"Calthorpe" is the common name for the City of Ann Arbor's Downtown Development Strategies Project. The planning process is the most recent examination of land use in downtown Ann Arbor, and grew out of the Downtown Residential Task Force's (DRTF) effort to identify barriers to increased residential use in downtown Ann Arbor. It was drafted by Calthorpe Associates, an urban planning firm.

About the Problem

The purpose of the Calthorpe process - and the DRTF before it - was to identify ways to maintain the unique, vibrant character of downtown Ann Arbor. Many residents of Ann Arbor and the surrounding area value the downtown as one of the most pleasant, walkable urban neighborhoods in southeast Michigan, and those involved in downtown want to maintain that attractiveness. While some in Ann Arbor have said that the city and the downtown are perfect as they are, and have no need to change, others argue that the downtown must continually monitor and adapt to changing social and economic situations in order to maintain its vital character. Dennis Serras, of the Main Street Ventures group of restaurants, has lamented that most residents of Ann Arbor "think downtown will happen on its own"; he and other veteran downtown residents and business owners feel that the downtown must "change or die" - downtown can't be prevented from changing, and positive change requires guidance.

One of the major changes seen as desireable is to increase the number of people living in downtown. At present, the downtown's population density is significantly lower even than in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, and the existing zoning regulations prevent any significant increase in downtown population. Advocates of increased downtown residential density claim,

  • A critical mass of downtown residents is necessary to support essential services downtown, such as drugstores (Decker Drugs, on State Street, went out of business in 2003) and grocery stores (while several options do exist downtown, many still find it necessary to visit suburban supermarkets).
  • Allowing more residents downtown can help absorb a portion of the region's predicted growth, diverting growth away from farmland and natural areas and reducing urban sprawl.
  • Downtown residents can more easily bike, walk, or use transit to reach jobs and services. At present, the Census Bureau estimates that about 50,000 people commute into Ann Arbor every day for jobs, travelling a total of over 2 million vehicle miles per day. Enabling some of those people to live downtown, closer to workplaces, would reduce congestion and pollution.
  • Increasing downtown's residential density can help make more efficient use of the city's existing public services and infrastructure, rather than requiring more costly improvements in fringe areas.
  • Added downtown residents would contribute to the number of "eyes on the street", the kind of informal monitoring generally considered important for crime prevention.

The purpose of the Downtown Residential Task Force was to examine these claims and to determine what barriers existed to increasing residential density in downtown Ann Arbor; the Calthorpe process was intended to address those barriers, and recommend regulatory changes that would allow for increased residential density in a way that is compatible with the existing character of downtown.

Critics of the Calthorpe process generally feel that any increase in population would be incompatible with the existing feel of Ann Arbor - these skeptics often criticize the line of thought all the way up, claiming that residential density is not only undesireable within the context of the existing downtown, but that there is no demand for growth or change of any kind within downtown; arguments that demand exists for downtown residences or that any change is necessary to preserve the downtown's vitality are dismissed as pro-development and pro-business propoganda. Growth, say critics, would benefit developers at the expense of those already living in and around downtown.

About this Solution

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