Planning for Green Space in Ann Arbor – No Walk in the Park

Parks are such an important part of the Ann Arbor landscape that every five years, the city’s master plan for the parks is reviewed and updated.  In preparation for an October meeting of the park advisory commission, planner Amy Kuras is holding focus groups, surveying residents, and holding public meetings about the Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan before it is voted on by the parks advisory commission and city council and submitted for state approval.  The meetings have been lively so far, and certainly illustrate that planning for green space in Ann Arbor is no walk in the park.

The process, however, shows a lot about how issues that concern citizens and the future development of the city are handled in Ann Arbor.  Ms. Kuras asks substantive questions and wants thoughtful responses from the public.  Clearly, the goal is to have an Ann Arbor that includes planned green space, with amenities that are kid friendly, attractive, and useful to all.  After all, many people may move to Ann Arbor to attend or work at the University of Michigan or local companies; they stay because they get hooked on all Ann Arbor has to offer.

 With several issues under debate, one of the most crucial is whether there should be more open space in downtown that is designated as parkland.

Downtown Ann Arbor is currently an entertainment destination, the scene to many festivals and events and home to many great restaurants, galleries, and retail outlets.  Should large areas also be devoted to parks?  Should random vacant lots be turned into “pocket parks”?  Given the price of downtown land, should building a park always prevail versus commercially developing the land?

 Currently, a debate is underway about how to develop the surface of an underground parking structure under construction for the library.  There could be a plaza there, as well as on 415 acres at W. Washington.  The former YMCA is now a surface parking lot on land worth millions; continuing to use the land this way or turning it into a park would sacrifice exciting downtown development. Is this a good use of these areas

Who would use a downtown park?  Residents who live outside of downtown might be more likely to take their kids to a more local park – though some have said they want a park downtown.  Even if people did use the park, the usage would be daytime only – a concern in a hip downtown area.  Some small parks in the city are barely used now.

Advocates of green space in urban areas cite the European example of pedestrian parks and pedestrian malls as a model for Ann Arbor and suggest this would work in downtown.  In Europe, more people live downtown than do here.  Those who do might want to take a run in the park, but having large areas of green space would make it inconvenient to walk to new restaurants and services.  Downtown merchants do not like having streets closed as pedestrian malls.  This is currently done for Ann Arbor festivals, but merchants regard them as dead space, not conducive to creating a lively vibrant area. 

One current planning commissioner Tony Derezinski even quipped that since graveyards currently provide green space, residents might “bring a basket to the casket.”  This illustrates that there is in fact, green space developed for other uses that still contribute to the overall look and feel of the city.  Even open land at the university might be considered part of overall open space.

The full article at AnnArbor.com presents the interesting debate on downtown land use.  At this point, it is likely that a targeted plan for downtown green space will emerge that will consider programming, parks, public art, and the like.

In the meantime, another meeting to discuss broader park zoning issues will take place Tuesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm Barn, 2781 Packard Road.  The current 232-page PROS plan (a 10MB .pdf file) can be downloaded from the city’s website.

 Ann Arbor is clearly a city where your voice will influence the future of the city.  Be part of the debate!  Martin Bouma – your Ann Arbor neighborhood expert – can find you Ann Arbor real estate in the heart of all.  Whether you’re buying or selling a home, the Bouma Group can answer any questions you have about real estate in Ann Arbor.  Interested in Washtenaw County, Saline, or a specific Ann Arbor neighborhood?  Call the Bouma Group today! And don’t forget to check out our Condo Hotline – we’ve got a handle on the Ann Arbor condominium market.

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