Yearly Archives


Ray Detter Celebration

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Ray Detter has been a community activist in Ann Arbor for decades. As our next door neighbor, we have worked with Ray on many of his projects. This fall we joined a small group of “conspirators” to plan a surprise recognition dinner for Ray. Over one hundred people came to an elegant dinner, with a few speeches by his old friends.

One outcome of that effort was that we raised funds to support the Ray Detter Community Service Award, to be given to a student(s) in an Ann Arbor high school who have been involved with a history project in the community. Ilene and Norm now head this Award Committee, which is enabled to give up to $1,000 each year.

Model Railroad

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rrausemyview2During the winter Norm likes to spend time in his basement “man cave” working on his model railroad. Technically it is a 2-rail, o-scale layout–the size of a Lionel, but a more realistic two rails. The engines are running and he is adding models to complete a townscape. It is certainly a multi-year project, but is a nice warm room to escape to on cold evenings.

Visionary City Planning

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This year the Michigan Association of Planning’s annual conference included a popular session on visionary city planning. The panelists were all Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners (there are only 8 or 9 in the state with this distinction). Norm, being a Fellow, served as moderator for the event. He presented ideas on how city planners could better promote master plans to city agencies, community leaders, and the public, He used as an historic example the unique and successful 1909 Plan for Chicago, a grand master plan by Daniel Burnham, who once said, “Make no small plans. They have no power to stir men’s souls.”

In May, Norm will join three planner/Fellows from other parts of the country to present a similar topic at the national conference of the American Planning Association in New York City. Their session is titled, “The Role of the 21st Century Planner.”

Chinese edition of our Planning book

By | Norm's Author Blog

We were pleasantly surprised–almost shocked–to find out that the book Robert Ward and Norm wrote a few years ago, Planning and Community Development: A Guide for the 21st Century, had just been translated into Chinese. Obviously the publisher, W. W. Norton and Company, has enough confidence in sales to expand the market to the largest population in the world. We are excited to see how it goes, and what happens next. Maybe an updated edition will be needed.


New transportation history book

By | News, Norm's Author Blog

Norm wants to share his excitement about his new book. For years he has had had a special interest in the history of transportation, both because he likes the study of history in general and because for many years he taught a Transportation Planning course at Eastern Michigan University. The new book currently has a working title of Crossing the Continent: Pioneers of Transcontinental TravelThis story is told through the perspectives of individuals significant in each era of transportation development. Some of the protaganists of this drama are familiar, but in unfamiliar roles—George Washington as a young surveyor trekking to new western territories. Some were entrepreneurs who were ruthless in their quest—Thomas Durant, as master schemer and scammer in charge of building the Union Pacific Railroad. Others were larger-than-life figures now largely forgotten—Carl G. Fisher, an eccentric businessman who instigated and prodded construction of the country’s first coast-to-coast highway as a way to sell more of his automobile headlamps. Other biographical sketches reveal inconceivable feats—Annie Kopchovsky, who in 1894 left her husband and two children for fifteen months to successfully ride a bicycle not only across the country, but around the world. The stories of these individuals and others are marvelous, intriguing, and sometimes unbelievable. A reflection on these individuals and their roles in “Crossing the Continent” provides the focus for this history of American daring and determination during the historical, and historic, evolution of systems of transportation.

Norm is now looking for an agent and a publisher. Stay tuned and you will be the first to know when the manuscript has become a published book.

nortoncoversmallWe are also excited to have been asked by the publisher of our book, Historic Preservation, to update it for a 3rd edition. Written by Norm and Ilene and Ted Ligibel, it remains one of the bestselling books on the topic. For this edition, Ilene has agreed to lead the editorial effort.

University of Michigan Master Planning

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A Conversation with Sue Gott…

Thursday, May 9, 2016

During my one-hour meeting with Sue Gott and Jim Kosteva, I gained an understanding of the University’s priorities for development of sites they currently own on all five of their Ann Arbor campuses. I also learned that they are working off 8 and 9-year-old planning documents for the medical and north campus, and have no working plans for central or athletic campuses. That’s not to say they do not plan, because they do. General goals are to consider sites that are vacant, properties that are in poor conditions, and opportunities to achieve greater density as part of responsible stewardship of their property.

Philosophical goals that guide University decision-making regarding property use, and that were listed in the North Campus Master Plan Update of 2008, are:

  1. Create strong connections, within and at the edges of the campus,
  2. Promote campus vitality, and a quality experience for everyone,
  3. Optimize development capacity, and
  4. Respect and incorporate environmental features.

Beyond that, specifics are hard to come by. Looking at site plans for all of these areas, no sites jumped out as earmarked for changes that would generate alarm in the preservation community, although that is often in the eye of the beholder. On central campus, most sensitive to preservationists, Ruthven is intact, the Arthur Miller House (439 S. Division St.) is visible next to ISR, and there is no infringement into the Martha Cook garden, protected by a legacy donation.

State Street, north side, south of E. William St.

State Street, north side, south of E. William St.

When we looked at a larger scale map of State Street, however, I noticed a yellow circle in the lawn area in front of Betsy Barbour and Helen Newberry dormitories. What the University is considering, at this early stage of discussion, is building something for Trotter House on central campus closer to a hub of student activity than they currently are on Washtenaw Avenue. This is viewed as a potential site for development, regardless of the integrity of the original dormitories having or needing a front lawn. No timetable was given, but this seems to be something to watch out for.

Summertime at the manse…

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Maintenance done together is better than toiling alone. After a year of waiting for the fabrication of a new torus base for column #1, we were finally ready to complete minor filling, sanding, cleaning, and painting of all four column bases at the front porch. While we all hope our maintenance projects stay “maintained,” it doesn’t happen that way. Maintenance is ongoing and requires vigilance in some cases to avoid spiraling out of control. Our columns are that kind of albatross, if you will, that always need attention and treatment. So, we are in another final round of care that should buy us a year or two of simpler monitoring and enjoyment without excessive work. We shall see…

Four column bases, 2016

Four column bases, 2016