By Kathleen Stocking
Traverse City’s planners are so focused on creating “high density” wealth and tax revenue that they don’t think about what will happen in the future.
In 2017, Joe Minicozzi, a proponent of New Urbanism, came to Traverse City and the Inside-Out gallery’s Warehouse District to tell people how his hometown of Rome, New York, had been killed by shopping malls. (You can see it on YouTube.) Traverse City was already built to the edge, he said, and the only place to go was in place. Greater downtown density, Minicozzi said, would create more tax revenue and create a “strong community” with “pedestrian accessibility.”
Joe Minicozzi’s ideas, obsolete in 2017, are even more so today: malls are dying of themselves, people are working remotely and Amazon is competing with big box stores. Ironically, the city of Minicozzi was destroyed by the malls and Traverse City is destroyed by Minicozzi’s ideas about fighting the malls.
City planners have embraced the package. They started courting developers, giving tax breaks, offering waivers to their own zoning codes, and putting builders and real estate agents on planning boards – everyone talks about walkability.
Those who live in Traverse City watched in dismay as the “strong community” of children and families who used to visit Bardon’s Wonder Freeze on the corner of Garfield and Front has become less numerous because the corner has become a slab of warm, treeless concrete surrounded by windowless buildings. . The town joining the Paddling for Pints program on the river means more drunkenness and more crime. The new Riverwalk, a chemically treated wood toxic to fish, is already covered in garbage. Everywhere you look, the city is not maintaining man-made infrastructure and destroying natural infrastructure.
More buildings mean more hard surfaces with more rain in the river. The outbreaks of E. coli on the beaches have become routine. The river overflows more. The bank behind the state theater, where there is a water main above a sewer pipe, is in danger of collapsing. If the bank gives way, it will wreak havoc on the city’s water. The sewage will go into the river and the bay.
Bad ideas are endless. The city plans to turn a park on the river at Union Street into a glass, steel and concrete tourist attraction with a children’s museum, by removing the trees. A park in the main center of the city bay, which is part of our existing “strong community”, would be sought for workforce housing. Not only do many seniors want to keep the park by the bay, but they fear a ruse because in the past when land was taken for social housing, it later turned into expensive condominiums.
“City” is an old word. Cities are made up of citizens who create their city’s culture and choose representatives, and that was true for Traverse City until recently. Our city is now a city where at least some of the decision-makers, like the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), are unelected. We have become less democratic. Almost no one showed up for the “public input” meetings organized by the city and the DDA. The trust, the sense of community, is gone.