Sunday, November 3, 2013

City Council Candidate Interviews--Chip Smith: Ward 5

Gentle Readers, the Nov. 5th election is fast approaching. In an effort to help those of you who may still be undecided, Damn Arbor is publishing a series of interviews with City Council Candidates. Here is our interview with Ward 5 write-in candidate, Chip Smith. If you are a City Council Candidate and would like to do an interview with us, please check your email inbox.

DA: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? Why are you running for city council?

CS: My name is Chip Smith, I’m a professional urban planner and an 18-year resident of the 5th ward. I’m running this write-in campaign because as I have been following council I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the quality of policy discussion, the tenor of the debate and some of the decisions that are being made. I’m concerned we are not ensuring that Ann Arbor remains a City my young daughters will want to live in when they’re through with college in 20 years. I’m extremely concerned we’re losing that focus on the future and instead channeling our resources only on the short term.

DA: According to Facebook, our prime demographic is 25-34. What do you have to offer for Ann Arborites in that age range?

CS: My focus is on planning for the future of the City. As we’re trying to grow our local and regional economy, we are, like most cities, trying to build a hub of technical innovation here in Ann Arbor. We’ve had a successful start, attracting google and barracuda and a lot of smaller start-ups. We’ve been successful because we’ve been able to create a place that the “creative class”, often younger, highly skilled knowledge workers want to be. In this new economy, companies choose to go where talent is, and we’ve been able to create the type of place in Ann Arbor that this group wants to be.

We can’t stop what we’re doing. Market data shows an amazing shift in what people are looking for as they choose a place to live. Younger people, particularly people in your target demographic are looking for affordable housing options in places with a vibrant street life and outstanding walkability. Increasingly, cars are a burden rather than a solution for younger people, so it’s important to provide a full range of goods and services within walking and biking distance and provide a robust transit network that connects to regional destinations. I’m committed to creating more living opportunities downtown and near downtown, I’m committed to enhancing the vibrant street life we’ve started to create and most importantly, I’m committed to listening and keeping an open mind to develop solutions to issues that we’ve yet to imagine.

Finally, and I think this is important. I offer this demographic a voice at the table as we make decisions and develop funding priorities. I am committed to funding the types of investment that will make the City a walkable, vibrant place for the next 50 years.

DA: What are your 3 biggest goals for your next term if you are elected to City Council?

CS:1. Continue down the path to becoming a truly walkable City. This means keeping our pedestrian crosswalk ordinance and it means stepping up to become the Michigan leader in non-motorized transportation and pedestrian mobility. I want to make sure we design our spaces/neighborhoods/downtown for people.

2. Focus on economic development. Economic development needs to be holistic approaches to growing our economy and must necessarily include business recruitment and development, start-up assistance and other programs to attract and encourage new small business development. Economic Development also includes developing regional transit solutions to more effectively move people into and out of the City – Portland, Oregon is a great example of a City that has used transit as a major economic development tool.

Economic development has to grow our regional economy so we can continue to make investments for the future and provide the public services we need to be a great place to live.

3. Establish performance metrics so that our budget and spending decisions can be evaluated to ensure that taxpayers are getting a good return for the investment.

DA: Here’s a reader submitted question: What's something that you'd like to do that might not be super popular right away, but would be good for the long term future of Ann Arbor?

Great question. My answer ties back into the budgeting priority I just mentioned. As we look at City Services, we need to develop performance metrics that clearly show what the community is getting for its investment. For example, there has been a huge amount of discussion over the number of police officers we have in the City. As we make budget decisions about funding these positions, do we have data that shows these additional officers reduce violent crime or property crimes in the City? We also had a debate during the last budget cycle about making sure we keep five fire stations operating. What’s the return on this investment? Can we engage our neighbors like Pittsfield and Scio Townships to develop a regional partnership to more efficiently provide the same, or better, level of service than we have today?

I’m willing to take a position that we shouldn’t be funding public services or projects, despite their current popularity, if that investment is not going to realize a sufficient return.

DA: What’s the best way for your constituents to engage with you? And another reader submitted question as a follow up: Do you tweet?

CS: First, I do tweet - @VoteChipSmith. But until I started this campaign I was very lazy about Twitter – I used it primarily to get news, not to contact people. Regrettably, I’m particularly unfunny on Twitter, so please don’t hold that against me. I’m much more clever in person.

Second, the best way, at least right now, is via email at I try and make it easy for constituents to engage with me via the medium they are most comfortable with – if that’s Twitter, my Facebook page, direct contact or whatever, I try to make sure I can converse via that medium. I’m a bit old school as my preference is for personal conversation either in person or on the phone, but that is often really difficult to do.

Campaign information is on my website at and on facebook at

DA: What would you like to see in Ann Arbor in the next 5 years?

CS: I would like to see the City being recognized as the leader in walkability, not just in Michigan, but in the Midwest. I’d like to see more innovative use of best practices in non-motorized transportation and traffic calming and a willingness to experiment with these emerging best practices.

I would like to see us working regionally to implement, not just plan, a regional transit network within the next five years with a focus on moving people in and out of the city more efficiently while connecting to regional destinations like Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids and Chicago.

I would like to see performance metrics developed and used to analyze our budgeting decisions. Public discourse needs to be based on data, not on anecdotal ”evidence” and emotion.

I would like to see a more streamlined and predictable development process so that the types of projects that make Ann Arbor so vibrant can get financed and built. The types of projects that citizens have overwhelming said they want to see. Our process has, unfortunately, limited the types of projects we get to student housing, because the banks and lawyers see there is a large enough market and potential return on investment to go through our uncertain development process.

There you have it, gentle reader. Our interview with write-in candidate for the Fightin Fifth Ward, Chip Smith.


Sabra Briere: Ward 1
Jack Eaton: Ward 4

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