Ann Arbor is not Chapel Hill (duh)

I took some photos today but they are truly horrible. Wlil post later. Some of my biggest impressions so far:

  1. The empty Pfizer campus, and the Chamber director talking about nearby businesses that are about to go under from losing the business from 2,000 employees & 1,000 contractors that used to work there. Are you listening Carolina North folks?
  2. There are lots of tall buildings (5 - 10 - 15 feet stories) and most of them look really nice and seem to work well. Some of them don't though. I talked with some folks tonight about how Chapel Hill lacks the regulatory tools to analyze tall buildings. How do we know how tall is "too tall", what are factors that make it work or make it fail? One local suggested that I meet a woman from their downtown commission, but I'm really more interested in the perspective of a City Council or Planning Board type.
  3. The many many attractive buildings, both new and old. Some new campus buildings were designed to blend in with grand designs, and great architectural details (the kind you don't see anymore), while some were extremely modern and dare-I-say risky design. One place our guide described as the "pringles" auditorium for it's weird shape. But at least it's interesting.
  4. Some of the other features i was most jealous of were the rail line and the industrial riverside, but their Chamber director saw them both as liabilities. He wished they could "do something with the riverfront" but in fact things are happening and there is a growing arts district there. He disparaged the train because it only goes to Detroit and Chicago (and that takes 4 hours). Can you imagine being able to hop a train in Chapel Hill for DC? I'd be pretty into that.

Finally, the question on my mind is whether it's possible for Chapel Hill to flesh out into a form like Ann Arbor which had a lot more in place in the pre-car urban era an therefore much more to restore and revitalize.

Also the Chancellor is just as nice in person as he seems from afar. Will continue to investigate. ;-)


Ruby, keep the travel diary going!  Our community is so lucky to have you.  The tall buildings question boils down to physics and geometry -- the height that will block sunlight for X number of hours per day, per season.  Pose the question this way, and you'll get quality-of-life answers.  It's not how the building looks, but how it affects the people who live and work in its shadow. 

As for riverfront development, your Ann Arbor hosts can lament about their riverfront all night long but we don't have that problem.  Cincinnati and Savannah and Georgetown and San Antonio come to mind.  Not Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  Try to get some insights about Town & Gown solutions instead.  Many thanks!  

Not to say that solar impact doesn't matter, but it's hardly the main issue for these buildings. They are in urbanized/campus areas, not near neighborhoods.

Town and gown has been rarely discussed here, except in small groups. The U does not require (or ask for) any approval from the Town for their development so there is no partnership around growth and land-use issues. The only collaboration I heard about was using student labor for environmental research projects.

Tomorrow is a session on "being a university community" but the only school official there will be their local relations person, and apparently he or she will only make a brief appearance!

By the way, there is no available wifi here so the only updates I can post are from my phone or these late-night updates from the hotel room. I have TONS of pictures but they, and more thoughts, will mostly have to wait until we get home.

Ruby, if you can talk to anyone about how they deal with parking requirements in Ann Arbor, which are largely nonsense in the US but have gained currency because they pretend to be technically rigorous, that would be great.
Tangent to parking requirements, I can tell you from experience, in Ann Arbor, if one pays a parking ticket quickly, the amount of the fine is lessened.

(5 - 10 - 15 feet)

surely you mean "(5 - 10 - 15 floors)"

Quite right. Thanks.


 Please ask the people of Ann Arbor about Washtenaw County's health-care coverage of indigent citizens.

Ann Arbor's library rocks in that patrons can do self-check-out.  One can just pile all one's books and CD's on a scanner and "Shazam!", it's all check-out at once.

Last month, I took the train from Chicago to Ann Arbor and back to Chicago.  It was packed.  I mean, it was really packed full of people.  And it was no problem for my dad to pick up my brother and me.

Now that I think about it, there's a whole heck of a lot more taxis in Chapel Hill than in Ann Arbor.  Wonder why?


 Ask to see what Ann Arbor's historically high-crime areas look like.

Ruby Twittered, "SPARK tries to do "open source economic development." But they are trying to trademark the term. Not very open source!"

 Trademarking the name to protect the use by others should not impact the product being open source.

Wish y'all could hear WCHL this morning!  We all just heard about Holden Thorp's performance at the restaurant, what fun.  Happy trails and safe trip home - c. 
What a short trip.
Yes it was. I think it could have benefited from another day, but again, if it had been longer, many folks could not have participated.   I know it was hard for me to get two days away, much less three. 
I've heard that Ann Arbor is building a greenway loop around town and that one problem it causes is inflating land values inside the loop. I'd be very interested to see how it's affecting transportation in the city and whether it would be a good idea for Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Did you hear anything about that?
Here's the story in the CH News this morning:

It was great trip and I am very happy Ruby was able to attend.  I think the group was more diverse than the trip to Madison, and it made for a more thoughtful and engaging meeting. 

 A few quick initial thoughts---

1.  Closer ties and interrelationships with UNC give us much more upside.  Ann Arbor and U of M seem to be on parallel processes and separate orbits  in much of their operations which results in duplication of services and not maximizing the strengths  of one another for mutual benefit.      The interdependency we have here is a strength for both our community and our university once we get on the same page and recognize that (as someone in Ann Arbor put it)  "divorce is not an option."   I would go farther and say--"married but filing separately"  should not be  an option either.

 2.  We desperately need more lighting in downtown and surrounding areas.  Plain and simple.    A downtown needs lighting to be safe and inviting.   I know that doesn't sit well with some people.   They use LED lighting which can be dimmed and brightened as needed, which could be an option.

 3.  Ann Arbor talked the talk about collaboration, but they also walked the walk.   Their approach to the homeless, the environment,  and their economic development efforts are extremely integrated and are focused on outcomes and measures. They are very quantitative, as well as qualitative,  in how they look at what they do.     They develop and evaluate their processes based on how well they support the desired outcomes.   It has meant that some organizations have had to give up some  control and cede some turf, which is hard.    But they all were mostly in agreement  that it has allowed them to better serve their citizens. 

A broad array of private non-profits and businesses  drive much of these initiatives and provide the leadership role.   There is  more private sector leadership (and investment)  in key public-private collaborations and the government  operates  as a partner, but not necessarily as the major partner.   One notable exception is infrastructure, where the government has clearly stepped out and led in a big way with technology and other stuff that makes it easier for all these private sector organizations and businesses to do their jobs and communicate with the public.    

I am especially intrigued with their economic development organization--SPARK--and will post more later if people are interested. 

4.  If the gig at UNC doesn't work out, the Chancellor certainly has a great fall back option.   Johnny B Good has never sounded so awesome.

As we have discussed Anita, I do disagree with your assessment that Chapel Hill (or Carrboro) need more lighting in the downtown areas. What we do need is consistent coverage (no blank spots) with energy efficient lighting that doesn't distort colors or details. UNC replaced the lighting on McCorkle Place this summer for those who want to see that it is possible to achieve aesthetic quality, better energy efficiency, and improved safety.

Hey Gang,

If you didn't have time to duck out from the suits' meetings and stroll down Main, or if you were curious about the anatomy of the vibe, check out this youtube video .  Now, that's an urban planning primer I can stand.


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