It was recently suggested to me that my beloved Ypsilanti was “the most under-performing city in the state.” Hyperbole aside, they had a fair assessment:
You’ve got everything you’re supposed to have: two great little downtowns, historic neighborhoods, the river and the parks along it and the festivals, you’re a college town, and you’re right next door to one of the biggest research universities in the country. So what gives, why isn’t Ypsi thriving?
I offered a couple of themes, some of which (totally coincidentally?) may just make good topics for future posts.
- The public schools are on the wrong end of a collective action problem–though we’re seeing friends’ kids moving back into the public schools as they hit grade levels with new options, which gives hope for changing trends. (We’re only 4 short years from kindergarten ourselves, and would rather join an upward curve than start one.)
- Crime genuinely does happen here. You can avoid nearly all of it the same way you can anywhere–by avoiding things like the drug trade, bad romantic relationships, picking fights while intoxicated, being poor, or foolishly leaving electronics in front of open windows at night–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem, both for the individuals it does strike and the community as a whole.
- We haven’t figured out how to deal honestly with our diversity of needs and goals. I see three major Ypsilantis: the Ypsi trying to be Ann Arbor’s newest enviable zip code (the Old East Side?), with kids playing in the sleepy, homeowner-filled neighborhoods; the college town Ypsi of students and recent grads, with all the attendant chaos and bustle; and the struggling factory town that hasn’t figured out how to replace 4,000 Ford jobs.
- Long grudges and old fears dominate many discussions: opinions are often formed not in the context of here and now, but on who is offering them, or on something that happened decades ago. For a community whose median resident was born in 1990, we hold the 1970s incredibly present in our policy conversations.
- Our ambitions seem too low. While some cities would find success simply in stemming their losses, and others might look on Plymouth or Chelsea as their goal, Ypsilanti would be selling itself short on the first–and ignoring, or expelling, many of our residents en route to the second.
It’s a thorny problem, and I have no pat solutions to offer. In this context, though, and considering the role of history in all of the other challenges, it will be interesting to watch our new mayor, who will be the youngest to take that office since George Goodman in 1972.
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