John Floyd

John Floyd
accountant; city council candidate, Ward 5
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tottered on: 17 October 2008
Temperature: 50 F
Ceiling: Sunny
Ground: Park grass
Wind: N at 2 mph

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TT with HD: John Floyd

Hunt Park John Floyd
Totter 2.0 on location:
Hunt Park

[Ed. note: John Floyd is a candidate for city council in Ward 5. The photographer who stopped by to chat during the ride was Mike Ulmer.]

JF: I had wondered, can I play this thing going up and down!

HD: [laugh]

JF: I've heard of fiddling on the roof, but I've never heard of fiddling on the teeter totter! I'm attending a bat mitzvah tonight, so the image of a fiddler on the roof is ...

HD: ... so, are you going to play?

JF: No. I'm going as a guest, not as the entertainment.

HD: I don't even know. Is there typically entertainment of that form at a bat mitzvah?

JF: Well, there's typically dancing. But I don't think too much Irish old-time fiddling. It's probably not the zeitgeist of the event. And not to try to awe your readers with my knowledge of big words, but the word zeitgeist does mean 'spirit of the age'. There are people who don't know what that word means.

HD: All right. [Ed note: JF tunes the fiddle and knocks out a tune.] So what was the name of that tune?

JF: The Gaelic Club.

HD: So that's like an ancient melody? Or is that a relatively modern thing?

JF: Well, I'm going to guess that the ancient Gaels didn't really think about having a Gaelic Club! So I'm guessing, it sounds like something one would have invented in New York in about 1850 or 1870. I don't know more than that. It's not the sort of thing one often associates with the Irish. [Ed. note: JF offers a second tune.] That one has perhaps a little bit more of what one thinks of as the Irish.

HD: And that one is?

JF: That's the Old Irish Washerwoman.

HD: Are you kidding me? [Ed. note: HD is fond of 'washers']

JF: Yeah. I think of it as kind of the most famous of the jigs.

HD: It certainly sounds familiar, I just never knew what the name of it was.

JF: The Washerwoman, I think they call it in Ireland. In America it's The Irish Washerwoman.

HD: [laugh] Okay, so to my ear you sound like a really good fiddle player.

JF: I was classically trained originally. [Ed. note: JF performs another tune.]

Which is a jig also--by a German guy, though.

HD: And what is that one?

JF: That's the jig from the D-minor Partita of Johann Sebastian Bach. It's a lesser-known piece, I don't pretend to play the Chaconne from that.

HD: Okay, so you know the musical theory underpinning everything? In other words you're not just putting your fingers in the right places. So for example, when I play the banjo, it's strictly muscle memory--I know I need to make this sequence of muscle movements in order to produce ...

JF: ... well, any act of playing, that's exactly where I'm at. Where should my bow be? What's the angle? What's the pressure? Am I in the right plane? So in performing that's where I'm at. But I actually never took any music theory. I was bathed in music growing up. My mother was a trained organist and sang with the New Orleans Opera. And my daddy played Brahms and Chopin ...

HD: ... so did you grow up in New Orleans??

JF: I grew up here. I was in New Orleans for a year.

HD: Yeah, I thought that's what you said at the CTN debate.

JF: My parents were from Louisiana originally. It's a long story. My mother's family actually settled over in the southwest corner of Michigan in 1850. And it's a long story. Her parents moved to Louisiana where she was born and met my father. After he finished medical school he took a residency here at the big U. and went back to be on the faculty at LSU in New Orleans for a year, didn't want to be there, called up and said, Can I come home? They said, Okay! And so he moved back in 1960. I was there for a year or two just long enough for my big sister to run through a plate glass window at her school in first grade in New Orleans. But I grew up mostly in Burns Park. I was actually born on Fairview Street, which is near the fire station on Jackson. There's kind of a little side parallel road, and there's three streets that come off it. Fairview is the middle street. But I grew up in Burns Park.

HD: Got it. You know, there's no timer on the teeter totter like there is at city council public commentary, ...

JF: ... I have more than three minutes?

HD: Yeah, you have more than three minutes. But I'm guessing, I mean it's not just city council commentary that you've appeared at over the last, what, five or six months?

JF: Since about April.

HD: Planning commission and various and sundry other ...

JF: ... mostly those two. Mostly council and the [planning] commission.

HD: But I imagine that you have gotten pretty good at the genre of the three-minute speech?

JF: I've gotten very good at the genre of the three-minute speech that loses its last two sentences! [laugh] Beep! I worked hard on my timing for the League of Women Voters debate. I went over that, and over that, and over that.

HD: So they didn't give you the question advance, though, did they?

JF: Oh, no. They just felt like softballs.

HD: So, did you find that to be a satisfying experience? I mean, do you feel like that gave you an adequate opportunity to let voters know who you were, and what he stood for, and what you would be like on council?

JF: I think it was better than the three minutes in front of council. But I think you can't know anyone in 20 or 30 minutes. The things that I feel like I'm not getting the time to explain--because they are subtle, they are difficult to argue. It's not because people are not able to understand them, but because they are not ways that people are used to thinking. And to get people to think a little bit differently to make an argument, is very much harder than getting them to think about something that they are used to thinking about.

And what I mean by that: There is a global war for intellectual talent going on now. And the winners make a lot of money, and the losers end up in declining industrial cities. And Ann Arbor, as a center of innovation, is a player in the game. And for us to win, which is important not just for us here, we have to reinvent the state's economy. There's no question that Ann Arbor is the most likely place for the state's economy to be reinvented.

So what does it take for us to attract, and retain, people who could go anywhere to start a business? The university brings a lot of people through--they come, they get their ticket punched, and they go on to the next opportunity. Whether that is because of career advancement, or I've got these three options: This one, I don't have to deal with February ...

HD: ... so that would be like San Diego?

JF: Yeah, San Diego. Any of the S-cities, really. Salt Lake, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, or even Seattle doesn't really have February. They have a little more rain. They don't have February the way we have February. I have a buddy who is a venture capitalist in town, Lindsay Aspegren at North Coast, and he has pointed out to me, you guys are crazy if you think that you're competing with Ohio or Indiana.

You are competing with Asia. You're competing with Tokyo and Shanghai and Singapore and Bangalore--that's who you're competing with. Not just Chicago or Minneapolis. So that really is who we have to compete with. Who is going to come to Michigan? Who is going to help us reinvent this economy? Why would somebody want to stay here?

People have heard this argument a lot on their front porches--we don't have mountains, we're not on the ocean, the river is not navigable, we don't have a great venture capital industry. We have a nascent one, and Mr. [Michael] Finney [of SPARK] and other people are working manfully to make that greater. But the fact is there is probably more venture capital in Minneapolis. And their winters are sunny, not cloudy. Even though they're further north--the snow comes down in November and doesn't melt until April.

My late wife used to complain, we should be in Minneapolis because there is real winter, and it doesn't freeze and thaw, and it's not so depressingly cloudy all winter long. So how are you going to compete with that? And my suggestion is that we are not going to compete with them by going head on. We're not going to out-urbanize any of those places. We have to find some other things they don't have, for us to be a place that attracts people.

HD: So this is the whole small-town, feel big-city vitality thing?

JF: Yes, there we are! Which is, oh, by the way, also my personal aesthetic. That's why I moved home from Chicago to make babies. But it's more than just my personal aesthetic. It's also our chief economic weapon. But that really has escaped people's thinking, because they don't think about it much.

HD: But do you think it's fair to say that has an appeal for some percentage, but certainly not all ...

JF: ... absolutely!

HD: So it becomes a question of, do we really want to sink everything into that, or do we want to say, All right, these guys who spoke at public commentary for City Place at the planning commission public hearing, who talked about the fact that City Place, to them, represented exactly what was missing from the area near downtown Ann Arbor--modern cheap housing. These are guys who are not interested in buying an older home and slowly and steadily refurbishing it. They just want a place that is good to go, that's clean and works, and has all the modern amenities. I don't think that the small-town aesthetic appeals to guys like that.

JF: Right. I think if that's the case, what's the chance of ever out-urbanizing Chicago? What's the likelihood of that ever going to happen? If you really want to be in the big city, are you ever going to be happy with this? And my suggestion is we can't win that game. It doesn't mean that we can't have modern apartments for people who want them. That's not my point.

My larger point is, I don't think we can win that game. If you really want Manhattan, if you really want Boston, if you've got to be where the big city is, where the baseball team is, where they've got the T or the L or the subway, if you've got to be where the action is--in that sense, we're not even on the way to Cleveland!

HD: Well, I think that's part of the impetus behind the desire to establish these transit corridors--east-west and north-south, with the commuter rail that folks are talking about. At the last AATA meeting it sounds like as soon as August 2009 there could be a millage proposal on the ballot for a regional transportation authority that would be an expanded AATA. And would eventually include this commuter rail going north-south and east-west. Frankly, I think you're right in the sense that in Ann Arbor people don't have a Detroit on the horizon. We don't think of ourselves as living in the Detroit area.

JF: It's the D-word, you're not allowed to say it.

HD: What, Detroit?

JF: Ah Ah Ah! You can't say the D-word! You can't say it!

HD: Well, when my wife and I made our list of pros and cons--do we actually want to follow the job opportunity that moved us to Ann Arbor--one of the things that made the list was, Oh, a major metropolitan area, cultural opportunities that would be available to us by the proximity to Detroit. And we moved to Ann Arbor, and whoops, unless you make a conscious effort, it's very easy to forget that Detroit even exists. I mean if you work in Ann Arbor ...

JF: ... yes, yes.

HD: Aside from the handful of baseball games we've attended in Detroit, I don't think we've been to Detroit. But if there was a train that I could hop on, and I didn't have to worry about ...

JF: ... making that train home, and where are you going to die in the meantime.

HD: What's that?

JF: If you didn't have to worry about, If I miss the five o'clock train will I die? Which maybe is a little unfair. But it's where people's heads are at. We had the same issue. My kids wanted to go into Detroit. And there's no good way to do it on the train. You've got about a three-hour window, and if you miss the train, there's no way home. So my point is not that we shouldn't have regional transit, not at all.

My point is this: We have tried ever since about 1965 to reinvent downtown Detroit. In '65 was when the schools were desegregated, they started cross city busing, there was a suit about busing out into the suburbs that was lost, they had the riots. Detroit, which had been listed as a model city by 1963 or 1964, it was like this amazing place that worked--it was a complete disaster five or six years later. A quarter of the population walked out the door. We've been trying to reinvent downtown Detroit ever since. The late 60's and 70's, we tried Southfield. And that worked for awhile, it was shiny and new. And then it got old. So we tried to reinvent it again in the 80's and 90's up in Troy. And that started to fizzle, there was a small salient to Auburn Hills.

HD: A small what?

JF: Salient. We tried to run a little diversion out of Auburn Hills--Chrysler, Great Lakes Crossing, The Palace--all built out in Auburn Hills.

HD: I think I'm just not hearing the word--salient?

JF: Salient. Maybe I have the wrong word. I'm thinking of the military operation that runs off to the side.

HD: I'll look it up.

JF: I must have the wrong word. Sorry. [Ed. note: It's not the wrong word. It's just a meaning with which HD was not familiar: A military position that projects into the position of the enemy.] Let's try "adventure". Let's see if that works, nevermind. So we try those. And you drive through Southfield, it's not very pretty. You drive through Auburn Hills, you go up Telegraph Road from Southfield, north to Troy, you have an awful lot of empty glass and steel buildings up there.

And it's not very pretty, and it's not very nice, and it's not pedestrian-friendly, it's not a place you'd want to live. It's a place you go work, it's not a place you want to live. And you work there, if you can't get something here. So we've tried all these alternatives to reinventing Detroit. We've been trying them close to 40 years now. They haven't worked. Now the latest thing is: I know! We'll make this downtown Detroit! We'll reinvent Ann Arbor as the economic and population center of Southeast Michigan! Now, as an economic center that's not a crazy thought. Because we have this knowledge factory, if we can figure out how to retain people ...

HD: ... you're talking about the University of Michigan as the "knowledge factory".

JF: Yes. And how to get people who otherwise might not have thought about it, to begin thinking about, Hey, if somebody could figure out how to do this process, or solve this puzzle, or invent this thing, or figure out what that molecule really needs to be, we could make $1 million. So we need to be doing all those things. The question is, why does anyone want to stay here to do that. Now inertia is an important factor in human events, I understand that. And I'm not denying that.

HD: Yeah, I have to say at this point, if you asked me, Why are you staying here in Ann Arbor, Dave? My answer would be, because there's no place else I want to go, and moving, it's exhausting. The first year that I didn't move, it was just like this glorious relief. Oh my god, I didn't have to move this year at all, not once. The energy that that takes to look for a new place to move all your stuff there. There's a lot to be said for just parking yourself and reaping all of the savings of energy you get from not having to move.

JF: Fair enough. If you were in Cleveland, if you were in Elyria, Ohio, ...

HD: Elyria, Ohio??

JF: Elyria, Ohio.

HD: Where is that?

JF: Off the turnpike about 30 miles west of Cleveland. They used to have a Ford plant down the road from Lorain. They used to have a steel plant and a GM plant. I went to college about 7 miles from there.

HD: I was going to say, How would you know that place?

JF: I went to college down there. A place called Oberlin.

HD: Oberlin, okay.

JF: So, Lorain County. The Amtrak stop from Toledo is in Elyria.

HD: Okay. So if I were in Cleveland or Elyria, Ohio, what?

JF: The relief of not moving is great, but my suggestion is part of your relief is: This is a great place. You do have to deal with February, fair enough. But it's a great place! Right today, you're going to be hard-pressed to find more pleasant place to be than this totter, in this park, that view. Unless maybe it's that view, or that view.

HD: [laugh]

JF: I mean, come on! This is not a sharp stick in the eye! This really is nice. And my point is that like a mine, or like a large, virgin old-growth forest, like the forests of Michigan, there is an unending supply of timber here. The trees were this big around, they were 100 feet tall and they covered the entire state, starting from Frankenmuth to the Wisconsin border. They'd been growing for 300 years untouched. The writers say that there were no deer in the state, because there was no open land, there was no underbrush, it was empty.

HD: I can tell you right now there's plenty of deer around Ann Arbor.

JF: They're in my neighbors yards!

HD: Are they really? Are they basically just pests?

JF: Yeah.

HD: Because I was riding up to the Project Grow meeting on Traver, and I was riding along and there were these three deer in the lawn. I had my camera with me, and so I stopped, and I'm very carefully taking the camera out, trying to make sure it doesn't beep and buzz and spook the deer, because I wanted to take a picture, and they actually instead of startling and moving away, they approached me.

JF: Right.

HD: They were like dogs or something.

JF: Handouts!

HD: I guess. And a woman walked past and she kind of rolled her eyes, and I asked her ...

JF: ... are these yours? [laugh]

HD: I forget exactly what I said. I was trying to elicit from her, Why aren't you impressed by this special encounter with nature? And she was like, You know what, they are just all over the place, they're a dime a dozen. Not unusual to see them in all.

JF: Yeah, yeah. When I was a kid it was like a once in a five-year event to see a deer. Now it's, How many this week? Where some of my son's buddies live, it's a daily occurrence to see multiple deer.

HD: So anyway, I interrupted you. Your point was?

JF: That we used to have this unending supply of timber that will never end. More timber than you could cut in the entire world--until there wasn't any. Mining. You extract, and extract, and extract, until it's gone. And what we're doing here is culture mining. Quality-of-life mining. And we're going to mine it, and mine it, and mine it, and people are going to want to come, and they're going to want to come, and they will want to come, until--they don't want to come. And it will be off the radar like that. And you won't see it until it's too late.

HD: Is this the argument that you are making: If too many people come here, then this will no longer be a desirable place to be?

JF: For the particular people that we're looking for. Now you go from aesthetics, and where do I want to live, and what's my quality of life, to: What makes sense for the state? What makes sense for our region? How do we make this sustainable?

We have a goose. It's laying golden eggs. Have you heard this story?

HD: The goose and the golden eggs??

JF: I met someone who had not. I had to explain the story on her front porch ...

HD: ... oh, man!

JF: A twentysomething.

HD: Okay! [laugh]

JF: Well, it's not on in TV! They don't read Aesop. They don't have any Aesop on Nick at Night. So we can try to get all the eggs out in a big rush. Why wait for them? Or we can fatten the goose, and we can sing it nice songs, and pet it, and speak tenderly to it, and make bigger eggs! Or we can slice it open and get all the eggs out! Remember how that story comes out. There's actually nothing inside this.

The whole point was the goose made the eggs. This is our goose, it's making eggs. If you kill the goose to get all the eggs out at once and suddenly ... ! All we have here is quality of life, there is nothing else going on. That's the part that people aren't used to thinking about. You wanted to come and be here--you had some job, I gather--but once you're here, wow! You can walk places, you can ride your bike places, there's pretty places to be not far away, the river is not really navigable, but it's fun to be on it in a shallow-draft conveyance. And if you know where to go, the smallmouth fishing is nice.

HD: Do you fish?

JF: Yeah. I'm a fly fisherman.

HD: Really? Did you have anything to do with--they did some work out by the bridge, that bridge that they are renovating right now ... [Ed. note: HD and JF are probably talking about different places--HD meant the Delhi bridge where there's been some signage installed by a fly fishing club.]

JF: ... in Dexter?

HD: Well it's out Dexter Way.

JF: They took out the Henry Ford dam, which is both a blessing and a sadness. Henry Ford built that dam, he went through Southeast Michigan building dams and mills in the later part of his life. I don't know if it ever powered anything, but he put that in there, that's what I'm told. And so to take it out is a great loss of history, but it's also re-awakened some pike spawning habitat. So now you've improved the fishery in the river.

HD: So have you fished that stretch?

JF: I have not. I have fished Hudson Mills, and I have fished Dexter-Huron. And I have fished Delhi, and I have fished Bell Road, which is my favorite spot, because it is so empty. You can think you're up north, it's beautiful. So Bell Road, and Zeeb Road ...

HD: So Bell, as in ring a bell?

JF: Yeah. Bell Road bridge was closed years ago. It's an old iron bridge, American Bridge Company Bridge. They would get a big crane that picked it up and set in the ground. It would dead end into Huron River Drive. You go out to Huron River Drive towards Hudson Mills, you cross Territorial Road, and you go straight, it stays dirt. Huron River Drive goes down Territorial and it crosses the river there. You stay straight on the dirt road and you will come to the sign--Bell Road. And you turn down that--I think it's only about 100 yards long there. And there's the river. [whispered] There's no one there. You feel like you're up north. And it's the rocky part.

You know, Ann Arbor and below, it becomes clay bottom. Ann Arbor and above it's gravel and rocky. Geologically it is two different rivers. And Ann Arbor sits at the change point. So we have all this stuff here. You've got the airport, you've got the Tigers, I would say you've got the Lions, but that's kind of an iffy thing. You've got a foreign country 45 minutes away! It's not bad. Go sometime, to the foot of Jefferson Avenue. Go to Cadillac Square. Or Grand Circus. And stand and look around. Even though it feels a little bit like you're in Rome about the year 600, you are still someplace. You are someplace. It's apparent you are someplace.

Go stand in the corner of Main and Huron. You don't get that feeling. This is our division of labor--Detroit has to be the big city of Michigan. We are a backwater until Detroit gets reinvented. That may be a half a century project.

It may be half a century. The car business is gone. I hope they survive, I hope they still have some jobs. But it's gone as the major driver of our economy, it's over. Everyone knows that. And we know we have to reinvent Detroit's somehow. How and what? We don't know. There's a generic drug maker who's opened a factory in Detroit. They employ 600 people are going to double their staff this year, I think. They are in partnership with an Indian drug-making firm. So it has an international background. It's a local guy who started it up.

HD: When you say local, you meet local here to Ann Arbor or Detroit?

JF: To Detroit. I don't have this completely worked out, I am still cogitating on how this happens--because nothing happens neatly. Central planning doesn't work, I mean, we know this. But nonetheless, look at where are the resources, and where do things make sense.

There is a narrow view in which building here [in Ann Arbor] to skyscraper height makes sense. But it's too narrow to survive. Because there's nothing else here. The opportunities here could be anywhere. That's the point that Thomas Friedman makes in The earth is Flat: work can go anywhere. There's no reason it needs to be here. You get your ticket punched, you get your degree, get your for five or six papers published, make your name, you can go someplace else. You go to Harvard, you go to wherever there is to go, you go there. This is just a weigh station.

How do you get it to be more than a weigh station? How do you get game changers to want to settle here? You're not going to get the guys who want to be in a big city with the bright lights--you're not! My suggestion is that if we try to imitate a big city, we will never become one, and therefore we won't retain anyone. We have a niche--we can be that niche.

Our biggest streets are four lanes wide, they're not set up to accommodate Manhattan's skyscrapers. My eight-year-old pointed out, "Gee, daddy, in New York the sidewalks are as big as our streets at home!" That's a slight exaggeration. But we're not ready to have 20,000 more people. Where would they walk along the street?

When you look at what's planned for apartments downtown, we are talking 20,000 more people--where will they go? Where are they going to throw a frisbee, or walk their dog? If they decide to make babies, where they are they going to push those things? Our downtown was laid out early in the last century in its present form. It was the First World War and the 20's when the last residential homes got kicked out of downtown. We are set up to accommodate a population of 25- or 30- or 35,000 people. The layout is set up for that. If they really want to make this a center of a half million people, there is nowhere to put them. You'd have to clean out all the area around it, clean out the Old West Side, I mean tear it down. Tear down the Old Fourth Ward, and build new stuff down there. You would have to do that to accommodate what they are talking about for downtown.

No one has thought this through, as far as I can tell, for more than five or six seconds. How we going to make this sustainable? Not a place that was nice for a while, then it boomed. And what follows every boom? Like Marilyn Monroe! Okay, that's what's coming our way. Soon to a theater near you! If this gets out of hand. Now I'm not suggesting that the Ann Arbor planning commission, or planning department, even if they had a re-tooled vision, are the ones who know how to lay this out.

HD: Well, as you said, you know, central planning doesn't work in the sense that it happens neatly in the way that anyone can map it out.

JF: Right, right.

HD: You can develop a central master plan, but you can't pick and choose which developers are going to want to put what projects where.

JF: That's exactly right. And that is our dilemma. My suggestion, though, is simply give them their head, they will wreck it.

HD: Give them their what?

JF: Their head. It's an old expression. I'll try to be more 21st-century!

HD: Well you know there's that one expression you used that made me prick up my ears: Better than a sharp stick in the eye. I thought I was probably the only one around here who used that expression.

JF: There we go!

HD: Do you remember when you first heard that?

JF: In Mr. Piron's economics class my junior year of college, advanced microeconomics theory. And I've forgotten how he brought it up--oh, it was something like studying the Prisoner's Dilemma, where on the one hand you can get something great. If you optimize your situation you get something great, and your opponent gets an ice pick in the eye. He used "ice pick". I later learned to modify it to "stick". But if you collaborate, you get not the lady, and not the ice pick in the eye, but you get some middle ground, which is actually a lot better. You maximize it, but you have to collude, but what is in your naked, narrow, self interest actually makes you both worse off. That was the point of that. And that is my suggestion here--that what would be the naked self-interest of individual landowners, and individual developers, actually over time makes everyone, including them, worse off. Unless your goal is to build something, get a check with two commas, and get out of town. If that's your goal, you'll probably do that.

HD: Only two commas??

JF: You can have a lot of zeros still in front of the two commas!

HD: [laugh]

JF: So if your goal is to get a quick check with two commas, you might be able to pull that off. Although not in the next year or two. If your goal is, How do we fatten the goose, that's the wrong way to go. If we're ready to build things of scale, to build a population center, and if we want to be green, you wouldn't walk away from infrastructure. And infrastructure built for 2 million people, where the streets are seven lanes wide and are big enough, therefore, to accommodate 30-story or 40-story or 50-story building ...

HD: ... so you're talking about, we wouldn't walk away from Detroit.

JF: Yeah. If you actually were green. Now I know there's reasons it's happened, and I know that I am not going to move my children there tomorrow to reinvent the state economy. And so I understand all that. I understand why people are reluctant to go there. But if you want to step back and say, What are our strategic advantages? What do we have to work with? How do we play them to our advantage, and play them to our sustainable advantage? Not, How do we cut and get out? Cut and get out always makes the most money for the biggest players right now. But it's not sustainable. Michigan has had a boom-bust economy since the French first came through here. Furs ...

HD: ... beaver pelts, right.

JF: You laugh, but this was John Jacob Astor--you've been to Mackinac Island, right? Where are you from originally?

HD: Southern Indiana.

JF: Okay, a Hoosier? Well, oh, I see!

HD: [laugh]

JF: Mackinac Island was the center of the fur trade, for a huge amount of time. That's where John Jacob Astor had his big fur outpost. You've never been up there? You're clearly suffering from a fudge deficit.

HD: I'm suffering a fudge deficit?

JF: Yes. You need to [address] that this summer. Go up there and look at Astor's old fur post. But the minerals, and the lumber, the copper boom, the iron boom, lumber boom, auto boom, auto bust, it's been going on for years. And to try to get something a little more sustainable, I think this knowledge factory thing, if it's done right, could be that.

We can grow this area. And we can do it in a way that doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater--I'm switching metaphors. Quality of life is all there is here. You can mine it, and you will make a lot of money out of that. See, this was the richest load of copper ore that was ever found on the planet. Michigan copper was what the Aztecs were working with. It was just on the ground, pure metalic copper, you could pick it up off the ground and work it. It didn't need any refining. Keweenaw copper.

HD: I'm sorry, I didn't follow the connection to the Aztecs.

JF: Oh, it was traded by the Indians as far south as Mexico. That's how rich the vein was, how easy it was to get. All the money for that went back east to the guys who owned the mines. That's not entirely like this, because there are some local people who are trying to build here. But it's not a totally bad analogy either. The LLC that owns the rest of the 30 or 40 unsold condos at Ashley Terrace is a Chicago LLC.

HD: I haven't really been tracking that. What is their percentage of occupancy at this point? Do you know?

JF: I haven't gone through to look at it, yet, but there's an awful lot of them that are there.

HD: I noticed that they put up a new billboard--it's as you go west out of town along Huron, before the railroad. An advertisement for Ashley Terrace.

JF: There's one between the airport and Ann Arbor, and there's one coming south from Brighton.

HD: The one that you see west headed out of town away from Ashley Terrace, that doesn't seem like an optimal placement to me. But I'm not really an advertising/marketing guy.

JF: Well, that's not their only one. I think the idea may be, there are people who are leaving, who might want to stay here.

The billboard between here and the airport facing people coming in from the Detroit says "Downtown living Ann Arbor style" Well, the irony is, the more of it you have, the less of it there is. You catch my point? The more you build stuff like Ashley Terrace, the less of the Ann Arbor style there is. So it's like putting condos in Yosemite. There's no question, we could pay off the national debt building condos in Yosimite Valley. Have you ever had occasion to be out there?

HD: No, never been out there.

JF: Have you seen pictures of it?

HD: I have seen pictures, yes.

JF: Well, if you put condos there, you could pay off the national debt. Until the day when: How is this different from downtown Los Angeles? There are nice views of the mountains from downtown Los Angeles, there are! But I came here not to be there!

We moved home from Chicago for several reasons, but mostly we just decided, we didn't want to be in that kind of setting anymore, among 8 million people. We wanted to be someplace smaller. And what is great about this sweet spot is that you can have the advantages of a small town, but still have the vitality of a big city. I should use that phrase!

HD: Yeah, you really should write that down so that you remember it.

JF: I missed T. Boone Pickens, but I heard Thomas Friedman, I heard David McConnell last year, I heard a children's author, Lemony Snicket, who came and spoke, and those are just the ones I had my head up and saw. The orchestras who come through town, the soloists who come through, if you like classical music. If you don't like classical music, we just had Bruce Springsteen down the road last week.

HD: Did you go to that?

JF: No, I didn't, had too much stuff, I couldn't get there. You know, John Lennon played here, everybody comes through here. Whether it's because we're special, or merely because we're a nice stop between Detroit and Chicago, every act comes through here sooner or later. So you can have all that stuff and have fabulous restaurants downtown, and my kids can walk to school, ride their bikes to school.

HD: Do they in fact walk and ride to school?

JF: They do. I have, for a bunch of reasons having to do with our family emotional dynamic, this fall been driving them both. This morning though, the big one took his bike and the little one walked. Last spring they were all doing their bikes. And they do. They go right down Sunset Road. They ride their bikes and walk.

HD: And that's to Wines ...?

JF: ... Wines and Forsyth. And I'm going to sound like a broken record, but if you wish to live in a large, cosmopolitan, big skyscraping place, I'm not sure that building out downtown Ann Arbor will satisfy your hunger. Unless the plan is, we are going to tear the whole city down, and build Oz. If we're going to do that, well, okay. But maybe that's the "shared high-level view of Ann Arbor's future" that no one is willing to discuss publicly.

HD: [??]

JF: Ann Arbor News front page below the fold August 6, 2008. Article on the election and the celebration at Mr. Hohnke's wife's high-end, swanky you-have-to-look-beautiful-to-be-allowed-to-join club. I mean you have to be beautiful to start and then be willing to devote a significant fraction of your disposable income to looking even better. You know the one that had Carsten in a World Wrestling Federation poster pose in front?

HD: [laugh] I must have missed that one!

JF: I've got it at home. If you want, I'll show it to you. Anyway. But the mayor, in an apparent unguarded, undisciplined moment, said, This is great! Because all of his candidates won their primaries, he had this team of five candidates, "all of whom share this same high-level vision of the future of Ann Arbor. And we have the people to ram it through." I'm mis-quoting the "people to ram it through" but he said we had the majority to make it go.

And I asked him the very next council meeting, two days later--Judy McGovern [reporter and columnist for the Ann Arbor News] made that her opening line--well, what is this high-level plan? I don't remember hearing about it. Maybe I wasn't paying attention? Now that the election is over, and you have all won, would you mind telling us what your high-level vision is? Nobody will say. Maybe it is that we are going to tear all of this down and build the Emerald City. I don't know. They won't tell us what it is.

HD: Well, as far as the Old West Side, which is a historic district that I live in ...

JF: ... I used to, until we got driven out.

HD: Got driven out??

JF: Yeah. We had our first child. My wife said before we have any more, I've got to get out of here. The the traffic had become crazy. They were building Ashley Mews. The noise!! No more babies here, we're done. So we left, and we came up here. To the suburbs! [laugh]

HD: [laugh] Yeah, it does have a very kind of suburban feel up here.

JF: And then, guess what happened? The density crowd decided to re-zone the single-family residence land that is now Sunset Brooks Nature Area--that was zoned for single families. Somebody wanted to come and put a bunch of apartments in there.

HD: I have a vague recollection of that.

JF: And the neighbors all said that doesn't fit what we've got here--it's zoned for single-family. We like having it feral but we know it's going to be developed some day. We're not arguing that. But that isn't what it's zoned for. Well, this was in the middle of my wife's illness and death, so I wasn't completely wired to the details. Everybody got upset, a lot of meetings, a lot of yelling and screaming, and the city essentially bought off the developer. Bought the land.

HD: So that's now a nature center of some kind?

JF: Yes its Sunset Brooks Nature Area. I may have my timing off on this--the ordering of events--then there was the Bluffs, just down below this hill.

HD: Hmm, I think the Bluffs preceded that.

JF: Oh, I got my orders wrong, okay.

HD: No, no, don't quote me on that.

JF: That's a fuzzy part of my public thinking now--which one went first. I know that the last one was down here, but there was the Bluffs ...

HD: ... when you say "down here" you mean the Black Elks?

JF: Yes. The Black Elks speak, yeah.

HD: The Black Elks what?

JF: Speak.

HD: [??] I'm sorry, I'm not following.

JF: There was a book that came out in the 70's about a Sioux Indian chief, Black Elk, it was at the time somewhat well-known: Black Elk Speaks. His prophecies.

HD: Okay.

JF: I've been trying to make too much fun! I'll shut up! But you know, that would've been the entrance, where that truck is pulling in there, that would've been the entrance to the Bluffs. There's no other way to get down there. So the city bought off the developer again. And the third time, and that's when I said, Enough! Just enough! I figured out, these people don't care!

The first time, you figure they don't know what people up there want. The second time, maybe they didn't hear us the first time. The third time, you see the pattern. I don't know, they don't care, or they have some agenda not related to the people who live here. And the black folks who lived on the side of the hill--this wasn't a black-white issue--they didn't want to see it, either.

And by the way, that's the first time I heard the chicken thing. Some lady said, I'm going to grow chickens in my backyard! If they're going to to put condos there, I'm going to put chickens in my yard. That's the first time I heard that come up.

HD: That was--I'm trying to think, what is her name--oh, they own the Birkenstocks store on Fourth Avenue, mmmm, Tinkerhess. Tinkerhess, I think.

JF: Right, so that's when I began, that's when I realized, wait a minute, this whole process is not interested in what people want and need. It's being driven by some other agenda, not related to the citizens. That was my first time coming out, taking the black tape off the windows and re-entering the world. And I went down to the council meeting when they voted on this, and you could see the looks of--well, you don't know what's going on in somebody else's head, ...

HD: ... now are you talking about the Black Elks vote?

JF: The Black Elks vote down at city hall. It was hard to escape the feeling that council felt like they'd been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. They were caught doing something that they really shouldn't have been doing. And that's reading more than I know from the looks on people's faces.

But the room was more full than I have ever seen it, and had more emotion than I have ever seen it--including 42 North, which was pretty emotion-laden. It was more than that. And I started thinking, Well how can this be? How can the government be that out of touch? How can they be--my sense was--contemptuous? I don't know what was in anybody's head, but that was the impression I was left with in my gut after that. And I started thinking, Well, when's the last time any of these people stood for election? When's the last time we had more than one party on council? And I started thinking it through. Mike Reid. And it's been five or six years.

HD: Mmm, yeah. It was before I started paying attention to anything. So to me, it feels like it has been forever that it's been a Democratic council.

JF: Mike Reid was the last guy to run at all, but when's the last time a Republican ran in this ward? I haven't gone to look at up, but I bet you that a lot longer.

HD: Did you contemplate at all saying, Okay to have a decent shot at getting voted in ...

JF: ... the point was not to get voted in per se. The point is that the whole process is broken. The whole process is broken. You can't fix it with one election. You have to fix it by fixing the process.

HD: So the part that you are fixing is that at least there will be a candidate in the November election?

JF: Beginning the discussion! What does it mean when there is no candidate? What does that do to the discussion of the issues? What does it do, hard-core partisan Democrats? When you have made it impossible for anyone else to run? What does that do to you? How do you feel about that now? Oh, you actually shot yourself in the foot! Because now, you have nowhere to run. People who don't necessarily share your agenda have figured out that they can get a very small number of people to show up when everybody else is on vacation or having an adult beverage in the backyard, they can control the game. And now what are you going to do? Nothing. You're SOL. Severely out of luck.

HD: [laugh] This is a family website, right?

JF: Yeah, we have a neighborhood here. [laugh] So strictly speaking, we really are in the First Ward.

HD: Oh, really?

JF: That's the boundary.

HD: Oh. my. God.

JF: Yeah, my block is the northeast corner of the ward.

HD: Oh, you're screwed. Do you think people are going to hold that against you, are they going to say ...

JF: ... oh, he totters outside the ward! I don't have to think about him anymore!

HD: [laugh] Well, you know, Hunt Park has been sort of on my provisional list of places to teeter totter ever since Dave DeVarti recommended Hunt Park--and another place, Cedar Bend--as good locations to see the cityscape of Ann Arbor. That was the first time I had ever been up here. Right after his ride I went up to both locations, to see if I could capture the kind of cityscape that I was hoping for. And I guess it was a bit of a letdown ...

JF: ... come back in November [when the leaves have dropped], you'll have the view. You'll discover that we are a city of parking lots! You didn't realize that, but you'll come back in November and that's what you'll see. The niversity hospital parking lots and the parking lots here.

HD: In talking to Dave [DeVarti], I remember that my grand idea of something interesting to do with part of the greenway--because it can't be a residential area--would be to build a tall observation tower. Because what I felt like was missing, and what a lot of people under-appreciate--we talked a bit about this before we climbed on the teeter totter--that Ann Arbor does have a topography that you don't necessarily become aware of if you're driving around all time. But if you're riding around on a bicycle or you're walking, you definitely notice. And one of the things that a lot of people just don't get, I think, about the greenway is they say, what are you even talking about? But if you built a big observation tower, say like eight or nine stories tall--it would have an elevator, too, I suppose, to make it ADA accessible--you'd have a place to go up and you can look and see what Ann Arbor is like from an aerial view. I think that actually might help gives people a little more perspective about what kind of city this is, just from a geographical and topographical point of view. Because people who live in tall buildings downtown, they can get that view.

JF: Right, today they can. A year or two ago, I took a tour of a unit at Ashley Mews, I just wanted to see what a unit looks like. Because the newspaper, it talks about sparkling views from the top of Ashley Mews north of the river. And of course the space next door, I asked the lady about that, What about my view, is it protected? Well, you know, we don't know what's going to happen on this block next door. Translation: You're not going to have a view. That's what the people in One North Main complained about, when Ashley Mews was built, that they were going to lose their view. We're circling back around.

I visited my buddy in Manhattan once. His apartment is on the 35th floor of this building. Wow!! The 35th floor of Manhattan, this is going to be fabulous!! Wow! I get in the elevator get up there, knock on the door, get in there, look out the window and you get a fabulous view--of the building next door 10 feet away. Because that's a 50- or 70- or whatever-story building. And you're just in the middle of his building.

When there is no view, because the building next to you blocks it, and the buildings aren't shiny and new anymore--in 10 years when the concrete is not quite so pretty, like Campus Inn kind of concrete, right? It's not quite so pretty, there's no view, and it's crowded, the sidewalks aren't nice to be on--density and population also increase crime.

Desolation is bad, and rats in a cage is bad. There's a sweet spot in between. And that's going to differ for different people. But trying to achieve an urban density by building a Stalinist architecture in the core throws out all of the things that make this nice to begin with. And it will end up becoming Section 8 housing--and the people who need Section 8 housing, God love them, they need to live someplace.

HD: So is there anything specific you'd be willing to hang the label of Stalinist architecture on in Ann Arbor?

JF: Well, you know there was a time when the Campus Inn and Tower Plaza were shiny and new and seemed bold and hip, and, Wow what a bold statement! And now even with the new windows that look better, it's one of those ironies: They now open out, which is great, for ventilation if you live there, but they wreck it as a visual thing. It used to have that solid wall--that was the thing it had to offer as a statement of architecture--a solid clean line. And now, people have the windows open and it wrecks the solid clean line. Ashley Terrace is not Stalinist. People describe it to me as Miami Beach. I haven't been to Miami Beach.

HD: I think it actually makes One North Main look better. Those two buildings together look better than One North Main did by itself.

JF: That may be.

HD: Which is not to defend the architecture of Ashley Mews ...

JF: ... Terrace.

HD: Right, Ashley Terrace. There's the part that is the base level, and then there's the part that goes up from there. The part that goes up, I think is okay, but it's just very blocky from that base part down. It's very blocky, and it's not fun to walk past.

JF: Let me suggest this, and see if see how it molders as it sits in the pot on the back burner. Ashley Terrace makes One North Main look better, because now, One North Main isn't such an odd outstanding eyesore. Now it has company.

HD: [laugh] Well, no, I think it gives a kind of a visual continuity ...

JF: ... when you paint your living room, or you paint one wall in the living room, the rest of it is intolerable. So just having two together makes the one less awful. It's a backwards analogy. So having more of it makes any one look less awful.

HD: Maybe.

JF: I think there's a building behind or across the street from Tower Plaza that is older about 10 or 11 stories, I don't remember the name. Maynard House? Or something.

HD: Nobody notices it. I'm trying to remember, maybe even on the teeter totter recently, somebody gave me as an example an 11-story building that nobody even knows is there, just because it is dwarfed by Tower Plaza.

JF: And it is so ugly in and of itself. It's both! You know the one on South University--University Towers, is that what is called? No.

HD: Yeah, I think so.

JF: University Towers, okay. All these things are horrible. The new stuff built on South University? You know, I'm going to offend somebody by saying this because somebody has their heart and their soul and their fortune invested in this stuff, but I don't find it adds to anything. I really don't. You know, we don't have to be a Museum, we're not supposed to be a Museum. I like the one that Mr.--the athletic director ...

HD: ... Bill Martin?

JF: Bill Martin. I like what he did by the train station. Part of me would have liked to have kept that open, but I kind of like what he did. I think he ought to turn his light off at night so that the ladies across the street don't have to have it in their bedroom. That's not a very neighborly thing to do. But I like what he did there. There's one at the corner of William and Main.

HD: William and Main?

JF: I can't think of the name of it. It's got a little clock tower on it. It looks sort of like a Lego building. Something kind of vaguely Danish. Across the street from Palio.

HD: Ashley Mews???

JF: No, Renaissance. This is on the other side of William from Ashley Mews.

HD: You're talking about a new building??

JF: Well its newer. It's not since you have been to town. But it's newer. It's since the year 2000. And you know that's okay. It's not completely out of step.

HD: Oh, wait, wait, wait. So you're talking about that four-unit ...

JF: ... it's a four-story building.

HD: But it's residential, right?

JF: No, I don't know what's upstairs, but the first floor is office and business. At the corner of William and state you have the Detroit Edison parking lot ...

HD: ... Ashley Mews at the other corner, okay.

JF: Well, the gas station.

HD: Okay, and then Palio.

JF: And the other corner, the fourth corner. Go look at it, it's not bad. So we're not supposed to be a Museum. But I think that if we flush away everything that gives you a sense of place, you have taken away the reason to be here. And I think that's the piece that is not getting talked about in the equation.

There is a gold-fever mentality to building downtown. It might be stifled for a few years by the credit crunch, but it isn't going away. And I think that we are going about growth in the wrong way. And that's not the only issue of the campaign. It's just one that if we get it wrong now, we've screwed up the whole game. That's why it's so important, and why I talk about it a lot. It's not because the rest of this doesn't matter. It's because getting that wrong wrecks everything else.

Now the other piece of this, that isn't as well known, is there is no new tax revenue from any of this development. Zero. Nada. Goose egg. Nothing. How come? Well, because the Downtown Development Authority captures all of the city tax, the library tax, the county tax, the bus system tax, all the special millages. It captures everything except the school operating millage, the state education tax, and the intermediate school district tax. The Ann Arbor SPARK Smart Zone Local Development Finance Authority captures 50% of that tax. So out of all this, there's a small amount of extra money going to the intermediate schools district, and state education. Most of the money from this goes to the Downtown Development Authority so that they can build parking.

HD: Well, I mean that's one thing that they do. But they do spend money on other stuff besides just parking structures.

JF: Like? The promenade planters, fair enough. Those are maintained by individual businesses, and they put the Christmas lights up--or is that the Main Street merchants association that puts the Christmas lights up?

HD: I'm not sure.

JF: I think it's the Main Street Association. Even if it is the DDA, good for them.

HD: Well, I stumbled across one example just unexpectedly the other day--at caucus there was a downtown resident who is making council aware of this two-story platform with a gigantic HVAC unit on it behind the Blue Tractor Brewery that's going in. They live along an alleyway/walkway ...

JF: ... right, the air-conditioning units, okay. I saw it in the paper.

HD: Off of Fourth Avenue there. Yeah so that alleyway actually has these cobblestone strips that apparently the DDA installed, and took care of that to basically improve the infrastructure along the alley.

JF: Just like a city government would do? So then what's the point of creating a DDA? Why not just run things through the city budget?

HD: As far as the rationale for the creation of DDA, I mean there was enabling legislation throughout the state, right? That allowed the creation of DDA's. The idea, I think, was that the key to the preservation of Michigan's cities was to privilege the downtowns of the city. And I think that there is a consensus for that.

JF: So what has that meant here? We build parking. My suggestion is that if the premise is that the city council and/or our citizenry are too stupid to know where the proper investments are, and what the proper investments are, then it doesn't matter what we do--we're all too dumb. And it doesn't matter what you spend your money on, just turn the lights off, we'll take the black capsule. That's the premise of that sort of thing.

If you ran it through the regular council process, you would never come up with that answer. Is that because we are also blind, and corrupt, and stupid? Or is it because if we actually ran it through a rational process, where it had to compete with paving the sidewalks, getting the snow removed from the streets, getting the park picked up, you would never do that.

If you build an addition on your home, that gets taxed immediately and it goes into your neighborhood only, right? The taxes from that only go to your neighborhood? That gets your street paved?

HD: Well, no.

JF: Why don't their [downtown] improvements go into the common pot?

HD: I think the argument made in defense of DDAs in general, not just our DDA--Ann Arbor is not the only city in Michigan that's got one ...

JF: ... sure...

HD: ... is that downtowns deserve special attention in that they just need to be first in line ...

JF: ... deserve. Well, when we went from the street car culture to car culture--which you know other people have written better about that than I have--when people were too poor to own cars, and then people had cars, we lost all conventional retail downtown. And so the idea was we have to do something to restore conventional retail, I think, was kind of part of that thinking. And what we figured out is that that's not possible. Anymore. And there won't be conventional retail downtown ever again.


MU: Is this yours?

HD: Yes sir.

MU: This teeter totter? Is it?

HD: Yes sir!

MU: Oh, I seen you here shooting pictures, and I was just wondering ...

JF: ... what we were doing here?

HD: My name's Dave, hi.

MU: Mike Ulmer, I stay right down the street here.

JF: I'm John Floyd.

MU: John. And Dave. Nice to meet you. I'm a photographer and that's why when I seen you with a camera--can I see what you shot there? [Ed. note: Inspection of preview window of camera ensues]

HD: Sure.

MU: I've been seeing people shooting in this park here lately.

JF: Well, it's beautiful!

MU: It's a good time of the year.

JF: Absolutely!

MU: The leaves are turning.

JF: Absolutely, it's gorgeous. It's a great view.

HD: What I do is, I've got an interview website, and this is just to document the conversation.

MU: Okay, is this a D-200?

HD: It's D-60.

MU: A D-60, okay.

HD: Or, I don't know, I couldn't tell you.

MU: I seen you I rode by earlier.

HD: Yeah, well, we are still here!

MU: Does that have a movie mode? [Ed note: JF performs another tune.]

HD: I don't think it does.

MU: How many megs is that one?

HD: I couldn't even tell you. I mean, I will be perfectly honest with you, the reason I got this because I had a little tiny one, and you know you whip that out and people don't even take you seriously, but when you whip this out, people say, Oh you're like a real photographer!

JF: And it looks like it has film in it!

MU: You know I've got a 12 megapixel Fuji, if you want me to get a couple of good shots for you. I mean, you've got some good ones there, but you know. Are you going to crop those and everything?

HD: Yeah. Probably will. So you live just right up the street?

MU: Yeah. I've been shooting a lot.

HD: You know, I can hook you up with a teeter totter ride sometime. I'm sorry, John, but I'm always pitching a teeter totter ride.

JF: Oh you've got to!

MU: Are you leaving it here at the park?

HD: Oh, no, this is not a community donation! [laugh]

MU: [laugh]

HD: Wow, the sun just went in, and it chilled up just like instantly.

MU: Well, I didn't mean to interfere with you guys, I just seen you taken pictures and you know I got curious. I'm always curious when I see someone ...

HD: I'm glad you stopped!

MU: Yeah. Dave and John, right?

JF: And you are again?

MU: Mike.

JF: You live down the hill?

MU: Yeah.

HD: So not a prospective voter, John!

JF: Yeah, well, I can't talk to you then.

HD: He's running for council in the Fifth Ward ...

MU: ... oh, are you?

HD: And you live in the First Ward, right?

MU: Yeah, right here. I've got a website on that card. Just a bunch of local stuff--I'm into people. I photograph a lot of people.

HD: Okay, I will check it out.

MU: I did some of the art fair, just some local yokels, walking around taking pictures of them. If you get a chance just visit it.

HD: Thanks a bunch. [Ed. note: Another tune is performed by JF.]

HD: Nicely played!

JF: Fishers Hornpipe.

HD: Listen, is there anything else you wanted to add before we dismount?

JF: Well I want to come back around and hammer on this DDA thing. I understand the premise of it. I just think it's wrong.

HD: To me though, you just put the downtown first in line, and you have the DDA, the taxes that it does capture, and if at any point there's a sense that, Hey we don't think that the DDA is doing a good job with the allocation of the resources to the downtown, and balancing that with the needs of the community and what the community interests are, at any given point in time we can basically say, All right we're going to take control of the DDA's budget. And in fact city council did that for a certain category funds for the DDA--I think it was two years ago. They said all right, the DDA can't spend money out of a certain category of its budget without prior council approval.

JF: I think that if there was a time when it was a good idea and a useful idea ...

HD: ... you just think that time has passed?

JF: I think the time has gone. And why the rest of us are paying for services for the people who do live in Ashley Mews, what is that about?

HD: But the people at Ashley Mews wind up paying for some of our services, right? Like the leaf pick up? So a couple of weeks from now the city is going to invite everyone to dump their leaves into the street--where they pose a safety hazard to every bicyclist sitting there in the bicycle lane if there is one, or in the roadway where cyclists travel if there isn't--for people who don't have trees ...

JF: ... have you ever called the fire department?

HD: No.

JF: You subsidize every body who has.

HD: But that's exactly ...

JF: ... have you ever littered in the park?

HD: Um, no.

JF: You are subsidizing picking up the park. So once you go into parsing out which exact services somebody is using, the premise of having a government--provide services--is gone.

HD: But wait up, it seems to me that you are undermining your whole argument. If it's the case that we shouldn't be worried so much about what pot it comes out of for who is paying for what, then ...

JF: ... how much money are the residents at Ashley Mews paying compared to what that property is generating before it was developed? How much? A nickel? A dime? $3? $10? How much more is a contributing to general city coffers? $1000 a year? How much is that contributing to city government, more than just the land was? Yes, this will be on the final exam. How much?

HD: In the first year, I think it was nothing.

JF: That's right. In the second year, it's maybe not nothing. But how much more than not nothing?

HD: I don't know that depends on what the economy is.

JF: Well, what's happened to the cost of city services in the meantime? They've probably gone down or stayed the same, haven't they? No, everything goes up. So I think the whole premise is bogus. Unit 507 appears to still be owned by the developer. I picked it because ...

HD: You are talking about what?

JF: Ashley Terrace. It's not someone's personal home that I'm discussing. The taxable value before that they assigned to the parcel before construction started ...


BB: Could I ask what you're doing? I know I could make a guess but ...

JF: ... let's hear your guess!

BB: It's got to be a conceptual art project of some kind.

HD: Yeah, let's go with that!

JF: It's a kind of conceptual art.

BB: Okay, yeah. So is there an answer to this, or do I just have to go on?

JF: The art project is to see how people will react to it!

BB: Yeah?

JF: It's like a Rorschach test.

BB: It's like a balance of payments and you are China and you are the United States?

HD: [laugh] Yeah, sure now let's go with that.

BB: Okay.

HD: Honestly, I have an interview website, and all of the interviews take place while riding a teeter totter.

BB: What's your name?

HD: Dave Askins a.k.a. Homeless Dave.

BB: Oh, yeah I think I've heard of you.

JF: I'm John Floyd.

BB: I'm Bill B[undecipherable] from down there. This is an interview, right? I won't interfere then.

HD: No, you're not interfering.

JF: [while playfully clutching his violin] I'm insecure, some people have stuffed animals that they cling to, I cling to my violin.

BB: I have a mandolin in my closet I haven't played it in 30 years.

JF: That's the same tuning as a violin. It's the same thing is just like this.

BB: I know nothing about art, I mean, about music.

JF: A mandolin is a violin here [oriented horizontally] with no bow. And it's got a little different thing, but it's got the same tuning. There is a mandola, which is the same tuning as a viola.

BB: Can I see what kind of camera you got?

HD: This is a Nikon something or other. Oh, its a D-60, there it is. [Ed. note: JF performs another tune]

BB: Good luck with the art project.

HD: Thanks for stopping by.

JF: Now I've lost my train of thought.

HD: You wanted to finish hammering away at the idea of the DDA increment ...

JF: ... the value of that unit went from $1200 to just under $158,000. Which is more than a factor of 100. This much [indicates zero] goes to the city, this much goes to the library, this much goes to the county, this much goes to the bus system. The rest of us are paying for everything that they use. All general government functions--planning and budgeting, tax collection, the pipes in the ground, all of it--we are paying for all of that. And their contribution back to the city is this much.

It's not that the people who live in the building are bad, it's because our tax structure is set up that way. And all we do is build parking lots. If you want to cobble a couple of alleys, well that's beautiful. If a four-story underground parking lot really is the priority, if that really is a priority, why would it not survive the city's budget process? If there was a time when that made sense, then you couldn't even talk about spending that money for something else. I'm not sure that time is now.

Mr. Fraser's budget talks about 1-3% cuts every year for the foreseeable future. Well, cutting the police department, the fire department, the parks department, why are those things not able to even be discussed? Is another parking building what we really need? Is that really it? And when they go to build the convention center, well is there going to be a city discussion about whether that's where funds should go towards?

HD: This is something I've actually heard people say, that there is this plan to build a convention center ...

JF: ... it's in the zoning, along with the expanded adult entertainment district.

HD: Well, okay, yeah. But the adult entertainment district--I actually made some inquiries about that--and apparently they just have to list everything, or?

JF: Well, it's not that we have to have one by law. That isn't the point.

HD: I'm just saying they have to list it somewhere.

JF: That isn't the point either. How they choose to write that law is not a part of Michigan jurisprudence that I have a lot of personal familiarity with. Someone sent me Kalamazoo's and they have it written differently. So they got this one off an adult entertainment zoning website? I don't know where they got it from. I'm sure it's fine.

The point is that there are three places right today zoned for adult entertainment: M-1, M-2, and C-4A. M-1 is South Industrial Highway--light industrial for plumbers and stuff. M-2 is heavier industrial, and I believe that's along Ann Arbor Railroad, below this hill where Beal Construction is. That's one of the places zoned for girlie shows. The other is C-4A, which is one of five or six--downtown is cut up into a bunch of different zones right now--one of those is C-4A, and I have to go back and look at which exact pieces have C-4A. But it's not even close to a majority of downtown.

What they've done is to take out C-4A and substitute D-1. D-1 starts almost at Washtenaw and goes to Third Street by the YMCA. It starts at Kerrytown in the last salient [Ed. note: Same word as before, same usage. ] is at Fingerle Lumber. It's not a regular boundary. And there are rules that are in place that are still in place. It can't be within 700 feet of an R-zoned area, it can't be within 700 feet of another adult entertainment enterprise.

But the fact is, it's gone from being controlled in small little areas downtown to be the whole thing. When all they had to do was strike out the reference to downtown zoning--if you're going to have a dirty bookstore and a girlie show, put them on South Industrial, and say you can't open until half an hour after the Central Academy is closed for the day. That area is already zoned for it.

But you know, if you're going to have a convention center, you can't have a convention center without having something for conventioneers to do when the convention is done. Now maybe that's a complete "I never thought of that!" maybe it's, "I could've had a V-8!" Maybe it's an I-could-have-had-a-V-8-moment, and nobody even thought about that issue. That's entirely possible. I don't know the secret souls of anyone's heart.

HD: What I can't figure out about this talk about people thinking that other people want to build a convention center, is where is this supposed to go exactly?

JF: Well, depending on who you read, either the old YMCA site, or the library lot.

HD: So it would be north of the library? Across the way from Library Lane?

JF: Yes.

HD: Okay well they would have to reconfigure the underground parking garage, right?

JF: No. They would have to build it so that it was capable of withstanding a building on top. And you have to build underground under Fifth Avenue a connection to what will be the hotel site at the old YMCA site.

HD: As far as I understand it that is being built in to the parking garage ...

JF: ... yes, because they are going to put a convention center there. That's why they're doing this. Didn't we just pass a nonmotorized plan? And we are still building more parking? Oh, okay. So none of this stuff comes up for discussion, because it all runs through the DDA. And that's why we are repairing our own sidewalks, which we are mandated by city law to maintain. Because the tax revenue is going to build parking lots.

HD: Has that happened in your neighborhood here yet?

JF: On my street! I've got to pay. It's a hairline crack with a big circle on it. My neighbors got some too. So yeah, it's been up here.

HD: So is that something that you are going to have to do, or have you already taking care of it?

JF: I have to call a guy to come do it.

HD: From the point of view of the process, as far as notification, and a painting of the circles or whatever they do, did that go as smooth as those things can go?

JF: For me?

HD: Just in general up here in this neighborhood.

JF: I just remember looking down and there was a circle on my sidewalk one day. There's no offset, there is just a hairline crack.

HD: But then you received a letter, saying, This is what the circle on your sidewalk means?

JF: I don't remember getting one, but I am familiar with the process.

HD: So you just knew what that meant.

JF: Yeah, I've got a guy in mind to come do it. I've just got to go and make that phone call.

So I think the DDA, whatever good intentions were once in that law, it's become a way of doing things with public money in a way that is not accountable to the public. It's not accountable because city council doesn't want it to be. They don't want it to be accountable, and they are not accountable. The whole thing comes back to our political culture, which I think has become bankrupt. And we have to reinvent it. Now whether that means we get nonpartisan elections--I would be okay with them. Just so we don't have any uncontested council elections. We'll make it impossible for people to hide behind party labels, and used bugaboo words ...

HD: ... what would be an example of a bugaboo word?

JF: Republican!

HD: [laugh] Oh.

JF: Oh he's one of them! You know, you bump into people, who can't even hear what I have to say.

HD: So, to your way of thinking, would you just dismantle the DDA? I mean, because we don't have to have one, right. I mean, the enabling legislation doesn't say you must have a DDA, it just says if you're going to have one, well, then here's the rules ...

JF: ... if it's useful to keep together as a planning group, then maybe that's useful. As a group spending the public's money? No. Not without running it through the regular budget process that everybody else has. I think the idea that we need to protect downtown was when downtown was failing because we were all moving to car culture. And the last vestiges of the culture were trying to hang on. And what we have seen is that--we've got to get to the rest of my stuff--this is more than a three-minute speech.

HD: Yeah, a little bit.

JF: I'm sorry to ramble on and on, but all this stuff is connected. Think about the Kroger at Westgate--you know the one I'm thinking of?

HD: The what? Kroger at Westgate, okay.

JF: You know that one?

HD: Yep.

JF: It's next to Jackson Road, Maple Road, Stadium Boulevard and a freeway on-ramp. There's an enormous amount of traffic. I have not gone to look this up, but I am willing to bet you that the land cost, even at that location, is less per square foot than land cost down here.

HD: When you say "down here" you mean downtown.

JF: Downtown. I'm willing to bet that the land cost per square foot is less, whether you buy it or you rent it. I'm willing to bet, therefore, that that property taxes on it are also less per square foot than in downtown. It has an enormous size, you get lots of scale, lots of volume, economies of scale. It's got parking, so people can come buy a week's worth of groceries, which also contributes to scale. You've got an enormous amount of commuting traffic going by that site.

Even people who live someplace else, they drive by I-94, they can get off and get groceries, and get back on and go wherever they are going. So it has enormous opportunity. The idea that you are going to replicate that down here?? It doesn't make a lot of sense.

Think about a tomato down here [downtown], versus a tomato down there [Westgate]. You could have not the scale, so your overhead is not covered on a small site downtown, you don't have the volume, because you don't have the people. People don't live at Westgate, but they drive by it! It's got less land tax, and less real estate cost. So your cost per tomato is going to be dramatically lower than at any tomato down here.

In Manhattan you can get away with that. Because no one is going to take a cab from midtown to Jersey to go grocery shopping and come back. It's not like going to Jersey to go from Kroger to Westgate. Even if you think about going from Kroger to Meijers. When you cross Maple Road what happens to the tax cost? Of the land?

HD: Well, it goes down.

JF: How much?

HD: No idea.

JF: A third.

HD: You know, I know someone--someone who lives on my street in fact--will drive to Dexter to shop at the Busch's there instead of at the Main Street Busch's, because there are less intersections to go through. So yeah, no doubt people will drive.

JF: That's my example that conventional retail can never come back here. It can work in a place like Manhattan or in central Chicago, because the time and hassle tax of getting out of there is breathtaking. You spend more money getting out to a cheaper area than you would buying from a local store. That's not going to be true here!

HD: I think that the premise is as transportation costs go up, as fuel costs go up, as energy costs in general go up--there's this notion of peak oil and some people think we've passed it--I think it's conceivable at least that you could have a scenario where it literally does cost you more to go out to Dexter to buy your groceries at the Busch's there that it does say to walk downtown to the People's food co-op or to some other full scale grocery store downtown that is within walking distance.

JF: I don't have a crystal ball. I look at the economics going out to Westgate or going out to Meijer. And I don't see how White Market goes. If you want a White Market on steroids, okay! If you want an actual full-service grocery store, I have a hard time seeing that going. There's a reason you can't buy a pair of socks except at Sam's. You can't buy a pair of blue jeans except at Sam's.

HD: But part of that has to do with the number of residents downtown, right? You can say that you could never have conventional retail downtown, because you don't have sufficient numbers of residents who actually live downtown to actually support it. I don't think is a fair argument to make, that you're never going to have retail downtown ...

JF: ... conventional retail. Socks, underwear, tomatoes.

HD: So without sufficient residential density, that's true. So you seem to be saying, let's not put residential density down there, let's go out of our way to keep residential density low or as low as possible--so yeah, from that it does follow that you're never ...

JF: ... you've never heard me say keep it as low as possible. First of all, the idea that Ann Arbor is not densely populated?? If Manhattan is your idea of dense population, well okay, we're not Manhattan. Walk through town, there are few neighborhoods that actually are big suburban-sized lots. They are are not that many.

Go through Ann Arbor Hills. Those aren't big homes on big lots. Go through most of the neighborhoods. Mr. Kahn from the planning department, when he wanted to show bad postwar development, he went out to Newport Creek, which is about 15 years old. It's one development, and it is crammed into the last piece of developable land. It backs up to M-14. It was the last piece of buildable land out here. You look at the more conventional postwar neighborhoods--Lansdowne, Orchard Hills, Ann Arbor Hills, Ann Arbor Woods--those aren't Green Acres. And people walk from them to other places.

So if your standard of density is, you have to be Amsterdam, okay we are not Amsterdam. What I come back to is, if you build it to a Manhattan-style density, people won't want to be here. So it's Catch-22. You mine the culture, when you're done, there's nothing left. Because in Manhattan if you live on the 35th floor, the view of your neighbor's building 10 feet away, when you wake up in the morning where are you? I'm in Manhattan, baby! Wall Street! The great White Way! Central Park! You know you've got the world at your feet, you're in Manhattan! You wake up here on the 13th floor, and your neighbor's building is 10 feet away, you wake up and you're in--Ann Arbor. Only, the stuff that made it cool isn't here anymore. The stuff that used to make it a distinct place. It's got Stalinist architecture, it looks like Southfield, the office corridors on Telegraph Road or Big Beaver Road. There's nothing distinctive anymore, why be here? Because now you have pushed the family-friendly zone out. The amazing thing about the Old West Side that I'll bet is unique in America: A neighborhood of frame homes, it is downtown, it is Ann Arbor's downtown neighborhood. A neighborhood of frame homes in downtown where people want to raise their children. That doesn't exist in America! We've got it right here, and our council in their infinite wisdom want to throw it away.

HD: I think it's worth pointing out that it's incredibly expensive to raise your kids on the Old West Side.

JF: Yeah? So it's not a low income neighborhood. Okay. What's your point?

HD: My point is that it comes at a price.

JF: How does destroying it make it better? Is your point that not everybody who wishes they could live there can live there? Well, welcome to planet Earth.

HD: Well, you know, I think it is reasonable to say that those frame homes that are close to downtown should be accessible to a young couple who both have good jobs and no kids ...

JF: ... that's an interesting philosophical argument, but what does that have to do with building downtown? I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm asking you, how does a downtown of 25-story buildings make that dream come true? The only way it does, it degrades property values enough so that nobody wants to live there anymore.

HD: Right!

JF: The fact that property values are high tells you that we are on the right track. Back in my day, that was not a nice place to live. It was a place that people got away from.

HD: You are talking about the Old West Side.

JF: Yes. Not that long ago it was not. We are not going to be able to put everybody who wants to live here here, without wrecking what exists. You can't put condos in Yosemite Valley, or in the great Smoky Mountains, or next door to Old Faithful, without wrecking what's there.

The goal is not that everyone has to live here. It's that Ypsilanti actually has a much cooler stock of historic housing than we do. They've got to change their demographic a little bit, not get rid of people, but they are declining in population. And people who want to live here, if we had schools that worked, if there were employment centers in Ypsilanti, would discover that that was at least as cool as living here. You're probably not going to get a lot of people to leave Ann Arbor and go there. But as a place to bring in in-migrants as we grow the economy ...

HD: ... in what?

JF: In-migrants. People migrating in.

HD: In-migrants, okay.

JF: Right. As opposed to out-migrants. People coming in. I think we need to figure out what it takes to make that an attractive place. We would discover how quickly it became hip. People like historic neighborhoods, that's why they're expensive. The ones that you can walk into downtown from, I think you're going to find that the noise, and the congestion, the family unfriendliness, the lack of small town-ness, the lack of sense of place, it's just another concrete canyon. I think we're going to take everything that makes this worth being here, and were going to mine it for short-term gain for a small amount of time, and then it will be gone.

Like our forests. Where we could sustain it. We can harvest wood sustainably. You can do that. You can have forests where you have some, every 15 years we cut it for pulp; some we grow in 40-80 year stands for timbers; and some we leave as old-growth, and some we manage for small-game hunting. We can have all those things.

I think if you were just going to have one more tall building, we wouldn't be teeter tottering. If there were one more tall building, if there were one more Tower Plaza--I have other things that I want to do with my life. I don't want it. I think Tower Plaza is not attractive. I look at that and I don't see that as enhancing our lives. Personally. Some people may, I don't.

I think that I would not be on this totter, if it was just one increment. But it's not. It's the whole thing. And whether it happens this year or the year after what, or the year after that, or the year after that, the tsunami is coming. And when it's done, what's here? What are the jobs that people are going to move here for?

HD: Dunno.

JF: Well, my suggestion is we have relied on industry chasing. We chased Pfizer and now we're chasing Google. That's why we don't have a skate park.

HD: Well, actually now we are chasing energy, right? With a Smart Zone, wait up no, the Centers of Excellence. The Centers of Excellence that are being established, you've heard of them, right? Ann Arbor, I guess, has been declared the Center of Battery Excellence, anchored by a Sakti3, which is a spinoff from a U of M research scientist.

JF: Okay. I'm sure that some chemist has figured out a way to make a molecule that stores energy better and can release it--fine. But I think we are more likely to be successful with a homegrown thing like this Sakti3. That's more likely to be our future--not chasing industries. And to do that, we've got to give people a reason to want to be here.

The people that come through, a lot of them don't stay. The ones that do, why do they like being here? Why wouldn't they want to go to Manhattan? Why do they want to stay? Because it's nice here. That's the catch-22. How do we grow this? How do we grow our niche? They want to change the niche to one that we can't win at.

I have been reading Alexander Hamilton's biography by Ron Chernow, and they mention this in several places, that after the Battle of New York--it was a complete disaster with the Continental Army--Washington and Hamilton both figured out that you can never beat the British by going up against them in a head-to-head battle. You couldn't win that game. They've got more cannons, they've got more soldiers, they've got more bayonets, they're better trained, they have more marksmanship. You can win, though, by skirmishing, by dragging the thing out until you bankrupt them. That's what they did for three years. A guerrilla war. A few battles here and there, but largely a guerrilla war.

And we can't win by going head-to-head with major established urban population centers that are on the ocean, that have fresh seafood, that have sailing. They have all the cachet of being a seaport. Or the outdoor recreation of Salt Lake in the mountains. We don't have that. All we've got is quality of life. We've got nothing else here. We can grow it.

I think that we should be looking to expand into Ypsilanti. You got to fix the schools--there are strategies for doing that, things that people are doing elsewhere, whether it is charter schools. Or what they have done in Chicago, you build in the neighborhood that has a demographic you want to try to make sure and retain, you start a preschool and elementary school, so you draw people in, and when it's time to go to kindergarten, you all just take the same step forward, and buy into the public schools.

We should be growing our Charm Zone. Our Charm Zone--that's our niche. Start growing that, start growing it eastward. If we don't reinvent Detroit sooner or later, if we don't start that march toward the river, there will be nothing here, we will be a backwater forever.

HD: Now when you say the "march towards the river," you mean the march towards Detroit?

JF: Reinventing Detroit. Another question, how come all the people around us--if our mix of services and taxes is right--how come nobody in the townships around us is clamoring to be taken into the city? How come the folks who are in the Ann Arbor school district don't want to be annexed? Why aren't they begging for that? Why aren't they filing petitions? If our mixture of services and taxes, our funding of downtown, if all of that is the right mix, how come nobody wants to be a part of it? ... Suddenly it became very quiet.

HD: You know, I have no clue.

JF: The tax differential between this side of Maple Road and that side of Maple Road is unsustainable. We have a small window of time to correct it. And then people will be like my buddy, who said, I looked at buying a house in Burns Park: The price is absurd, you've got to spend another hundred thousand dollars to bring it into the 21st century, and by the way, I could fund my retirement off of the tax payments down there. If I go out to Scio Township, the house is brand-new, it costs me less, I have Ann Arbor schools, I have an Ann Arbor mailing address, my friends think I'm cool, I have Ann Arbor water.

Why in heaven's name would I want to pay Ann Arbor taxes? You can't sustain that differential. Some differential, maybe you could sustain that. Why are taxes so high? Because we are getting nothing out of here [downtown]. Maybe parking is a priority--we have to have that as a public discussion.

A discussion about what else we could be doing, including keeping our tax rates competitive with the surrounding areas, so we don't become just another failed American central city. A small group of yahoos working for Google, with a collection of other people who can't get out, who are tied to living in town, they can't sell their house, they have too much inertia, or whatever.

But you won't see the new families moving into replenish the system. If you don't have families moving into your town, you're not sustainable, I don't care what your light bulbs are. If you can only replenish yourself by constantly importing people, you're not a sustainable city. It doesn't matter how much you compost. We are on the path to becoming another classic failed American central city, and we don't have to. We don't have to.

This could work! This can be the place that people want to come and raise their kids. We have to keep the tax rate competitive with the surrounding area, you have to keep the downtown family-friendly. You don't expand your adult entertainment zone--you banish it to Industrial Highway. The convention center is going to bring in conventioneers. What do they spend money on? Are they going to be buying tomatoes and socks at our new downtown retail stores? What do they spend money on?

HD: Alcohol, I'm thinking.

JF: And? After the alcohol what do they spend their money on?

HD: Sex?

JF: Bing, bing, bing, bing. Hookers and booze. Some restaurants, maybe. They're not going to go to Downtown Home & Garden and buy tools. And by the way, of all the weird places in the world to have a garden store, why would you put one in downtown?? What was he [Mark Hodesh] thinking? What kind of nut is that? How could you have a downtown garden store and make money? Why isn't it across from Lowe's? Or on Jackson Road with a huge parking lot and all the project kids coming in and out of Lowe's? What's up with that?

He knows his market, he's a merchandising genius, and people beat a path to his door. It's the most unlikely thing in the world, people will shop here if you know your market, and you know what you're doing. Why is Van Boven still in business? No one buys suits anymore! I'm the only guy in town wearing a jacket that isn't Goretex.

HD: [laugh]

JF: Why is Renaissance moving to the Google building? Because you need a $400 sweater--I know you do, Dave. You need one, trust me. People will shop here!! People will come and shop, but you have to know your market.

When I was a kid, South University was the place you went shopping. It was one of the three shopping places--Main Street, State Street, and South University. Those were the three shopping districts. There was a movie theater, and there were dress shops, and I had my first sportcoat from Steeplechase, and it was a real shopping street, jewelry stores, the whole 9 yards. It was a real place. Now it's the three C's--caffeine, Cuervo, and condoms. In that order.

My point is they keep saying if we build more parking lots, will have more customers. Well, we have done that. What happened? We don't have any customers. I know--we'll take all the students who already live here anyway, already walk on our streets anyway, and instead of having them live over there ...

HD: ... now when you say "over there" you mean?

JF: Burns Park, or wherever. We'll make them live here, they will have to spend money now! There won't be any more students, they'll just be relocated. They already have the Burns Park demographic for South University. They already have all the student demographic there. They keep looking for something that will save them from: How you figure out how to target that market? They want to change everything except how they manage their merchandising and their marketing.

Now I'm not the guy who knows the answer to that question. But I see, when people have identified what their market is, and they have figured out what they want, people beat a path to their door. People who have not figured out what the market is, it doesn't matter how many apartments you build, it doesn't matter, nobody is going to buy. They will go online, or they will go home, or they will go to Briarwood.

The whole mindset is misbegotten. It's just wrong. Plus, it doesn't fit my aesthetic. But that's not really the issue. They are setting themselves up to destroy what works, without building anything sustainable in its place. People are going to jump in their Zip Cars, and they will zip out to the mall, or zip out to Westgate, because people don't put the stuff here that they want.

There is nothing wrong with having Target in downtown Ann Arbor, but how would you possibly compete with your own Target 2 miles away? The taxes jump just by crossing the freeway, and now they jump because you're downtown, and the land cost is higher, and you can't get the scale. This is not Manhattan! People keep thinking that the world stops at the city limits. Folks, it's a mile and a half or 2 miles away! It's not like taking a cab to Jersey. You're not going from downtown Chicago out to O'Hare Airport. In the meantime you're going to make the downtown no longer family-friendly.

People will come, people will want to live there. There's a three-story building next to Seva.

HD: Next to Seva, now ...

JF: ... the vegetarian restaurant.

HD: Right, but three stories?

JF: Yep. You can go count them. Or is it four?

HD: I think it's 4 1/2. I think it's four with a--what you call it, a mezzanine?

JF: Anyway, I counted 20 electric meters. Somehow the world hasn't ended. I haven't heard of them being in bankruptcy. Now Spoon on Maynard Street, I think he's in bankruptcy, I think his building's up for sale--I've seen it in the Wall Street Journal advertised. You know the building I mean?

HD: This is next to Nickels Arcade?

JF: Yep. It's five stories but it's in this canyon, it's an ugly, ugly canyon. Go walk Washington Street from Main, start heading up towards campus. You cross Fifth Street, cross Division, you're in a canyon--and it isn't even constructed yet. They're going to put an 18-story building here, and a 20-story building there. On that block. It's going to be a canyon. The streets aren't broad enough, it's going to look like a bad Escape from New York movie. The setbacks aren't big enough, the sidewalks aren't big enough. It's going to be dark canyons. Anyway that's my point of view. I have been yapping.

HD: Yeah.

JF: And I feel like I haven't gotten the major points across. The whole direction of this council is wrong. And they're not listening to anybody out here, not just me. That's why we had to go three times in a year and a half--but they didn't get the message. None of this discussion is allowed to happen, because we've only got one party: We're going to do what we're going to do, we're going to make sure that a large part of the budget, no one ever gets to even discuss because it goes to the DDA.

If a four-story underground parking lot really is a priority, we can still build it. We can still build it, if that's priority. Not the skate park. Which one makes our long-term viability better? Things that accommodate kids and make it a cool place, or things that make it look like Joe Louis Arena with a parking deck--even an underground parking deck? Maybe I'm crazy. I shouldn't say that to a reporter, you might quote me!

HD: Well, you might be crazy, but even if you are crazy, you are also at least trusting. Because you have your feet up off the ground propped up on the totter.

JF: I've got big padding! If I fall, I've got big padding!

HD: All right, listen thanks for joining me out here today on the teeter totter.