My Metromode story about how urban planning resulted in outdoor dining (and more) in downtown Farmington

These days, when you walk or drive through downtown Farmington in the evening, you’ll often see crowds gathered outdoors to enjoy a meal or drinks together.

You’ll hear conversation and laughter (and occasionally live music); smell the just-prepared food on the tables, and see dog-walking locals stop to hug someone they know.

But downtown Farmington hasn’t always had this inviting, energetic vibe – and it’s no accident that it’s developed over the course of the past decade or so.

“We’ve been talking about this for at least fifteen years – from the time I got involved with the Planning Commission,” says Farmington Mayor (and architect) Steven Schneemann. “ … At that time, there was a real need for a downtown center. There was no big gathering place downtown. … This led to the development [in 2005] of that big area where Sundquist Pavilion and Riley Park is. But there was no street life, either. There was nothing to draw people out.”

Patio life in downtown Farmington. (Photo by David Lewinski)

Back then, John Cowley & Sons’ Irish pub and restaurant was one of the only places you could dine outdoors while in the heart of downtown; and before Farmington’s $3.2 million Grand River Avenue streetscape improvement project – which expanded sidewalks, added crosswalks, benches, bike racks, and landscaping – began in 2009, there was little room for growth.

“The whole thing comes down to how you design it,” says Schneemann. “Before the streetscape project, we just had two big sidewalks of concrete separated by three and a half lanes of traffic,” says Schneemann. “Even if there had been more places where you could sit outside, why would you want to? Now, with the fencing and the landscaping – yes, you’re still just 5 or 6 feet away from the cars going by, but there’s a row of shrubs, and trees, and curbs, so there’s more of a sense of security. It feels more comfortable, like a place where you can really sit and relax.” READ THE REST HERE

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My Great Minds Think a Lot blog about UMS President Matthew VanBesien

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 8.08.09 PM.pngThis profile is part of Destination Ann Arbor’s Great Minds Think a Lot series, highlighting influential leaders in Washtenaw County who make a positive impact within our community.

Former University Musical Society President Ken Fischer left some pretty enormous shoes to fill when he retired in 2017 – and Matthew VanBesien may be one of the few people in the world whose metaphorical feet were big enough for the job.

For VanBesien – who’d begun his career as an orchestra musician (playing french horn) – served as President of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and then the New York Philharmonic before making the move Ann Arbor; so to say he’s accustomed to a high profile in the performing arts world would be a bit of an understatement.

But in an effort to get to know VanBesien more personally, I recently asked him some questions about his new life in Ann Arbor – which led to some surprising confessions involving workplace polka bands and the nostalgic pull of A&W Root Beer. READ THE REST HERE