Reflecting on the first five months of On The Ground Ypsi, and the future of this little city of ours

[Ypsi community activist and Southside resident Bryan Foley, seen here in a photo by Doug Coombe taken at Parkridge Community Center, will be on a December 15 panel hosted by On The Ground Ypsilanti about “Ypsi’s rich past, and visions for a vibrant future.”]

Earlier this year, the folks at Issues Media Group, having identified our city as a “news desert,” set out to find a way to bring journalism back to Ypsilanti, and fill the void that had been left by the rapidly constricting Ann Arbor News. And, about six months ago, having secured financial contributions from a handful of local organizations, they hired Brianna Kelly, a freelancer for the Detroit News and Crain’s Detroit Business, who had just moved back to Michigan from Chicago, where she’d worked for the Associated Press, to tackle the project. Kelly, along with Concentrate editor Patric Dunn, then opened a small newsroom at Landline Creative Labs, and launched the online publication On The Ground Ypsi, which, over the past five months, has covered everything from the experiences of local immigrants and the urban gardens of Ypsi’s Kingdom Builders, to Ypsi’s homegrown comic con, Hero Nation and the controversy over International Village.

On December 15, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, the On The Ground Ypsilanti team is going to be hosting an event at Ypsilanti’s Freighthouse, where, one imagines, they’ll be not only reflecting on what they’ve done thus far, but also engaging with members of the community on what they might do in the future, assuming they’re able to, once again, cobble together enough funding to keep the enterprise going. [The event is free and open to the public.]

At some point during the event, I’m going to be on a panel along with community activist Bryan Foley, Ypsi High art teacher Lynne Settles, and EMU’s Decky Alexander, where we’ll all be answering questions posed by former State Representative David Rutledge about both the current state of Ypsi, and where we see things heading… In preparation for the event, On The Ground’s Brianna Kelly reached out to each of us to ask what we thought the strengths of this community were, and what we think might be our greatest challenges and opportunities going forward. You can read all of our responses at the On The Ground Ypsi site, but here’s what I had to say… I think, had I had more time to consider the questions, I might have answered a bit differently, but this should at least give you a sense as to what to expect from me.

What have been some of Ypsi’s greatest strengths as a community?

“Ypsi has a few things going for it. It’s got a sense of place, which I think is more and more unique these days, given the great extent to which places, thanks to the growth of chain stores and restaurants, are beginning to feel the same. I think, when you’re in Ypsi, there’s still a sense that you’re somewhere special and different. It’s not like other small towns of its size where, in exchange for higher rents, they’ve sacrificed their identities. At least we haven’t really done so yet. And, more importantly, I’d say our people are clearly a strength. There’s a strong community here that’s willing to embrace good, new ideas. But, at the same time, there’s also a respect for our shared history, which is important. And I think people are generally kind. It’s a good place to do things. If you have a good idea, I’ve found Ypsi to be a pretty receptive place, and I think that’s a good thing.”

What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee Ypsi having to overcome in the future?

“I think how to grow responsibly, and with a sense of equity, is going to be probably the most difficult thing we face. I think growth is going to happen whether we like it or not. I think the housing market in Ann Arbor, as it continues to price people out, will continue to move people this way. I think we need to be aware of the things that I just mentioned – the sense of place and the community – and work to the best of our ability to protect them. We need to create opportunities for the people who live here. We need good jobs. And we need financial stability. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice our identity or our people, and I think that’s going to be a difficult line to walk as we go forward. But, yeah, I think the battle to keep Ypsilanti open, diverse and interesting is going to dominate the next several years.”

What are your ultimate hopes for Ypsi’s future?

“I hope Ypsilanti continues to be the kind of place where I want to live and raise my family. I hope that it’s able to retain what I love about it, which is why we moved back here. At the same time, however, I think growth is inevitable, and I hope that we find a way to do it so that people aren’t left behind. I’d also like to see more community-wide conversations, in hopes that, collectively, we can come to some kind of consensus about what we want this community of ours to evolve into. And I hope we can evolve in a way that we all feel good about, without sacrificing too much of who we are in the process. I think it’s going to be difficult, though, and I don’t know how many communities have been able to navigate it well. I think clearly Ypsi’s going to grow. I know, from friends looking to buy houses here, that the market is changing rapidly. Prices keep going up and there aren’t really very many empty storefronts anymore. And it feels like we might be losing control over the direction in which things are headed. So my hope is that we can find a way to guide things in a direction that we can not only be happy about, but be proud of.”

[Be warned… If you follow the link above in search of the article about the event, there’s a chance that you will see a super goofy photo of me, which never should have seen the light of day. All I can say in my defense is that I was probably a little more casual about the photo shoot than I should have been, given that I’m friends with Doug Coombe, the photographer who took the photos. I can assure you, though, I will never curl up on a couch like a “sexy cat” again just because a photographer tells me to.]

OK, so here’s the reason I posted this… If you have the time and interest, I’d love to know your answers to these three questions in bold, as I think it would help me to know what others are thinking before I sit down to participate on this panel… Thanks… And do come out on the 15th. It would be good to see you in person.

This entry was posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

7 Comments

  1. anonymous
    Posted December 8, 2017 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    “What are your ultimate hopes for Ypsi’s future?”

    You’d better be prepared to talk about Water Street as you know it will come up.

  2. Doug Coombe
    Posted December 8, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The paintings in the background of this photo are by Washington Lee Osler who put out the classic “Back to Ypsilanti” 45.

  3. Eel
    Posted December 8, 2017 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    No offense, but this is a terrible Sexy Cat. To do the Sexy Cat correctly, one has to be photographed in the act of grooming, coyly liking the back of one’s hand, and using it to put one’s hair in place. I don’t blame you, as you’re an amateur, but Doug should know better.

  4. Tim
    Posted December 8, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Greatest assets.

    Proximity to the highway
    Proximity to the airport
    Proximity to Ann Arbor
    Affordable rent
    Water Street
    Washtenaw International High School
    American Center for Mobility

  5. Leah
    Posted December 11, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Bryan really nails it. What makes Ypsi great is that it’s a unique, interesting place to live/work/play, with a diverse population (or populations), a sense of local history and openness to new businesses and ideas. And we stand to lose exactly those things as we grow and start to prosper more economically as people get pushed out of Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor looks like so many cities that expand and lose all sense of personality. Royal Oak in the 90s was awesome and funky, with it’s three anchor stores being Joe’s Army Navy, Noir Leather and a vintage shop called Cinderella’s Attic. In the aughts, this was replaced by chain restaurants and stores and expensive condos that looked like towering, ugly tetris games because you can squeeze the maximum amount of money out of a building’s footprint by making it a giant cube. When people say that Ypsi reminds them of Ann Arbor in the 70s (or 80s, or 90s), it makes me nervous because I don’t want to live someplace like what Ann Arbor’s turned into. And the irony is, I would benefit economically from that future! As an educated white person who’s raising a family and has aspirations to be upper-middle class, that future represents everything that I’m told I “should” want. But ugh, how boring!! I’m not an artist, an entrepreneur, a religious/cultural/racial minority, or someone with a particularly unique perspective, but I want to live someplace where those people can thrive. Their creativity benefits all of us and makes this a more interesting and vibrant place to live, and losing those people to rising rents would truly ring the death knell for our little town.

  6. Gretchen Forshay
    Posted December 11, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I found the Facebook event.

    https://www.facebook.com/events/152337055391732

  7. kjc
    Posted December 11, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    “I’m not concerned with what people call all the kinds of gentrification because even though Ann Arbor is so expensive I think to have a multi-economic class in the city is a good thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I don’t think it prices one group out just to have another wealthier economic group, and it’s still not that wealthy. It’s still like a middle-class economic group, so I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But Ann Arbor is so expensive and that impacts Ypsi.”

    this kind of thinking (?) is one of our challenges.

One Trackback

  1. By On The Ground Ypsi panel on the future of Ypsilanti on December 16, 2017 at 10:12 am

    […] those of you who weren’t able to trudge across the frozen tundra to attend last night’s On The Ground Ypsi panel on the future of Ypsilanti, where former State Representative David Rutledge asked questions of Lynne Settles, Bryan Foley, […]

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