Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Redford Rambles Intro

Since I’m going to be spending a lot of time in Redford around the holidays, I thought I’d do a series called REDFORD RAMBLES. My mother has this dream that someday I’ll buy one of the (extremely cheap) houses on their block and we’ll live harmoniously a few yards away from each other. Now, that would be cool, but it begs the question: what could compel me to live in Redford again?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ann Arbor to Redford - CARLESS

Everyone knows that I'm a transit nut, and you might know that I started getting into transit issues when I realized that I couldn't easily get from my home in Ann Arbor to my parents' home in Redford (28 miles away) without using a car. This has led to countless instances of my parents driving down M-14 to pick me up, something that's annoying for them and not conducive to me feeling independent.

(Note: the 2 1/2 hour bike ride isn't bad in the summer, but I'm not messing around with that in below freezing temps.)

For a long time I've wanted to do the trip on our incredibly inconvenient, expensive, and roundabout public transit routes, just to see what would happen. A video I needed to complete for a grad school application gave me the push to really do it.

It was an epic journey of 4 1/2 hours door to door, including significant waiting time (we hung around 50 minutes at the State Fairground Transit Center waiting on the 8 Mile bus). It cost $14.25 one way and covered around 60 miles. There are a few other combinations of public transit we could have used, and some might have been slightly shorter, but you get the point.


I can't thank Dan Cox enough for accompanying me, despite his academic business. He is a top-notch friend.

My dad, Paul Lusch, let me use his awesome song, appropriately entitled "Driven," and I'm very thankful for that! He and my ever-supportive mom, Ann Lusch, drove us back to Ann Arbor - because nine hours of commuting is a little much for one day.

My home skillet Alex Janke helped me navigate the bewildering functions of Windows Movie Maker, even when it tore him away from all those infectious diseases he studies.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Churches, Public Space, and Demographic Change

Here's my idea. Nobody better steal this, 'cause I'm doing it as soon as I've got IRB approval and GIS at my fingertips (read: once I get into grad school, hopefully next fall).

My colleague recently showed me the website of a church in Livonia, MI, that makes explicit reference to reclaiming public space. This caught my attention pretty quick. How many pastors are urban planners--and particularly in Livonia?

How do they go about this reclamation process? So far, they've got a labyrinth outside that I assume is completely public, and a coffee shop that is probably public to the extent that you pay for a drink (though I could be wrong).

an early example of making good use of public space

This got me thinking about other examples of public space in religious institutions.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Regional Surfing

According to my very scientific count on the Wikipedia pages, there are 158 municipalities (cities, townships, and incorporated villages) in the four-county area that I think of as metro Detroit (of course, there is much debate as to what actually constitutes metro Detroit, notably among some of my neighbors in Washt Co who want nothing to do with the rusty lands to the east. But these are the counties whose leaders, plus the mayor of Detroit, make up the Fab Five at the Mackinac Conference).

Wayne 43
Washtenaw 28
Oakland 60
Macomb 27

Can you guess which municipality?

Now I'm going to count how many of them I have been to, roughly and from memory, even if I only drove through them:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Detroit School of Urban Studies?

Ooh, sounds cool, what is it?
A week ago I attended a forum at the University of Michigan on the question of whether it makes sense to establish a Detroit School of urban studies. First of all, that’s pretty damn fancy. Second, everybody in that room was geeking out over cities, which I found delightful.

photo by Carolyn Lusch--that's me
One panel member made the theoretical case for the new School—planning has traditionally been seen as managing growth, but Detroit is not growing. How does one use planning to manage shrinking or decline?

Another panelist added that Detroit is not on a path of returning the past; rather, the creation of something completely new. We all know that manufacturing in Detroit will never be what it was. Thus, revitalizing is not an appropriate word.

Ok, I’m with you for all that.

But what about…?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sad Bus

Adam (brother) told me that Seattle was making some cuts to the bus system.
I said sad bus.
He promptly drew this:

Now, I would like to utilize this by pinning it to the lapels of all the Southeast Michigan public officials who disappoint me in their treatment (or disregard) of public transit.

Creation of Regional Transit Authority stalled?  SAD BUS
More distant areas of Washtenaw County eschewing system expansions? SAD BUS
Squabbles over Woodward light rail? SAD BUS (wait, wouldn't that be SAD TRAIN?)

This is the new thing, people. No more pandas. They may be soft and furry, but can each one take thirty cars off the road?


Monday, June 18, 2012

When the free book shelf gives me some insight

The Ann Arbor District Library has a rack of free books that I peruse while I’m waiting for my tutoring students to show up. I rarely find anything I consider valuable (there’s a reason they’re free, you know), but one day I stumbled upon Cities in a Global Society, a volume of the Urban Affairs Annual Review, edited by Richard V. Knight and Gary Gappert, published in 1989.

You know what else was published in 1989? Me.

I’ll read just about anything with the word “cities” in the title but I thought it would be especially instructive to see what people thought of urban areas and their role in the world at large when I was just a little babe.  And here it is:

“First of all, I must confess my irritation at all parafuturistic models of the world based on hyper-communication technology, with models of billions of human beings, in megacities as well as in the most remote villages, linked to integrated computer systems feeding all possible information ranging from the fall edition of the L.L. Bean catalogue to the listings of the Tokyo Stock exchange. If this is the Global Society we have in mind, forget it.”

So, just for fun, I googled those two examples.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Regionalism. Localism. Values.

interpretation of transit courtesy of me

There’ve been some things going down in Ann Arbor lately, some wild controversy that has struck concerning, of course, public transit.

But wait! you say. Ann Arbor is a bastion of enlightened prosperity within the poor, misled and economically suffering region of southeast Michigan.  Surely nothing so widely applauded in liberal circles as improvements to the public transit system could cause much more than a murmur. Unfortunately, you are wrong. You are wrong in part because Ann Arbor is home to a group of people known (by me) as the RAGING LOCALISTS (sounds kind of like locusts, and with a similar swarm-like quality).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I, like any self-respecting sunny young liberal, am on board with the local movement. I’d like my food to come from somewhere I can bike to, thank you, and I’d like to be able to walk around my neighborhood and get my needs filled in a few square blocks. I think that strong communities with a degree of self-sufficiency are essential for improving the state of our cities and the policies of our country.

But let’s not forget that we are still part of a region, and the decisions we make affect other people, too.

Our region
To understand what I’m saying, it’s important that we know some things about Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is a small city of around 113,000, located about thirty miles from the border of Detroit, Michigan’s largest city. In between the two lie sprawling suburbs, farmland that has been encroached upon to the point of barely existing, and long stretches of freeway. The metropolitan Detroit area, of course, is not in the best shape. It has been declining economically since shortly after World War II, was hit hard in 2008, and had a March 2012 unemployment rate of 9.4% (compared to the national rate of 8.2%).

Ann Arbor, however, with the University of Michigan buoying its economy, kept it at 5.6%. It is home to the most functional public transit system in this part of the state, an enviable public school system, low crime rate, and a wide range of cultural and recreational activities available. To the Raging Localists, ideas like regional public transit are simply a scam for the other municipalities, the ones that haven’t got it quite together, to take advantage of Ann Arbor’s hard-earned prosperity. Such free-loaders! Can’t they see that we’ve got as damn near a utopia as anyone in the Midwest can manage?

Utopia why?
It would be enlightening for some of these Raging Localists to move east of US-23. Last summer I lived about five miles outside Ann Arbor’s limits, in neighboring Ypsilanti. Yes, folks, get in your cars (which you have) and drive a little ways down Ellsworth, until it becomes Michigan Ave. You’ll see the house where I lived last summer, and a few blocks down the party store where there was a shooting shortly after I’d moved in. At the time, I was stunned by the enormous difference between gritty Ypsi and my cushy college home. How could there be such an incredibly small distance between them? 

Ann Arbor, like many economically thriving areas, has ways of keeping the most economically useful within its borders and everyone else out. There used to be a sizeable black community in Ann Arbor, in the area we now know as Kerrytown. It is now almost entirely gone. As one former resident told me, the price of housing became too high, and people moved to Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti, bless its soul, does not have the same economic resources as Ann Arbor, and now has a wildly disproportionate share of economic need. Ann Arbor makes some effort to even the burden, but its Housing Commission still maintains a mere 355 units of low rent housing in the city, the waitlist for which has been closed since 2006. We’ve been gentrifying out the less wealthy for half a century, and now we believe that regional public transit is exploitation of our resources? I don’t buy it. 

The thing is, people, Ann Arbor is not awesome solely because you made it so. I don’t deny that a lot of committed people have dedicated enormous amounts of time and energy to maintain and improve their communities. But we in Ann Arbor have privileges and historical momentum that we cannot ignore and cannot escape. The only thing we can do is acknowledge that there is a responsibility, a responsibility to share resources and economic burdens. 

Pick your values
I can’t say to what extent the good of the region will affect the good of Ann Arbor. It’s my intuition that they are deeply connected, and that an economic and social bubble can only fortify itself against the rest of the world for so long. It has been suggested by many public transit advocates that increasing the quality of public transit in the area around Ann Arbor will have economic benefits for the city itself. But this isn’t the reason that I think we should care about people outside the city limits, and care about their ability to access transportation. I simply believe that caring about people who live in other cities is important. And I believe that those benefitting from privilege have a responsibility to examine it. And I believe that it is unethical and elitist to build up a fortress of happiness while letting everything around decay.

But that’s just what I believe. Raging Localists, I’m assuming your values are different.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


or, how to deal with all your friends moving to the coasts and Chicago.

“My ol’ friends are so far away” –Red Tail Ring

In the fall of 2010, some friends and I decided to go on what was, for us, no less than an Epic Cycle Trip. Thirty-five miles or so each way, it began at the co-op where many of them lived and ended at Friends Lake, where the groundskeeper had graciously offered us camping in exchange for some invasive species removal (Quaker murmur of approval, anyone?). As none of us had ever biked this distance, much less with tents strapped to our racks, and one in the company was a completely inexperienced cyclist riding a borrowed single-gear contraption, it was impossible to say how it would turn out. Would we be eaten by the perils of lower Michigan traffic? Collapse of exhaustion along North Territorial? Arrive only to find that the groundskeeper was really a mad scientist searching for guinea pig victims, cleverly disguised as a Quaker?

No. Here’s what we encountered: cows. Railroad tracks. Hills that took it all out of us. About a billion people honking at Joel’s state flag, asking us if we were doing a trans-Michigan trip, if we were running for office, if we were crazy, etc. Apples and doughnuts at Jennie’s Farm Market. Exclusive communities along gorgeous country roads that we scoffed at in the most hooliganish, dirty liberal cyclist way we could manage. Belting out “John Brown's body lies a moulderin’ in the grave” to the passing cars. Tire swings and a sauna we figured out how to fire up and a peaceful lake. Chirping crickets from inside tents at night.

Things like this happen in other places. But maybe in not quite the same way. In this mitten, buffered from other parts of the country by really big lakes and bigger rifts in culture, we’re something else. Nowhere I’ve been is there quite the same combination of stubbornness, openness, tradition and spontaneity. Every time I go to some more cosmopolitan place I realize that something is missing. There’s this peculiar Midwestern warmth that makes me try to strike up conversations on the streets on New York City. My friends from the City, by the way, are still not convinced that I’m actually in the same time zone as them (“Good lord! With all those wild boars and Paul Bunyans roaming about!”).

Since that legendary bike trip, I’ve taken a couple jaunts around the state and collected more reasons to adore my home state. In the UP there is, you know, a roadside steel sculpture park called Lakenenland whose owner has been fighting with the local government to remain for years. When my fellow traveler and I arrived, there was an impromptu bluegrass concert taking place on the constructed stage. A man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth turned around, nodded, and drawled, “Have a seat. Or if you play something, get on up there.”
Maybe that’s the Michigan style.

I can’t blame my friends for moving to the coasts, or even for moving to Chicago or Milwaukee. I’m well acquainted with the need to make a living, and the mitten’s not the hottest spot for that these days. In addition, we lack two big things that most of my peers find important: functional public transit, and the freedom to marry who you’d like. So go, friends! Go off to New York City and San Francisco, to places where people actually share your values and lifestyle, where there’s money to be had and maybe nice weather to be enjoyed. In fact, maybe someday I’ll join you.

But for now, I’m quite content to be a Michigander. There are times when I’ve had it to my eyelids with the close-minded comments, but then these crazy Michigan people turn right back around and surprise me with the most lucid expressions of acceptance and humanity. And this summer, the bike trips will be unbeatable.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Inevitable Transit Piece!

Of course I’m going to write some stuff about transit. And so here I go.

Folks, I can’t help it. Public transit is my life at the moment. Not possessing a car (partially for economic reasons, but more accurately for lifestyle choices), I am one of those souls who patronizes the AATA multiple times daily in order to get to work and pay my rent. It changes things. Homeless guys I meet at cafes tell me they see me around all the time. (Oh, that’s cool. I’m glad my poofy blue coat has become a standard Ann Arbor sight). I’ve started to be more—punctual. I was always pretty timely, but it’s gotten out of hand recently. I notice minutes. Because if the bus stops on Plymouth at 7:18 and I dash over at 7:19, it’s done. Half-hour late for work, at least. This leads to awkward interactions with the students with whom I live, who operate on more flexible schedules. At the breakfast I cut people off in the middle of conversations about the meaning of existence. (Excuse me—I don’t know why I exist, but I have to leave right now). I’ve learned that the hour between 2 and 3 is not to be scheduled for anything. It is specifically earmarked as transit time.

But what’s the worry? Plenty of folks take hour-long hikes to work every day over endless suburban freeway. It’s kind of the norm. That's fine, because we spend time to gain things that are valuable to us. For some, it’s a large and fancy house on an isolated lake. For me, it’s living in a cooperative community and commuting in an efficient, respectful manner.

People, in this country particularly, tend to believe that unlimited choice is the highest value, one to which we should quickly sacrifice everything else. Certainly choice is an important part of our culture. But I've found that the limits public transit places on me add to my life in ways I wouldn't want to give up. They make me part of a rhythm, the dance of the daily urban world, and in doing so connect me to hundreds of others who are moving to the same beat. Not to say that the AATA buses are as chatty coffee shops. As in any public space, people tend to keep to themselves and mind their own affairs. But there are the moments—sometimes, the only moments of a hard workday that jolt me back to humanity. Asking the nine-year-old girl why she’s crying (her brother pinched her). Talking to the man in front of me about the key chain he’s weaving out of colorful string. Greeting the same bus drivers every day and knowing that if I’m out sick, they and all the regulars will wonder, where’s the perky redhead in the blue coat? For me, this is what it means to live in a city.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

no frozen eyeballs yet?

It was a fifteen minute walk between my senior-year Kerrytown house and campus, and I soon discovered this relatively short stretch to be alarmingly fraught with peril. Braving the cars that made reckless right turns across pedestrian crosswalks, the daring early morning cyclists, and the inevitable long red lights that made me late a couple of times, I considered myself a hearty commuter. But of course, nothing compared with those January mornings. If you're a Michigan winter pedestrian, you know the ones. Those 8 AMs that freeze your face off. When two pairs of pants are not enough. When your eyeballs freeze mid-rotation. When you designate a cafe on State St. as your emergency midway point in case you cannot carry on. When it snowed so much the previous night that no one knows where the sidewalks are, so you walk in the street instead. And when you get to class, when you finally step through the door frame of Angell Hall, you utter a profound prayer of thanks for heating and classrooms.

Can you resurrect the feeling? I'm finding it difficult, because it was so long ago. Michigan's winter this year was for the faint of heart. Barely ever dropping below zero, shedding pitifully little precipitation, and surprising us with a couple of spring-like balmy afternoons every week or so, this tame but flighty winter has all good Michiganders scratching their heads. It's not like snot freezing onto your face is...nice. There's some magic in the twittering of birds in January, there's a sweetness and a sense of hope that comes with fresh warm air that we have always had to hold out for much longer. And yet, I feel like I'm missing something. There's some Michigan pride associated with experiencing all the seasons with such intensity, and I can't help but feel that my sense of inner rhythm depends on it. It has to be so cold that you can't imagine ever having been hot, and then so hot that you can't imagine ever having been cold--or it's not a year in the mitten. Sounds about right to me.

If climate so affects our sense of identity, global climate change could have a consequence I hadn't thought of before: deeply disorienting those people who are rooted in a place and connected to its rhythms and seasons.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

back in the mitten
nothing like gettin
back to the mitten