Anya Dale loves her job but wishes she could do it in jeans. She is a Planner with Washtenaw County Office of Strategic Planning, serves on the city's Environmental Commission and chairs the Transportation Committee. She also knows how to care for African fruit bats. Anya will be writing about A2's downtown, plans for the Huron River and the Washtenaw Ave portal.
Anya Dale - Post 1: Who Is Ann Arbor For?
A very smart lady recently posed the question to me "Who is Ann Arbor For?"
As a born and raised Ann Arborite, I have seen the city through some changes, mostly small, which have probably changed the character over the long term more than what would be obvious at first glance. My grandmother, who moved here in 1950, has a better perspective of the city's transformation. On more than one occasion, I find our generations have in common the same longing for local, walkable communities. She tells tales of walking to all of her shopping and service needs, all of which were downtown; a Kroger, Klines, Goodyears, Muehlig's, Feigels and Jacobsen's, as well as dime stores and hardware stores.
A few of these stores were still around when I was little. I remember coming downtown with my mom to Jacobson's when I had outgrown my clothes. Walking among these gorgeous old buildings for a day of errands and shopping was something I looked forward to even then. Through middle school my friends and I asserted our independence by hanging around Pinball Petes, Fantasy Attic and Inflight. And in college it was the bars. At twenty something I live most of my life downtown, visiting in breweries, bookstores and coffee shops.
I've heard and agree that each "group" knows and enjoys their own part of Ann Arbor. And while I personally probably could never tire of restaurants or coffee shops, it seems fairly obvious to me the needs of all "groups" are not being met. More specifically, the daily services which at one time made living and shopping locally the norm, which drew my grandma to the area and which now my generation is looking for are few and far between.
Except for a couple examples, little remains of the practical shops and services my parents and grandparents enjoyed. A common topic among many of my friends is that we wish we had more of those stores our parents and grandparents had downtown. Instead, it seems the boutique-ification (another shout out to the aforementioned smart lady) of the downtown has made it near impossible for the average person to buy clothing or home goods without getting into their car and driving to a mall or strip center. It's unfortunate that these are often the same people who would be happy to do without a car, either for financial reasons or because they are part of the younger generation which seek communities with housing and transportation options.
As I hear about the importance of keeping young professionals and talent in the area, I can't help but to think the lack of these downtown stores and services is hurting the cause. The fact that in their place are an increasing number of chain coffee shops and expensive bar-hopping-style clothing stores, may cater to students, but leave would-be more permanent residents looking elsewhere for most of their daily needs.
In order to remain competitive in attracting and retaining talent, we need to do more to maintain the unique character and functionality our downtowns. And of course, an Ann Arbor which is mostly for students and out-of-town Saturday night window shoppers, leaves the common chime of shopping locally to support the downtown lost on the ears of those driving to the closest big box to find shower curtains and t-shirts.