The Center of the City Task Force met at Larcom City Hall Wednesday afternoon to advance their public engagement plan. It was the fifth task force meeting for the 10-person municipal committee, created after local voters approved Proposal A to designate the library lot between Fifth Avenue and Division Street for plans to become a park and civic center commons.
Community member and Community High School senior Miles Klapthor is a member of the task force but led the meeting in place of committee chair Meghan Mussolff. He explained his interest in this project as an Ann Arbor native who wants to see the land put to good use.
“I first got involved with the task force after reading about it in the newspaper. I thought it was pretty interesting, the idea of having public input for how lands going to be used around downtown and down the block,” Klapthor said. “A lot of the time people my age, students in high school and students in college too, don’t really have a whole lot of input in the planning process in a lot of cases. Considering so much of the use of the area is centered around both the University, and a lot of high school students that are there, it’d be important to have some ideas brought to the table by people like me.”
The committee discussed the most effective method to reach members of the community, weighing the general efficacy of universal mailing versus targeted mailing, keeping in mind cost, likelihood of engagement and other factors.
Committee member Alan Haber was the most vocal supporter of universal mailing, claiming it reached every stakeholder in Ann Arbor, while others proposed decreasing the scope of mailing lists to encourage specific feedback.
“I do not believe our primary mode of communication with the public should be social media,” Haber said. “I believe it should be initially through the mail, and then through inter-personal networks that we can set up. But I want to see an outreach that goes to everyone in Ann Arbor, and nobody gets it secondhand. That is, everybody is an equal stakeholder, shareholder in this endeavor and we should have our outreach be to include everyone.”
The group unanimously approved a motion to initially engage the community through social media, especially in preparation for the upcoming Nov. 6 public meeting. The outreach would include details of the meeting and outline topics for discussion, including general information on the progress of library block redevelopment and opening the floor for commentary on the types of spaces appropriate for a commons. They also discussed neighbor outreach, with plans for meetings with library staff, Kempf House Museum staff, nearby residents, nearby business owners, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority representatives and Downtown Development Authority members.
Task force members Norman Tyler and Ann Dilcher proposed an activity for the public meeting where the group is shown photos of urban spaces, in order to find out what aspects Ann Arbor residents envision for this space.
“We’re trying to get some feedback on the kinds of urban space that people would feel most comfortable with,” Tyler said. “It’s a very simple device to see what people like and they don’t like, and then ask for comments. I think people need to be educated, and we’re educating ourselves with this input.”
LSA senior Hannah Boettcher, the only student on the committee, described her role as a student spokesperson and her excitement to engage with the community.
“Organization has been our big struggle lately, just to get things moving, get the ball rolling on events,” Boettcher said. “But I’m hopeful towards the future because we have these community engagement events on the records. It’s important to me that these community engagement events are really inclusive of the actual community, and I’m speaking specifically now towards the university student community, that’s a voice that can very easily be lost in these discussions.”
The agenda for the next meeting will include further discussion of mailing, plans for the Nov. 6 meeting, discussion of public engagement, and website development.