Blog: Sean Mann

Issuing the call for city champions is Sean Mann, director of the "Let's Save Michigan" campaign to promote core communities in the Great Lakes state. This week he wades into the sexiness of density and the need for better collaboration between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Post 5: Having Fun Arguing For Cities, the Arcade of Fire, and the Sexiness of Density

An old friend of mine informed me the other day that he's ready to abandon his plans to move to some unnamed exurb and finally move down to Detroit. I asked him if it was my years of nagging and convincing arguments about the benefits of living in the city that finally persuaded him.

No. It was apparently the Arcade Fire's latest release, 'The Suburbs' that got him to do some soul searching, which led him to the conclusion that his personal and professional life would be best nurtured in an urban area.

For all the arguments we make about the importance of living in cities and the reasons we give people to live in them, the rationale people end up utilizing to make their decision varies far more than we could ever anticipate.

This point was driven home recently in the very same publication by a young woman who loved this region but for certain logical and personal reasons decided to move to California.

In making the case for cities we will never reach a larger audience or the masses if our message is just doom and gloom, reprimands and dictates.

We have to be positive, broad in our scope and think outside the box on how we get people to advocate and think about the importance of certain policies. Just a few of my favorite arguments and train of thoughts:

Parks are Not Only Important but Something You Can Create: In a couple weeks, Let's Save Michigan is organizing a series of PARK(ing) Day events across the state. For a couple hours on a Friday afternoon, individuals across the state are going to convert metered parking spots into temporary micro-parks. In the process of mingling and relaxing with friends they are going to get an opportunity to use their creativity to demonstrate the importance of public spaces to our core communities.

Cities Are Just More Fun: Just read post 3 above.

Shopping Local Doesn't Have to Equate to Autarky: When we urge people to shop local, it is often misconstrued that you have to spend every dollar at locally owned businesses. In a very real way that's not practical and too intimidating and alienating to most of the public. A more practical plea is urging people to shift just a portion of their expenses from the national chains to Main Street.  A recent Grand Rapids study found that if residents were to redirect just 10 percent of their total spending from chains to locally owned businesses, the result would be $140 million in new economic activity for the region, including 1,600 new jobs and $53 million in additional payroll.

Living in a functioning city isn't always more expensive:
It's been my own experience and that of many of my friends who have lived in more transit friendly communities that while rent may be far more expensive in other locales, the cost of car payments and insurance and gas for commuting in Michigan can easily negate any saving you appreciate from our cheap rent.

Literally; Density is Sexy: (This is my favorite tongue-in-cheek argument) Nate Berg, an editor of, and I were once talking about the apparent prevalence of attractive people in dense urban areas. He pegged it as the CBQ or city beauty quotient. While neither of us have found funding for our PhD research on this yet, it's a fairly straight forward notion. You tend to see a lot more attractive people in dense communities. If you aren't, then you aren't looking or are standing next to your significant other.

Dense communities by their very definition are more walkable and have more transit options. Recent studies show people in more transit friendly areas are less likely to be overweight. Other studies have shown that people tend to be attracted to slimmer or, at the very least, or what we generally perceive as healthier looking people. Maybe there aren't more attractive people per capita in Brooklyn than, say, Livingston County. Maybe it is as simple as when you are walking around a denser city you are exposed to more people than you are when confined to a car, living in a parking lot to traffic jam to parking lot lifestyle. Either way you cut it, its going to be more fulfilling to pass an afternoon people watching on a bench in a dense urban area than outside a Dress Barn in some strip mall off US-23.

The problems facing Michigan are massive, and while there are signs of some form of economic recovery, unless we make some serious changes to how we do business in Michigan and what we value, our recovery will only be a brief interlude in systemic decline. Now is the time to reshape Michigan's present and future. It is a large task but an exciting one that hopefully we can get more Michiganders to embrace.