With the city of Ann Arbor still faltering in its efforts to use the funds available to purchase green spaces around the city for the Greenbelt initiative, an encouraging step has been made to supplement the fight against urban sprawl. At tonight’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting, a proposal will be presented to turn three city-owned parking lots in the downtown Main Street area into two high-rise multiuse buildings and one multilevel parking structure. The City Council should approve the proposal in order to foster inward growth and increase urban density. A failure to do so would leave the city with the dangerous alternative of continuing urban sprawl.
The two downtown high rises outlined in the proposal are excellent examples of the mixed-use buildings necessary to safely grow a city. The centralization of retail, business and residential units planned for the new buildings will limit the further expansion of single-use, single-level sprawl outside of the city. Continued sprawl is a serious problem that contributes to air and water pollution, traffic congestion and the decay of urban centers. Growing urban density with these high rise mixed-use buildings in the city’s center should dramatically limit the increase of sprawl.
Although the city has failed to purchase the surrounding land that would further encourage the promotion of urban density, the recent proposal at least shows the community’s commitment to fighting urban sprawl and its disastrous consequences. The successful alternative to sprawl is to develop vertically within the current city structure, which the proposal seeks to do.
Those committed to true urban development may be worried about building another parking structure downtown, but this proposal is a sign of progress. The consolidation of several small, ground-level parking lots into one structure strikes a balance between the need for parking and concerns of increased traffic and congestion. Consolidating parking should help foster more efficient use of urban land, preventing the need for sprawl.
City Council must take a more active role in constraining sprawl by purchasing surrounding farmland and fulfilling the vision of the Greenbelt initiative. While the proposed development of multiuse high rises is positive, the city needs to ensure the other half of stopping urban sprawl — buying development rights to rural land — is not forgotten. In the end, if the city fails to purchase the land for the Greenbelt, similar proposals to increase urban density will lose out to the overwhelming incentives for developers to develop rural land and increase the scope of urban sprawl.