Inviting Guests To Your Home (Town)

By Scott Lankford

I understand that Traverse City has the richest Rotary Club in the world. I have heard that Traverse City boasts one of the most active Chamber of Commerce in the nation. If you look at our Visitor Center, it is located, as is the Chamber of Commerce building, in some of the most valuable property in Traverse City. Beautiful buildings set upon prime soils, with commanding views of Grand Traverse Bay. Such amazing gateways and ambassadors to welcome the world to our doorstep.

And yet, if your mother has to use the bathroom, or you have an intestinal issue, you cannot show me a sign in downtown Traverse City, that directs you to a bathroom. A simple toilet. None. And this, my fellow citizens, is a joke. A mean and cruel joke. Are you embarrassed yet? We should be.

We have an amazing DDA so proactive, so visionary and such a record of execution. They also are able to police and collect thousands of dollars for parking and violations and yet cannot provide those same visitors with public restrooms. [Note: A proposal announced earlier this year by developer Jerry Snowden to build an addition to Radio Centre II (125 Park Street) – that would also include a pedestrian access to the parking deck and restroom facilities (a project of the DDA) – is now on hold.]

In fact, they, like the Chamber, turn their backs on their own members, whose businesses, bear the brunt of the public’s need to void. And if it’s not in their bathrooms, it’s in their bushes or along the alley or along the river. People are gonna go, Traverse City. Let’s be classy instead of faking it.

Design is about the human experience. Yes, aesthetics are at issue. But so is user experience. Thank the powers that be, that thought we should actually engage a world class “way finding” firm like Corbin Design, who happens to be local, to design signage … not for us but for our visitors. Being kind is who we are, no? Can we be kind to each other and our guests? Would clear signage and bathrooms tell others that we value ourselves and our guests?

But if we want visitors to find us, if we want them to stay with us and tour our fine area, should we expect them to “hold it” for how long? Why invite anyone to your home if you are not gonna provide a loo?

So, what do we do as humans? One key element is proximity or “crowding.” Most of us gravitate toward others. Could be just our families – at your home, around a table or a backyard grill.  Could we like a restaurant because it’s “crowded?” We know we do not like the one not crowded. It’s cold. Amical is the epitome of “I am crowded and yet I am comfortable.”  The Franklin is the opposite – lots of room yet you will never have to “touch” another human being. I say we need to squeeze and slide by. We need to connect and engage. How “close” we are actually does matter.

Let’s stay crowded and actually “close Front Street” like we do on Friday Nights, from Park to Union, all summer long, 7 days a week. Let’s make it a mall, a commerce zone, a place to hang out and yes, we still allow an emergency vehicle through. I say we play chess, we shop, we drink, we eat, we relax, we talk, we laugh, we luxuriate, we rest our weary shopping bones, we walk our dogs, we find an umbrella, a table, a seat, just like Lincoln Road in Miami but only in the summer.

We are so proud of the “Pure Michigan” advertising campaign, yet our City Commission does not want to plow the sidewalks? We want to invite others to come enjoy our area but we allow garbage to overflow on the weekends because city workers aren’t available? We don’t clear our walks of bird dung, refuse and snow because we want to “be more fiscally responsible?” Who in the name of all that is right and good ever invites guests over and then excuses the way the place looks because they are “fiscally responsible?” Hello?

Good design says that people are human and we need things. We need food, drink, shelter and a place to relieve ourselves. We move toward pleasure and away from pain. Our seeming “hands off” policy of denying reality and pining for “the old days” is not sustainable. West Bay, our bay, was shown so desecrated via Facebook photos this past summer. We were disgusted with the visuals of refuse and garbage as akin to a desecration. We want to blame those “others.” Those guests. The ones we invited. We really need to blame the hosts. We are them. It is time we act like hosts, we make bathrooms, we clean our city, we treat our guests and ourselves with dignity. As business owners, it is time to step up and pay the carriage. Otherwise, you and all of us may lose what we are now so excited about.