Scott TenBrink

Scott TenBrink
SEATEC in Bangkok, Thailand;
alum, UM TCAUP master's program in urban planning

Tottered on: 11 July 2006
Temperature: 73 F
Ceiling: hazy sun
Ground: long grass
Wind: ESE at 6 mph

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TT with HD: Scott TenBrink

[Ed. note: By way of background, Scott TenBrink often posts comments on local Ann Arbor blogs even though he lives in Thailand. He was kind enough to dedicate some his scant time during a brief visit in Ann Arbor to teeter totter riding, before soon heading back to Thailand. And hats off to Arbor Update's Dale Winling, for posting the breaking Google news on AU even before the 9:00am tottering started, so HD and ST could talk about it on the totter. That set a record for earliest totter time, a record that, with any luck, will stand forever.]

HD: Alright. Here we go, let's get this totter going.

ST: Let's!

HD: Yeah, some people don't actually believe that there's actual tottering going on, but in fact there is.

ST: I had faith.

HD: Good, so you were not a skeptic?

ST: No, not at all.

HD: How was your Casey's burger last night?

ST: It was fantastic.

HD: So you executed on that plan.

ST: I exec... it wasn't the first place that I went. I ended up going to Zingerman's first, because the guy I'm staying with is the chef at Zingerman's, Rodger Bowser, and we needed to get into his house. So we went to Zingerman's for lunch. And then more people were able to get together for Casey's. But it was everything I expected.

HD: Yeah? Do you put everything on your burger, or do you just let the meat speak for itself?

ST: I always get, almost always get, bleu cheese, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms. And a side of mayo that I mix with Clancy's Fancy sauce for the fries.

HD: Is there any possibility that you'll make a return to Casey's before departing?

ST: Yeah, there's a good chance of that [laugh]. There's a lot of places I want to hit, though, too, so I can't make any commitments. Sabor Latino is still on the list, Rodger recommended a new pizza place that's on North U. apparently. Have you heard anything about it?

HD: No.

ST: I don't usually frequent that area for restaurants, but he said it was really good.

HD: So how are you getting around town?

ST: Bicycle.

HD: A bicycle that you borrowed from somebody?

ST: Yeah, 'sequestered' I guess.

HD: So you stole it from somebody, that's what you're trying to say?

ST: Well, I'm staying with Rodger, who's got a garage full of bikes that I helped, to some degree, to build over the last few years. So there's always a bike available.

HD: You've got some sweat equity is what you're saying.

ST: Yes, yes.

HD: Well speaking of bikes, I know you've kept up to some extent with stuff that's happening in Ann Arbor, even though you live and work in Thailand. Have you heard about this newest proposal to close down Huron River Drive [to car traffic] either on selected days or maybe on a special-event-type basis?

ST: Yeah, I don't know the specific instance you're talking about, but that's kind of been floating around for a long time, and then kind of shot down, never quite brought to the point where anything happens with it. But I'm familiar with the idea.

HD: There was a letter to the editor recently, I think that's where I read this, suggesting that we ought to just go whole-hog and make it a recreational, non-motorized path, period. And I found this description online of what you were interested in back when in 2003 when you were a student. You said you were "interested in creating roadways that are designed for human-powered vehicles which have destinations, exclude cars, and fit into the context of the city or town." I guess except for fitting into the context of the city, closing down Huron River Drive [to auto traffic] would fit with that.

ST: Yes. But I have changed my perspective since.

HD: You've become older and wiser?

ST: [laugh] I guess more aware of the political realities involved. And the practicalities. Before I started the Masters in Urban Planning program, which was right around when I wrote that, I was going in because I was interested in biking especially, non-motorized vehicles, sustainable transportation, those kinds of things. So that's what drove me to write something like that. But now I realize that if we took all the cars out of Ann Arbor, and all of the places for cars to drive and park etcetera, we'd kind of suffocate ourselves. I don't think it's as simple or as black-and-white as I used to.

HD: Was that a function of what you actually learned in the master's program, or is that a function of what you've learned working in Bangkok?

ST: I think that I kind of slowly drifted towards the idea that its better to have all forms of traffic integrate better, to have bikes and cars get along better on the road. And I think that had to do, in part, with my work with getDowntown with Erica [Briggs]. We talked about that a lot. At that time they were doing all the shared-use arrows. That was kind of the beginning of that. So I think I bought into that.

HD: So the 'work' with getDowntown program, was that a part of the master's program, some kind of internship, or was that actually your job?

ST: It was my job and I kind of tacked onto that a final project for my master's thesis. That was based on parking, so that might be a big part of where I started to see you can't eliminate automobiles altogether and have that work out.

HD: Do you feel like in general the training you got in that master's program prepared you adequately for what you're doing now?

ST: For what I'm doing now, I would say not at all, but that's more my fault [laugh] in choosing what I'm doing right now, and not a reflection of the program.

HD: So you're not planning roads?

ST: I'm not currently an urban planner. In fact, most of my urban planning work is reflected in my posts on Arbor Update, more so than the work that I do in Bangkok.

HD: So your posts on Arbor Update, you're keeping up on Ann Arbor stuff, even though you don't live here? Is that just like what, when a musician does scales just to stay sharp?

ST: That's one way that I like to look at it. Although I have to admit, that I've chosen Ann Arbor. I do keep up to some degree on national issues or issues in the field of transportation, sustainable transportation and things like that. But really, I'm focussing on Ann Arbor, not so much on the issues. I mean I'll comment on anything that I can feel like I can phrase an intelligent comment on for Arbor Update.

HD: So you still feel a psychological or emotional connection to Ann Arbor the place.

ST: I miss home. In Bangkok, I'm enjoying my time there. My job right now is not exactly what I'd like to be doing, and I think that makes me miss home a little bit, too. Because when I was here, I was working for the getDowntown Program, it was exactly what I wanted to be doing.

HD: So you're looking forward to the time when you can come back.

ST: Yeah!

HD: Maybe you can work for Google.

ST: [laugh] Although photocopying books is not part of what I'm interested in, so we'll have to see what they come up with. They could use some transportation management planning, which I would be willing to provide. And I encourage them to do a parking 'cash out' program, should they come to Ann Arbor!

HD: Oh, you're talking about if they build a facility?

ST: Or even if they move into one.

HD: Yeah, well 1000 people, they have to come from somewhere and get there somehow, so yeah. Unless they just build a big complex and everybody just lives there in the hive.

ST: Still you're going to need transportation planning, though. That's just more focussed than what I'd be interested in. Those are the kind of things that Norm [Cox] does of the Greenway Collaborative.

HD: Do you still maintain an address here that would allow you to participate in elections?

ST: I don't know what my election situation is right now, to tell you the truth. I switched my permanent address to my parents' house ...

HD: .... in Holland?

ST: Yeah, on the west side of Michigan. I don't know how that impacted my ability to vote locally. So that's probably one of the things that I'm going to look into while I'm here. I should just go to Publius, because I know that I can find out all that information there.

HD: I think the deadline for registering was yesterday ...

ST: ... yeah, it was yesterday ...

HD: ... so it may be too late to fix things ...

ST: ... but at least I'd know.

HD: Did you watch the candidate forums last night on CTN?

ST: I did not. I'm hoping to catch a replay of it. I've been kind of busy going from one party to the next, celebrating my return and imminent departure.

HD: Your triumphant return.

ST: Yeah!

HD: CTN, I guess, is one kind of media that you can't get over in Bangkok. I mean anything that's internet based, I assume is accessible, because there's easy broadband access ...

ST: ... well, CTN, unless I'm behind the times, I don't think they offer any version that's downloadable, do they?

HD: No, you're absolutely right, that's ...

ST: ... but I know that Scott Trudeau was talking about figuring out a way to webcast their stuff. I'm a big supporter of that. Although, I do feel like I'm the only one who might benefit from that. Everybody else can call CTN, right, and ask for their own personal viewing, as I understand it?

HD: Well, pretty much. In fact, recently I did exactly that. But there is, I think, a psychological barrier to having to wait, I don't know, two to three whole days? Nowadays, two to three days to wait for them to air the program you want to watch is a pretty long time. And I think that's enough of a barrier that a lot of people might just say, Oh jeez, you know, I don't want to wait for them to air it. Because then you have to sit through it in real time, you can't spool forward. Although, you can go physically over to CTN and they'll let you view the tapes and I assume you can fast forward, I assume they give you the controls! But I think it would be nice if you could go and check out a city council meeting from 2003, download it and just go instantly to that place thirty minutes into the meeting where you know somebody said something interesting about closing down Huron River Drive. But I wonder if local cable access, their mandate somehow precludes them from using the internet as a broadcast outlet? I just wonder.

ST: That's a good point. Although I see a case for expanding that mandate. It's not just a one-way thing. If you can provide that kind of resource to other communities, and forming whatever meta-community that would share back, that's kind of the concept that I would push for.

HD: One final question I wanted to ask, as a kind of measure to see how much of a policy geek you really are. Are you going to the Non-motorized Plan meeting, the WATS meeting tomorrow?

ST: You know, I didn't know that it was coming up, what time is it?

HD: It's let's see, Tuesday [Ed. note: HD was reading off a note, which was incorrect. The word 'tomorrow', uttered on a Tuesday points to Wednesday, which was the correct day] from 6:00 to 8:00, this is at the AATA offices, and they're doing another one over in Ypsi at the City Council Chambers ...

ST: ... oh, I was hoping they were holding it over at the Corner Bar.

HD: The Corner Brewery?

ST: Yeah, the Corner Brewery, because I want to check that place out, too.

HD: So that's on your list of things to do, too?

ST: So, possibly. I was hoping to attend some public meeting when I was home, so does that speak to how much of a policy geek I am?

HD: Um, I think you qualify. You're certified. Of all the other things you've mentioned that you want to do while you're here, it's all eatin' and drinkin'. Anything that doesn't fit that?

ST: Bike riding. I've already started on that. And I think I'm going to go for a painstakingly long bicycle ride later with Rodger.

HD: When you say 'painstakingly long' you mean ...

ST: ... he rides to race and he trains. I'm going to go out and get dragged along for a while ...

HD: ... just sit on his wheel until he rides you off it?

ST: Right, right. And then sit on the curb and throw up into the ditch until somebody comes and picks me up or whatever.

HD: Sounds like a great way to spend a vacation. Well, listen, Doug Kelbaugh is supposed to come ride the teeter totter tomorrow, the Dean of the College of Architecture. Is there a question you'd like to pass along to him?

ST: A question? No, but there is a comment, that I'd like passed along. And that is, when I was in my second year of the program, I was in charge of Expanded Horizons, which is a course-slash-extracurricular thing that we did, where we went and we visited a city for the weekend and saw all aspects of planning going on. He came with us that year, and I thought it made a big difference as to how urban planning fit into the overall program in the School of Architecture, which has not always been a real positive kind of thing. So I'd like to see him continue to do that. I don't think he did it last year.

HD: Alright, I'll pass that along. Hey, listen, thanks for coming to ride my teeter totter.

ST: Alright, I had a great time.