Archive for the ‘Public Anecdotes’ Category

Community Engagement and the Leadership that Encourages It

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Thank you

Going to the polls

— A version of this commentary was originally published in the October issue of the Traverse City Business News. I write a guest commentary every other month for them…have any ideas? Please, let me know.

Tomorrow, we have an opportunity to take part in the most basic expression of citizenship. We will do so in predictable rates of 50 to 60 percent of the eligible electorate, carrying into the polling station varying degrees of uncertainty and indecision in our guts.

The presidential race curiously offers the clearest choice, as there is also a senatorial race, seats for the U.S. House, State House and local offices, and slurry of statewide and local ballot initiatives that await us (Get your sample ballot). When we enter the polls, yard signs and other messages will wash together in our minds forming cognitive associations that their creators never intended. “Was that “Yes on proposal 3”? “Was that ‘Coffia’ or ‘Koffia’?” “What candidate likes beer again?

Personally, I look forward to the day after the election.

It is far more interesting and effective working on what we do afterwards as citizens; people with rights and duties as members of a community. Organizing around a vote is certainly one way to impact change, but nothing equals throwing the full force of your knowledge, energy, and person behind a collective effort focused on improving the community.

Northern Michigan has a wealth of smart, talented, and empathetic people already being the change that they wish to see. Last month’s 40under40 (Ticker) highlighted some of the boldest. Local leaders, whether they are elected, appointed, on staff, or self-professed, would do well by reaching out to the people like them and ask, “how can we serve you in shaping the direction of our community?”

To rephrase a quote by Margaret Mead, the solution to community problems today and tomorrow depends on how well we empower young citizens today. Leadership needs incubating; leadership needs leaders.

Roadblocks to participation

Too often, citizens are discouraged from participating fully in community. There are the common time conflicts and other practical obstacles to participation–some which may even be intentional placed in their way. Either-way  often the work required to have any meaningful impact is perceived too great. These concerns are overcome when there is a real sense that what we have to contribute is valued (For a list of excuses, re-visit “I would, but…” from 2011).

To counter the cynicism that is already eroding social institutions, it is imperative that those in leadership roles reaffirm, through their actions, that they are indeed listening. That they are present to breakdown bureaucratic barriers. And, importantly  will embrace disagreement as an opportunity to build trust and a shared vision rather than see it as an obstacle to pre-established positions.

A diverse group of citizens, aided and affirmed by leadership, joining forces with each other to explore opportunities for the good of the community is fundamental to civic life. Simply put, people support that which they help create.


The late Nobel Prize winner for economics, Elinor Ostrom, researched issues of economic governance applied to the management of common resources. In her work, fundamental to the creation of a new street project, a new dog park, or any other major community decision is one thing: Trust.

As she cautions:

Trust is the most important resource. If a community has been forbidden from managing it’s resources for a long time, the main obstacle to overcome is the lack of trust and the effort to get organized in the first place. It’s not a trivial matter.”

Politics is people; that’s all. If you don’t like people, you probably won’t like politics. I cringe when I hear the dismissive remark, “oh, that’s just politics” as if due to the nature of civic engagement we enter a world of strife, discord, and low expectations. In and of itself, politics is simply a means for a community to manage its resources and to make decisions about a future.

People want to make creative contributions and they want to feel great when they do so. This is achieved not only when people succeed, but also when they are asked to work in a process that is whole, nourishing and focused. Underscored by trust and a shared vision, community politics can achieve the extraordinary and the impossible.

Go vote. Then get back to work.


Previous articles in the TCBNews series:  The economic and civic opportunity of street vending (August)Walk: You’re designed to (June)Fostering connections in your community…by design (May).



Reminder: Before commenting, please read the comments policy. If you feel you need to rant against the world while raising enumerable tangential issues to personally attack individuals or organizations, consider creating your own blog and tracking back to MyWHaT. If it is of value, you will attract readers. Or, send me a message with all the rants you wish; I’m a connoisseur of ranting. Otherwise, please contribute to a healthy, friendly discussion in the comments section below.

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Happy trails lead to happy village people

September 11, 2012 1 comment

A community-supported blogthank you.

Well said…

First, the Glen Arbor Sun’s exploration of the coming potential bike $$$$ boom in Glen Arbor, a reaction to the village’s slow acceptance:

Cannot imag[ine] why Glen Arbor would want to keep the bikers out. This just makes as much sense as putting up signs telling the tourists and campers to please go to Leland.”

Glen Arbor: People on bikes are coming.


Further into the story, a business owner shares the perspective:

Trails are connectors. People want to ride out to Glen Haven and the Dunes, but they also want to come into Glen Arbor for lunch. They don’t want to just ride on bikes, they want somewhere to go.”

In today’s Ticker, across the peninsula, Suttons Bay is already seeing the returns from people on bikes after the completion of the Leelanau Trail. As one village restaurateur puts it:

We’re up 20 percent with the bikers. We have a bike rack outside for them….Bikers need to eat quite a bit.”

Perhaps its time the NWMICOG, Visitors Bureau and the Chamber teamed up to conduct an economic impact study of our own.


Speaking of food…

Announcement: Street Vendor meeting at 10am, Wednesday Sept. 12 at Governmental Center. 

Poorly timed at 10am tomorrow is the first Transient Merchant Food Vendor ad hoc committee. It is the outcome of the last City Commission meeting where they agreed to revisit how they handle street vendors. The ad hoc consists of Commissioners Jim Carruthers, Mary Ann Moore, and Mike Gillman. If you’d like to be kept abreast of these meetings, send an email to the clerk’s office requesting agendas and minutes at Katelyn Stroven

Above mentioned ommissioners can be reached at:,,

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What do we think about Division St.?

August 20, 2012 18 comments

A community-supported blogthank you.

UPDATED: 11AM to add a note of caution.

The results from the MyWHaT straw-poll are in!

In response to the question concerning the Division St./parkland ballot initiative — “if the election was today, how would you vote?”– MyWHaT readers pass the initiative 65% to 35%.*

Myself? I’m prepared to err on the side of yes. There are concerns about process, shortsightedness, narrow scope, lack of political will to declare a shared vision with teeth, pandering, alienation of key constituents, a lack of trust…faith…fortitude…abilities, and that it will unleash an army of zombies upon the city. Still, as of today, I’d vote yes.

In a future post, I may elaborate on some of these concerns, but for now, I’m content understanding that a majority–regardless of mode choice, simply want better access and improved quality of life throughout the community–Division St. included

[8-24, 10:30AM: Video removed by request]

* An online poll, on a niche blog, comes with a very large burlap bag of salt. Beer induced estimates put the accuracy for the greater community at a  ± 10% to  ± 30%. Meaning, at this moment, the ballot has a fifty-fifty chance of passing. 

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Traverse City’s un-cool approach to peddlers

July 16, 2012 8 comments

A community-supported blogthank you.

Glad the Record Eagle followed-up with someone hardest hit by Traverse City’s latest reactive measure —the increase of the peddler’s fee (a.k.a. transient merchant). The doubling of the daily fee (summertime) from $50 to $100 is a blow to entrepreneurs as well as to citizens interested in a vibrant community with a diverse range of choices.

Instead of taking a holistic approach to the topic, City Commissioners, under advice by the downtown Development Authority, aimed to price potential street vendors out of the market in the name of “paying their fair share.”

In doing so, they ignored a few things in their arguments:

  1. If you own, or rent, commercial property downtown you may get a permit free of charge.
  2. Peddlers also have to pay rent to the land owner–thus taxes. (If you own land, you can basically set up a competing vending cart without a daily fee)
  3. TC doesn’t allow vending on public property (exemptions for events). I fail to understand what the $100/day covers. It certainly isn’t an embracing of a valuable contribution to the community, to place-making, and to the economy.

They claim it was to restrict sunglass vendors and palm readers, not restrict food carts. That doesn’t make it better. There are other-ways to regulate what occurs then simply pricing everyone out of business (square footage allowances, locations…). It is a clumsy approach that I think will drive opportunities, and people, away from Traverse City. Not by itself, but in combination with other un-cool ideas the City has instituted.

The DDA says they are continuing to look at how to allow food carts. It is my sense they are still approaching it from the negative. Instead, it’d be wise for them to shift their perspective and see how street vending can be embraced and accommodated, not simply moved out of the way.

In the end, the competition argument is bunk–street vendors create business and vibrancy in a place by filling niches that restaurants and other businesses aren’t as well positioned to serve. Sometimes, we want to sit down at a private table for a meal. Others times, we want to stand with The People in the open air and spill ketchup on our shirts. Often, we want to do both.


If you have a street vending story, please share it with us here.

Also, consider sending your comments to the DDA Board.


My story: I learned to speak Chinese with a lot of help from street vendors. Sure, teachers helped, but there was no better classroom than walking the streets of Chengdu seeking out 1 on 1 instruction over steamed dumplings, pulled noodles, or a steaming cup of soy milk sipped from a plastic bag. I’d buy something to eat to pay for the instruction. There’s a public interaction that happens with street vending that is hard to achieve in a typical restaurant–and something we should embrace.


Go Vote: Visiting the Polls Pays-off in Unpredictable Ways

November 8, 2011 8 comments

Engage & Represent

Go Vote…It will take you 5, maybe 10 minutes.

Who are you meeting at the polling station?


I prefer visiting the polls compared to absentee voting. Here in Traverse City,  I’ve rarely had to wait more than 10 minutes. Also, it is a shared experience, however brief it might be. It is communal.  I also prefer walking as it adds more of a sense of ritual. In a pinch for time, I’ll ride a bike. Either-way, I often start meeting neighbors en route to the my polling station–Precinct 8 (Can I get a shout out? P-8 Baby!)

At the polls I run into neighbors I haven’t seen in months. Years. I see old classmates. I have intelligent discussions with complete strangers. In 2002, a serendipitous encounter at the polls led to the adjunct position I’ve had at the college now for 9 years. This suggests that voting pays off, even if your candidates aren’t successful. 

Pour a mug of coffee. Go to the polls. Vote. While you’re there, chat someone up.

Share your story here: who’d you meet? 


Polls are open in Traverse City precincts 7am-8pm.

If you aren’t sure where you vote, plug in your info here.

For MyWHaT election coverage, search “TCVote”

Halloween: The Night Suburbanites Crash the City

November 1, 2011 8 comments

6th Street Halloween night 2011. (Click for larger view)

Does anyone know the history of Traverse City’s 6th Street as the region’s mecca for Halloween trick ‘o treating? Was there some lead agent back in the 50’s who called it to order? I grew-up in Lake Ann and certainly recall at least one Halloween night in the 70’s where we made the 18 mile drive for some sugary handouts.

Is it simply that more density = more candy in the least amount time? As the region has grown in population, it’s done so mainly through sprawl, as such TC’s neighborhoods would predictably see an uptick on Halloween; it is a walking holiday after all. Still, you don’t see the same number of goblins and zombies crashing Traverse Heights and other dense city ‘hoods. I suspect, in part, because of a lack of sidewalks and other features that make walking enjoyable.

Halloween is an annual walkability test–how does your neighborhood shape up? 

6th Street Halloween night 2011. (Click for larger view)

Related Articles

What is wrong with Gary Howe?

October 26, 2011 11 comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a bit more personal than typical posts. I serve on the TC Parks and Rec Commission and I’m involved in a recommendation from that body that has generated some negative feelings;there is a process for them to voice their concerns. This is a big picture response to one particular email sent to the the CC.


An email sent to the Traverse City City Commissioners was recently shared with me. I can only assume for the entertainment value. It’s subject heading sent me into a day of introspection and self-discovery (¡).

Subject: What is wrong with Gary Howe?

As a friend commented on the question: “This is a can of worms, I’m sure.” Tell me about it; I live with myself! I ask myself daily why do I do what I do? Am I crazy? That was even the theme of one of my first posts.

What a relief to have someone I don’t know, have never spoken with, have never seen at a parks and recreation meeting (the reason for the email) and didn’t know existed until he started a campaign to repeal the City’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance (Plan for TC) share my concerns about self-awareness.

The email goes on to call for my censure and resignation and/or dismissal from Parks and Recreation Commission (a volunteer position that advises the City) due to my role in the planning down at Clinch Park. Apparently, as citizens of a community, we aren’t allowed to have differences of opinion.

I’ll spare you the full text of the email, but I share this because one statement really satisfies the irony bone. Again note, the author of the email (NExpress) is the driving force behind the referendum to repeal the City’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance–an ordinance passed by a 7-0 vote by an ideologically diverse City Commission. Yet, the author of the email, asking for my resignation due to my inability to “grasp the chain of command“, doesn’t have any cognitive dissonance uttering the following comment:

“Why doe’s he not understand that the Commission has the finial word, and that is the word of the people of Traverse City” [sic].


Again, this from a guy trying to repeal a unanimous decision by the exact same City Commission. Huh?

Do me a favor, please. On November 8th go to the polls, take a ballot and make your first mark a Yes on proposal 1. Also, in comments to this post, let’s show that MyWHaT readers are in full support of Traverse City’s step towards addressing discrimination, for any reason, in the work place. As for the plans for Clinch park, that discussion can wait. Those recommendations are working their way to the Planning Commission and will be back to the City Commission sometime in November. In the meantime:

Ballot Langauge:

Shall Chapter 605 of the Traverse City Code of Ordinances, entitled Non-Discrimination, which does the following, with certain exceptions:

  1. Prohibits specified discriminatory practices in housing, public accommodation, and employment,
  2. Prohibits discriminatory policies and advertisements,
  3. Prohibits retaliation against a person for making a complaint or assisting in an investigation under the Chapter,
  4. Prohibits conspiring to discriminate,
  5. Requires non-discrimination by city contractors, and
  6. Sets forth remedies and penalties for violations of the Chapter,

remain in effect?

Vote Yes!

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