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A little reflection as a blogger looks for his rant

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A little reflection as a blogger looks for his rant

I might have lost, for those that know me, one of my most endearing traits: my rant.

You may have noticed that for a longtime there hasn’t been an all out critique of a local Traverse City project, process, or underperforming public official on MyWHaT. For sure, there have been descriptive observations, but no grand pronouncements on issues or ways forward. Certainly nothing to warrant what once earned me The Cranky for the occasional punch-it-to-the-floor all out rant.

I’m not sure what happened. The rant may have left me due to internal burnout. It might be a natural process of idealism meeting the realities of engagement. Or, perhaps the testy naysayers have impacted my approach. I’m human; I’m not immune to engagement-deflation when a surge of myopic, selfish, and overly individualistic attitude reeking of silly anti-government claptrap surfaces again (RE) and again (The Ticker).

The loss of my rant might be connected to an over-bearing sense that Traverse City currently lacks clear, effective, and trust-worthy leadership in key positions. I’m not sure if you have noticed, but to attend a City Commission meeting under the new leadership is about as informative as sticking your head in a burn barrel. Certainly, just as likely to cause your head to explode. In the name of streamlining meetings, they City Commission now has shorter, but  more irrelevant meetings. Horse-jockeying occurs outside of meetings to a grand scale and, sometimes, it appears that on certain issues it is even planned on who will say what, when. Citizens have even been asked not to ask questions at public comment.

Related to process, my rant might be escaping because, really, what is there to rant about?

The City isn’t fully embracing any grand vision for improving the City, and if they are, who would know? City information is no longer available as prompt and understandably as when the previous mayor ran a blog to highlight key City business (PfTC). City staff has stated again and again that they only provide the minimum in making information public and contrary to some’s assertion, the City website is neither inviting nor intuitive.

In a City Manager system, where staff have most of the control, it is vital that we have elected leadership that helps make information public. The current mayor’s leadership style couldn’t be more inverse. Currently, information and engagement is highly controlled and regulated. If you’re involvement is desired, you will know. If it isn’t, well, you certainly won’t expect to feel empowered to contribute–even if it is something you’ve already been working on (RE). This holds true not just for citizens, but as has been expressed to me, between commissioners as well.

All of the above has likely contributed to rant-absence; at least publicly. I’m sure those close to me still see the rant upon occasion–okay, I know they do. Because, in the end, there still remain in place severe disconnects in the community. I usually talk about those in terms of infrastructure and physical design, but there are real disconnects between visions. There are some, and if you read this blog, you see them chime in from time-to-time, who I imagine feel Traverse City reached perfection sometime in the mid-70’s or mid-80’s and anyone attempting to change it must be a spoiled, entitled outsider who can’t accept things as they are and only want to raise everyone’s taxes.

Whatever. I understand that for some it is difficult to accept that there are people who choose to invest time and energy to improve their community, not because they hate the place, but because they love the place and want to see it improve. In fact, I think there are many of us who live here not because of the personal trappings of a nice house and good amenities, but because Traverse City is a place where you can be involved. Where, with a little  effort (sometimes a lot), you can break through silly personal hang-ups, poor communication, and unclear process to impact change.

Traverse City is a place where your home is bigger than your own backyard. Home is your community. And, despite writing it above, Traverse City is embracing grand visions and innovative community development. Some of it even happening within the bowels of the Governmental Center (Ticker)–or, at least trying (RE). Some of it happening more hyper-locally (MW).

Ranting is speaking or writing passionately about something. A rant often, but not necessarily, ends in tangential nonsense. The goal of a rant, if there is one, isn’t necessarily to convince people of something. More appropriately, a rant is more internal release of pent-up emotions on particular subjects. A stream of consciousness that may or may not knock an idea loose. It isn’t complaining as much as it is reaching. Reaching for something that is sometimes right there in front of you.

Go ahead, rant.

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  1. Katie B.
    June 12, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Gary, what an excellent, thought-provoking post. You raised many issues, specifically to City Commission meetings & how it all works (or doesn’t). However, I agree with you — the fundamental, baseline problem, before all else, seems to be in lack of agreement as to what vision Traverse City should embrace–moving back, or moving forward? The disconnect between those who have this incredible ideal in their heads about what the City was like some decades ago — and those who see something different — is astounding.

    Actually, not so long ago the City was full of ugly, polluting industrial sites (power plant, Coke plant, iron foundry, auto parts mfg., etc.), wasn’t it? What’s so glorious about that? Sure, not much traffic, because the heartblood of resources from our outstanding tourist industry was not in place yet! The second problem that seems to stand in the way of moving forward is the disconnect of thought process between what is ‘good for the City as a whole’ and the whole ‘neighborhood’ viewpoint. For example, last night’s meeting reflected on the City staff’s view of recommending two-way streets for 7th & 8th, for better flow & improvement, but that will never fly because ‘the neighborhood’ is so very opposed.

    This, despite the fact that admittedly a maximum of 30-40 people show up at any neighborhood and thus the same people are always the ones being negative & vocal — thinking about only their neighborhood, not the City as a whole. This thing is going to come up again & start biting us, when Boardman Lake Avenue rises to the top of the list for discussions yet again. Two problems — the ‘neighborhood’ has wanted BLA for decades (even though it’s not even close to being something good for the overall City now or in the future), and again — no clear vision on what overall TC ought to be like, anyway. It’s all sort of an Alice in Wonderland effect.

  2. June 12, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Have to disagree with your Gary, at least on your comments in regard to the City not having a, as you put it, “grand vision” for its future. The City has a fairly recently (2009) adopted master plan, which does put forth a vision for the City:

    http://www.ci.traverse-city.mi.us/departments/planning/20090715approvedmasterplan.pdf

    This vision for the City is, by and large, also reflected in the City’s zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance calls for leaving the existing single-family neighborhoods in the city as they are (at least as far as building/lot sizes and allowed uses), while in most of the commercial areas it allows for a greater density and mix of uses then are there currently.

    And, at least as I far as I can see from my remove, this vision is being implemented. I think that’s a good thing, for the most part, because TC is and likely will be in the future, a place where an increasing number of people will want to live/work/play and to the extent that that demand is accommodated in ways that enhance the ability of folks living in the City to not have to exclusively rely on cars that’s a big positive. In terms of quality of life, water quality, GHG emissions, etc.

    What is unfortunate, in my opinion, is that while there is a vision for the City there is no grand vision for the region, at least one with some teeth in it. While I believe that it’s on balance a positive, there are definite negatives to encouraging greater density and mixed use within the City, in terms of noise, car traffic, loss of green space, etc. As well as the City also provides (and disproportionately at the expense of City taxpayers) a great number of the regional amenities that others in the area rely on. A grand vision for the Grand Traverse region, in my opinion, would involve a coordinated plan to encourage/allow growth within the City, but would also involve encourage/allow growth in other established areas outside the City. It would also involve discouraging growth in undeveloped areas outside of the City. A vision like that would take some of the development pressure off of the City and spread more of the negatives (and positives) associated with growth throughout the region.

    That’s not to say that I think all is rosy, from what I can see, in TC. Very soon the City will be taking up the question, again, of whether to permit a bypass to be built in the middle of the City along Boardman Lake. While I understand that there is provision in the City’s plan for some sort of transportation corridor along the northwest side of the Lake, I can’t see how building BLA is otherwise compatible with the City’s vision in its master plan that the 8th Street corridor (as well as, for that matter, the 14th and Garfield) become thriving mixed-used areas. A transportation corridor can be a lot of things, it doesn’t have to mean an exclusive area for cars to routinely exceed the posted speed limits through the heart of TC.

  3. June 13, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Katie, thank you for the reminder of the effort and success that has been made. We have certainly made progress in some of our previous industrial centers. No blame for the previous generations, as their industry laid the ground for the prosperity Traverse City enjoys today. Still, we have some work to do going forward.

    Mike, I don’t disagree. For the most part, I think the citizenry does have a healthy, inclusive vision for the future. Finding and supporting a consistent political will amongst staff and elected officials to honor that vision is what I was expressing…and those feelings ebb and flow with the issues as the come up. Your reminder of the West Boardman Lake Avenue project is certainly a reminder of where the values we continually express we want are not matching up with the reality that that project will likely bring.

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