By Andrew Dunn
ANN ARBOR, MICH. – How do you keep outsiders out of town events? What brings high-tech companies into town? Can a 10-year plan to end homelessness work?
The 112 UNC and Orange County leaders here as part of the Inter-City Visit and Leadership Conference used the forum as a chance to ask their peers from the University of Michigan and Washtenaw County the burning questions facing the Chapel Hill area. The goal of the conference is to see how Ann Arbor – a city a little bigger and a little more urban -- responds to the pressures of growth that Chapel Hill is beginning to face. They arrived in Ann Arbor on Sunday night and will stay until this afternoon.
There's no real way to keep outsiders away from big events, but you can discourage them from coming, leaders of the university and city police forces said.
Police have been successful in limiting two events the city did not approve of, Hash Bash and the Naked Mile. The former was a celebration of marijuana use, the latter a traditional streaking event that drew 20,000 viewers.
"We tend to be a magnet," University of Michigan public safety Public Information Officer Diane Brown said. "When we get some of those outsiders in, trouble starts happening."
But by closing parking decks and sending officers out en masse, the events were effectively squashed.
But the police also coordinate several large legal events, including a series of arts festivals that draw 1 million visitors over three days and football games that bring in 100,000 spectators.
Police block off some roads, redirect others and have cars parked on the university's golf course.
Just like Chapel Hill, the city of Ann Arbor has a 10-year plan to end homelessness. They created theirs in 2004.
As of last year, there were about 580 people homeless at any given time in Ann Arbor, with about 3,400 homeless per year.
The problem, Washtenaw Housing Alliance President Chuck Kieffer said, is rent prices that low-wage workers can't afford. An apartment with no bedrooms costs about $690 per month. A two-bedroom family apartment costs about $942 per month. Kieffer said it takes a yearly salary of $37,680 – or $18.12 per hour -- to afford that.
Kieffer said the 10-year plan has been successful so far, having created 300 new housing units for the homeless or at-risk. The goal is to have 500 new homes.
The plan relies on a partnership between private businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. Its biggest challenge is finding the money to run.
"Only a community that works together in this shared commitment can make this happen," Kieffer said.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje has led an innovative campaign to make the city a leader in renewable energy policy since he was elected in 2002. Many of his projects are similar to ones Chapel Hill and Orange County are now considering.
Ann Arbor has switched all of its city buses to hybrid technology, much like a project Chapel Hill Transit is working on. Ann Arbor also has harnessed the natural gas emitted from its landfill, which UNC and Chapel Hill are now working on.
The city is also switching its street lights and traffic signals to LED displays. These lights take half the power to run and last five times as long as traditional lights. Police departments can also make the lights in front of their destination flash for easier location during an emergency.
Now Ann Arbor is focusing on how to incorporate solar and wind energy into its operations. A study conducted with the University of Michigan found that more than 70 percent of rooftops in the city would be able to support solar panels. Hieftje also said he is looking into buying wind power from the eastern part of the state.
And similar to Chapel Hill and Carrboro's moratorium on development in the northern part of the towns, Ann Arbor has begun buying up more than 7,000 acres of current farmland along its borders to create a "green belt" of undeveloped land.
Orange County leaders said they were impressed by the mayor's environmental vision.
"There's a sense of integration," Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said. "It's not just a series of initiatives. … They are clear about how the money works."
A partnership between academia, businesses, nonprofits and government in Washtenaw County called SPARK has helped hundreds of companies and brought in $7.5 million in additional tax revenue from new businesses drawn to the area, said Michael Finney, SPARK's president.
The goal is to make Ann Arbor a "hot spot" for high-tech jobs, similar to the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
"A lot of our work and effort centers around finding high-value, knowledge-intensive workers," Finney said. "These are things we'll be working on indefinitely."
He said one of SPARK's biggest successes was bringing a segment of Google in to Ann Arbor. One of its latest projects is called "Mich-Again," which promotes job opportunities to out-of-state workers, focusing mainly on 24- to 35-year-olds who went to school in Michigan through college alumni organizations.
Bill Bunch, president of William H. Bunch CPA, said such an organization would be great in Orange County if local governments and businesses could agree.
"It would be phenomenal," he said.
Separately, the city of Ann Arbor has been working on making its development approval processes more streamlined, said Connie Pulciper, a senior planner with the city. Much like Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Ann Arbor has been criticized for being reluctant to approve projects.
"A simple project can take 8 weeks," Pulciper said. "Even the smallest projects can meet public scrutiny."
When an ordinance approved last week goes into effect, developers will have present their plans to neighborhood groups in advance of the official public hearings to avoid what Pulciper referred to as a "train wreck at the eleventh hour."
Like Carrboro, Ann Arbor has a downtown redevelopment plan, and like UNC, it has a master plan for capital projects.
Long-term, the county envisions a rail system connecting Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, a neighboring town similar in its relationship to Ann Arbor as Carrboro is to Chapel Hill, and another SPARK organization to spur development on the city's eastern side.