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Julie Hay: Grand Visions, Handstands, and What-IfsPrint

Thriving Communities | January 28, 2008 | By Julie Hay

“Handstands will help bring about world peace, for it is when we are upside down that we can best understand an opposing viewpoint.”

So there I was at yoga class last night, inverted in a handstand, my curls sweeping the floor, all my blood rushing to my head and most of my mind meditating on this question:

How can I, as a caring and involved resident of my community, better work to understand opposing viewpoints?

It was a fitting thought to hold before last night’s Grand Vision workshop, where I would soon find myself at a table with neighbors, strangers, and frienemies (you know: those people you respect and want to like, but can’t agree with on anything), all ready to help create a plan for future development in our amazing city, Traverse City.

From the yoga studio—aka my sanctuary—I went to the Hagerty Center, where fluorescent lights replaced dim lamps and lively conversations at roughly 60 tables replaced contemplative silence. It was time to create a Grand Vision.

My table—or should I say, our table—was covered with a map of Traverse City; surrounding the table was our group, a motley crew of wannabe planners if I ever saw one. There was a man from one of the city’s historic and more prestigious streets, an advocate for disabled persons, a business coordinator that works in TC in but lives in Leelanau County, a local bicycle enthusiast, a man from Charlevoix that has local ties, a county official, a lawyer, an NMC instructor, and me—yoga pants and all.

It was time to role up our sleeves and let our opposing viewpoints flow.

Except that there really were not any opposing viewpoints—no heated debates or verbal assaults like the ones I sometimes encounter at township planning commission meetings in Leelanau and Grand Traverse County. Last night, when I expressed a differing idea about building heights downtown, no one called me “that girl,” or “communist,” or, my personal favorite from a Leelanau County village supervisor, “little missy.”

In fact, when some at the table suggested capping building heights on Front Street to four or six stories and I offered my different viewpoint (that you either build up—that is, increase building heights—or sprawl out and develop our region’s farmland), my perspective was met with respect. One person actually shared, “That’s a good point.”

The difference of opinion on building heights was soon left in the dust of the collective consensus forming at our table. We all wanted a walkable community where people can ditch their cars and walk to the store for a gallon of milk or to a restaurant for a bite to eat. We all like the bay, and we’d like to see more of it. We all take pride in our beautiful downtown, and think our downtown is so nice that it should expand a few blocks in each direction. We liked the idea of some lofts and studio apartments atop those potential restaurants, art galleries, and markets, allowing more people to live in this great city.

We all want to see some economic revitalization for Woodmere, Eighth Street, and the outer regions of Front Street. And though we laugh at its metropolitan-sounding name, we love that our community of 15,000 people now has a Warehouse District complete with a brewpub and art gallery. We’d like to see some growth there too, the affordable-housing kind that artists need so they live where their art is being presented.

The similarities continued. The lady sitting next to me had, like me, been hit by a car while trying to ride her bike in Traverse City. An instant bond was established; in went bike lanes all over our city map.

As planning progressed, bike lanes were followed by tunnels for safe pedestrian access to the waterfront. One gentleman shared that there is, in fact, a tunnel that connects Union Street to the waterfront. He said that when the cannery that was located in what is now the farmers’ market parking lot closed, for some reason the tunnel that connected the cannery to the waterfront was closed. We decided that tunnel should be reopened.

Lastly, we hypothesized some big-idea what-ifs.

What if Munson, the largest employer in our city, had commuter parking lots south of town so that employees, many of whom cannot afford to live in Traverse City, can park their cars and take a Munson commuter bus to the hospital? My cousin rides one of those commuter buses from her house in Santa Cruz to her job in the Bay Area as a graphic designer at EBay. In my days as a Colorado ski bum I road a commuter shuttle from Copper Mountain Resort to its employee parking in the nether-regions of the community.

So, what if Munson could accept an EBay/Copper Mountain model of employee transportation?

It makes lots of sense: If a bus holds fifty people per shift, that removes 150 cars from our main artery roads every day, or 54,750 cars every year. That means a reduction in traffic and air pollution, and a savings in gas costs for Munson employees. It’s definitely a what-if, and a not-too-shabby one.

That’s the great thing about The Grand Vision: It fosters not-too-shabby ideas and sets goals for how we can be the best possible community.

Last night’s Grand Vision workshop, which I so enjoyed, ended with my newfound bicycle enthusiast friend offering to sell me a road bike at a bargain price (to make my bike saga worse, my bike was stolen shortly after I was hit by that car, but that’s a blog I’ll save for Smart Commute Week). I suspect I’ll see her again at the next workshop, which covers transportation plans. Maybe I’ll get a chance to do some handstands there.