Ann Arbor: Missed Connections

During our tours and discussion of Ann Arbor, which were expertly organized by the staff of our Chamber of Commerce, I kept feeling like I wanted to get another two or three sides to the story.  We heard from some business, nonprofit, and government leaders - ones that were recommended to us by the Ann Arbor Chamber. All of the panelists were knowledgeable and informative.

But missing were voices of residents, students and faculty, community advocates, downtown boosters, bloggers and that much-vaunted "creative class."  Interestingly, I returned home to get several messages by e-mail and twitter from some of the very folks who felt left out of our visit! The Ann Arbor Chronicle, a new local news website not unlike the Carrboro Citizen, wrote about our visit. And Ann Arbor consultant Bill Tozier tweeted about it and shared some local frustrations on his blog:

Apparently the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and the SPARK have decided to host a tour of our city for the inhabitants of our sister city in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC.

This comes as a surprise to many of us who might be helpful. Not because the Chamber of Commerce is a useless echo of the city’s political machine, nor because the SPARK doesn’t signify much beyond traditional economic development old boys’ networks of “investors” looking for the next Google. Those are givens.

But because we’re headed into the “Creative Cities” time of year, and the city hasn’t even got the brains or social capital to think of us. Whoever “us” is.

It’s not the Chamber or the SPARK, let me tell you.

Barbara pointed out some of the comments coming out of the meeting via Twitter today, and I have to say I’m saddened by the implications. It’s clear that the fools broke it. Standard conference, standard list of suits, standard “address of innovation” bullshit, standard “welcome to Wonderful Wolverine City your high-tech research powerhouse monopoly” kowtowing.

I wish somebody from ArborWiki were there, or it was at least mentioned.

I wonder if any of our visitors will be able to attend a2b3 on Thursday, or will even hear about it. They’re invited!

I wonder if anybody’s deigned to mention ArbCamp 2007, or ArbCamp 2008, or Startup Weekend Ann Arbor—all the unconferences we (the folks who live here and do the work, not the obsolescent city fathers) have put on ourselves? Doubtful.

Or any of the dozens of other useful, interesting things going on here that are the only path to life in the city (or the region) in the coming years.

- Notional Slurry: Upon finding our “sister city” folks are here, 9/16/08

In some ways, I don't blame the Chamber for the focus on Chamber-friendly speakers and tours. They organized and paid (or fundraised) for much of the trip, so of course it reflects their perspective. If I want to hear from people like me, maybe I should organize a visit to a nearby town and hook up with all the activists, small businesses, bloggers, and elected officials that I think are doing good stuff. We could even organize it as an unconference!  Anyone up for creating our own alternative inter-city trip?



that's "Bill Tozier", not "Bill Dozier" (thanks)
Sorry about that!

The fact that no face-to-face interactions between New Media folks here in Ann Arbor and those who were a part of the contingent North Carolina is regretable, for sure. It wasn't that I didn't know there was visit planned. It's just that I think of these trips as typically involving exactly the kind of people who would not enjoy a teeter totter ride in my backyard. (you probably call 'em see-saws). And even for a willing party, the schedule really didn't allow for much unstructured time.

So I sent off an email to an address of one of the organizers a couple of months ago just as a one-in-a-million shot, and didn't hear back, which is par for the course for unsolicited emails sent from a domain name like and containing the word "teeter".

It just never even occurred to me that there could be New Media folks along on the trip. Hell, The Chronicle was at the opening reception and didn't manage to stumble across you -- probably because we weren't looking.

So next time we'll look harder and try harder. And maybe our Chamber can include category in future planning for future events called "Not Our Usual Suspects" -- which will prompt someone to say, "Hmm, who's not here who might have something to add?"

 --Dave, for Teeter Talk and The Ann Arbor Chronicle


I didn't even think to look for online folks at the reception because I assumed there weren't any invited. Did you talk to many Chapen Hillian's there? I would think someone would have pointed you at me.
Sitting at µcoworking, we've got at least three folks at the tables with friends and relatives in Carrboro/Chapel Hill. We're all up for a road trip in the next few months. Just a promise of a trip to Hell is enough to get a few more to come.And we'll make sure we chat when we get there![Tozier]
Hey, you should totally visit. Carrboro Coworking will be open for business in a few weeks!
Well, I guess I'm not a 'usual suspect' as I have never been on a trip like this, but I can say, that I attempted to (and did) see more than was scheduled.  For example, yesterday morning, a be-U-ti-ful day I took a walk about in no particular direction and came across this interesting Robot Supply and Service Center -  a whimsical shop front on Liberty Street (I believe).  Inside I met a delightful person, who told me about the non-profit writing center, called 826Michigan , which does their thing in the back of the shop.  The program caters to kids 2nd grade through high school, and gives them a place and support in creative writing.  Another example, Steve Saltzman and I rented some bikes (Schwinn 5 speeds, sorta retro) and tore around the city to get a feel of the bicyclists' perspective.  Happened through the beautiful Nichols arboretum and went down Geddes Avenue a bit to scope out a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house for sell.  Was a really nice neighborhood with mid-Century Modern houses and other styles nestled in wooded landscapes.  We learned that AA is hilly!  Also, at the Sunday reception, I had a terrific conversation with Maura Thomson who works for Main Street Ann Arbor. (btw check out this clipe from the Festifools Parade Also, got a glimpse of the neighborhood/town "process" situation by watching a bit of the re-broadcast (on the Hotel cable channel) of some Town Planning presentation to the Council.  There were opportunities to read between the "official" lines and enough context to begin a thousand conversations.  I look forward to hearing from others connected to and between Ann Arbor and Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Hillsborough.  (BTW, Ruby, please blog about "brandingOC" I'd love to read your and your reader's responses!)
It seems to be pretty simply what we've known all along - this is an "elite to elite" project and avoids those diverse, grassroots elements that enrich and power so much of what goes on in vibrant communities.  

There's a certain element of the elite - and you'll note I took a picture any time I saw a table of all white guys (usually Jim Heavner, some developers, and elected officials were involved) - but we should also give credit to those (some of the same white guys) that are at least trying to include other voices. I'm just not sure they always know how to do so effectively, or if they are truly comfortable with the implications of giving up any real control.

And again, I would expect the Chamber to organize a conference from the Chamber's perspective.  If they agree it should be broader, then they may want to grow their Foundation into a more independent entity.

I went on the Ann Arbor trip and now realize I shouldn't based on your characterization it was a trip for the "elite".

I have a AA degree in Business Admin from a Community College in Florida. Of the 4 kids in my family, I have the most education. I started working in the family businesess as a teenager. I am a single mom as my husband of 20 years passed away last year. One of my proudest moments is the fact my daughter is attending Guilford College as a freshman. The first in my family to get to have the college experience.

 I moved here 12 years ago to raise my family. The first thing I did was join the PTA and was Co-President at both Carrboro Elementary and FPG. On the trip I met many past PTA friends including but not limited to Patti Thorp and Bob Saunders.

I am one of those dreaded people who happen to be in Real Estate working as a Broker with ReMax. I chose this business as it gave me the opportunity to make my own schedule as my family came first. I have been instrumental on the Association of Realtors Community Service committee where we would donate thousands of dollars to send underpriviledged kids to summer camp.

My purpose on going on this trip had more to do with creating a new vision for our area and looking to see how I can make my own unique contribution.

I know all the developers already. I didn't need to fly to Ann Arbor to make business connections. 

It is possible for people in business to have other agendas that are not always self serving.

Join us and be a part of the "we" and let go the "us or them mentality". It is not productive.

Desiree Goldman



Here's a review of the similarities and differences between Ann Arbor and Chapel Hill from "Ann Arbor is Overrated".

a quote from that entertaining thread:

Reasons to live in Chapel Hill rather than Ann Arbor:
1. Some people prefer 6 months of summer to 6 months of winter.
2. You can actually get a good job in the area after graduating from a good university.
3. Incredibly friendly, interesting people.
4. The restaurants and bars are better, and the live music scene is A LOT better.
5. The Outer Banks, Wilmington, New Bern, and the Blue Ridge are much better day trips than anything within 200 miles of A2.
6. In spite of its (slightly) more racist political history, you may actually see someone who isn’t rich and white in Chapel Hill once in a while, unlike A2.
7. Good barbecue kicks the ass of SE Michigan’s culinary abyss any day.
8. For the sports fans, the Duke-Carolina rivalry is much more compelling than OSU-Michigan.
9. For those who complain about humidity and giant insects in the South . . . yeah, thank God you never encounter either of those things in Michigan in the summer . . .

truly comfortable with the implications of giving up any real control."
Is there an RTP or Orange County equivalent to Arborwiki
There was, but it fell by the wayside...
I managed Orangepedia for some period of time.  It generated a good bit of initial interest but not a whole lot of follow-through: in other words, I wrote 95% of the original content, and it stayed that way for some time, before it succumbed to an unmanageable amount of wiki spam, and then eventually I didn't renew the domain and it was sniped away.  For such a project to take off again, it would need a good deal of good old fashioned time and effort from folks in the community for it to grow into something unique, interesting, and current, rather than stagnate as a mere duplication of information available elsewhere.  Maybe it's worth revisiting?

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