Posted by & filed under daily life.

The Ann Arbor Observer provides a window into a particular subset of local life. I have fond childhood memories of reading occasional copies of the Observer brought up north by visiting family. And now as a long-time resident, I eagerly dig in when it arrives.

The “Marketplace Changes” column rarely disappoints, offering up endearing (and sometimes downright Portlandia-esque) vignettes about local businesses. This month’s edition features “The Retail Retreat Continues,” an overview of three downtown businesses closing up shop. I won’t mention the name of the business I’m about to discuss or its owners, because I don’t want to make this about them. To be clear, I’m not taking issue with them or their decision to close. Rather, I’d like to question a fairly common sentiment they express during the course of explaining why they have chosen to close their retail location on the 200 block of South Fourth Avenue.

In an interview with Observer columnist Sabine Bickford, the owners cite a number of reasons for the closure, including the challenge of a long-running construction project across the street, the popularity of shopping online instead of visiting brick-and-mortar retailers, and nearby brick-and-mortar competition. It’s the next sentence that caused me to put down my coffee and frown. Here it is in full:

“Add declining interest in [their signature product], and the one-two punch of a long winter with sparse parking for their older customers, and the [owners] felt the store wasn’t sustainable anymore.”

Let me get this straight… part of the reason you’re closing the store is some of your customers didn’t have enough parking nearby? Your store is less than 200 feet from a parking structure with 281 spaces, and less than 500 feet from another parking structure with 984 spaces. There are over one thousand parking spaces within shouting distance of your storefront, and that’s a “sparse” amount of parking? What amount of parking would be enough?

I’ve heard many townies (and out-of-townies) say something similar about parking downtown—-that there’s not nearly enough of it. And yet those same people often want to keep downtown funky and vibrant. I have two problems with this argument. First, it’s not true. We don’t have a dire shortage of parking downtown. And second, if you want to keep downtown fun and functional, you can’t fill it with an endless sea of parking.

[For those wondering about the state of downtown parking, check out a 2015 report commissioned by the DDA. Its findings indicate we could use more parking in the long term, but we’re not in a crisis, and we can make better choices about the parking we have now.]

So the next time you hear someone say there’s not enough parking downtown, or some other version of this car-centric canard, do us all a favor and (gently) push back. It does us no favors to let this attitude persist. And looking ahead to this August’s city council and mayoral primary elections, it could actually be harmful. How? Allowing spurious claims like “downtown businesses are closing because we don’t have enough parking” to flourish affects decision-making about so much more—including housing availability and affordability as well as development and use patterns in near-downtown neighborhoods.

How can we get beyond these head-in-the-sand arguments? Let’s ask FOR THINGS instead of being averse to change, and look for evidence rather than relying on NIMBY folk wisdom. For example, talk to your city council reps about the numerous surface parking lots downtown. What would you like to see in those spaces instead of cars? Let’s continue to ask AAATA for (and be willing to fund) better evening and weekend bus service. Work downtown? Ask your employer about getting a go!pass. Finally, let’s support denser development (with lower parking minimums!) downtown so that more people can afford to live, work, eat, and shop in the heart of our community.

Stop complaining about parking. Start asking for better options.

Posted by & filed under books.

“The tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things. It is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described, and so the task of naming and describing is an essential one in any revolt against the status quo of capitalism and consumerism. Ultimately the destruction of the Earth is due in part, perhaps in a large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters. The revolt against this destruction is a revolt of the imagination, in favor of subtleties, of pleasures money can’t buy and corporations can’t command, of being producers rather than consumers of meaning, of the slow, the meandering, the digressive, the exploratory, the numinous, the uncertain.”

— Rebecca Solnit, “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable,” from Men Explain Things to Me (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014)

Posted by & filed under daily life.

An empty chicken coop.The first rule of Chicken Club is everything wants to eat your chickens.

If you’re going to have animals, you need to be prepared for them to die. Sometimes prematurely. Last night something opened the coop, climbed in, and killed our chickens. The timing and the carnage point to maybe a raccoon or an opossum as the culprit, but we’ll never know for sure. There are so many things that will kill and eat a chicken, even in an urban backyard. Chickens are tasty and rather defenseless, and your neighborhood is full of potential predators.

This has definitely been a learning experience, and we’ll take some time to think about it before we try again.

Posted by & filed under daily life.

On May 6, voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsi, and Ypsi Township will have the opportunity to vote on a millage to support improved public transit for our communities. Here’s why I’m voting YES…

I live in the rather pretentiously named but decidedly modest “Upper Water Hill” neighborhood. We’re the less-hipster-more-hill sibling of “Water Hill.” I love our house and our ‘hood. A major part of why Eric and I chose to buy the house we did and live in this neighborhood is the ability to walk, bike, or bus to virtually everything we need. We’re a one-car family, and I hate driving, so my daily commute to work always requires a bike, a bus, or my own two feet. It’s two miles door to door, which is an easy bike ride from April through November, and a pleasant walk during the winter months.

Unfortunately, this winter has been far from pleasant. I have taken the bus to work nearly every day, and I am so happy and grateful that AAATA buses are generally on time, run when I need them to, and get me where I’m going. I can’t wait to be back to biking or walking, but taking the bus has made this winter bearable. If the millage passes, my #18 bus will become the new “D Miller-Skyline” [PDF] route. It will run more often and have service on the weekends. You can read about how your bus routes will improve here.

But even when I’m not riding the bus daily, I’ll still be pro-millage. As a pedestrian and cyclist, having better public transit means fewer cars out there on the road. But “more buses, more places, more often” isn’t just good for me, or you, or any individual commuter. It’s good for our whole community. It makes Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti more desirable places to live and do business, and helps seniors and people with disabilities live independently.

I’ll be voting yes on May 6, and I hope you’ll do the same.

Many thanks to Emily for inspiring me to write this.

Posted by & filed under daily life.

Inspired by E and this, I’m setting a few goals for the year. Instead of resolutions, I’ve tried to give myself measurable objectives and think about why I want to achieve them.

Stretch. Daily.
Foam roller is my homie. I’m in a better mood when I’m not in pain.

Lift weights/strength train three times per week.
This was a goal for 2013, at which I failed miserably. I want to get stronger so I can do more than just a few “real” push-ups, execute an un-assisted pull-up, and improve my overall fitness and health.

3x500 meters on the rowing machine displayHit the rowing machine three times per week.
In the last few months of 2013 I was consistently making it to the gym twice a week. The “Workout of the Day” makes this less boring. I’d like to be able to reach a sub-2-minute 500 meters. Right now, I can do about 2:20-2:30 reliably. Reaching this goal would mean I could row faster than I used to be able to run.

Read two books per month.
I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading for fun. I miss it, and I’d like to discover some new favorites.

See two films per month.
Despite having a Michigan Theater membership, we almost never make it to the monthly free movies. I need more culture in my life, and we can walk to the Michigan. Exercise + art = good for body and brain.

These are all realistic goals. I can do this!

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

If you’re looking for content from January – April 2013, it’s all here. The password is the material my bionic bits are made of.