The Truthiness Shuffle

The Truthiness Shuffle

And what is the response to this growth, becoming a center of thought leaders and entrepreneurship? For too many, it’s to try to stop it at all costs.

“The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”
“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”


Ann Arbor is home to a curious breed. Here we are, this mid-sized Midwestern college town – city, perhaps? We are home to a prestigious learning and research institution. Combine that with concerted efforts to grow our non-university job base, and we are a Midwestern city that is actually growing! In Michigan! A city in Michigan that is adding population and jobs? It sounds almost unreal given the recent history of Midwestern and manufacturing job decline of the last 20+ years.

So Ann Arbor has bucked a regional trend. And what is the response to this growth, becoming a center of thought leaders and entrepreneurship? For too many, it’s to try to stop it at all costs. That is the repeated theme from some Ann Arborites. Our local politics has two basic sides. One is people looking to accommodate the increased demand for housing by, wait for it, building more housing closer to jobs. The other side, they think things are just fine as they were 20-40 years ago (whenever they moved here) and would like to preserve that version of Ann Arbor at any cost. This anti-growth mindset is captured in the thoughts of a local blogger.

The latest iteration of this blogorrhea is beset with misdirection and half-truths, conveniently interspersed with some actually useful information. For example, she writes, “Here is a nice history of Tower Plaza. For a long time it was the tallest thing downtown.” Still the tallest thing! Saying “it was” implies something taller has been built. That has not happened. This is not the only truthiness shuffle that occurs. “Presumably”, “might”, “depends on’, “possibility”… of course, the author wants us to believe that building more homes inevitably destroys what it is that you, personally, currently like about Ann Arbor.

The point of the article is not to provide information, but to provide just enough so she can reel people in then switch to scaring readers about the supposedly evil benefactors of building more housing for people.

Note in the “money flows” outline for building new homes that she fails to mention the ultimate beneficiary: the people who get housed. She fails to point out that gentrification of the Water Hill neighborhood, displacing minorities, already happened in the 80’s and 90’s. Now she seems upset that another wave of gentrification might displace those pioneer gentrifiers. (You can almost hear the lamentations, “hey, what’s going on? We already displaced the Black people!”) She complains about the form of City Place Apartments. She whines about property values increasing. What she conveniently ignores is that these things are the result of current zoning policies.

I suppose the author just thinks Ann Arbor can carry on in its car-happy ways, ignoring the larger world outside our city limits, and continue to increase our 80,000+ in-commuter population while adding drips of new housing and greenwashing technology. I disagree. Besides making cities better overall, housing people closer to jobs (services, shops, and each other) is one of the biggest changes that curtails greenhouse gas emissions. Part of doing so requires changes to zoning. Yes, some of it might even be considered disruptive. If we do not increase the amount of housing allowed within our borders, our growth in jobs will be met with growth in housing in other communities, and the increase in pollution, car traffic, and parking that accompanies it.