Who's Going to Ann Arbor?

The calendar is counting down the days remaining to register to attend the Inter-City Visit and Leadership Conference, at least in terms of being able to get the cheapest tickets and to be eligible for scholarship funds. Ann Arbor was chosen as this year's destination because of its perceived similarities to Chapel Hill, in both the populace and the problems they face. Are any OP'ers planning on attending this year? For those of you who went to Madison two years ago, do you feel like any real progress is made on these trips, or would community leaders be better off with a staycation?



Thanks for the reminder, Jason. I haven't figured out whether I can go, but the $1,130 price tag means I will either have to get a scholarship or raise money online.   Would any of y'all donate to send me or another blogger on this trip?

Y'all know I have an opinion about these field trips.  I think they're a waste of leadership time and money.  When the destination is a cool place like Ann Arbor or Madison, the junket is no doubt enjoyable.   But how valuable is it really to the community back home? 

And how similar really is Ann Arbor to Chapel Hill?  If you're looking for a town with similar populace and problems, come to Carrboro!   

That is an honest question. We have seen many of these trips over the years. They have utilized much energy to plan, they have been hyped, they have utilized much energy and money to execute - but what exactly have been the benefits? Have they been commensurate with the costs in time & money? And don't forgot the hidden cost - those things that could have been accomplished in the time it took to plan & execute the trips. On top of that, have they been worth the environmental costs?

I hope someone seriously provides answers to these questions. I've asked them in the past & have been assured that the insights gained on these trips are worth everything that went into them, yet I cannot name one improvement that has resulted from these trips.

My intuition tells me that if we spent that time and money focusing on some of the readily identifiable problems that we absolutely know we need to address, that we would see real benefits and that more local people would be included in the process. And certainly computer research and remote communication could provide nearly as much background information as we'd need to emulate programs in other locales. As for the schmooze factor - I think that's important. But we could schedule local schmooze sessions here for various community leaders and citizens to bond and network.

Will someone refute these ideas and tell us what these trips are really worth?

I'd feel better if these working vacations (aka junkets) were managed by someone who starts with a list of objectives and comes back with a list of action items.  Then their value, or lack thereof, would be more clear.  Yes, there was a lot of hype about the Madison trip; but the impression I got was that our people simply had a wonderful time.

Another concern of mine, compatible with Mark's, is the amount of time the host city spends planning to squire and inform/inspire our visiting delegation.  All of this ambassadorial stuff is costly on both ends.  

Jason's question is, "Who's going?"  We know Ruby wants to go, and other OP'ers are certainly on the bus.  Let's hear from that contingent! 

I'd be willing to go under certain circumstances, but I would not pay my own money for a junket that promotes someone else's agenda. (Plus I couldn't afford it, even I wanted to pay.) If I did go, it would mostly be as a blogger so that I could get better informed and tell others what actually goes on, what is learned, etc.

It seems like one the main benefit of these trips is better relations between the participants, who are already the connected power brokers in town from the university, government, business, and nonprofit worlds. They could certainly save money and include more people by having a conference or retreat here in NC and bringing in experts from other places.

is not a good year for budgets and not a good year for junkets.

A few thoughts. And I'm trying real hard not to harsh the mellow.

I'm sure these are wonderful, wonderful trips, but they are exclusive, expense and have yielded very little in the way of concrete results. As near as I can tell from talking to many attendees over the years, at best they bring people closer together and help to humanize the policy debates here at home. It just seems weird that we have to go to Ann Arbor to do that.

Picking up on Cat''s point, why not get all these people together and take a good, long look at what's going on here?

Or, why not send a group of good fact-finders out and have a briefing and a teleconference with the folks from the other town. Or why not pay a group of archeologists to sift through all the great plans gathering dust people in this community have developed and see if any of them resonate?

Another note: We often hear about the multiplier effect of money spent in this community. That cuts the other way as well. This is a town mainly of small and medium-sized businesses and nonpofits plus a giant state enterprise. Lunch for 100, printing costs and other expenses paid for here could do a lot for some local businesses.



I wonder if anyone can suggest a way that this event could be more inclusive without giving up on the idea of learning from distant communities such as Ann Arbor.  I would be willing to wear an 'Ann Arbor Cam' or something to allow more folks to participate.  Or maybe we could set up some sort of live webfeed that would allow for people here to not only listen-in on Ann Arbor, but also provide feedback/ask questions.

Why not:

  • Send a small delegation of no more than 6 local representatives for a longer visit to the remote community,
  • Bring about a dozen representatives from the remote community to lead presentations here, and
  • Have a more-accessible conference somewhere in NC to glean insight from the outside representatives and our delegation, while also doing the important work of building stronger ties and offering dialog between diverse community leaders.

This massively cuts the carbon footprint and makes it easier for people to be involved without losing very muchin the way of learning from other communities.

via email with Kirk's point about the challenges of this fiscal year and their intention to skip the trip. Mayor Chilton is in a different category both in his role generally as Mayor (representing the town) and in his role specifically as our delegate to the Community Leadership Council.

Thanks for staying positive on this. The trip is going to happen and there will be some ideas and, perhaps, lessons to be learned. I'm not a complete cynic on this, but after the Bloomington trip (my adopted hometown) Joe Herzenberg and I had a long and enlightening talk about the usefulness of these jaunts and it kinda stuck with me.

The main thing I'd like is some help understanding context. College town to college town is not apple to apple. Different tax and budget structures and different state/fed funding make it hard to translate what happens elsewhere to here. The structure of services is also significant. How transit cost is covered is always key. What about payments in lieu of taxes, fire protection grants and other fiscal equity issues?

It wold be nice to have a grounding on the differences and similarities prior to the visit.

One thing that is different, at the moment, is that Michigan is suffering as much or more than any area in the United States in the current recession.  We're feeling it here too, but not like Ann Arbor (from what I gather).

I do have to agree that it can be difficult to apply concepts from distant communities (particularly for local government) because NC has so utterly hamstrung its local governments.  We simply don't have the authority needed to adress many of our local community's problems, whereas Madison had much more sweeping authority from the Wisonsin State Legislature.

If we knew the total cost, we could make a determination on the best way to get what we want for that cost.

Of course, what "we" want probably has many definitions. But it is certainly possible to learn from what other communities do without taking a crowd of people there for a very brief visit.

We could identify something we'd like to improve. Then identify where folks are doing something that we may like to further explore. Then we could research what they did. Maybe pick up the phone. Start an e-mail conversation. (Save some jet fuel.) If we absolutely cannot figure it out without being there in person, then we send a small delegation.

It's barely two days, factoring in air travel and ground transportation.  And if a hundred people go, there's a ton of choreography...

One informed source tells me the total cost is at least 150 grand.   But this is mostly private dough. Many of our communities' most energetic leaders, and I count myself among them, can't afford to splurge on a jaunt to Ann Arbor.  

Teleconferencing is not very effective as a meeting tool.  The meetings are awkward and unproductive, often due to technical difficulties.  And  how productive could live host/delegation meetings be in such a tight timeframe?  

So sorry, Mark, I don't have any ideas.  A live web feed would add to the cost, no?   

Last time (per www.Masdion2006.com) 102 people went at a price of $1100-$1300 depending on hotel arrangements and time of commitment, so it was about $125,000 of public and private money. Carrboro sent five people last time, but will probably have a smaller contingent this time. UNC had a significant number of participants on the trip to Madison, but one of the key reasons for visiting Madison was looking at campus growth, U of W's satellite research campus etc. which was (and is) especially relevant to Carolina North. I am not sure how many Chapel Hill or Orange County government folks went on the trip, but there were some elected officials and staff from each and the Mayor of Hillsborough came as well.

As for the value of the trips, I think I got a lot out of it - the way that Madison is growing is up more than out and Madison seems to be doing a good job with that. We learned about a number of interesting issues related to homelessness in Madison, at least one of which is being applied now in our local community.

I think it was also VERY instructive to hear U of W officials tell us about the MILLIONS of square feet of additional space they were building on campus. Roger Perry raised his hand and said "And how many parking spaces are you adding?" The Wisconsin Facilities Planner looked at him curiously and said "Why, none."

Here's my rough calculation on cost to local govt of Madison trip:

23 officials attended Madison (from madison2006.com): x $1200 = $27600; 10 are staff, 20 hours * 10 people * $50/hr (conservatively) = $10000; total local govt expense = at least $37600

The 18 university reps come at a (presumably) even higher per hour cost to the state.

There was also a considerable "advance team" for planning purposes, probably costing another $10k or so. Chamber lurkers will have exact figures on that.

Mark, I'm surprised you found a visit to a 1984 era "park" modeled on RTP to be of abiding relevence. After all, the original is just down the road. I don't recall the Madison park coming up in Leadership Advisory Council discussions. But, you are correct, the "no parking at all" reply was a special moment.

Madison's park was instructive by way of counter-example (we hope).


A trip to, say, Greenville and East Carolina University would cost less (financially and environmentally) and probably help more (because the same state rules apply there, and because both the town and school are closer to our size). Greenville’s front yard parking ordinance, for one example, directly inspired Chapel Hill’s original rule (now expanded in Land Use Management Ordinance Section 5.9.9). There may be more to learn close to home. Boone and Appalachian come to mind, too.

There is something to be said for trips to faraway towns with flagship institutions of academic prestige. The flagship towns should have higher household incomes, more off-campus knowledge workers, and maybe research satellites. And they offer more adventure and detachment to lure the traveler. But it’s hard to see how those factors matter so much to the average citizen or for most Town-Gown issues.


After the Madison trip, Chilton suggested that the next trip should not require a flight. No further than Charlottesville, Knoxville, or Columbia, all nearby flagships with much lower carbon offsets required. Don't know if this idea gained any traction with the Chamber.

Charlotte would be another possibility. If I recall correctly, the Chamber also has a day trip planned to Charlotte this fall to learn about the transit system. 

Yeah or Asheville seems like it would be interesting, even if UNC-A does not play quite the role in Asheville that UNC-CH does around here.

First, a little disclaimer about prejudices.  It is something of a struggle for me to wade into discussions of this kind becuase I am, without debate, part of the "establishment," having studied, lived and made my living here for the last 50 years.  My experience in forums such as OP is that, if I publicly espouse an idea, I have been greeted with the prejudice that such advocacy somehow feathers my bed or promotes the "establishment."  While I have nothing to do with the Ann Arboro agenda this year, I have been very active in planning trips in previous years, causing some of those uninvolved to impute to my activity that my motives were to furthering my "establlishment agenda."   

But, in this case, like you, I just us to be as smart as we can be and have the community's leadership learn to work together for the common good. So, here goes.    

In the case of the CLC Inter-City to Ann Arbor, I am an ardent advocate of this kind of trip in furtherance of that cause.  Most of us who attend go as an act of faith.  We believe that the dynamics of the process, which uses the experience of another community as a trigger to our own discussions which, becuase we are "trapped" in a faraway place for a few days, our focus acts as idea accelerators.  That "fermentation" cannot be done in an evening in a local meeting room.

(Even now, I worry that that, no matter how far we go, the insidious intrusion of Blackberries and their PDA cousins into the meetings are a signifcant distraction. They were all over our trip to Madison. I wish we could get a "no PDA" pledge from the participants, but I suspect that's a generational hurdle we will not clear.)   

Our community is quite disparate.  (That's part of its charm.) And the most caring, most  effective leaders are very busy.  So, there are always new faces doing beneficial new things that are not known to a wider circle.  I have never attended one of these things when I did not come home knowing someone whom I didn't know before, and we meet over an agenda of concern about how to improve our community.  That's a lot different than meeting at the ball game for a quick howdy and good-to-see-you, let's-get-together-sometimes.

As with any democratic process, these retreats are not always every efficient, and I rarely have any idea where these things will take us, but I think they are effective.  

I don't really know anyone who goes on these trips believing that it is the best way for them to further some specific agenda item.  Those who attend make a sacrifice of the time they could be spending at home enjoying a fine fall day or a day or two of their own jobs at home.  They go on faith that they will learn and might have something to contribute.  We should thank them for that commitment.  

About cost, Ruby, my company is one of the entities contributing to "scholarships" to those for whom the cost of attending would be a barrier.  These trips are not limited to financial or institutioinal elites, and everyone involved has gone to great lengths to make them inclusive, especially of leaders from the social sector. 

But, it is designed to be a leadership event.  This is not a junket and no one gets a free vacation from home.  It's a busy, busy time and Aaron Nelson has it set up, I  believe, so that it does require some financial commitment, on the belief that a leader should be willing to at least put a little skin in the game.  

And, in my mind, you, Ruby, would  certainly qualify.  I hope you will find a way to attend.  Because of OP, your writing about your experience and what you learn could further accelerate whatever ideas come out of there.  The more light we shine on them, the better.  Others expressed an interest in some kind of participation by the folks at home.  I think WCHL will broadcast some of it as it has before. 

While writing this, I went to the application website and noticed that tomorrow, July 14, is the deadline to apply for a scholarship.  If any are interestead in this,  you should act on that interest immediately. 





Whoops.  I am not very good at the protocol here.  I don't know where I supposed to put my name, so I see that I showed up as anonymous.  Sorry about that.  I hate  anonymous postings anywhere.  I still don't see a place to put my name, so I will sign it here.  

That note labelled "anonymous" is from me,

Jim Heavner


I spent quite a bit of time in Asheville a few years ago and to me, there isn't much of a comparison. Asheville reminds me of Chapel Hill/Carrboro back in the 1980s--lots of citizen turnout for every council discussion, lots of economic energy, strong social justice ethos. But as our community has matured we seem to have lost the passion of the citizenry toward these issues. I do think it would be instructive for the leaders of Asheville to pay more attention to Chapel Hill/Carrboro's evolution though.

Plus, as Dan notes, UNC-A doesn't have the same level of socio-economic-political impact on the community at UNC-CH does.

If there were some stated objectives/areas of focus, it might be feasible to send different groups to different communities. For example, when we were looking into citywide wifi for Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem was identified as a local leader; Asheville has done an exceptional job of building an arts based economy.

I did not go on the Madison trip.   I don't plan on going to the Ann Arbor trip although it sounds great.   But, to Anonymous' points above, I do see value in Asheville from at least its downtown perspective.  I find downtown Asheville to be something worthy of seeing if you haven't seen it before...and how the downtown relates to the neighbhorhoods around it.  One plus to the downtown, for instance, was a trolley that took visitors around and stopped in various areas giving historical significance to this place or that, and also ventured into the contiguous neighborhoods which were also historic and quite beautiful.  There were stops downtown that allowed one to get out and shop/visit and then come back to the trolley, and it was really one of the highlights of my trip there.   

  I don't have to go too far away to appreciate the small things that can really add to a unique perspective on what we have right here.  I think one of the main values, in my opinion, of trips like Madison and Ann Arbor is the comaradie established along the way amongst those that care about their local towns; similar exeriences are shared and opinions shared in real time, in a different place, that can shape planning and thinking back home. I sensed bonding amongst folks that went after hearing all about it. I was not able to attend the trip and wondered actually about how useful it would be.    I felt at the time that I could go to these places anytime on my own accord and get a unique perspective.    But you know, anytime I go to any other city than Chapel Hill and Carrboro I am mindful of how things are different and try to draw out what I think are positive things that I would like to see here.   I don't have to go on a planned trip to do those things, although it sounds like a lot of fun. 


Laurin laurineasthom.wordpress.com

Yesterday I biked over and put down my deposit for the Ann Arbor trip and filled out the scholarship form. My impression is that that most of the money is not coming from tax dollars. From what I have seen of the itinerary it sounds like a valuable unique experience. It should not be a repeat of previous events. Last year I flew to Managua for a Nicaragua Solidarity conference and then took a bus to Leon for a biodiversity workship. Seeing people face to face from different places is definitely much better than a teleconference or a local visit. There is no doubt that travel be it for work or pleasure has an environmental impact. Travel can have positive social, economic and political impacts. I believe those of us who do travel have an obligation to support ecotourism and to do some sort of carbon offset. I hope others will consider going.

Loren Hintz

When we prepared to go to Madison two years ago, Ruby, in her own unique style, opened her comment by saying,

So your standard collection of straight white male* honchos from across Orange County (Foy, Chilton, Jacobs, Moeser) and their friends are inviting community leaders to come on a trip with them to Madison, Wisconsin. (* Some of my best friends are straight white males.)

I prefer to be more broaded minded about the trip a look at what we can learn from our hosts and each other. Sure, we can learn things staying here or even close in, but there are also advantages of seeing things with your own eyes. That happened to a significant extent in Madison and participants returned with many ideas and better personal relationships. I’ve been on junkets, and I would not these trips that; there just won’t be the down time you get on a real junket!

One thing that will be different this time is that the print media does not have the staff that they did two years ago so I don’t think a reporter from each paper will attend. I think the CHH & CHN reporters and WCHL news director did a great job covering the trip and provided informative pieces upon our return. Look at the 2006 OP thread for some of the comments. http://www.orangepolitics.org/2006/09/dont-forget-to-pack-your-laptop-madison-2006-open-thread

As the planning committee put together the plan (and if it matters, the planning chair and the CLC co-chair are woman), the goal was not so much to find a city “like” ours, but to find a community that has wrestled with, and maybe moved beyond some of the challenges and issues that we face. We looked at Northampton, MA, Charlottesville, VA, Urbana-Champaign, IL, Ithaca, NY and Ann Arbor, MI. Ann Arbor came in first place for a number of reasons.

A very positive factor was that the city and U of M were excited about hosting us. I am particularly interested in learning about the development of their sense of place, their 10 year plan to end homelessness, and how they manage student housing issues in town.

As for whose agenda we will be pursuing, I think the planners have tried to structure the program so that participants can set several for themselves, just as was done in Madison. To compare this and the Madison trip to those earlier trips misses the mark, as there is just no comparison. Those who participated in both designs made that point repeatedly in their Madison post-trip evaluations.

Aaron Nelson announced this afternoon that the Triangle Community Foundation was fully funding some community participants, and fortunately, some generous organizations have made $10K in scholarship dollars available, and I believe that there is still an opportunity to apply. Call 967-7075.

The Foundation for a Sustainable Community and the Community Leadership Collaboration secured $10,000 in scholarship funds expressly for the purpose of bringing along people who would otherwise be unable to go. We are still accepting scholarship applications, which are available on the website, so anyone who is interested should apply! I must note that these are partial scholarships and are capped at $800 per person to ensure maxiumum participation.

In 2006, we gave partial scholarships to 20 individuals to ensure they could come to Madison with the group.

Call me at 967-7075 ext 28 if you would like any more information.

~Kirsten Hausman


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