Blog: Jeremy Peters

Jeremy Peters has the kind of cool downtown job others long for. He's Ghostly International's Director of Licensing and Publishing. He also has strong opinions about how Ann Arbor views its downtown and the importance of arts and culture. So, guess what he'll be blogging about?

On leadership: What is the real cost of obstructionism?

Is the price of leadership and results an aversion to gridlock? We ask leaders to find solutions and get things done, but lambast them when they're not done exactly to our liking. What, then, do we pick elected leaders to do? Do we pick them to obsess intensely over the minutiae or trust them to take a long view? Where does trust come in? Has the tenor of politics changed? Do we no longer trust our elected officials to make good decisions, irrespective of their history and background?

I don't pretend to have the answer to any of these questions, but they're worth pondering as our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nation meld and model into new forms.

As gridlock has beset us in Washington, and the pall of partisanship has eroded progress in Lansing, it seems that a vocal minority, some of whom who have managed to get themselves elected to local government, are bent on taking an antagonistic view to policy ideas presented.  Indeed, how do we move forward if one of the four wheels on the car is intent on driving in the opposite direction?

Some choose to give up. In this, antagonism fails our citizens. We have bickered and been unwilling to compromise so long that some citizens choose to throw up their hands in disgust and remove themselves from civic engagement. What some may view as a failure to engage, or a failure on behalf of that individual, I view as a failure of our elected officials. The more one's heels are dug into the sand, the less likely we are to compromise, and thus exceedingly less likely to move policy forward to tackle any of the myriad of problems that plague our cities, nations, and state.

On the whole, Ann Arbor is a town that is fairly well off. Objectively, our standard of living is quite high. We have a university in our midst, up-sided property values, and public services that (though some complain), are active, effective, and ample. Not every community can say that. Whether or not we realize that we have much to work with becomes beside the point if there are loud elected voices bent on proclaiming the end is nigh: and as you go to the polls in November and beyond, remember the balance that must be weighed out.

The places we live in are forever changing: people move in and out of them. The dynamics of traffic, pollution, environment, commerce, retail, and everyday life are not static, nor should they be. The fact that humans live in spaces necessitates their fluidity. As one family outgrows an abode, another moves into it – and on the whole, there's a stasis – a balance, if you will.

If we build too many houses, the value decreases to the point where we cannot sell them for the cost of materials put into them. If there is high demand, however, to live in a certain area, then prices rise. Ann Arbor residents know this well, especially anyone who has rented. That's not wrong, it is just a matter of reality.  Sure, we could seek to legislate our city back to the 1980s when things weren't so out of control, but that does little good to change the matter at hand: Ann Arbor is a desirable place to live.

It would behoove those in local government inclined to nitpick and place barricades in front of progress to realize the effect of their actions – I'm not advocating for unbridled development, just as much as I believe that a keen eye toward the specifics of policy is important, but there must be a means to an end.

I'll be honest, I tend to reject the arguments of folks who want to return back to something, or are interested in preserving what once was – not because I don't long for that past and simplicity, but because I understand the impracticality of it. We are now here, and thus we must try to find solutions to the problems that face us, not return back to the page we just read to revise our response.

What I hope for, however, is the real possibility that enough calm voices arise urging that we be pragmatic about things – if opportunities present themselves we should not simply shy away from them but embrace them for the future potential they withhold. It is, of course, appropriate to consider the risks and consequences, but I remain intensely optimistic that these voices maintain focused on not nitpicking for the sake of obstructionism, but try to find the good in proposals and work to improve them.

This simple, yet important change of mindset is key to the end goal of a government: bettering the lives of those who employ it and whom it represents. If we come to the table hell-bent on the goal of preventing a certain thing (be it a train station, an apartment complex, a structure, a park, or an improvement) from happening, then we cannot ever come to a point of understanding, and that is a disservice to us all. I don't pretend to think that each representative isn't doing what they think is in the best interests of all of their constituents (not just the vocal ones) but another head check would serve us all, and our futures (and those of our children) well.