What can progressive planners do?

protest pic.pngA Progressive City blog post by Tom Angotti in light of the election of Donald Trump.

“In these days after getting Trumped, street demonstrations, meetings to build understanding, solidarity and opposition, and conversations about alternatives are important. Coming out of a state of shock, it is also time to think about long-term strategies for the American left and the planners among them.”

Read the rest here.

REBLOG: A Pathway to a Just Michigan: Five Guiding Principles for Diversity Strategic Plans


DEI planning and implementation require both human and monetary resources. Resources need to be made available to pay those who are implementing DEI plans, including students, who have historically carried the burden of this work. These resources should also be used to increase staff capacity to support strategic plans. For example, units could hire permanent full-time staff with proven expertise in diversity planning and project management, or allocate percent effort towards DEI-related responsibilities within staff job descriptions.
Did your school allocate a budget for DEI programs and capacity building?


Leaders and administrators should take responsibility when their actions, or inactions, allow structural and interpersonal discrimination to occur, or if they fail to reach targeted metrics. Look for quantitative and qualitative accountability metrics, benchmarks, and timelines for achievement that are developed with collective input, and should examine not only representational diversity, but also other aspects of climate including perceptions, behaviors, and organizational practices. We believe that a well-defined and systematic process should be used to evaluate progress, making it clear when units are succeeding or failing to reach DEI goals.
Does your plan include metrics, and clear guidelines to ensure accountability of success?


For those engaging in DEI activities, rewards can include compensation, release from other departmental duties, or greater weight on this type of service contribution when evaluated for promotion or tenure. Positive contributors could be rewarded with special recognition from leadership, either as individuals or as teams, as has already been common practice across campus.
Does your plan include incentives to reward individuals or units for their leadership in DEI work?


Are metrics being publicly tracked? School units that are committed to DEI values must also possess a commitment to the transparency. Each strategic plan should outline steps to make information about DEI developments accessible online. Current and prospective students, faculty, and staff should be kept aware of advances within their school units, as well as failures to achieve desired benchmarks. We strongly believe that transparency is a powerful incentive for progress.
Is your plan easily accessible to all? Has the process for the implementation of the plan been clearly outlined?

Equitable Decision-Making

For strategic plans to truly embody values of equity, DEI decision-making processes need to treat every voice in the community as having equal value. Planning leads and administrators should proactively solicit community input and guarantee a process where all stakeholders, including staff and students, are given equal say in what DEI plans look like. Strategic planning leads should be innovative and create multiple inclusive avenues for feedback, removing barriers to participation that may turn people away, provide incentives for engagement by rewarding those who offer extensive feedback, make sure that feedback mechanisms are in place both online and in-person, and be clear on how feedback will be incorporated, so that community members feel their voices are actually valued. When initiatives are being proposed, open forums should be hosted for consensus-building prior to enacting policy changes. These types of democratic decision-making procedures should be articulated explicitly in strategic plans.
Does your unit have a plan for future decision-making processes as part of the plan?

Transforming the campus climate is challenging yet important work. It demands an analysis of the infrastructure for diversity within organizations, and the courage to take bold and meaningful action. Evaluate DEI plans with a critical lens, using these tenets as a guide to help you provide feedback. Also, remember that these are “living documents,” intended to evolve over time. We expect school units to develop ambitious, sustainable, structurally-sound strategic plans that are guided by equity and transparency, and backed by the funds to implement them. We will not settle for anything less and we hope you will join us in doing the same.

Bithia Ratnasamy is a Master’s student in Urban Planning

Teona Williams is a Master’s student in Natural Resources and Environment

TONIGHT: The Case For Regional Transit

Tonight, October 4, Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning hosts a lecture and panel discussion on the importance of regional transit. With a crucial transit millage on the ballot for Southeast Michigan this November, we urge everyone to attend and learn more about how transit can boost our region and make it a more equitable, accessible place to live and work.

The Case for Regional Transit
October 4, 2016 at 6:00 PM
Rackham Amphitheatre, 915 E. Washington St, Ann Arbor


Service Day at Food Bank of Eastern Michigan

Planners Network kicked off the new school year by returning to Flint for a volunteer activity at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. New MUP students, along with returning ones, traveled to FBEM to assist in packaging food to distribute around Eastern Michigan. FBEM has been particularly involved in helping residents affected by the Flint water crisis. Last year, they distributed 25 million pounds of food throughout the area.

On Thursday, September 1, our group of 18 people packed over 7,600 pounds of food in less than 3 hours! We really enjoyed our time at FBEM and look forward to more volunteering, advocacy and events throughout the year. Thanks to all who participated and made this possible.


The ADU ordinance amendments pass City Council!

After a City Council meeting that ran until nearly 2 in the morning (!), the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance amendments passed with an 8-3 vote. This is a wonderful step toward affordability in the City of Ann Arbor. We’re happy that A2 is following the lead of Grand Rapids, Traverse City, and other cities across the country. Read more about the ordinance amendments here.


This map shows the zoning districts where homeowners could build accessory dwelling units. Yellow = R1 (single-family) and purple = R2A (duplex) zoning districts. Minimum lot size and other restrictions will determine where ADUs will be able to be built. 

ADUs in A2

ADU pic

Originally published in Agora, the Urban Planning & Design Journal at the University of Michigan.

Rent in Ann Arbor ain’t cheap. In 2014, median gross rent in Ann Arbor was $1,012, compared to the median of $788 in the state of Michigan. To address this housing affordability issue in the city, the Ann Arbor Planning Department, in coordination with the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, are exploring an amendment to Ann Arbor’s accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance.

An accessory dwelling unit, sometimes referred to as a “granny flat,” is a second, smaller unit that can be developed on a homeowner’s lot. A property owner can choose to develop an ADU out of an existing single family house (from the basement, attic, or addition) or as part of an accessory structure, such as a loft above a garage.

Currently the Ann Arbor zoning code allows accessory dwelling units as a special use requiring a permit, with the requirement that no rent be charged and the occupant be a family member of the primary householder. Following the lead of cities across the country like Portland, OR, Santa Cruz, CA, and Grand Rapids, MI, Ann Arbor is investigating loosening up these restrictions to allow property owners to charge rent for ADUs and getting rid of the family member requirement. Ann Arbor also added that no parking spot was required for an ADU renter if the unit was located within ¼ mile of a bus stop. The city is also considering a cap to number of ADUs permitted per year.

Planners Network got involved with the issue in May 2015, working with affordable housing and homeless advocates to demonstrate student support for accessory dwelling units. Luke Norman, a second-year MUP at the time, organized for a few homeless men that he worked with to come to Taubman and share their story. After asking us to join them in support of ADUs, a group of about 30 students attended a City Council meeting where we all stood in unison to show the city we believed ADUs were a necessary step for achieving housing affordability in Ann Arbor. The city decided to allot $25,000 of its budget for further research into expanding the ADU ordinance.

This year, Planners Network invited Teresa Gillotti of the Washtenaw County Office of Community & Economic Development to campus to speak to students and faculty about the issue. Gillotti put the accessory dwelling unit ordinance amendment proposal into context by providing an overview of the economic and housing disparities that exist in Washtenaw County. Expanding the ability for renters to access ADUs is a part of the strategy developed by the Housing Affordability and Economic Equity Analysis study published at the beginning of 2015.

Support for the ordinance amendment in the Ann Arbor community has been mixed, and lively. At the community meetings Planners Network attended, residents voiced concerns about the potential for the amendment to increase the number of renters–or students–in their neighborhoods. Others expressed doubt that the ordinance would do much to achieve affordability in the city, especially if the city cannot enforce a price cap. With strict stipulations that no more than two people live in each unit and maximums on the size of ADUs to keep rent down, rent could still be high. Additionally, an ADU would not be an option for families, a key demographic that could benefit from lower rents.

It’s possible that renters couldn’t help but feel discriminated against in a conversation dominated by homeowner’s grief about losing the “character” of their neighborhood. Homeowners implied that renters would increase unwanted density and noise, and that the city’s enforcement was never adequate to assure homeowners this wouldn’t affect their quality of life. However, some homeowners were grateful for the possible ordinance change because it would allow them to move their aging parents within close reach and/or add supplemental income through renting an ADU on their property.

Ann Arbor has had a long history of discussing the benefits and challenges of ADUs. The topic comes and goes in popularity every few years, but we hope this time there is enough support to make it a lasting fixture in the city’s ordinance.

For more information on the proposed accessory dwelling unit ordinance amendment in Ann Arbor, refer to this project page. A public hearing will be held by the Ann Arbor Planning Commission on Tuesday, April 19 at 7pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Planners Network will be in attendance, and we hope you will be too!

Map: Rating Accessibility of Detroit’s Pedestrian Bridges

REBLOG from our friends at 71X and Detroitography: a map rating the accessibility of Detroit’s pedestrian bridges. Appallingly, of the 71 pedestrian bridges in the city, 51% are not ADA compliant and 46% are structurally compromised. Read below for more details and information on how you can get involved!

Jan. 29, 2016

PedBridges3I had the pleasure of working with the 71X research team to visualize the data that they had collected on Detroit’s pedestrian (only) bridges. The student research team surveyed all 71 pedestrian bridges in Detroit.

From the 71X Team:

This is an independent study—an awareness-builder, too—introducing one side of a three-pronged problem in the City of Detroit. The intersection of accessibility, public health and safety. The team is comprised of Urban Studies’ students and community organizers working toward a more accessible Motor City. We study infrequent public transit and below standard “non-motorized” infrastructure with a commitment, again, to a prosperous Metro Area. From our vantage, Detroit is a big, three hundred and fifteen year old city severed into over a hundred neighborhoods. What is easily noticeable is its one-of-a-kind, sunken expressway network. It snakes through town, and detaches the city from itself. Interstates 75, 94, 96, and State Highways 8, 10 and 39 were carved out in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s by planners who we view, “misforecasted” the outcome of their design. (No, that’s not a word.) We feel planners, Big Auto, and regional leadership placed a low priority on a walkable city, safe for kids and accessible to elders and people with disabilities.

Today, low income residents traveling between neighborhoods—including those who cannot afford to lease (26%) or insure (approx. $5,000/yr.) a car—rely on public transport, six-to-eight-lane surface roads, and 71 pedestrian bridges to get where they need to be, on time. To the 5.3 million people of the country’s 11thlargest Metro, the foot bridges we visited are an afterthought. There is no context for why bridges exist, where they do, and whether they are necessary (they are). We were curious to see how these points of connection, perform: what do residents have to say? Is each bridge equally maintained? What is the maintenance schedule?


  • The structural integrity of 33 bridges, or 46%, is compromised. These structures are in operation yet each had observable issues ranging from crumbling and disintegrating concrete to significantly rusted support beams, down signage and missing fencing and railing.
  • 36 of the 71 bridges, or 51%, are inaccessible. These structures do not have ADA-compliant curbs or cannot be climbed by people in wheelchairs.
  • 14 bridges, or 20%, connect service drives where cars speed and pedestrians are met with dangerous sight lines.
  • 46 bridges, or 65%, contain trash, glass, graphic imagery and gang-inspired graffiti.
  • 64 bridges, or 90%, are part of a critical route for walking to a transit stop.
  • 7 of the bridges, or 10%, are closed.


The study did not aim to count unique users or trips per bridge. It is clear to see Detroit residents do rely on pedestrian bridges year-round. We found that instead of a byway connecting separate, isolated districts as would be assumed by the conventional observer, due to state of varying disrepair and underlying economic realities of the city neighborhoods, these bridges serve as unpredictable barriers, and in some cases, islands for criminal behavior. Residents are wary of crossing bridges due to safety concerns. Bridges serve as unpredictable barriers, and in some cases, islands for drug trade. Teenagers hurl objects—bottles and rocks—onto fast-moving traffic below.

Our combined 335 hours in the field included meeting hard-working residents and block club organizers. The feedback we collected supports our claim that there is a dire need for a collaboration between government and community to ensure safe, welcoming pedestrian bridges are a high priority in Detroit. Our report communicates a need for regional leadership to declare safe, welcoming pedestrian bridges are a high priority in Detroit. As the lead agency shaping the future of our State’s transportation system, our report is a request to MDOT to let us help employ a whatever-it-takes approach to upgrading city pedestrian bridges. Let’s protect each law-abiding citizen the same.


Find your City Council district on this map (click here) and complete the form for your district!