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raytoast

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

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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.

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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

Northland Shopping Center Memories

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I am just old enough to remember an annual trek in the early 1950s to Hudson’s Department Store in downtown Detroit, buying clothes for school and the Jewish Holidays. Maybe we would go into another store, but I only remember Hudson’s. Arriving at the store, we always took the elevator, greeting the gentleman operator with an excited smile, to the top (8th floor, if memory serves me well) for the full experience. Coming down one floor at a time on the escalator, we stepped off at each level to inspect the store’s offerings, increasingly interesting as we got closer to ground level. Lunch or dinner after shopping was at our favorite deli on the corner of Seven Mile and Livernois, before heading for home in Bay City. That was a long day with a two-hour drive at each end, plus having the energy to shop with purpose at our destination.

In the late-1950s we gradually shifted the entire experience from downtown Detroit to the newly developing suburb of Southfield. We still shopped mostly at Hudson’s, but now treated ourselves to lunch and sweets at Sander’s, bringing home their fabulous Almond Tea Ring for another day. Throughout the early 1960s, until starting college in the fall of 1965, our family repeated this annual ritual.

In the heart of Southfield, our destination was the new Northland Shopping Center. In spite of confusion about these names, we found the Northland Center convenient and a bit closer to, so a shorter drive from, Bay City. It still offered what we wanted in our beloved Hudson’s, and it just seemed so easy to drive right up to any one of the mall entrances. There always seemed to be some kind of circus-like festive atmosphere in the spaces between the buildings, and we delighted in the charming sculptures. We were very non-judgmental, though, and accepted this new type of shopping in stride. I do not remember where my father and brother settled, but my mother and I had a grand time.

Never living in the Detroit area, I did not retain a loyalty to this or to any other shopping destination, and gradually forgot about Northland and Sanders and the two-hour drive.

Historic postcard, Kim Silarski Collection

Historic postcard, Kim Silarski Collection

Northland Center, south side, double level, main entrance. Photo by Ilene R Tyler.

Northland Center, south side, double level, main entrance. Photo by Ilene R Tyler.

Then, in the spring of 2015, it was announced that the old Northland Center had been shuttered for the last time, and that developers were looking for new ways to redevelop the site. This would mean demolition of the original Victor Gruen structures and clearing the site of the original parking lot surrounding it. In order to document the site before its demise, volunteers from the docomomo-US|Michigan chapter offered to prepare a statement of significance and existing conditions that contributes to the archive of information on the site and raises awareness for discussion of the site’s importance and its legacy. This document is attached for reference and for circulation.

Northland Center: Statement of Significance & Existing Conditions (PDF)