The Ann Arbor News runs an update story about the long-expected purchase of the current YMCA building after that organization moves into their new building which will be located west of Main Street at the former location of the Technology Center.
Athough the two organizations are in negotiations, the article hints at what might be a sticking point: affordable housing. Cathi Ducho, director of the YMCA, said that they plan on insisting that the new owner of the property include affordable housing in their plans to replace the 100-unit residence there now. However, AATA director Greg Cook said his offer would be a single-use, one-story complex that would not include public housing, although they would consider selling ““air rights” above the ground level to a developer, probably for low-cost housing and some moderate-priced housing. Cook said he doubts any commercial development would go on the site.”
While the free market in real estate does a great job creating housing for the wealthy, any student of U.S. (especially Detroit) history knows that trying to pressure a developer into building mixed-income and low-income housing can be notoriously difficult, especially when they can opt for more profitable “moderate-priced housing,” as Greg Cook suggests. Also, while his plan of a low-density, one-story complex may make sense for an organization invested in the economic segregation of Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti, it would be an absurd waste of space in Downtown Ann Arbor. His seemingly irrational exclusion of commercial space reveals the dogmatic nature of suburban, one-use thinking: what reason could he have for excluding retail space? Street-level retail space would encourage foot traffic to the area, making the new bus station safer, and perhaps even boosting bus ridership.
On the other hand, if people could afford to live near they worked, and could shop for necessities without going to the mall or Meijer, the AATA might suffer. Hopefully the Ann Arbor City council, which must approve the deal, will free Ann Arbor from Mr. Cook’s vision: that residents of Ann Arbor either own a car, or are forced to ride his busses. A well-planned, mixed-use development that includes low-income housing, a bus terminal, and retail space would not only generate profit for the AATA, but also make downtown more lively and vital. But I’m not holding my breath to see anything like that come from the AATA, an organization whose own headquarters lies in the very characterless ugly sprawl south of Ann Arbor they profit from.