Ann Arbor’s proposed “Ambassador” program, while laughably stupid, is the best thing to happen in Ann Arbor in a long, long time

mmambassador

I realize that the Ann Arbor DDA’s uniformly mocked “Ambassador” program is likely going to die on the vine, given the overwhelming backlash that we saw last week, but I refuse to just let it go. This is the first spark of life I’ve seen in Ann Arbor in a long, long time, and I’m not willing to just walk away from the glowing embers. This is a conversation that Ann Arbor has been needing to have for well over a decade, and, while I’ve taken some pleasure in mocking the Ann Arbor DDA for suggesting that we collectively hire a platoon of smiling, paid “ambassadors” to travel across the city on Segways, opening doors for the well-to-do, removing show flyers from light poles, and ensuring, among other things, that “street people” don’t interfere with commerce, I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for sparking a real, substantive debate over the future of Ann Arbor. As someone who has been ranting about the increased “mallification” of downtown Ann Arbor for some time, it makes me incredibly happy to see the people of Ann Arbor rising up, pretty much unanimously, agains the DDA, and clearly articulating that they value authenticity, community and sense of place over sterile corporate blandness. I suspect, when we look back in years to come, we’ll see this as a defining moment in the local culture wars… and I am proud of my friends in Ann Arbor for making it happen, and demanding that their voices be heard above those of a few influential business owners.

My advice to you, if you’re reading this in Ann Arbor, is not to let this opportunity pass. Demand a seat at the table. Propose a series of open meetings on the future of Ann Arbor. Make it a point to attend all of the meetings of the DDA. And keep this momentum going, even if the DDA backs down on the Ambassador program… because, you can be sure that, if you don’t, it’ll come back in some other form. Given what I’ve heard, if the DDA does back down, they won’t necessarily be doing so because they feel as though the idea itself is bad, but because it’s been brought to their attention that Block By Block, the Lexington-based vendor that they’ve been working with on this, is pretty much toxic. (Block By Block is a “faith-based” private security firm with a history of union busting, among other things.) In other words, if the DDA backs down, I wouldn’t take it as a sign that they’ve come to see mallification as a bad thing. I believe it’s probably more likely that they just realized that Block By Block is the wrong vendor, given the politics of Ann Arbor.

The image at the top of the page, by they way, was something I posted to Facebook yesterday, and it resulted in one of the more epic social media threads of all time, as dozens of people came out of the woodwork to offer their ideas as to how the Ambassador program could be undermined if the DDA, despite the public outcry, moved forward toward implementation. If I have time later, I’ll try to post some screen captures in the comments section. In the meantime, here’s a little something from 1972 unearthed by our friend Edward Vielmetti.

psychrangers

Yes, apparently there was a time in Ann Arbor’s past when it wasn’t the wealthy business owners pushing for their own private security force, but the young people of Ann Arbor, who wanted to replace the cops with their own “Psychedelic Rangers.” One wonders how the DDA might respond to a counterproposal, suggesting that the $900,000 they were planning to hand over to Block By Block be instead given to John Sinclair to bring back the Rangers.

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28 Comments

  1. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Screen shot 2015-01-25 at 10.04.21 AM

  2. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I hope it’s alright if I don’t block out your names and faces. I don’t have a lot of time… I’ll try to just share my comments, but some of the things you folks said need to be shared.

  3. Come On
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    “This is the first spark of life I’ve seen in Ann Arbor for a long, long time…”

    Whatever Mark. You’ve been willfully ignoring anything that doesn’t fit your curmudgeonly negative Ann Arbor narrative for years.

  4. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:18 am | Permalink

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  5. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

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  6. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink

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  7. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:21 am | Permalink

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  8. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

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  9. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Not at all true, Come On. There’s a lot that I like about Ann Arbor and I write about it. Read my interviews with the folks at Vault of Midnight, Argus Farm Stop, the Aquarium Gallery, Small and Mighty, Pot and Box, Zingerman/s, etc. I say lots of good stuff. You just don’t hear it. And I didn’t say that this is the only good thing to happen in Ann Arbor. I said that this is the first time I’ve seen the Ann Arbor community rise up in unified fashion to demand that they be heard about their downtown. And I think that’s great.

  10. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Screen shot 2015-01-25 at 10.13.21 AM

  11. Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Come On, I’m also the Dean of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation… not exactly the kind of position someone would take who hates Ann Arbor, right?

    My problem with Ann Arbor isn’t that I don’t like it. It’s that I like it too much. And I don’t want to see it fade away and become irrelevant.

    I will be awaiting your response.

  12. MJ
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Ive been thinking the same thing since this whole thing started. When nearly every shop on State Street was facade’d over with a new shitty chain, followed by radio silence from the locals, i was like- wow, people in A2 actually don’t give a SHIT anymore. Nice to see you still care about “keeping ann arbor funky”, whatever the hell that means. now how about you go back and retro-protest 5 guys, walgreens, 7-11, noodles and company, potbellies, cvs, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

  13. dirtgrain
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    In the late ’70s, a boy in our neighborhood (area around Frazier’s Pub) organized the Moonriders, which involved kids on bikes, at night, getting in front of a car driving down Brockman Boulevard, pedaling at a slow roll, and dropping our drawers. A few moments of the shining moons in the headlights and then the Moonriders would haul ass and get away. This is how people used to be welcomed to Ann Arbor. This was real. Bring back the Moonriders.

  14. Posted January 25, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I want to organize a big protest in Ann Arbor just to carry a “Bring Back The Moonriders” banner.

    It’s our, “Remember the Alamo.”

  15. anonymous
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Word is that Arwulf was a Psychedelic Ranger.

  16. Jim
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    The News agrees: http://www.mlive.com/opinion/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/01/editorial_ann_arbor_dda_downto.html

  17. Eel
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    When you’ve gone so far to the right that the Ann Arbor News has a problem, that’s not a good thing.

  18. Elizabeth Hurwitz
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    The next meeting per an email I received yesterday from Susan P. Of the DDA is 2/4/15 at noon at the DDA office. She assured me that the robot ambassadors were on the agenda. I still think we should get media stuff going on this issue, if it passes. Crime downtown has gone down not up in recent years. No justification for handing nearly a million dollars of taxpayer money to some right wing union busting corporation.

  19. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I really like what Edward sent in about the Psychedelic Rangers and especially that they met in “The Peoples Ballroom” in the “Washington Street Community Center”. A modern day reincarnation of “The Peoples Ballroom” would be great as a place for bands to play, community groups to meet and other true community activism. Found this about it too, with commentary from Arwulf – http://mondodyne.com/a2observer/peoplesballroom.shtml

  20. Posted January 25, 2015 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    The following just came in from Val Tomich:

    “I think that Ypsi could have its own ambassador program and it could be staffed by people wearing this amazing t-shirt that I got from a unique guy named Brady at Cross Street Station in the 1990s. I am certain that the shirts would be a big hit and could be paired with an appropriately Ypsi-ish plan for greeting people.”

    sortaloveypsi

  21. dot dot dash
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Arwulf was indeed a Psychedelic Ranger. Here’s audio of him talking about it.

    http://www.sensoryresearch.net/thoughtconduit/archive?id=658

  22. TheBigPicture
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I hope it happens for the pure comedy value alone. I predict the relentless mocking would end the ambassadorships in less than two months. I personally plan to spend my lunch hours following an ambassador around while imitating Marshawn Lynch celebrating a touchdown (google it if you don’t know) I’M GOING BEAST MODE BABY!

  23. DDA's Keith Orr by proxy
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    One of my proudest ‘no’ votes. Any final contract will need to be voted on again. I think they’re are others who could change their mind. Public commentary is having an effect. Emails and other correspondence to the DDA are being shared with the board, so keep those cards and letters coming.

  24. Mr. X
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Do yo think certain members of the DDA might be motivated to vote the right way if there was talk of boycotting their businesses over this?

  25. Elizabeth Hurwitz
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    The idea that we have to choose between the “lesser of two evils” — e.g. agree to the faux cop Ambassador program, or else the law and order segment of the Ann Arbor City Council will cave and put more foot patrols of the AAPD in the downtown area of our city, is totally wrong. FIRST THINGS FIRST. Show us the crime problem that justifies EITHER program. FACT: Crime rates have steadily decreased in Ann Arbor in the past few years. There’s no basis for either program. Now, if you wanna discuss the “soft rationale” for more cops and more Grand Inquisitors roaming the sidewalks, inquiring as to a person’s legitimate reason to be shopping or walking in the downtown area— well — then ya got another sort of discussion started. An important discussion. But don’t try and say we need either of these programs because of “rising crime”. That’s just not happening.

  26. Elizabeth Hurwitz
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    The next DDA meeting is: Wed, Feb 4th at 12noon at the DDA office, 150 S. Fifth Ave, 3rd floor.

  27. stupid hick
    Posted March 27, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Video shows Berkeley homeless man attacked by ‘hospitality ambassador’

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/27/berkeley-homeless-man-attacked-video

    Ambassador beats homeless man, homeless man gets arrested and charged with battery, accepts plea bargain, then video surfaces. Ambassador fired, DA office to review outcome.

  28. Posted March 28, 2015 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Mr. Hick. I just posted about this.

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