McGovern Response


Letter to the Editor, Ann Arbor News,
submitted 3/2/2003, by the Friends of Dicken Woods

{Note: For unknown reasons, the News declined to publish this rebuttal to Judy McGovern's 2/17/03 column}

As members of a group that is just now forming help preserve an undeveloped area known in the neighborhood as Dicken Woods, we wish to take issue with Judy McGovern's piece in the February 17th edition of the Ann Arbor News. The article derides as "NIMBYism" various efforts to direct some of the city's land acquisition millage money to prevent development in individual neighborhoods. We see it very differently: people who come together and invest their own time, money, sweat in preservation efforts in their own neighborhoods also deserve a voice in how their taxes are spent. And listening to their voices may improve the quality of life in Ann Arbor!

The core of Ms. McGovern's argument seems to be that the 5-year parkland acquisition millage is a one-time windfall that should be devoted to big- picture projects rather than doled out piecemeal to efforts to stop development of open space in different neighborhoods. We believe that if the city handles these situations well, people will see results worthy of the joint investment, and will want the city to keep the program going. The prospects for a renewal of the parkland acquisition millage will be enhanced if citizens see the city respond to the immediate needs of their own neighborhoods as well as of long-term plans.

The article further implies that there is an inconsistency between opposition to in-city development of long-abandoned farmland and objection to the township sprawl that eats up viable farmland. Again, we see things quite differently: Each community must do what it can do to promote and protect the features that it most values. Developments involving dozens of identical, densely-packed townhouses may or may not enhance the community values of surrounding townships, but they do nothing to enhance the character of Ann Arbor, while destroying natural areas that do enhance it. Our city's well-deserved reputation as a wonderful place to live, work, and raise families is founded largely on the way we integrate Nature into the fabric of the community. The best way we can oppose sprawl is to lead by example, showing what a "tree town" can be, and not by sacrificing our remaining natural spaces to concrete and asphalt.

Finally, McGovern implies that there is a well-developed vision for the future embedded in the city's plan for park and recreation land that should be valued above the ad-hoc needs of individual neighborhoods. That may be, but there are other plans by local bodies that stress the importance of sustainable development, contiguity of wildlife habitat, and watershed stabilization. For example, the West Area Plan says:

  • "Existing natural resources such as wetlands, woodlands, steep slopes, and waterways are assets to the community and provide valuable natural functions, such as improving air and water quality, fulfilling natural water infiltration roles, and maintaining biodiversity. In addition, undeveloped environmentally special areas provide residents with physical, spiritual and mental benefits. The importance of such natural areas should be carefully weighed when considering proposals for new developments that would remove, reduce, or adversely impact such areas."

Ann Arbor is best served when planners, political leaders, and neighborhood groups can come together to find today's best mix of land acquisitions that balance long-term visions and short-term opportunities to enhance our community.


Michael Champion and
Jim and Leigh Ann Boyd,
Tom and Anna Craft & family,
Jim and Sandy Foulke,
Ray and Stephanie Hunter,
Thomas Ivacko,
Sophia and Ta-Rong Jan
Elizabeth Loesch,
Deborah Norbotten,
Robert Palmer,
Erik Stalhandske,
Christine Wylie,
Dorothy Wylie,

on behalf of the Friends of Dicken Woods