Monday, August 07, 2017

[Ann Arbor, Dexter] Going Local

Our emotions just come to us, unbidden. It makes no sense to ever tell someone they "shouldn't feel that way." They have no choice. Feelings are not selected, they just appear, presumably based on some inscrutable calculus from the haphazard wiring in our brains. It follows that you should never beat yourself up over having certain feelings, however ugly they may be, because you really don't have much choice. How you respond to the feelings defines how you live or die.

So in those times when you are depressed or in despair, if you understand that these feelings may not be sourced from objective reality but may be the result of quasi-random chemical processes in your head, you have a way to fight them. In my case, I reflect on what I would miss from my life if it was gone. If I suddenly found myself in a locked cell with no hope of escape, what are the things I would wish I was doing instead. Or put another way, having lived long enough to look back at different periods of my life and think of the good times I had, I pause to think about what I do today that will be the source of good memories in the future. In the words of your grandma: "Count your blessing and be grateful!"

That was a very long-winded and weird intro. What I really want to tell you is that one of the things I am truly grateful for is where I live. I have spent almost the entirety of my adult life living in and around Ann Arbor, MI.

Ann Arbor is the bubbliest of bubbles. It's also the collegiest of college towns. The enormous University of Michigan insulates us from all kinds of economic woes, by providing an influx of 30,000 students or student-like creatures for 8 months out of the year. It ensures that our population will be among the best educated in the country. The immense transfer of wealth via government grants, the student loan firehose, and college sports, to the University and the trickle down to the local economy is the ultimate Golden Goose. There are other thriving industries in the city and surrounding areas -- health care is huge and auto suppliers are plentiful -- but every knows who the 900 pound gorilla is.

Beyond the financial featherbed, Ann Arbor itself has many charms. It refers to itself as "Tree Town, USA" and it's a fitting moniker. For a city of its size it is remarkably and self-consciously verdant. There are parks on almost every corner. Walking pathways abound and in fact have
been a particular source of attention of late, the City spending a large sum to build up an elaborate, connected web pathways through scenic areas and extending miles into the adjacent counties.

In fact, Ann Arbor could be a good example of how success can feed upon itself, spiraling into even greater success. The University attracts talented, creative people who then become so attached to the city they stay and either follow their dreams (open a brewery, start a yoga studio, whatever) or they feed the adjacent industries with STEM talent. Once settled, these folks demand quality -- good schools and public services -- and they are willing to pay for it, which ends up pricing out people who can't along with people who won't, but being even more attractive to those who can. Thus the bubble feeds and grows.

Crime is very low. There is the occasional late night robbery or assault, almost always perpetrated by someone from the rougher towns to the east on the I-94 corridor. Non-violent crimes are often committed by the homeless, but even they are under control. Ann Arbor has built itself such a glorious homeless shelter that the homeless are mostly careful to mind their Ps and Qs or get run out of town to one of the filthy shelters in other, less-abiding cities.

The attitude towards the homeless in Ann Arbor is very telling. When I first moved to Ann Arbor back in Nineteen and Seventy-eight, the homeless were more prominent and aggressive. They reached a point where they were becoming a detriment to business downtown. Committees were committed and initiatives were initiated and eventually the City of Ann Arbor voted in fairly severe restrictions on homeless activities in an attempt to chase them away. They put signs in their windows asking pedestrians to not give money. Basically we were treated to the spectacle of the proud scions of social justice and the live-simply hippies being as uncharitable as possible to the local downtrodden.

Politically, Ann Arbor is about as lefty as it gets. I offer no judgement on the value of that, I merely state it as fact. I also note that virtually all bubbles are filled with lefties -- it is an open question as to whether Liberals create bubbles or bubbles create Liberals. I have a couple of friends who I believe to be Conservatives of some stripe but they wisely never engage in political discussions or otherwise make it known that they disagree with the mass of those around them so I can't be sure. They would be stigmatized at a minimum and possibly even lose friends. This is an activity the local Liberal majority would state is wrong in principle and that they would never engage in such behavior, but I have seen it in action. It is enlightening though, to see how those in power wantonly indulge in behavior they would make a principled stand against were the other side doing it and how, when confronted with this, cognitive dissonance sets in and word meanings are massaged and facts deflected to allow them to keep their noble self image.

This has little affect on me, having long ago given up on political dogma or even carrying political opinions. And though I see it in the Left, I know that is because I am surrounded by the Left. Were I surrounded by the Right, I would see it in them. Could you be happy in Ann Arbor if you were an ardent and vocal supporter of Donald Trump? Not unless you liked conflict -- which as an ardent and vocal supporter of Donald Trump, you probably do -- or you avoided such conversations, which really isn't that high a cost. I avoid them out of personal taste and it causes me no grief.

Despite the monolithic political composition, Ann Arbor hasn't completely gone off the deep end like say, San Francisco or some such place. I note that the at the de riguer city council meeting on the problem of gentrification, nobody suggested rent control or other forms of destructive utopianism. One councilman seemed to wish we had it but even he saw it was unrealistic. Most of the quoted seem to have a solid understanding of supply and demand. Many saw the upside of Ann Arbor gentrification for the surrounding communities to get some trickle-down prosperity. That's actually pretty cool.

Aside: Does anyone remember the scourge of "urban blight"? That was a big deal 20 or 30 years ago. It was destroying our cities. Now its polar opposite, "gentrification", is destroying our cities. It seems whichever direction we go our cities will be destroyed.

I actually no longer live in Ann Arbor proper. I live in one of those adjacent communities that so benefits from the trickle-out prosperity, the little town of Dexter; the first city to the immediate west. As a rule communities to the East are low end (Ypsilanti, parts of Pittsfield and Superior Townships), communities to the West are higher end (Dexter, Chelsea). North or South is a bit of a mix. But, yes, the councilman was correct. They all benefit from the Ann Arbor spill over.

When I first moved to Dexter it still had one foot in its rural past, and to be sure, there are still flashes of country life, if in odd places. You might see a post in the local facebook group about a cow that got free or chickens on the loose or, sadly, a barn fire. That's rare, though; Dexter is filled with Upper Middle Class and the associated good schools, strong real estate, traffic woes, severe development controls, craft breweries, and the full slate of bubbly culture. Frankly, I'm delighted. I wouldn't want to live any other way. We build our bubbles to enhance our well-being and my being is quite well. If I have any sorrow or struggle in my life it is almost certainly internal at this point, which is about the best we can do.

This post was a looooong route to explaining why I am grateful to live where I do. It is a blessing that I count. I don't know how long it will last. A good financial hit or health problem could push me out of the bubble. But for now I'll enjoy it and be grateful.