By Kathleen Stocking | August 21, 2021
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, in the Inside-Out gallery in the Warehouse District, I think, told people how his hometown of Rome, New York, was killed by shopping centers. (You can watch his speech on YouTube.) Traverse City was already built to the limit, he said, and the only place to go was in place. Greater downtown density, Minicozzi said, would save the city by creating more tax revenue and making possible a “strong community” with “walkable accessibility.”
Never mind, Traverse City already had a strong pedestrian community and didn’t need to be rescued. “People are so nice,” I remember a reporter quoting an out-of-town visitor to the Traverse City Film Festival when it opened in 2005. Visitors from Los Angeles and New York were We were amazed at the friendliness and helpfulness of the locals. citizens.
Joe Minicozzi’s ideas, already obsolete in 2017, are even more so today: malls die on their own because no one wants to go there; people work remotely from homes in the countryside or from houseboats; anything and everything can be delivered, and Amazon outshines the big box stores. Ironically, the town of Minicozzi was destroyed by the malls, and Traverse City is destroyed by Minicozzi’s ideas about fighting the malls.
City planners, dazzled by silliness and quick chatter and seduced by dreams of big bucks, have embraced the package. They began courting developers, giving tax breaks, offering waivers to their own zoning codes, and putting builders and real estate agents on planning boards, everyone talking about walkability.
Those of us who live in Traverse City have 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 shrunk because the corner has become a warm, treeless concrete slab surrounded by windowless windows. buildings. Paddling for Pints on the river meant more drunkenness and more crime. The river is now dirty and unattractive, its banks are full of dangerous and unsavory characters at night and sometimes even during the day. I live by the river, so I know. The nifty new Riverwalk, made of chemically treated, fish-toxic wood, is already covered in trash. Everywhere you look, the city is not maintaining its man-made infrastructure and destroying the natural infrastructure.
Traverse City is getting uglier and more polluted day by day. There are few parking spaces, and what there is is expensive and inconvenient. Parking tickets, the money that goes into the coffers of the Downtown Development Authority, are commonplace.
Traverse City sits in a river delta, like New Orleans, with the high hill along the south airport on one side and Grand Traverse Bay on the other side. The river, foolishly diverted in the city’s early years, flowed into the bay right next to the Open Space. He still wants to do it and is eroding his banks in his attempts to make it happen. The city’s water table is high. New buildings, like the one on Front Street across from the J&S Hamburg, are built on a floodplain.
More buildings mean more hard surfaces, with more rain in the river. Eruptions of E. coli on the beaches have become routine. The river overflows more. The embankment behind the State Theater, where there is a sewer pipe, is in danger of collapsing. If the bank gives way, the sewage will flow into the river and the bay.
Bad ideas are endless. The city plans to cut down the trees and turn a park on the river at Union Street into a glass, steel and concrete tourist attraction complete with a children’s museum. The parking lot where the Farmers’ Market used to be a park and now, ominously, the city wants to move the Farmers’ Market to a small corner away from the expensive bay property, a place with no parking; it’s only a matter of time, it is feared, before the Farmer’s Market parking lot, once a park, becomes another expensive skyscraper.
The city’s machinations have become fanciful talk and sleight of hand, decisions never made public before the facts. They put on a great show by inviting public comment, hosting events at the Old Opera House, but not before they’ve already decided what they want. We have learned to watch what they do; not what they say. A park in the city’s Bayfront Senior Center, 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 public housing, it was later turned into expensive condominiums.
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 those who make decisions, like the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), are not elected officials. We have become less democratic. Hardly anyone showed up for the “public input” meetings organized by the city and the DDA. The trust, the sense of community, is gone.