By Kathleen Stocking
Traverse City’s planners are so focused on creating wealth and tax revenue with “high density” that they aren’t thinking about what will happen in the future.
In 2017 Joe Minicozzi, a proponent of New Urbanism, came to Traverse City and in the Warehouse District at the Inside-Out gallery told people how his hometown of Rome, New York had been killed by malls. (You can see this on YouTube.) Traverse City was already built out to the limit, he said, and the only place to go was up. Greater density downtown, Minicozzi said, would create more tax revenue and would create a “strong community” with “walkability.”
Joe Minicozzi’s ideas, obsolete in 2017, are even more so now: malls are dying on their own, people are working remotely and Amazon is outcompeting the big box stores. Ironically, Minicozzi’s town was destroyed by malls and Traverse City is being destroyed by Minicozzi’s ideas about fighting malls.
City planners kissed the package. They started courting developers, giving tax breaks, providing variances to their own zoning codes and putting builders and real estate agents on planning boards — everyone talking about walkability.
Those who live in Traverse City watched in dismay as the “strong community” of kids and families that used to visit Bardon’s Wonder Freeze at the corner of Garfield and Front became fewer because the corner became a hot, treeless slab of concrete surrounded by windowless buildings. The city’s embrace of the Paddling for Pints program on the river means more drunkenness and more crime. The gimmicky new Riverwalk, chemically-treated wood toxic to fish, is already covered in garbage. Everywhere you look the city isn’t maintaining the man-made infrastructure and is destroying the natural infrastructure.
More buildings mean more hard surfaces with more rain going into the river. The E. coli outbreaks at the beaches have become routine. The river floods more. The riverbank behind the State Theater, where there’s a water main on top of a sewage pipe, is in danger of collapse. If the bank gives way, this will wreak havoc for the city’s water. Sewage will go into the river and the bay.
The bad ideas are endless. The city plans to repurpose a park on the river at Union Street into a glass, steel and concrete tourist attraction with a children’s museum, taking out the trees. A park at the town’s bay front Senior Center, part of our existing “strong community,” is reportedly being eyed for workforce housing. Not only do many seniors want to keep the park by the bay, they fear a trick because in the past when land was taken for low-income 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 lately. Our city is now a city where at least some of those making decisions, like the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), aren’t elected officials. We’ve become less democratic. Almost no one turned out for the “public input” meetings hosted by the city and the DDA. The trust, the sense of community, is gone.