The Strongest Town Contest – Championship Round

Please consider voting for my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan in the Championship Round of The 2017 Strongest Town Contest. We are up against Guelph, Ontario in the finals sponsored by The competition began three weeks ago with 16 cities/towns and we have now reached the final round.  Thank you!

The deadline to vote is Friday, March 24th at 6:00 PM, ET.  Here is a link to vote:


Posted in Advocacy, cities, civics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Combating the bus transit snobs


In the years preceding our move from Greater Lansing to Traverse City, there were lengthy discussions on developing some form of enhanced transit along the primary corridor in the region – Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) Route 1 which extends from the State Capital in Lansing along Michigan Avenue to downtown East Lansing, past Michigan State University and to Meridian Mall in Okemos. By enhanced transit, I mean three options – light rail, modern trolley, and bus rapid transit.

Through many public forums, charrettes, and work sessions the process determined that bus rapid transit was the most probable and viable option at the time. Unfortunately, as planning progressed further, an element of the suburban population began to argue vehemently against bus rapid transit. The reasons cited were most often cost effectiveness, need, disruption of traffic patterns, safety and the like. But, under much of this commentary were subtle undercurrent of elitism and worse. These undercurrent became evident in comments which included phrases like “those people.”

What is most surprising is that well over a million riders a year use Route 1 already – many of whom are inner city residents and MSU students traveling outbound to shop, dine, work. So what difference does a few minutes shaved off their commutes make?
In the end, I think there are two factors at play – aside from the elitism and subtle bigotry against folks from the city and campus, I believe there is the same attitude towards “buses.” It seems that no matter how much you dress up a bus, there are still people who feel they are simply a vehicle for transporting the poor, elderly, and the underprivileged. As one who has ridden transit buses in a number of cities, this is grossly incorrect.

Unfortunately, it is a hard impression to break here in the states. And sadly, the underlying attitudes associated with transit snobbery are often used as a pretext for poor decision-making that ending up hurting more people than it helps.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has observed this phenomenon as thew following articles show:

The following quote from the Atlantic’s CityLab article perfectly sums up the attitudes that must be overcome when trying to encourage the public to use buses, whether they are intra-city, inter-city, bus rapid transit, airport shuttle, or supersonic buses:

“I felt like I was too good for the bus,” Carr told the Los Angeles Times of the origins of her “snobbish” take. “I think there’s a social understanding and a construction around that if you take the bus, you take it because you don’t have money. There’s a social standard. Obviously I had bought into that.”

How does a transit system overcome such attitudes? That’s a tough one. All I know, is the many times I have used public buses, I have almost always felt they were clean, safe, maintained, and used by folks from all socioeconomic and demographic strata. And perhaps that is all that is necessary – get people on the bus so they can see their preconceived notions are out of date of flat-out wrong.

The best way I see doing this is offering free or steeply discounted service for special events. Here in Traverse City, our local transit system (BATA) offers such shuttle services for the National Cherry Festival. This is immensely easier that trying to negotiate the traffic by car. I am positive other cities do this too, but perhaps such a service needs to be provided more often at more events until the public catches on. I am not sure once-a-year is enough.

Other ideas include:

  • Get more young people, including those in middle school and high school to ride public transit – perhaps a free ride for each ‘A’ on their report card. It was young people who swayed their parents towards recycling – the same can be done with bus transit.
  • Require school bus ridership for elementary and middle school students along bus routes – not only will this better acquaint them with bus riding in general, but also will reduce parent valet traffic jams at schools.
  • More heavily promote Smart Commute and Clean Commute weeks.
  • Encourage city/town/township/county/state officials to ride the bus on a regular basis.
  • Offer music, poetry, and book readings on buses.
  • Start a bus riders book club.
  • Link route timing with theater schedules (both before and after shows/movies/plays).
  • Offer more express commutes in the morning and evening.
  • Be sure to have bike racks on every bus.
  • Incorporate a public transit center in the airport design that does not require going being subjected to rain or snow and time bus schedules with flight arrivals and departures at the airport. The airport transit center could be the focal point for bus transit, taxis, shuttles, and rail service if it is available.
  • Utilize energy-efficient and clean operating buses – no smelly diesel allowed.

Any other suggestions are most welcome. Peace!

    Posted in Active transportation, Advocacy, Bus transportation, civics, demographics, environment, geography, health, inclusiveness, infrastructure, land use, placemaking, planning, social equity, spatial design, transit, transportation, urban planning | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

    “The D” in our destiny is Detroit

    “The Spirit of Detroit” – Source:

    In graduate school nearly 30 years ago, one of the courses I took at Virginia Tech was Urban Economic Geography. In this class, the primary textbook was entitled, Detroit: Race and Uneven Development. Even though I was born and raised in the Midwest, this book opened my eyes to the many struggles facing the Motor City, well before its bankruptcy. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much Detroit would come to mean to both me and my family in the future.

    In January of 1991, we traveled from our home in Hagerstown, Maryland, through a raging Lake Erie induced snowstorm, to see the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. At the time, my former brother-in-law and his family lived in Romeo, about 30 miles north of the city center. Attending this event was the first time I had ever been in downtown Detroit and we were duly impressed by the crowds and the show. Granted, other aspects of the city needed help, but the show was impressive.

    Just a little over a year later, we would be calling ourselves Michiganders too, and remain so today. For the next three years, my work as a planning consultant provided me/us with a myriad of opportunities to experience the City of Detroit and its suburbs. Some of these left very positive impressions, while others reminiscent of the criticisms articulated in book I had read in graduate school – racial disparities, social and economic injustice, crime, sprawl, bad planning decisions, etc., etc. Now and then, one would seem glimmers of hope, but far too often they were being overshadowed by inflated egos, bad attitudes, pure animosity, and bigotry.

    As the years went past we remained within The D’s economic and geographic zones of influence, as my three sons competed against teams from the Detroit Metro area. Two of them later attended/graduated from U of M, the third from MSU. We cheered for the Red Wings, the Tigers, the Pistons, and the Lions, and occasionally attended events in the city such as the auto show, concerts, sporting events, etc. Every time I was downtown or midtown, my urban planning and history geek eyes would be amazed by the astounding architecture that remained in the city. In addition, the rich tapestry of the city’s cultural fabric was always inspiring.


    What really cemented Detroit’s destiny in our lives was when I remarried in 2014 to a lovely lady who was born and spent her entire childhood on the eastside of the city, off East Warren Drive near the historic Alger Theater (which is being renovated). She and her extended family have many stories to tell of growing up in The D – some were happy and joyous. Others, were sad and quite scary. But, each time I travel back to Detroit, I feel like it has become a second home, partially due to the experiences my family had in and about the region, but even more so now that I have experienced the city through my wife’s eyes. Is everything perfect…of course not. But at the same time, to say The D is dying or dead is a flat-out misstatement. Detroit contains more creative spunk than any other city in the Midwest, with the “possible” exception of Chicago and tons more than many cities across the country.

    Today, our bonds to The D have grown even tighter as two of my sons work in the heart of the city. As Detroit has become a magnet for technology jobs, both of them are among thousands employed there.  They are experiencing a completely different Detroit than either my wife did in her youth, or than I did in the 1990s and 2000s. What they are being privileged to observe and experience is the total rebirth of a very proud city that has withstood wave after wave of bad ideas, bad planning, bad leadership, bad oversight, bad media, bad business decisions, and bad attitudes that occurred both inside and outside its limits. And best of all, they are an active part of this rebirth.

    Eden Gardens Block Club – Source:

    Lesser cities would have surrendered to the negative forces imposed on Detroit and would have all but withered away. But Detroit is different. It has indomitable spirit that cannot be shaken. A spirit that manifests itself in its residents and their families and friends. I have sensed this spirit ever since I arrived in Michigan in 1992. And despite all the negatives, tried and true Detroiters dearly love this city and want to see it rebound to as close to or beyond its former glory. That says something folks.

    Scoff if you wish. Laugh if you must. But let me tell you this: Detroit will surprise all of the naysayers and make them believers too. Why, you may ask? Because as Americans, we love an underdog…and in this case, its name is Detroit.


    Posted in Advocacy, architecture, branding, cities, civics, culture, diversity, downtown, economic development, entrepreneurship, geography, government, historic preservation, history, humanity, inclusiveness, infrastructure, land use, pictures, placemaking, planning, revitalization, spatial design, urban planning | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Oldest continuously inhabited community per state


    Presented by year, then community name, and then state, the list below idetifies the oldest continuously inhabited community in each state. The majority of these locations are situated on a navigable body of water. Please feel free to forward any corrections or suggestions to assure this list is fully accurate.

    1000 – Acuma Pueblo (Sky City) and Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
    1100 – Oraibi, Arizona 

    1100 – Hilo, Hawaii

    1565 – Saint Augustine, Florida – (oldest continuously occupied European settlement in Continental USA)

    1607 – Jamestown, Virginia – (oldest community in the 13 original colonies)

    1614 – Albany New York

    1620 – Plymouth, Massachusetts

    1623 – Dover, New Hampshire

    1624 – Burlington, New Jersey

    1630 – Berwick, Maine

    1631 – Lewes, Delaware

    1633 – Windsor, Connecticut

    1634 – Green Bay, Wisconsin

    1634 – St. Mary’s City, Maryland

    1636 – Providence, Rhode Island

    1668 – Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

    1670 – Charleston, South Carolina

    1680 – Ylseta, Texas (now part of El Paso)

    1680 – Peoria, Illinois (originally Fort Crevecoeur)

    1682 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    1699 – Biloxi, Mississippi

    1702 – Mobile, Alabama

    1705 – Bath, North Carolina

    1706 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

    1714 – Natchitoches, Louisiana

    1732 – Vincennes, Indiana

    1735 – St. Genevieve, Missouri

    1735 – Westminster,Vermont

    1762 – Shepherdstown, West Virginia

    1769 – Santa Cruz, California

    1774 – Unalaska, Alaska

    1774 – Harrodsburg, Kentucky

    1779 – Jonesborough, Tennessee

    1779 – Martins Ferry, Ohio

    1785 – Dubuque, Iowa

    1789 – Batesville, Arkansas

    1790 – Washington, DC

    1811 – Astoria, Oregon

    1825 – Vancouver, Washington

    1826 – Wabasha, Minnesota

    1827 – Leavenworth, Kansas (originally Fort Leavenworth)

    1832 – Fort Pierre, South Dakota

    1832 – Talequah, Oklahoma

    1847 – Salt Lake City, Utah

    1847 – Fort Benton, Montana

    1850 – Pembina, North Dakota

    1850 – Genoa, Nevada

    1851 – San Luis, Colorado

    1854 – Omaha, Nebraska

    1860 – Franklin, Idaho

    1867- Cheyenne, Wyoming


    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

    Applying my Quaker principles to urban planning


    As a liberal Quaker and an urban planner, I am very intrigued by the interrelationship between these two significant aspects of my life. Back on November 6th of 2014, I summarized how the ten (10) principles of my regular yoga practice correlates to the Code of Ethics that we professional urban planners believe, observe, and honor. In this post, I am attempting to do the same in relation to my faith.

    For full disclosure, I have spent many of my adult years seeking guidance when it comes to faith. In this search for truth, I have wandered to and through many a denomination, practice, and doctrine, sometimes dismayed by what I have discovered. This, in turn, has led me to wander away from religion and the belief in a higher power altogether on several occasions. Eventually, my circuitous path has led me to the liberal Quaker practice, which has many unexpected similarities of Tibetan Buddhism. It is here, I feel I have found a long-term faith community that is open and welcoming to all.

    As Quakers, we do not subscribe to a formal set of creeds. However, a basic belief of the Quaker tradition is that the inner light of God is manifested in each person and therefore every one of us on this planet is of equal importance. Those Quakers, like myself, who also believe that no one spiritual understanding has a monopoly on the truth, would be identified as liberal and/or universalist.  I strongly believe this pluralistic view makes us stronger and unites us with our brothers and sisters across the globe.

    Equality and diversity are also of paramount importance as a professional planner, for no one voice in any debate should outweigh any other voice just because they may have more money, power, and influence; nor should they adhere to one set of values versus another. The plurality of my Quaker universalist values also allows for a broader acceptance of alternative ideas/beliefs and helps one avoid being hamstrung by preconceived notions. I strongly believe one is inherently more conscious of the rights of others when we are all seen as being on the same level playing field and of co-equal importance.

    Furthermore, I believe (and hope) that I am now even more successful thinking/acting outside the box, outside my silo, and/or outside my comfort zone. This is not to say that non-Quaker planners cannot do the same thing, but I have found my Quaker thinking cap comes in handy.

    Similarly, I feel the peace testimony and tradition of Quakers is enormously helpful, as I ply the choppy planning and zoning waters with more ease, grace, and humility than would otherwise be the case. As planners, we all know many land use topics can get rather contentious. In those situations, a calm, thoughtful approach to complex issues can work wonders, even if all sides are not completely satisfied with the end result.

    One of my favorite aspects of being a liberal Quaker is the largely silent, unprogrammed meeting format. As we sit in silent meditation awaiting that subtle nudge from within to speak to us, one has the opportunity to cleanse themselves from the daily toils, troubles, stresses, and conflicts. For professional planners, our work responsibilities can be quite stressful. The ability to cleanse from within, much like Tibetan Buddhism, is an awesome mechanism for finding inner peace and strength.

    Silent meditation has another benefit in the fact that it teaches us to speak only when necessary and in a respectful manner. As planners, we are often bombarded with questions from the public, developers, officials, commissioners, and others. Responding respectfully, effectively, and succinctly without interrupting others is important in our profession and one of the ethical standards we are held to. Lastly, rising up to speak from the heart in front of your peers in an unprogrammed Quaker meeting (our term for service) is a great way to build confidence for public hearings, charettes, and forums.

    Quakerism’s traditional lack of a hierarchical order is another benefit to this urban planner, as it provides an important counter to the often stodgy, ordered, and strictly structured format of many governmental entities. I believe one needs this counterweight to better achieve an open mind and to treat each and every person in a fair and equitable manner. It is one thing to tell someone “no” in regards to a land use or zoning matter. It is entirely another thing to do so in a way which clearly explains the reasons why with both sincerity and empathy. Sometimes, people just want to feel they are being listened to.

    Finally, the Quaker testimony of six values, known as the “SPICES” of “simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship” would be worthwhile attributes for every urban planner to embrace in their daily life. This is not to say that only Quakers can be so virtuous. Like all other humans, we are fallible. But, personally, I have found Quakers to be fine examples of how to exemplify these admirable qualities and remain successful in doing so on a continuing basis. These six values closely align with many of the tenets identified in the AICP Code of Ethics and can provide inner strength, guidance, and solace to planners when they are confronted with difficult dilemmas in their profession.

    I hope this post was informative and helpful. Please feel free to provide any thoughts or feedback. Peace!

    Posted in charities, cities, civics, civility, Communications, culture, education, environment, health | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    The Motor City soars to new heights



    Yesterday, it was announced that Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans will be constructing the tallest building in the State of Michigan on the site of the former Hudson’s Department store in downtown Detroit. The tower is proposed to contain 52 floors and reach 734 feet into the sky.

    For those of you who wrote of the Motor City years ago, this magnificent project is the culmination of years of hard work in Detroit to turn the narrative from negative to positive. Some of these have been enumerated here on Panethos, but not nearly all of them.


    Shinola Hotel – Source:

    Other more recent projects include the Little Caesars Arena (under construction), the M-1 Q-line Light Rail (under construction), refurbishing and reopening Belle Isle as a state park, the development of a Shinola Hotel (under construction), an indoor cycling velodrome, numerous building renovations that are completed, underway, or proposed; several thousand housing units in various stages of development in downtown and midtown; a newly opened second Meijer store in the city limits; Microsoft opening offices in downtown; and development of a tiny house community in the city.

    Metropolitan Building - Source:

    Metropolitan Building being renovated into the Element Detroit Hotel  – Source:

    Are improvements still needed in the city? Of course, but you have to start somewhere. Congratulations to everyone in Detroit on a job well done and best wishes on your continued efforts. Namaste!

    Posted in adaptive reuse, architecture, cities, downtown, economic development, entertainment, fun, geography, historic preservation, history, Housing, infrastructure, land use, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, revitalization, skylines, skyscrapers, spatial design, third places, urban planning, zoning | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

    The MOST important urban planning book of our time



    I realize that the title of this post is a bold and perhaps controversial statement to make, but I truly believe that the definitive and thought-provoking publication by Salvatore Settis entitled, If Venice Dies, is the most important urban planning book published to date in the 21st Century.

    Salvatore Settis - Source:

    Salvatore Settis – Source:

    Why do I think this? For one, like several other definitive planning books (think Silent Spring by  Rachel Carson and The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs), it is NOT written by a planner, but instead by someone from outside the profession looking inward — Mr. Settis is an archaeologist and an art historian. Secondly, the topic is timely and universal — Venice’s current situation is a microcosm of issues, problems, difficulties, and debates taking place in historical and destination cities around the globe. The advantage of utilizing Venice as the focal point is that nearly everyone has either heard of the city or has a mental image of the city, even if they have never been there.

    Thirdly, the book does not address a single problematic topic, but numerous interrelated ones that largely come down to one fundamental cause — money; whether that means the power of money, the lack of money, or the influence of money. The hellbent accumulation of money drives too many equations when it comes to urban planning, leaving the real and most important issues that affect the average Joe and Josephine largely on the sidelines. A city should never be treated as a commodity. Instead, it is living, breathing entity. 

    Within If Venice Dies, Mr. Settis pulls no punches and clearly articulates the grotesqueness of many proposals which could literally convert the City of Venice from a global cultural treasure into a virtual comical sideshow of its former self. These range from a ring of skyscrapers, to amusement parks, to mega-cruise ship overload, to a myriad of other fanciful ideas. Meanwhile, the real world problems that need to be addressed, such as the literal depopulation of the city’s historic center do to ever-escalating real estate prices and rents, remain unaddressed and unchecked. It’s as if the leaders are trying to fix systemic problems with masking tape.

    The simple premise Mr. Settis articulates throughout his outstanding book is, “Why not focus on what made Venice great in the first place instead of trying to re-invent it or recreate it?” Don’t kill a city’s soul by turning it into something it was never meant to be. Not every city is meant to be a Las Vegas, an Orlando, or a Macao. This is a point that city leaders worldwide should be reminding themselves of constantly.

    As a professional urban planner who has been working in the trenches for nearly 30 years, If Venice Dies spoke to me like few other planning books ever have — to my heart. It will remain a permanent part of my personal library and I highly recommend it be included in yours too. Ciao!

    Posted in Advocacy, architecture, art, book reviews, books, branding, business, cities, civics, civility, commerce, consumerism, culture, demographics, density, economic development, entertainment, environment, Europe, geography, government, historic preservation, history, Housing, infrastructure, land use, literature, placemaking, planning, product design, recreation, revitalization, shipping, skylines, skyscrapers, spatial design, sprawl, Statistics, sustainability, topography, tourism, transportation, Travel, urban planning, writing, zoning | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments