Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Who cares about the sinkhole?

The four-story-deep hole that was created next to the driveway of Earthen Jar, aka Josh and my driveway to the parking lot behind our old apartment. A few employees and tenants had to maneuver their cars through a barely wide enough area between the 310 E. Liberty St. house and The Christian Science Reading Room in order to get out of the parking lot, since they were parked there at the time of the collapse. Photo courtesy of Ali Ramlawi, owner of Jerusalem Garden.
In the most recent issue of The Washtenaw Voice, I put in an 800-some word piece on the huge hole that opened up next to Earthen Jar due to a break in one of the retention walls at the Library Lot construction site.

I finished the piece at some odd time, in the hours after Josh had started to snore and before BCB woke up to go to the Y - and way, way past deadline. I sent it in, and started working on an accompanying sidebar about Ann Arbor City Council's decision to allow the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to plan future construction on top of the Library Lot.

Right as I finished, I received an email back from my advisor with some notes on my article, along with this piece of encouragement:
Suggest you keep the sidebar short. This is a very long story and, while well-written, I worry that our readership may not be that interested enough to get through 800 words you have so far.
Which begs the question: Does anyone really give a shit?

The ole advisor has a point. I write for the audience of Washtenaw Community College at The Voice. WCC has students from all over Washtenaw County, and some outside of it. A lot of the students there don't have a very significant connection to Ann Arbor, beyond the fact that their school is inside its city limits, defying the popular belief that WCC is in Ypsi. Even if they are from A2, there's still no guarantee that they'll care about this massive hole in the ground that exposed the foundation of Earthen Jar and evacuated the restaurant as well as Jerusalem Garden, both of which have suffered from the ongoing construction that has blocked all traffic on their street, among other things.

True, it was actually three different WCC students that brought this issue up to me as article fodder in the first place, but are they all anomalies? If people really don't care, why the hell not?

I hate writing for the common denominator, but I understand why it's necessary. I guess I just figured that, considering that the likes of Alan Haber and Jean Ledwith King were at the city council meeting to protest issues related to the hole and the DDA, that most gave a crap, if not a ton of it. However, I will say that most of the other twenty somethings in the room appeared to be there just to accept pats on the back from the council for the goodwill they've done around the city. There's no need to downplay what they've done, but it wouldn't hurt to have a few people my own age show up to pay attention, not receive it.

The meeting went on for four hours before they voted on the two items I was there to report on: The proposed conference center to go on top of the Library Lot and whether or not to grant the DDA permission to plan what will go on that lot, along with the "Y Lot." The first one was voted down, 8-2, and the second voted up, uncontested, despite issues that some councilmembers acknowledged with the DDA and its handling of the hole situation. There was a lot of heated discussion, with Councilmembers Margie Teall and Sandi Smith being the only two that voted to accept Valiant Partners' letter of intent for the proposed conference center.

Teall had a few prepared statements on the subject, saying that Valiant Partners has Ann Arbor's best interest, drawing a few gasps and "girl, you crazy" looks from attendants.

So. If a citizen gasps during a city council meeting but no one reads about it, what's the point?


  1. I would be so thrilled if people actually said things like "girl, you crazy" at A2 City Council meetings.

  2. according to,-95.712891&sspn=40.817312,67.675781&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=12

    WCC is actually not in the city limits? (I only looked this up cause my doctor is across the street and the practice's address is Ypsi..)

  3. Great post. How do you think we can get more 20-somethings engaged in local politics?

  4. you should know about this fb page. i posted your article for the voice and this blog entry.!/pages/Keep-Earthen-Jar-and-Jerusalem-Garden-Alive/198269790205203

  5. IF any 20-somethings reading this blog are interested in local or state politics, please find Washtenaw Coalition for Economic Justice on FB.

    We're planning our next meeting. It'd be great to have you.

  6. beyond the fact that their school is inside its city limits, defying the popular belief that WCC is in Ypsi.

    Not to be picky, but - well, okay, to be picky, ome notes from your friendly neighborhood geographer:

    WCC is neither in the City of Ann Arbor nor the City of Ypsilanti. It is primarily in Ann Arbor Charter Township, though some of the easternmost parking lots by Morris Lawrence and pieces of the sports fields by the new Fitness Center are in Superior Charter Township. Complicating things, most of campus is within the 48197 west-ypsi zip code, but parts are in the ne-ann arbor 48105. (Washtenaw county zip code map here...)

    St. Joe's Hospital, right next door, is wholly in Superior Charter Township, and the 48197 zip code. However, directly across Clark Road to the south of the hospital can be found both Ypsilanti Charter Township and the City of Ypsilanti.

    If this demonstrates to you that municipal boundaries can have a surprisingly small importance to parts of your life, you may be on to something.

  7. @Ben -

    Great post. How do you think we can get more 20-somethings engaged in local politics?

    I think pages like yours are a great start - providing accessible information on local issues (mixed with bike porn and other content to lure in folks who don't think they're into local issues) and a venue for discussion (more civil than

    It's not sufficient on it's own, certainly - there's a need for analysis over time, archival and memory (a special problem of student constituencies), action steps, in-person discussion, etc.

    These things can also be made accessible and engaging: organize folks to watch council meetings on CTN and trade tweets with @juliewbee, for example. Or, back in they heyday of Arbor Update / Ann Arbor is Overrated, several of the writers involved in those blogs hung out and played scrabble while watching council meetings on CTN. Sure, having a presence at meetings in person is even better, but a substantially higher bar for week-to-week engagement than following on tv / online - if you can get people regularly tuned in and informed, they'll know what you're talking about when you move to action items.

  8. Perhaps updating the old Ann Arbor City Council meeting drinking game could get more young people invested in the proceedings.

  9. @Ben: Can we find a way so that I can "like" that?