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From the Field

City Mouse, Country Mouse

March 24, 2003 | By Jim Dulzo
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

MLUI/Pat Owen

Detroit or Traverse City? It's the same all over. (Traverse City)

When good friends first heard I was leaving my beloved city of Detroit, where I was born and raised, and moving up north to fight sprawl, they were incredulous. People who know me even a little know I’m a Motown boy with an attitude — an unabashed booster who, like so many of my neighbors, wants to make the city a better place to be.

So, when giving friends the news I found myself being a tad defensive. I often explained how, in Beulah, the good folks at the Institute were working hard to stop sprawl, a plague that has so greatly injured Detroit.

Sprawl has always seriously bugged me. I can remember when a drive from downtown Detroit out to Rochester to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on a hot summer’s night was a cooling, relaxing trip. Or when taking two buses to get from Farmington to my Detroit high school promised an enjoyable, daily adventure. Or when….oh, you know already.

But here’s what I didn’t know until I got up here: Lousy planning is now a big problem absolutely everywhere, even in Beulah, population 400. Here folks are worried about a poorly planned boat launch and too many septic systems overwhelming Crystal Lake, our community jewel. The 35-mile drive into Traverse City has little sprawl weeds popping up all the way to town. The city itself is now surrounded by something that looks and drives suspiciously like Oakland County, where traffic stretches patience and pushes nerves past the breaking point.

Yo, Detroit, my greatly missed hometown: I’m still very much with you. In our own humble way, we are doing everything we can to help you reverse sprawl and rebuild more quickly. Same goes for Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Flint, Traverse City, and dozens of other, lesser known burghs. But it’s everywhere. We’d better stop it soon with some basic, statewide reforms, or there won’t be much to save. Not even way Up North.

Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s managing editor.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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