantive underlying issues. If this is what it takes to make the increasingly conservative old guard in Ann Arbor invest in mass transit and allow greater downtown density, I guess I can stomach it, but it’s painful to watch old white men, like myself, saying things like, “(these millennials) want to live in tall buildings,” as though these mythical beings can only exist a certain number of feet above sea level. It’s like they’re describing newly-discovered animals of a different species.

With all of that said, though, you don’t have to be a certified expert in millennial psychology to see which way the wind is blowing… If you’re young, you want to live in a community where there’s mass transit and density. You want an opportunity to earn a decent living. You want to live in a place with a critical mass of people your own age, so that you might be able to find potential partners. And you want to be in a community where interesting things are happening. All of that is true. It’s also true, however, that you likely want to live in a community where you feel as though you’re respected, and your contributions are appreciated. So, yes, by all means, push for more public transit, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that trains alone will bring an army of young entrepreneurs into a state where gays are constantly under attack, the rights of workers are being systematically dismantled, and women are seeing their reproductive rights systematically rolled back. In short, all the trains in the world can’t make someone forget that they’re living in a state where they need to purchase rape insurance… So, by all means, go out and buy that new skinny suit, grow some ironic facial hair, and memorize a few new pickup lines. Until you improve your personality, though, you’re never going to find love.

[The Ann Arbor News article responsible for this mini rant, can be found here.]

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24 Comments

  1. Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Interesting.

  2. Topher
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I agree with you. I moved back to Michigan (and chose Ann Arbor) after living in several large urban cities because of the interesting things happening in the community, the opportunity to get a job where I could grow and sustain myself, and to live in a community that believes in the same ideals as me. As you’ve pointed out, the last few years in MI have brought about some legislation that’s been a bit frightening to me (the anti-gay and ant-choice being two of them). As someone who left Michigan right after college, I wanted to get away from these homophobic, religiously conservative ideals, and I wonder if many college students think this way as well.

  3. Phelps
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    We pay economic development professionals and consultants enormous amounts of money to tell us how to look more appealing to millennials without addressing more substantive issues, as though these young people are too dumb to know what’s really going on. It’s a joke.

  4. Robert
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Building upwards instead of sprawling outwards is always a good strategy. Having population density for a thriving downtown is essential.

    However, trains and other inter-city mass transit are not only not needed in this particular case, but would actually compound Ann Arbor’s problems and create new ones. Transportation funds should all be put toward transforming the Intra-city infrastructure to energy-independence and more environmentally sound systems. That’s what the “creative class” is drawn to. For people who commute to work in Detroit (or simply like to visit frequently), modern, clean, express buses would be much better than trains in almost every aspect. The same goes for the 23 corridor. It should be very troubling to all of us that much of local and state leadership does not understand this, as it should be very apparent to anyone with even a minimal understanding of the circumstances.

    It has been Ann Arbor’s status as a short-term home to people from all corners of the country and world which has fueled its unique appeal among Michigan cities. A certain degree of isolation from the rest of the state has been a part of its success as well, regardless of whether or not anyone likes to admit it. Eroding these things would not serve the city well.

    Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County should work to be at the forefront of alternative energy technology, energy independence, and energy efficiency. The relatively small size of the city places Ann Arbor in a good position to make great strides and set the standard for other, larger cities to work toward.

    Striving to be a boom-town is best left to Detroit and other cities which experienced significant collapse in the past and have the room to recover. Cities like Ann Arbor need to focus on making the most of their advantages and instead strive to be a cutting-edge town.

  5. Posted January 18, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I just loathe the term “young professionals” for reasons I don’t know if I can explain. There is just something elitist about it.

    And Mark, the analogy with the desperate old white guys who have never had a blowjob writing books about “picking up” women is spot on. It smacks of desperation and makes me want to both laugh hysterically and blow my brains out at the same time. As Robert says above, we need to focus on what we already have. Personally, I think we have a great sense of community but I guess folks would rather tall buildings than the wonderful feeling of running into people you know when you are dragging your ass around the farmers’ market in your sweats and sweaty frozen hair. I love it here for that very reason–I know that when I look my skankiest, I will run into at least two people I know and THAT IS AWESOME! (I’m being serious by the way…I grew up in a suburb where you didn’t know anyone. My mom has lived in the house since 1973 and doesn’t know her neighbors).

  6. anonymous
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Ann Arbor has a problem and they know it. It’s a retirement community in the making. They’ve squeezed the life out if the town drip by drip since 1964, and now they’re wondering why young people with ideas would rather be in Portland where they’re actually appreciated.

  7. anonymous
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Ann Arbor, however, is increasingly attractive to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. I believe that if we let these types of people guide us, we can’t go wrong.

  8. Posted January 18, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The comments are fascinating.

  9. Zaxxon
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    michigan can’t keep it’s millennials because this place is a shithole.

    if you add better mass transit and more density to michigan, you end up with a shithole with better mass transit and more density.

  10. Posted January 18, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s obvious that Michigan can’t keep anyone because their is no employment here.

  11. Posted January 18, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to make the case that Michigan is a shithole. This is my home. I’ve chosen to raise my family here. And there’s a lot to love about it. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t a ton of work to be done. My point in making this post was that it’s silly to say that millennials, or anyone for that matter, want to “live in tall buildings.” To do so is to ignore the million and one things that factor into the “where should I live” equation. And, in my opinion, all the tall buildings in the world won’t make up for a state pushing rape insurance. Our priorities, in other words are wrong. If we want to attract smart people, we need to legislate like smart people. We need to treat people fairly. And we need to want people here not just because they’ll pay taxes, but because we actually value their contributions.

  12. EOS
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    You’re projecting. Most millennials are Pro-Life.

  13. Posted January 18, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I have just made another contribution to the National Network of Abortion Funds.

    Thanks, EOS!

  14. Jcp2
    Posted January 19, 2014 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    EOS is not wrong. 63% of millenials are pro-life while 77% are pro-choice.

  15. Posted January 19, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I heard that the Millennials refuse to have sex.

  16. Posted January 19, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I think the staunch opposition to tall builds is a turnoff to millennials more so than the desire for tall building livin’ will lure them (us) to Ann Arbor. It’s not that we want to exclusively want to live in tall buildings, it’s just that we generally favor density to a some degree.

    Also, I don’t think we’re necessarily looking for 24/7 entertainment. The 7 part is right, but the 24 part just makes me feel tired. It’s great to live in a city where there are cool events (Water Hill, FestiFools, Krampus, Kindlefest, etc.) on the regs, but I also think it’s really nice that you can grab a beer after work with your friends at a reasonably quite bar any day of the week.

  17. Posted January 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a big fan of the tall buildings. I might be if they would step them back from the sidewalks and/or widen the sidewalks. Instead they just make pedestrians feel small, lonely, and shaded.

    The rest of your analysis is right on…

  18. Posted January 20, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I’m into the tall buildings. I’m hoping that the extra housing results in a devaluation of rental properties throughout the city.

    Housing has long been a major problem in Ann Arbor. I was priced out of Ann Arbor in the mid 90’s and struggled even before then. And no, moving to Ypsi wasn’t an option at all for me back then, as my expenses wouldn’t have changed at all.

    Cheaper rents (assuming it happens) could go a long way toward attracting people to the city.

  19. double anonymous
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    No self respecting hipster can exist below the tenth floor. Ironic facial hair grows better at higher altitudes.

  20. Tim
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    It’s like the Morlocks and the Eloi in “The Time Machine” by HG Wells. We’re two different species. One live above ground, in the tall buildings. The other is a slave class raised as cattle. Unfortunately I think we’re the Eloi.

  21. Joe Dohm
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Begin sarcasm:

    As a millenial-bot I want the same thing that all other millenial-bots want. Please disregard things that have made communities attractive for generations (good schools, safety, parks, affordability, job availability, community, good government, and culture) and give every one of us (including those of us who grew up on a farm or want large families) a tiny expensive apartment with no parking available.

    end sarcasm.

  22. Posted January 20, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Let’s also not ignore the fact that it can be hard for people with “just” a B.A. to get jobs in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti that in other towns would be very easy to get. It’s not uncommon for a secretary/administrative asst. at UM to have one or two M.A. degrees…that makes it hard to keep people here as well.

  23. Jean Henry
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    My experience with ‘millenials’ has been really heartening. Like all young generations, they have a nose for what is necessary to amend the past. In their case, they have inherited a hot mess and have more limited future security than any generation before. They are planning for a life with less stuff and more engagement. They are actively looking for solutions from a rooted place. They see no future in a world without change. And they are right. They have every right to be furious at us for our sarcasm and disengagement. We dropped the ball and whined the whole time.

    But they don’t seem mad at us, just determined to work on the fix. I think that’s why we degrade them so. We can’t stand their optimism. We begrudge them their belief in positive change. We like to call them ‘entitled’ when in fact they have more debt, less financially secure parents, a shitty job market, pending climate change disruption, and no realistic promise of social security or any government support in old age. They couldn’t even get work as teens. They already know unemployment. We call them ‘hipsters’ because they want a new way– slower coffee, home made food, gardens, DIY, walkable cities, a car free life. We reduce them to their fashion choices and hairstyles like every generation before us. It’s pathetic and sad. They see the future more clearly than us. It is some combination of old and new. They are right. I hope we don’t drum them down. The future is in their hands and that makes me hopeful.

    As to the article, retention matters. There is no point in denying that. Density will allow for a lot of improvements to accessibility in Ann Arbor. The ‘don’t ever change’ folks are simply conservative. They voted down a new library for chrissakes! I would love to see Mark add retention interviews to his exit and entrance pantheon. Why do people stay and commit to this community? What do they envision as its ideal future? That would maybe add a little depth and meaning to this discussion. PS I’d start with Dug Song.

  24. anony
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    well, Jean – all that AND they get to leave.

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