Live From Ann Arbor: Overstated Brain Drain and Outdated Information

I generally try my best not to be the stereotypical “angry talk radio host”.  I think we’ve got enough of those in this country right now.  That said, I couldn’t help it this morning after reading this “Local View” piece in Sunday’s Journal Star.  The man who penned this piece is very local…to the Detroit MSA. 

His name is Brian Chilcott and although he’s a native Nebraskan, he’s been living in Ann Arbor, Michigan as a Ph.D. fellow at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.  Apparently several years back (the article doesn’t specify), he moved from Lincoln while in his early thirties, in part because he missed a “lively downtown environment”.  Now he’s telling us that he’s glad he did so because Ann Arbor is “vibrant” and the proposed Lincoln arena is a terrible idea.  In essence, he’s claiming that historically, Lincoln hasn’t focused enough on the downtown area for development because of an emphasis on outward geographic growth, so it follows that a huge downtown redevelopment project that takes advantage of existing infrastructure, existing use of downtown and the popularity of a vibrant district (although I’m sure not as vibrant as Ann Arbor, the mecca of vibrancy) is not appropriate.  Confused yet?  After working through that, it didn’t really make me mad, it just kind of made my head hurt.   

He backed this argument with some information that seemed to be current sometime during the Clinton administration.   First he cites vacant downtown lots, a result of urban sprawl, that could have been filled with apartment complexes (because nothing appeals to the youngsters like apartment complexes!)  That assertion caught my attention as I don’t recall seeing a ton of vacancy in the downtown area when I’ve been down there recently, although I do recall talking in the last year about multiple proposals for hotels, private developments, multi-unit residential structures, and University projects in the area.  In fact, I spoke to a local commercial realtor today who told me that it’s almost impossible right now for businesses to find vacancy downtown.

Mr. Chilcott then asks “Has anyone even asked what will happen to the Pershing Center?”  Uhhh, yeah.  It seems that our author is more interested in editorializing on our city’s issues than actually keeping up to date on them. 

Still, I was only mildly amused by his lack of up-to-date information (hey, did you hear Nebraska won the ’97 Coaches’ Poll National Championship!), but not yet angry.  Then I got to the final paragraph, when he said “Every well-educated Nebraskan I know lives elsewhere, and it is a sad condition.” 

Really, Mr. Chilcott?  Really?  You’ve either just thrown under the bus every person you associated with during your time in this state who’s remained or revealed that you’ve got an astonishingly small social network.  His perpetuation of they myth that every young, promising, educated Nebraska professional would never want to stick around is laughable, if not unbelievably arrogant.  Further, if he hadn’t done so already with his “argument”, this oddly exaggerated commentary on brain drain damages his credibility, and makes me wonder if he’s got another axe to grind about which we don’t know. 

Perhaps next time he comes to town, he’d like to go out for dinner and drinks in downtown Lincoln–I’d be glad to host it, and I know I’ve got about 20 native Nebraskan friends about my age who, while they don’t have a Ph.D. from Michigan, have other assorted postgraduate degrees and/or professional accomplishments, who would love to show him Lincoln circa 2010.   

In the end, this guy’s position on the arena is a minor detail, and yes, brain drain is a concern for this city and this state, but let’s not get into the realm of hyperbole when talking about how much it’s happening.  I’m hopeful that Mr. Chilcott’s perpetuation of this inaccuracy is something that both arena proponents and opponents can stand together and rebuff.  For me, even though I am concerned about keeping Nebraskans in Nebraska and I’m supportive of the proposal, whether this arena passes or not, I’m staying in Lincoln and continue to think it’s a pretty great place to a live for a well-educated 30-something.  That said, I do miss out on the quaint day trips to scenic Detroit that I’m sure Mr. Chilcott and his well-educated Ann Arbor posse often take.  Sounds like a blast.

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7 Responses to Live From Ann Arbor: Overstated Brain Drain and Outdated Information

  1. blueberri says:

    I’m sorry but I don’t feel qualified to answer this young man. I only have a Bachelor’s of Science degree; in Education no less. I’m a sorry soul with no hope for a future outside the confines of this wicked town.

  2. Ted says:

    Astonishing, fear of “Brain Drain” is my biggest motivation for supporting the Arena! This kind of event center is the hallmark of a vibrant city for college graduates, something close to an airport, close to UNL, easy Interstate access, and an already maturing downtown. (Mature in a positive way.) I want my child to continue to feel like Lincoln really has something to offer when she graduates, and we can’t rest on our laurels of the past, Pershing, Devaney; we need to offer not only current, but facilities good for the future. Lots of real private money lining up to help this one out, and we can’t afford NOT to jump on it.

    I don’t know what makes me angrier, the idiocy of what this guy sad or that the LJS would actually print some has-been, outsider’s “expert” opinion. They already have someone on staff capable of this kind of claptrap, though we’ve certainly heard enough out of her.

  3. JT says:

    An epic takedown. I too was confused by the good Dr.’s anger at sprawl and refusal to support downtown redevelopment.

  4. FS says:

    Jack, you are more noble than I! I didn’t even make it past “All of those vacant lots in downtown Lincoln?” before realizing Mr. Chilcott has no idea what he’s talking about. Props to you for making through this rancid piece…

  5. Marc says:

    That this editorial was even published shocks me. Was it because the LJS was hard up for content? Because Dr. Chilcott is a doctor? It certainly wasn’t because he was up to date with Lincoln.

    I actually moved BACK to Lincoln after an 8 year stint in Nashville, which arguably has a more vibrant night-life than Ann Arbor, depending on your tastes. Why move back to ‘boring ol’ Lincoln’. Because it’s not boring. There are lots of great things to do and love about this city, most especially it’s people. Eight years in Nashville, I never knew my neighbors. When I did they were stand-off’ish. What can you do for me or what do you want from me is the way it works there. Not so much so in Lincoln. My neighbors here are great and friendly. It’s a real community, not just a place to live.

  6. […] Live From Ann Arbor: Overstated Brain Drain and Outdated Information “Every well-educated Nebraskan I know lives elsewhere, and it is a sad condition.” […]

  7. […] Live From Ann Arbor: Overstated Brain Drain and Outdated Information “Every well-educated Nebraskan I know lives elsewhere, and it is a sad condition.” […]

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