Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Year in Review

Damn Arbor Logo by Jon Wilcox

2017 was a good year for Damn Arbor. The 2016 election motivated me to bring the site back from a semi-mothballed state and to focus more coverage on local political issues. Looking over our top articles for 2017, it seems that you, gentle reader, were thirsty for local political coverage. Indeed, five of Damn Arbor's top 10 articles for 2017 fall into the broad category of local politics. Also this year, the Ann launched its daily newsletter, Annthology. The newsletter definitely helped drive traffic to Damn Arbor and did a great job catalyzing more coverage of local issues. If you haven't signed up for Annthology, you should consider checking it out in 2018.

All of this wouldn't be possible without you, gentle reader. If it were not for your continued readership, Damn Arbor would just be an echo in the void of the internet. Thank you for your continued support.

Without further ado, here are Damn Arbor's ten most popular articles with commentary from yours truly.

10. Two U of M Professors named 2017 MacArthur Fellows
This short article got a lot of traffic because someone on /r/annarbor linked to it.

9. Where is the best neighborhood fireworks display?
This article wasn't exactly hard-hitting journalism. That said the article asked a question that a lot of folks had on their mind.

8. Ma Lou's Fried Chicken, a review
A review Ypsilanti's newest fried chicken restaurant. Spoiler alert: the food is quite good.

7. Art Fair Bingo 2017
An update to the classic Art Fair Bingo game. Provided to us by UMich Senior RJ Cron.

6. How did a picture from Ann Arbor's 1998 anti-Klan protest become a logo for anti-racist punks in Germany?
This article looked at the Goodnight White Pride logo which is based on a picture from Ann Arbor's 1998 anti-Klan protest. How did that picture become travel across the Atlantic to become the anti-racist logo? Nobody seems to know.

5. Last day to register for November election
This article from October was just a friendly reminder to register to vote. Maybe in the future Michigan can get same day voter registration. That would be nice.

4. Ypsilanti City Council votes to enter purchase agreement with International Village for Water Street
One of the two top ten articles on the continuing Water Street saga. I filed this article at 1:02 AM on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, four minutes after the Ypsilanti City Council voted to enter the purchase agreement with International Village. Never underestimate the importance of attending city council meetings in person.

3. Ypsilanti City Council Report: Ypsilanti on track to forbid municipal solicitation of immigration status
Another report from an Ypsilanti City Council meeting. This one from January when the Ypsilanti City Council voted to forbid city employees from inquiring about immigration status except in specific situations.

2. Scorekeepers, the most popular Uber destination in Michigan
This could have been a throwaway article if MGoBlog had not tweeted it and linked to the post. Thanks MGoBlog. Also, I'm happy you are writing about local politics.

1. How a resolution to hold a hearing on affordable housing at Water Street became a flashpoint for controversy
This article from guest writer, Nathanael Paul Romero, was by far the most read article on Damn Arbor in 2017. It covered a particularly contentious Ypsilanti City Council Meeting in September of this year. I really appreciate Nathanael giving Damn Arbor permission to publish his write-up of the meeting.

Well there you have it gentle reader, Damn Arbor's first ever year in review. Again, thank you all for reading. I'd like to give special thanks to people who contributed articles this year: Gautam Hans, Ed Vielmetti, Chris Dzombak, Lauren Trimble, Matt Siegfried, John Richard Thompson, and Nathanael Paul Romero.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Much ado about crossing, redux

A photo of one of Ann Arbor's new crosswalk ordinance success rate signs. Photo by Mary Morgan. 

Dedicated readers of Damn Arbor will know we strongly support Ann Arbor's Crosswalk Ordinance. By way of background, here are just a few Crosswalk Ordinance articles from our archive: Much ado about crossing; Reflections on the Crosswalk Ordinance; Stay vigilant for coming attacks on the Crosswalk Ordinance; and, Mayor promises to veto repeal of crosswalk ordinance.

Broadly speaking, Damn Arbor supports things that make it easier to be a pedestrian. We do however have two pieces of constructive criticism. First we'd like to see more HAWK Walks, especially for crosswalks on 4 lane roads. We know HAWK Walks cost more than RRFBs but we feel like the hawk walk signaling is clearer and more visible than RRFBs making for a safer crosswalk on busy roads.

Second, we would like to see street signs at major entrances into Ann Arbor that explain the crosswalk ordinance. Something along the lines of: "local law: drivers must yield to pedestrians at marked crosswalks." This would help address the question of how to communicate the ordinance to drivers that don't live in the city. There are about 50,000 weekday commuters into Ann Arbor, plus visitors for special events like sports games and festivals. It is important that we communicate our crosswalk expectations to these drivers if we want them to comply with the ordinance.

I bring this up because of the new crosswalk ordinance success rate signs that have sprouted up (see picture above). It seems like if Ann Arbor can spring for, what I assume are custom signs, the city could get for some signs explaining the ordinance at major road entrances into the city. Just like we have those signs saying drivers must stop for school bus losing and unloading. Street signs are a standard way of communicating rules and expectations to drivers. If we want to make sure as many drivers know about the crosswalk ordinance as possible, we need to make sure drivers know about the ordinance. Especially those drivers that commute into our city. The recent Crosswalk Ordinance Memo lists the way the city has attempted to inform people of the Crosswalk Ordinance. So far the city has used the following methods:, Facebook (City and AAPD), Twitter (City and AAPD), MLive, CTN, WEMU, Posters, Bumper stickers, Keychains, Slap bracelets, Informational handouts, Resident Newsletter, Bus ads (on buses and at bus stops), Print ads, Radio ads.
It is jaw dropping that the city has elected to use slap bracelets before street signs in attempting to inform people about Crosswalk Ordinance. I know slap bracelets are much cheaper than street signs, but they just don't seem to be like an effective way to communicate to motorists or pedestrians at scale.

If Ann Arbor wants to increase the percentage of drivers who yield to pedestrians, the city needs to make sure as many drivers know about the Crosswalk Ordinance as possible. On an average weekday, 50,000 people commute into Ann Arbor. Most of these commuters are driving. There are also numerous people who visit Ann Arbor for the Hospital, the University, or various festivals. We cannot expect these people to comply with the Crosswalk Ordinance if they don't know what the Crosswalk Ordinance is. Clearly information about the Crosswalk Ordinance has not been spread as widely as possible. Ann Arbor needs to find a way to communicate its crosswalk expectations to people who don't read MLive and don't wear slap bracelets. The city should invest in street signs that explain our Crosswalk Ordinance at the major road entrances into Ann Arbor.

Special thanks to CivCity's Mary Morgan for the picture above.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

PictureThis, a fun tool to critique signs in Ann Arbor

Gentle reader, do you have strong feelings about signs? Now's your chance to let the city know how you feel. The city is working on an update of the sign ordinance (Title 5, Chapter 61). To help with this process, the city has launched PictureThis, a web app that lets you upload, geotag, and comment on the signs you see, all anonymously.

Right now there are only 44 pictures uploaded, but some of the comments are really great. Take for example this one below, where someone feels personally insulted by this Verizon Sign.

Gentle reader, why don't you check out PictureThis and give the city feedback on your favorite signs.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Ypsilanti City Council Preview for Dec. 19, 2017

Tomorrow is the final Ypsilanti City Council meeting for 2017. On the agenda. The item I am most interested in is a report on the sidewalk gap along Washtenaw between Anna Dom Bakeries. This sidewalk gap is all that separates the Normal Park neighborhood from the delicious apple fritters at Dom's. The sidewalk gap memo (Council Packet, Page 180) concludes with "Staff’s current recommendation is to consider this project for specific inclusion in the Capital Improvements Plan during the upcoming annual revision." So maybe Normal Parkers will not have to choose between walking in the street or on someone's lawn for too much longer.

There are other items of interest on tomorrow's agenda. There are two ordinance first readings with associated public hearings. The first, Ordinance 1299, amends Chapter 2 of the City Code. Specifically it specifies rules for procurement of goods and services. The second, Ordinance 1300, cleans up the the city code with regard to several tax exemptions that are for projects that never came to fruition or that are outdated. See page 109 of the council packet for more info.

The Council will be voting on whether to enter an agreement with the Huron River Watershed Council for a study on removing the Peninsular Park Dam. There are more details on the proposal and the current state of the dam starting on page 151 of the council packet. One item that stands out is that it would take an estimated $659,000 to fix the dam. As an aside, if you're interested in the hydro power potential of the Peninsular Park Dam, the Ann Arbor Chronicle has a great article about the potential for hydro power at the Argo Dam you should check out.

Finally there are a couple of interesting presentations at tomorrow's meeting. The first will be on the Ypsilanti Housing Commission from Executive Director Zachary Fosler. The second will be on the 2017-2018 snow removal plan.

Check out the Ypsi Live Facebook group for a live stream. If you follow along make sure you tweet about the meeting using the #YpsiCouncil hashtag.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ann Arbor City Council Preview

The parcels that are part of the Glen Mixed Use Development are outlines in red.

Gentle readers, the last #a2council meeting of the year is tomorrow night. It looks like the council is really trying to go out with a bang: there are 8 public hearings scheduled tomorrow night. You can check out the full agenda here. Two of the public hearings, PH-1 and PH-2, concern the Glen Mixed Use Development planned for the empty lot at the corner of Glen and Ann. This lot is one of the more prominent holes in our city and it will be interesting to see how this proposal is received by the neighborhood and the city at large.

Another interesting item on the agenda is a memo reviewing the Crosswalk Ordinance. I've just scanned the 20 page report but here are some highlights. First here's a resolution from the November 15th Transportation Commission meeting:

The Transportation Commission recommends that City Council maintain the Crosswalk Ordinance in its current iteration based on the review and discussion of the ordinance that the Commission has had and the research that has been done by staff.
Interestingly, there is a section of the report that discusses methods that have been used to communicate about the Crosswalk Ordinance. Seeing the list reminds me that the city still has not put up signs at the major entrances into Ann Arbor explaining our Crosswalk Ordinance.

Another interesting item on the agenda is C-3,An amendment to the City Code to add a chapter establishing a procedure for removing a councilperson from office. Gentle reader, what interests you the most in tomorrow's #a2council agenda?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hyatt Place Ann Arbor, A review

EJ enjoying the cozy little living room section of our hotel room. It's hard to beat a sectional couch.

From time to time, if you run a local website, you will be offered the opportunity to review things: restaurants, plays, and sometimes brand new hotels. In October of this year, EJ and I had the opportunity to review Ann Arbor's newest hotel, the Hyatt off south State Street. In full disclosure, we received our room for free as well as a $25 voucher to use in the restaurant and bar in the Hotel.

There is something strange about staying in a hotel in your own city. I remember we did it once when I was a child. My family stayed at Weber's for a few days in elementary school one winter when my brother, sister, and I were all stricken with lice. There are of course non-lice related reasons a local might stay at a local hotel. EJ and I stayed at one after our wedding so we could be closer to guests. Also, local hotels can be useful when your heat goes out in the winter, or if you want to carry on an affair away from the prying eyes of the public.

Hyatt Place Ann Arbor is a nice hotel. It is brand new so everything felt clean and fresh. In the lobby area there was a cozy little sitting area lined with tall bookshelves stacked with antique books. It was a great spot to curl up and read or just people watch. EJ and I had a room on the 4th floor that had a king-sized bed and a nice little sitting area. The furnishings were comfortable. Also there were plenty of places to charge our various electronic devices.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sledding hills

Gentle reader, I'm sure you've noticed that we are getting some snow today. That must mean you have sledding on your mind. My personal favorite sledding spot is Huron Hills Golf Course. It is steep and has a great long run. I know people also love the hills at Vets Park and Hunt Park. In Ypsilanti, Riverside Park and Ypsi High are also very popular.

Gentle reader, what are your favorite sledding hills? Here's a from the Damn Arbor archives with more information on sledding. Note: This article was first published on Dec. 27th, 2012.

Look out your window. We've got some snow. It's the holidays so you really have no excuse not to go sledding. With that in mind, I am posting some links to some classic articles about sledding in Ann Arbor:

Guide to Ann Arbor: Sled-DANG! In A2 from Damn Arbor's very own Quinn Davis

Sledding on Arborwiki

Guide to the Ann Arbor area's best sledding hills by Ed Vielmetti

I will add this: Huron Hills is probably my favorite sledding spot in the city (see this article on the Chronicle). The Arb is pretty sweet for sledding too. But the frozen hummocks of grass kind of hurt your bum as your sled there. And it's borderline illegal. But really it doesn't matter where you sled, as long as you get out and enjoy yourself.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Public commentary as performance art

A YouTuber who goes by the name, Chad Kroeger (No, not that Chad Kroeger) has posted a series of videos taken from public commentary from public meetings in the greater Los Angeles area. Above you will see an impassioned plea against a potential ban on house parties in the Hollywood Hills. Interesting note, public commentary at LA City Council meetings is only one minute. Pretty harsh. Below you can see Chad and his buddy JT making a plea for a Paul Walker memorial sculpture to the San Clemente City Council. Note: his prop game is great.

Gentle readers, what do you think about this use of public commentary? On one hand, it may not be the best use of public official's time. On the other hand, it certainly adds some levity to public meetings.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Scorekeepers, the most popular Uber destination in Michigan

Uber has just released their 2017 list of most popular destinations in each state. In most states, the most popular destination is some sort of sports stadium. E.g. Ohio's most popular Uber destination is Progressive Field in Cleveland. Michigan's most popular Uber destination is none other than local watering hole, Scorekeepers. Popular college town bar is the second largest category in Uper's 2017 rankings. Still, I'm a little surprised that Skeeps beats out the popular Detroit stadia for Uber traffic.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Holiday gift idea: Ann(e) Arbor perfume

Gentle reader, there is an Etsy Shop in France that is selling what appears to be a half empty bottle of Anne Arbor perfume. Even stranger, the price is listed as $7.34. Is someone trying to send us a message? Is this just a giant cosmic coincidence? I have so many questions. What is Anne Arbor perfume? Does it smell like Ann Arbor? What does the essence of Ann Arbor smell like?

Gentle reader, do you have a difficult-to-shop-for Ann Arborite on your shopping list? Why not buy them the ultimate gift? A half empty bottle of Anne Arbor perfume. It can be yours for just $7.34(!) plus $7.71 shipping and handling. Seriously, if somebody does buy it, please let us know what it smells like.

An interview with Richard Retyi on the occasion of the publication of the publication of his first book

Damn Arbor alum Rich Retyi has just published his first book, The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History Book. He will be discussing the book tomorrow night at Literati Bookstore at 7 pm. The Book of Ann Arbor compiles many of the historical stories you may have heard on Rich's podcast, Ann Arbor Stories.

This afternoon, Rich and I sat down at our respective computers to discuss his book over email.

Ben Connor Barrie: What is your favorite story in the book?

Rich Retyi: he saddest is It's Lovely to Die Together. The most messed up are Ann Arbor Cages Public Animal #1 or The Torch Murders. The grossest is A Brief History of Poop. The historicaliest is Dirty Rotten Founders. But Ben, my favorite is obviously the Dam Arbor chapter!

BCB: What was the best part about writing the book?

RR: Nothing. It fucking sucks to write a book. That's not exactly true. Going down 41 rabbit holes to write these stories—reading all these old newspaper articles and looking through old photos from the Ann Arbor District Library's archives—that's a lot of fun. But deadlines and editors who hit me and did I mention deadlines? I also feel really weird signing my book because that feels super pretentious. Wait, your question was what did you hate about writing this book, right?

BCB: Is your book the best local holiday gift for the 2017 season?

RR: No. It's the third best holiday gift for the 2017 season. The first best would be John Bacon's book about when the town of Halifax blew up. The second would be a t-shirt from The Bar at Braun Court. THEN Book of Ann Arbor.

The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History Book, published by Fifth Avenue Press, is available at Nicola's Books, Literati, Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Amazon.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ypsilanti City Council Preview

December's first Ypsilanti City Council Meeting is tomorrow night at Ypsilanti City Hall at 7 pm. The most exciting item on the agenda is a presentation of the 164 page 2017 Annual Financial Report. I've only skimmed the report, but here are some of the highlights: property tax revenue is up about $157,017 or 1.5% to $10,582,364; total revenue is down from $24,375,260 to $19,072,294; and total expense are down from $22,865,869 to $20,848,429.

Another interesting item is Resolution No. 2017-282, which would enter into an agreement with the Huron River Watershed Council to manage a study examining the feasibility of removing the old Peninsular Paper Co. Dam and restoring the riparian ecosystem there. There will also be presentations on the the snow removal plan for winter 2017-2018 and the plans for the large parcel at 800 Lowell (pictured below).

Citizen Streamers have streamed been streamed several recent public meeting in Ypsilanti via Facebook Live. I haven't been able to confirm whether anybody will be streaming the Dec. 5th #YpsiCouncil meeting. If I do hear anything, I'll update this article.

UPDATE: Ypsi Live will be streaming tomorrow night's meeting.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

#a2council preview

The site of the proposed Lower Town development outlined in red. Three of tomorrow night's 7 public hearings are on the various aspects of the Lower Town development.

Tomorrow is the first Ann Arbor City Council meeting of December. The agenda includes seven total public hearing. You can check out the agenda here. Three are about the Lower Town development at 1140 Broadway. The first is on the proposal to rezone the parcel. The second is on landscape modification for the project. The final one is on the brownfield plan for the site. Three of the remaining public hearings have to do with annexing township parcels. The final public hearing is on an amendment to the city's medical marijuana zoning rules. Of the public hearings, I anticipate the ones regarding the Lower Town development will have the most speakers.

On the consent agenda two of the items relate to sidewalk easements. There is also CA-10, which is an emergency purchase order for replacement elevator belts for the City Hall elevators. Yikes. Hope those elevators are safe.

Gentle reader, what are you most excited for in tomorrow's City Council Agenda? Also, what do you think about the Lower Town Development?