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E-M:/ Election prognosis - Ann Arbor Parks & Greenbelt Proposal

Enviro-Mich message from Anne Heise <aheise@wccnet.org>

7,000 acres of open space in the Ann Arbor region are up for grabs.
The question is:  How many people who really want to limit sprawl will
*fail* to vote in the Tuesday election in Ann Arbor?

Probably more than we can imagine.  Projections are that *only 15%* of
registered voters will go to the polls.  And national studies indicate
that *even people who belong to environmental groups* will turn out for an
off-year election at only a 25% rate.

If this happens Tuesday, the Ann Arbor Parks & Greenbelt Proposal -
Proposal B - will almost surely lose.

In a toss-up election like the Proposal B race in Ann Arbor, turnout will
probably be decisive.  It could easily be a 1% election - which means it
could be decided by about 120 votes.  Look at the numbers above - they say
that a lot of good citizens are too busy, too unmotivated or simply too
forgetful to vote.  If we each talk to a few people Tuesday, we could make
the critical difference in preserving the natural character of this place
- forever.  Don't live in Ann Arbor?  Remind a few people who do to vote.

If Proposal B loses, I believe we're headed towards more years of futile
talk while the sprawl development model gets further locked into our
landscape (hello, West Canton).  But if B wins, it will likely trigger
more extensive regional land preservation partnerships, and kick-start
long-stalled (forever stalled?) work on transportation and housing issues.

That's why sprawl developers from all over are spending a record amount of
money to try to shut down what could be the beginning of something big.
Their money is a serious threat - they win over 75% of the elections when
they do this.  And that's why an unprecedented coalition of
environmentalists and business leaders - from the Sierra Club, Washtenaw
Land Trust, and Ecology Center to Bill Ford, Jr., Bill Martin, and Pfizer
- are backing Proposal B.  That's why both the Detroit Free Press and the
Ann Arbor News endorse B. Has any local issue ever brought together such
disparate interests?  No one thinks it's perfect.  But a wide variety of
smart people think it's the best way to get started on something big.

Talk to your friends Tuesday.  Vote.  Then come on down to Arbor Brewing
on Washington Street in Ann Arbor after 8 pm to join the many volunteers
and supporters who have given so much to the cause of land preservation in
the past few months.  Win or lose, it's time for a victory party to
celebrate this outpouring of community spirit.

Thanks for all you've done.

Doug Cowherd
Co-director, Friends of Ann Arbor Open Space
Chair, Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group

P.S. Below is a pithy essay by Doug Kelbaugh, the Dean of the U-M Urban
Planning college that cuts right to the chase about misconcpetions raised
by the developers about Proposal B.  Consider sending it to Ann Arbor
friends you hope will vote on Tuesday.  You can find the latest news,
developer lies, Greenbelt map, and other stuff at www.a2openspace.org.



I have just returned from Europe and painfully read the newspaper accounts
of the many conflicting opinions expressed by respected friends and
colleagues on Proposal B.

As polarizing as it may be among good and reasonable people, this is too
important and pivotal a matter to muddle through with the convenient
reasoning and flawed logic. In my opinion, there are many fallacies

Fallacy #1 - HOUSING COSTS WILL GO UP. While passage of Prop B may
marginally raise LAND costs, it doesn't necessarily mean HOUSING costs
will go up. If building lots get smaller, housing costs can be contained
and, if density goes up faster than land costs, housing can actually
become more affordable. Reduced street and utility capital costs also help
to lower housing prices.

Fallacy #2 - TAXES WILL GO UP. This is true only if millage goes up over
time, which the voters decide. Taxes can can actually be better contained
with compact development because infrastructure capital and maintenance
costs are less per dwelling unit.

has been going on for decades, as developers have sought and found
ever-cheaper land by going further out. Although commute distances are
increased, this pattern is superior to a continous carpet of suburban
development, because it preserves pockets of green and habitat.  Leapfrog
development is okay if it is compact, environmentally sensitive,
socio-economically diverse, close to existing infrastructure (including
public transit), and built in smaller increments than the massive roof
farms that we see replacing agricultural farms.  And if the frog leaps
into new or existing mixed-use villages, all the better.

taken off the market or its development rights are purchased or
transferred, pressure to develop inward toward town will be as great as to
develop outward. True, this infill housing must be encouraged by the city
and towns with initiatives to accommodate the demonstrable demand among
many young and old residents who want to live more urbanely and
sustainably. This is a happy trend to be welcomed and capitalized on asap
by Ann Arbor and other towns.

Fallacy #5 - IT REDUCES FREEDOM AND CHOICE.  It tends to do just the
opposite. Cheap land on the periphery and cheap gasoline have conspired to
give us relatively monotonous, monocultural subdivisions - whether
repetitive McMansions for the affluent, garden apartments for the middle
class, or manufactured homes for the poor. (This may be conspiracy of good
intentions but one with so many unintended negative consequences and so
much asphalt as to qualify as the latest road to hell.) With the exception
of some townhouses and lofts, we're down to three basic architectural
types not only in Michigan but across the country, where regional
differences have pretty much disappeared.

Fallacy #6 - TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. The argument that
the proposed amount of funding is too small is a curious one. Most
citizens agree that the current trajectory of sprawl is not in the public
interest and should be stopped. Any sound corrective step, such as this
one, is positve, however small, however late. To contend that the money is
insufficient and therefore shouldn't be spent is a little bit like saying
we should stop spending on cancer research or housing for the homeless
until full funding is at hand. The next step is to get going on densifying
downtown with more residential units.

The last and biggest fallacy may be that sprawl is a natural and
inevitable outcome of the American Dream, our political freedom and our
economic system. In fact, it has been aided and abetted both intentionally
and unintentionally since WWII by policies of cheap energy and farm land,
highway programs, sewer and water subsidies, mortgage practices,
greenfield siting of schools, malls and offices, underfunded transit,
untaxed free parking, environmental laxities, etc.  I'm not against people
living at low suburban or exurban densities, just against the subsidising
of it by the taxpayers who live in town, drive less, use less natural
resources, etc.

Prop B is a good start, although not enough to reverse the seemingly
inexorable sprawling of America, which can be stemmed only with
considerably higher land and fuel pricing, as well as new zoning, regional
and urban growth and redevelopment policies. It picks relatively
low-hanging fruit that will only get harder to reach with time. There will
no doubt be unintended consequences, as there always are, but probably not
the ones now being trotted out by the opposition, who are in some cases
doing their best to obfuscate and confuse the voters. Proposition B is an
historic beginning of a new attitude and discipline about how we want to
build community for ourselves and the future.

Douglas Kelbaugh - FAIA, Professor and Dean
Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
University of Michigan
2000 Bonisteel Blvd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2069

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