Mark Miller

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Mark Miller last won the day on July 2 2012

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About Mark Miller

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  1. Has the HPC gotten too heavy handed lately?

    The "ill considered Wealthy District" is going to continue to cause needless headaches.......hmmm Last time I checked that district was doing just fine. And I am willing to bet that it will continue to do just fine. There are plenty of opportunities to create density along Wealthy, in district. Is it harder? yes. Does it cost more? Maybe. Just hire an architect who gets it, design can solve these issues. Integrated has done a fantastic job navigating these districts, and IMO their infill building on Cherry is just what we need more of. At the end of the day, all of the historic districts have held their value, are continuing to draw people into them, and are continuing to draw investment. They have performed quite well and people want to live there and invest there. While that is not simply because of the designation and protection, you can not deny that it has been a huge bonus. The reason I chose a district to live and invest in is because there is more certainty. I know that my neighbor is not going to tear down his house and build a 2014 version of a Tudor-Craftsman Frankenstien. I also know that my other neighbor is not going to replace his windows with vinyl fascimiles of windows. Look no further than EGR, where there is no historic protection and entire blocks are being recast with out of scale, out of context, mcmansions. There will come a time when whatever charm that currently exists on those blocks, will cease. Or better yet, look at the church on Lake Drive that is not in district and was obliterated and consumed by the addition. The addition added density and got more people living in the neighborhood, but at what cost? The building is truly an eyesore, and I am told by residents that it leaks like a sieve. This is density, just not density done well. Does HPC provide protection against that? Sometimes. And I will take my chances. If people don't like these rules, then move into one of the myriad of other great neighborhoods in the city (there are plenty without designation). If developers don't like these rules, go develop in one of these other great neighborhoods. Oh wait, there is a reason why the historic districts are such a draw - because they are great places, due in part by their designation. Quit crying about HPC and historic districts. Start figuring out solutions.
  2. Has the HPC gotten too heavy handed lately?

    As a former member and chair of the HPC, I need to chime in here. While I have my own issues with some of the HPC decisions, those issues have absolutely nothing to do with the commission being difficult to work with, being too heavy handed, or being too hard on developers. In fact, quite the opposite. There are at least a few infill projects that are absolutely abysmal. We need more density, we need more people living in the city, etc, etc. - yes I agree 110%. However, we also need to start doing density a whole lot better. We have failed on almost every level in that regard. Keep in mind that these neighborhoods and their residents have spent a generation stabilizing their neighborhoods by increasing home ownership, preserving dilapidated homes, and fighting the good fight to preserve the urban character of these places.......the last thing any of us want or need is some suburbanites coming in and making these look just like forest hills. What developers need to do, is to first understand the neighborhood. Then hire a good architect, who also understands the neighborhood, basic urbanism, and its context. Then the developers and architects need to come up with projects that are not fake old. It seems like nearly everything that is proposed is some vinyl sided gay-90's theme park, with lots of obligatory (and un-needed parking). Please note that a new mixed-use building that is four stories was approved as an infill project on the Vivant property. It was approved. The commission worked with the developer to get this approved. It is going to increase density and move more people into the neighborhood. You know what it wasn't? It wasn't obligatory historicism.
  3. Division / Wealthy and ICCF

    I think that this building does indeed look like a school. The problem is that the school typology, for whatever reason, has digressed to take on the characteristics of a minimum security detention facility. So when someone says that it looks like a school, they are showing that they have been conditioned by this morphed typology. The only thing missing is the chain link fence that surrounds the yard (playground). Take a look at nearly every new school building, particularly those that have been built in small rural towns - they are prisonesque architecture. I was just admiring one a few weeks back in Manton, Michigan....a real gem, including the surrounding chain link fence. This has nothing to do with modernism nor materials and everything to do with execution, typology and details. If we are holding out hope that somehow the materials for this building are going to save it, then we have already failed.
  4. THE Downtown Market updates

    All this discussion was spurred by the less than visionary solution of putting tunnels in to connect one huge economic investment with another huge economic investment. Tunnels. Can we further minimize the pedestrian? Can we further tell the pedestrian that we just don't care about their mobility? Let them walk through undignified tubes from a great transit station to the urban market, while the automobiles get gold plated infrastructure. The bridge solution seems tenable, but again it it not addressing a true multi-modal city. It is a patch. It is simply saying that we are designing our city for cars first. When you design a city for cars you get cars. When you design a city for people you get people. We should start thinking of better ways to design our city for people. Tubes and tunnels and even bridges are less than hopeful solutions toward that goal. They are the default solution. The status quo. This discussion needs to address the bigger issue, which is the simple fact that this billion dollar highway rips through the city fabric so that we can do one simple thing.....move more cars. Everything else is subservient to that goal. The simple solution to the original problem is to walk up to Cherry, take it to Ionia and walk down Ionia. This requires little or no expenditure....except maybe having a sidewalk on the south side of Cherry! This is not as compelling as tubes or bridges, but it may be all that we get. The big idea solution is to remove that highway AND begin planning for that removal right now. Whether it is buried or turned into a surface street is inconsequential at this point in time - we just need to start talking about what it will take to get rid of it in its current form. How, when and why? Once that highway is removed, many of these issues will take care of themselves. We need to re-establish the street grid, reconnect to the river, make amends in the connection of the east and west sides of the city. This begins to happen with a reconfigured S-curve. And we get the ancillary benefits of having a city that actually designs for people first....not cars. We also get potential for new economic development. Oh and we can, in a more dignified way, address the pedestrian connection between the transit station and the market.
  5. There was an earlier post that I think hit the nail on the head. This is really not about homeless shelters in this area, it is about the concentration of homeless shelters in this area. Concentration of anything is detrimental to a neighborhood, whether it is $10 martini bars, upper class BMW driving traditional families, poverty or homeless folks. As a society we have compartmentalized nearly everything -- leading to segregation and concentration of either wealth or poverty. When low income housing is built, it is built in a pod, in isolation and there is little if any opportunity to integrate diversity (either social or economic)into it. This perpetuates a cycle which reinforces undesireable behavior because there is little or no example of desireable behavior to draw or learn from. When we end up with neighborhoods that embrace diversity and lessen these concentrated pods, we find ourselves drawn to them. But to create them, we have to learn from past mistakes and past triumps. We have to be willing to take some chances. Heartside is a richly unique and diverse neighborhood that could be better if there were not homeless shelters all concentrated within a few blocks of one another. They all do not have to be removed or relocated, but instead dispersed, or more appropriately, better integrated into the city. And yes, the homeless people are citizens of this city, even though frankly many of them do not act like it. They are citizens in only a very general definition. Many of them are indeed victims of economic failure, but many are also flat out nuts or drug addicts - and it is this fringe element which poses the problem to moving forward. A few years ago, my family and I were at a park, where a homeless women was sitting. After some conversation she ultimately started screaming and swearing - capped off by saying that "she hopes my kids die". Needless to say that my three kids (aged about 6, 4 and 2 at the time)were a bit traumatized by this crazy lady screaming at them. This park was not even in Heartside, but rather in Heritage Hill. Now, some might call this grit - and in fact, to some extent, it is. But the bottom line is, are you going to take your kids to this new park at Cherry and Division, or to the Heartside Park to enjoy some water features, if you run the risk of having some nut-job verbally accost them? I am not, so both of these parks are off limits to my family, even though they are "public" and paid for by citizens such as myself. You may say, "well that is your decision" - but the decision was made (not by me, but by policy makers) when the park was placed next to concentrated poverty and homelessness. And by policy makers who have concentrated the poverty and homelessness in the neighborhood in the first place. And as far as gentrification is concerned, we are a long, long way from worrying about that in Grand Rapids. There is a huge amount of affordable housing in this city, probably too much. My neighborhood in Heritage Hill, while thought of as somewhat gentrified, has people of all ages, races and incomes residing just in a one block stretch. There are people who have lived there for fifty years (who fought redlining in the 1950's), probably on fixed income because of their age. They are not being forced out by higher taxes or yuppies, they are integrated into a neighborhood and will probably be there until they die. Gentrification, as we sit today in GR, would be good for most of our neighborhoods, it would provide investment, economic diversty, economic development, stability and ultimately better neighborhoods. That may not be true in 20 years, if homes in Heritage Hill start approaching the $500k to $700k prices that similar neighborhoods would garner in other cities. Places like Manhatten and Boston and Capital Hill have gentrication issues, GR does not.
  6. Highway and Road Construction Updates

    So the justification seems that since we have already misinvested in this sort of thing for the last 50 years, then inertia just should continue it. After all, how can we let the billions of dollars already spent go to waste? At some point we need to collectively re-access and ultimately come up with a different solution, because someone will be having this same discussion in 30 years when these improvements are too bumpy and too narrow and obsolete...and not just here, but on M6 too. And I will bet that we will be a poorer nation then, than we are right now. All the arguments are sound from a certain point of view. Sure it is crumbling. But that alone does not justify not changing the way we are thinking about this. Instead of further creating an autocentric chasm, plans should be to turn this into a multifunctional thoroughfare...at the very least. Highway standards are not calibrated to context, despite whatever smoke MDOT wants to blow up our asses and using the same design parameters and solutions that are used for the rural and suburban highway for the urban highway just plain does not work. These gashes into the urban fabric have done nothing but damn the city and its residents. "Though I'm sure your next question will be whether we should even bother maintaining it. We could always rip it out and try to restore the damage its construction caused. Actually, I'd like that, but it's probably not realistic." And yes, I would propose to let it rot...if this is the only solution (and I suspect it is, from MDOT's point of view). We could indeed rip it out and at least make it more contextual. And why precisely would that not be realistic? We are already throwing substantial gobs of money at this and closing it for a substantial amount of time. The short answer is that doing this would not meet their one size fits all design solution. As far as becoming part of the process, let's get real. That only works when all parties are willing to collaborate and they are not willing. I have been there, done that, and it doesn't work with MDOT and it doesn't even work with the city traffic machine.
  7. Highway and Road Construction Updates

    I am unclear as to what the problems are with that stretch of road. Is it an access problem which necessitates the "weave lanes"? Is it a traffic flow (congestion) problem which necessitates making things wider by adding more lanes? I am not convinced that there are problems that need fixing, and IF there are problems I am certainly not convinced that wasting $40 million dollars of the future generation's money on the current solution is the correct path. If there are congestion issues, we were all told that the "investment" on M6 would help to alleviate them. Now we are told that widening this road will help alleviate them. Along with last year's widening of the College ramp and the future widening of the Beltline, their only solution is to widen. To build more single-use infrastructure. The problem is that the neanderthals who run MDOT are working within the same set of principles that Robert Moses was operating in the 1940's and 1950's, when his NY highways (built in the 1920's and 30's) experienced significant conjestion....his solution was to widen. And continue to widen. The problem is that widening never worked it just created more conjestion. This has happened nearly everywhere that DOT's follow this policy - from Long Island to Los Angeles. It is a failed policy. But a policy that they continue, without any regard for what the future holds. And now that they have successfully gone through a money grab by swallowing up much needed stimulus dollars, they can continue chugging along with blinders on. We have too much auto infrastructure. Parking lots, parking ramps, wide swaths of highways, wide surface streets, clear vision angles at urban intersections, etc, etc. We do not need anymore. This money should be spent on transit. The T in MDOT is for transportion, which needs to be more than single use infrastructure.
  8. Highway and Road Construction Updates

    That is what passes for context sensitive design in the world of MDOT. This organization continues to disappoint in almost every aspect of their existence. This is a $40 million dollar waste of money, and stimulus money to boot. When this project is all done and the new weave lanes, extra travel lanes and pedestrian designed bridges are all complete it will not make one damn bit of difference in regards to whatever esoteric outdated criteria they use to judge this sort of stuff. With a federal government, state government and city government that are all nearly bankrupt, MDOT continues to hum along as if it was 1965, using the same BS arguments and justifications that they used back then.
  9. Drivers needed to be extra careful and patient, not because they were in Heartside, but because the street grid forced them to be - and I think that is exactly the point. It was difficult for motorist to move through this intersection but now they can just zip right through because they are much more comfotable with the queues that have been presented to them. This whole realignment seems as nothing more than an extension of the 131 on-ramp, built to traffic engineer standards for efficiently moving cars from point a to point b. That alone compromises the urbansim. As far as the previous interesection not being safe for pedestrians, I walked it many times on my way to work prior to the realignment and a couple of times since. I think ultimately I felt safer prior to the realignment if only because the drivers felt a bit more tentative and drove slower. Traffic now moves too fast to be compatible with someone on foot. This is the same problem with the round-a-bouts on Wealthy. They are infrastructure for the auto first, built to make it easier for distracted drivers to move about the city without thinking. Both of these "improvements" have made the public realm more difficult for pedestrians to use and thus made the urbanism more single-use, which is the opposite of good urbanism. Good points have already been made about the park being a magnate for the homeless, I think the shear fact that there are armrests on the benches every 18" prove that the designers felt a concern for people sleeping on these benches. Maybe someday that will change, but as far as this being an asset is questionable. Sure, parks in general give us all a warm fuzzy feeling... at least in concept, but in practicality they are not always the best solution. A mixed-use building in a location such as this will always be the best use of land and resources, both financially and urbanistically. To remove or compromise the ability to place one here - even if the lot was empty for 50 years and there are twenty other empty buildings does not justify what was done here. Gaps in the urbanism, whether they are represented by empty lots, parking lots, misplaced parks or "plazas" are problematic in a location such as this, where commerce in the form of activated mixed-use buildings should be paramount.
  10. Transit Updates for Greater Grand Rapids

    I don't see why the would not work as viable terminals, linked to downtown. Woodland and Knapp Corner could be terminals or they could be stops on a link from DT to the airport. There is a large swath of ROW (the beltline) that could be commandeered for rail. Besides just dreaming about that scenario, these make sense because there are a lot of people living in these general areas, some of who commute DT, so it could, in theory, connect people to services and goods and jobs while allowing us to get rid of all the parking infrastructure in our core. The other thing to consider is trying to utilize existing ROW and infrastructure (where ever possible) for just plain old rail, rather than high speed or light rail which could fill in some of the blanks. In any case, it is imperative that thinking along these lines start occuring locally, regionally, statewide and nationally if we expect to weather future issues and mitigate some of our climate change issues. The US rail service was once the envy of the world, now it is at third-world standards. We need to change that. It is going to require sacrifice in regards to taxes or throwing away some of the misinvestments made in road construction, but we can not currently sustain what we have and we certainly can not go on the way we are indefinately, waiting for magic technology or the easy credit economy to return.
  11. Transit Updates for Greater Grand Rapids

    The Salt Lake City area is years ahead of this region in its planning. The people there have been educated on the ramifications of different growth patterns and what a continued conventional pattern will get them. They understand that they can not sustain the auto-centric system of development and as a result they have tried to make changes. We just are not there yet. We are not thinking big enough. Many people just do not see this connection between sustainability and the current pattern of growth. If our economy had not tanked, we would still be going gangbusters on suburban sprawl, strip malls, and exurban housing pods. But it is good to ask if Salt Lake can do it, why can't we or if Minneapolis can do it, why can't we. Minneapolis has a wonderful rail line running from the airport to the downtown and it is an excellent way to come into the city without a car. Far more civilized ...and I honestly believe that anyone who rides one of these systems could see the potential for GR. I think we need to look at connections between cities first: Holland to GR, or connections from the airport to DT. Or connections between two someplaces. We do need to have two currently viable ends of the line, otherwise it is akin to building a bridge to nowhere. I don't see Division Ave necessarily in that way. Maybe someday. Every great city has a form of transit. Transit that people ride everyday to work or to the store or to wherever. Transit that may be supported by buses, but has something more as a base component. A subway, light rail, or rail. It is used everyday by residents - not as a tourist attraction but as a way they live. Everytime I go somewhere and ride the transit I come back here feeling liberated and then I have to come back to reality and ask why not here. Why do we have a substandard system, that is not efficient for me personally. I can walk home from work quicker than I can get there via bus. If we want to become a great place and a sustainable place we need to have viable transit.
  12. Transit Updates for Greater Grand Rapids

    This is a good question. But the concept of sustainability is really a hard thing to grasp. What is sustainability? What does it mean for a city to be sustainable? Is a city sustainable if it has the most LEED buildings per capita? Is it sustainable if everyone living in it changes their light bulbs? Is it sustainable if everyone rides transit? I have no idea, but I would say that the number of LEED buildings means very little, except maybe for stroking an ego. Making a LEED building is easy. It is low hanging fruit. Changing a light bulb, likewise, is low hanging fruit. It is easy. It requires no sacrifice. It is not enough, however. But chaning the way we live, via dumping our cars and lowering our VMTs is a harder, more systemic change. We are not currently as sustainable as we think despite all the green smoke and mirrors .......and we are doing too little and we are too late. Transit will make us more sustainable and this would have been a big step in the right direction. But realistically, many of the people that voted "no" have valid points and I think that bringing these folks over to the "yes" column can be accomplished, but not by attacking them or ridiculing them. I voted yes and am willing to be taxed to have a better future for my kids, but this BRT was not conveyed as the solution very well and I honestly think that the commercials reinforced that. They had very vague cartoony images that frankly may have appealed to young people, but anyone questioning the nuts and bolts of this was left wanting something else - more hard information - and less cartoon busses running along a cartoon street. Andy, your video was far more compelling, at least to me. But there needs to be more compelling information. And why is BRT better than light rail? Why was this being pushed instead of light rail? When I had dinner with John Norquist (president of CNU) and we talked about BRT - his response was to not build it. Build rail instead. I think we were pushing BRT because that is what the feds would fund. I think this corridor was chosen because that is what the feds would fund. Is that the right way to make this decision? Because that is what the feds would fund and that if we don't get this funding, someone else will? We need to be better than that. Again, I am a supporter of this, but I do think there are better solutions and we should be seeking them and doing some hard planning, some hard compromises and some real scenarios about what the route is, where the route is and why that is sustainable. This no vote is an opportunity for both sides to work together for the future and to come together to make the right transit project, in the right place, for the right reasons. We need transit. We need transit now. If we don't start thinking about it and getting some of it built, all the LEED buildings in the world are not going to save us.
  13. Transit Updates for Greater Grand Rapids

    So the argrument for freeways is to move goods? And the benefit of M-6 has been to take trucks moving these goods further out...off the other pre-existing highways? Then why do we need the other highways that rip through the city? Why are we spending millions on a new overpass on a highway we don't need? How many automobiles with single riders are driving on M6 daily and how many VMTs are they driving per day? per year? How much sprawl was built on the interchanges of M6 in an autocentric environment? How long will M6 be viable, before these punks at MDOT have their hands in the public trough looking for more money to subsidize repair or rebuild? 20 years? How long before all the expenditure on roads, tract homes and strip centers within this corridor is realized to be a lost investment and written off? The only sustainable method to move goods will be rail and via waterways. We can not continue to transport goods 3000 miles in semi-trucks - it is not sustainable. And certainly building more roads to carry these goods is a huge misinvestment, which we are saddling future generations with. We should divert funds from road building and rebuild our rail above third world standards - both passenger and freight. We should disband DOT's and reconstitute them as real (multi transportation) entities, which care about something other than car and truck traffic. As we debate this and as people debate whether we should spend an insultingly low amount of money on a small corridor of transit along Divsion Avenue we progress further down a path of unsustainable patterns that will ultimately fail. This is too little of an investment.......and one can hope that it is not too late. The real debate here is why we are not asking for more money - not through a millage, but through MDOT in order to build more transit. More BRT, more light rail, more street cars - in other words more sustainable transportation options.
  14. Transit Updates for Greater Grand Rapids

    I will preface what I am about to say with the following: I believe in transit I will be voting for this millage today Transit is a key component for the future. But we have to realize it is only a component and to think that if this doesn't pass that our cities will spiral into cataclysmic failure is just an alarmist reaction. We should not think that this alone is a magic bullet. Likewise, if the millage passes, we will still have issues to resolve at the urban scale, issues that this alone will not solve. "He is an idiot and should get into local politics before shouting out his big &&& mouth about stuff he has no clue about. If this fails because of him I am going to get very angry at him. This is a do or die situation for our cities. We have a great philanthogists but they can not spend the amount of money that is required to make this happen. They may even turn away from our people and decide Cleveland or Orlando would be a better place to spend their wealth. I for one do want to see that happen. I feel this being our last hope to keep them interested in our city. We turned down a HUGE gift in the form of the zoo from F&L Meijer. We better not screw up this time." In fact, I am not sure what all the fuss is about. This millage is hardly more than what we have now and it is just some buses and a few stations - it is not like we are going through a huge paradigm shift here!! What we really need to be addressing - if we really want systemic change- is light rail or rail. I know the argument....that light rail would cost a whole lot more than this and that BRT can someday lay the ground work for the light rail, but realistically it may never happen if you build this first. Anyway we have come this far and it is time to get this thing built and see what happens. And maybe someday we will see light rail running in this corridor. So get out and vote. **************************************************** Another item regarding this. Someone mentioned 28th Street being widened to accomodate something like Cleveland did. 28th street does not have to be widened to accomodate this. It has plenty of ROW. Until transit is set up on that corridor and the corridor itself is made more humane, either as a boulevard or as something else, 28th street will ultimately never succeed in the future. As far as residential on 28th street - again that is probably the only way to make it someplace, by adding some hearty mixed-use. It will ultimately die otherwise. **************************************************** Finally, all these opponents clamoring about taxes and subisidizing this transit need to realize how the auto and sprawl is subsidized and has been for over 50 years. Even with this minute expenditure, the road building military-industrial complex in this country (and in this state) will continue to build more roads and wider roads with no net benefit to our sustainability or our future. I point to M-6 and the College overpass as examples of subsidized waste with no net benefit. Where were these tax advocates on this?
  15. Wealthy Street Needed Renovations

    As far as 632-636 Wealthy is concerned, this project was a go before this decision occurred. The develop had his HPC approvals and his Planning Commission approvals. They even had a couple of possible tenants lined up. He had completed most of his due dilligence. It is not like he "might do the project", he was definately going to do it and now because of essentially a political message, the plug seems to be pulled. This decision is more about sending a message to a few specific property owners on this street rather than anything else. It is unfortunate because now if the building is indeed "boarded up" it does absolutely nothing in continuing the ressurgance of this neighborhood and the building's physical structure continues to decline. Lenn at Wealthy and Charles sums it up wonderfully. Half-assed decision.