Blog: Rebecca Lopez Kriss

Rebecca Lopez Kriss speaks her mind. A self-described "concerned citizen and community advocate at all levels," she is also a co-founder of the YP Underground, a local networking group for young professionals. Rebecca will be weighing in on redevelopment, downtown parking and how young people need to become more involved in building the community they want.

Rebecca Lopez Kriss - Post 1: When Trees Grow Out of Your Gutters

My husband and I blissfully rent a quirky apartment in Ann Arbor’s Old West Side neighborhood. The house is one of the oldest in the neighborhood, more than 150 years old, and boasts a hidden grave stone on the property. (A hippie neighbor told me this once; she was an anthropology major and despite her overbearing patchouli perfume, I trust her assessment completely.) 

The house has been divided into five rather haphazard apartments. My husband and I were blessed the day we were looking, because our apartment has a nice layout, includes a deck, and is large for a one-bedroom. The other apartments are, well... I won’t even bring up the creepy basement space.

It is historic, well located, and...falling apart. The plumbing leaks, the wiring is not grounded, the windows are original, it is not well insulated, the gutters are not actually attached to the house, and on and on and on. Its idiosyncrasies are perfect for my inner eccentric, and frankly for the neighborhood, it is dirt cheap.  I really do love it.

I have a theory about this house. I speculate that the owner is sitting on the property, waiting for a good time to develop a housing complex that was actually designed to fit the five families that live there. (I suspect at that time he will evict the large woodchuck that has made a home underneath the foundation.)  

And it makes sense. For a split second, I channeled Martha Stewart and tried to imagine what this house would be like restored. Which is difficult, since it is nearly impossible to ascertain the original layout. I imagine the costs to be astronomical, given the state of disrepair. It would amount to gutting the entire house and building over, and at that point you might as well just build a better building.

I only bring up my house, because it is such a perfect example of what we should not save. Someone needed to care about preserving it 75 years ago. There are perfectly beautiful homes and buildings in Ann Arbor that have been preserved and beloved for generations. But I urge you, to not let nostalgia get in the way of redevelopment of the many homes and buildings that have not been cared for and for which it is too late. When barriers to redevelopment are tied up in romantic notions about saving historic homes -- which have been rental slums for the past 50 years or more -- we won’t be getting anywhere soon.

My house is inefficient and wasteful, and surely lacks the sort of beauty that the Historic District Commission is intended to preserve. (I won’t even bring up the
Zingerman's debacle; I mean show me someone for whom retainingc322. E. Kingsley is "in the interest of the majority of the community," and I'll show you someone who needs to get out more.)

I understand, Ann Arbor, no one wants to demolish buildings willy-nilly to be replaced by make-a-quick-buck-cheap condos that would be better suited for less discriminating neighborhoods, like Wixom. (Actually, even the people living in cheap condos in Wixom, hate cheap condos in Wixom...just ask my mother.) And I doubt that anyone living in Ann Arbor wants to live in a neighborhood that is nouveau-suburbia.

But I assure you that redevelopment can coincide with historic aesthetics and neighborhood sensibilities. (Just ask Doug Farr, an architect and planner, chair of the USGB LEED for Neighborhood Development Core Committee, and who has been described as a "Sustainable Urbanism Superstar" by this very publication. (His book "Sustainable Urbanism: A Pattern Language for LEED Neighborhood Development" is a must read.) 

Building techniques, sustainable energy technologies, and changes in transportation models, are in every modern city’s future. Building standards need to reflect what Ann Arbor can become, not every scrap of what it once was.