I got goose bumps watching giant paper mache creatures come to life, limited only by their creator’s imagination. It was the 8th annual Festifools, an event that takes place on the first Sunday of April to celebrate April Fool’s Day.  For one hour, these majestic puppets marched to the beat of music up and down Main Street, often stopping to interact with the throngs of spectators.  Although it is a well-orchestrated event requiring hundreds of hours of preparation, the beauty of it is that it has the look and feel of a random, spontaneous, “let’s get together” street party that brings out people of all ages.

Festifools photo 1Mark Tucker, a University of Michigan art teacher to mostly non-art majors, was searching for a novel way to bring his students together with community members to create something unique and exciting for his “Art in Public Spaces” course.  The result was the Street Theather Art (START) project.  Through his work with a neighborhood theater group, he got the idea to create a student puppet-making workshop assisted by community volunteers which would culminate at the semester’s end with a public parade in downtown Ann Arbor.  With the whole concept not really clear in his head, and not knowing if they could even really deliver, his encouraging talks with the business community and the city spurred him on – and Festifools was born.  Because of its enormous popularity, a second event was added:  FoolMoon, a nighttime luminary festival that takes place on the Friday night before the Festifools parade.

Tucker saw the importance of actively encouraging students to work with the community and used his students to bring the arts to the community in a fun, whimsical way creating an engaging and educational experience for all ages.

Festifools - clownsCultural Economic Development is one of the 8 assets that the League has identified to help create desirable and unique places to live.  It’s an event like Festifools that not only brings people together, but contributes to the long-term economic health of a community and region.

The League had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and visit the studio where the puppets are made as well as participate in one of the several workshops held downtown that invites the community to come in and make their own luminary.  We had a chance to hear all about this creative experience from Tucker himself and we will be telling his story in more detail in the future.  For now, check out the video and get a flavor of what these majestic puppets have to offer.  I promise that you’ll get goose bumps too!

We know that thriving communities are key to Michigan’s long-term success and sustainability!  If we are going to compete globally in the 21st century, then we have to create communities that can attract and retain talent and offer the amenities that people of all ages are seeking.  As changing demographics have begun to reshape how we build places for the future, old ways of meeting these challenges have become outdated.  Oftentimes, bad policy gets in the way of creating great places.  The League has put forth a proactive policy agenda called Partnership for Place that proposes a commitment of action in partnership between the State and its municipalities.   Our goal is that these policies will facilitate Michigan’s economic growth and allow for the development of places to provide key services and amenities that contribute to a high quality of life.  Check out our new video that illustrates some of Michigan’s challenges and what we need to do to move forward!

 

Partnership for PlaceRecently, the League unveiled our Partnership for Place policy agenda, proposing a partnership of action between the State and its municipalities to facilitate economic growth and develop places with a high quality of life, while using a regional approach to services, resources, and systems.

This proactive agenda addresses four key areas:

Funding for the Future – Making sure that appropriate funds and tools are available to operate efficiently and work regionally in order to succeed globally.

Michigan in Motion –  Shifting from near-exclusive vehicular-based investment to alternative modes of transportation that will accommodate all users, i.e. pedestrians, bikers, public transit riders, and drivers.

Place for TalentPartnering with the State to attract and retain talented workers in our communities through placemaking policies.

Strength in Structure – Seeking out solutions to invest in infrastructure and development where it will produce the best results and target resources with maximum outcomes.

Capital Conference pic for blogThe Partnership for Place Agenda will take center stage at the League’s upcoming Capital Conference in Lansing, March 18th and 19th.  Breakout sessions will include how the League plans to work with the newly created Talent and Place Caucus, made up of a bi-partisan group of legislators seeking to increase awareness about the importance of attracting and retaining talent as a fundamental aspect of placemaking.  How do we fix a broken financial model for a 21st century economy?  You can join State Department of Treasury officials and members of the local government funding task force in discussing sustainable solutions.  People of all ages are looking for places that offer multiple modes of transportation systems that connect and support all users.  A panel of experts will share their thoughts on the importance and economic benefits of creating urban environments which support multiple modes of transportation.

The University of Michigan Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSEUP) will share recent trends in local fiscal health and the impact on local services, revealed by their recent survey.  What policy changes will we need for local government fiscal stability in Michigan?  Learn about the new Crowdfunding law that can reap enormous economic and social benefits for individuals and communities and is sure to be a game changer for entrepreneurs and communities.

In addition, keynote speaker Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Baker will talk about his ongoing commitment to champion the goals of efficient and accessible transit, sustainability, and furthering Salt Lake City as a transcendent, sophisticated and burgeoning urban powerhouse.

If you want to see real change in Michigan that will allow us to build the kind of communities that people of all ages want to live in, then it is important that you are a part of the conversation and the solution.  See you in March in Lansing!

 

 

 

Sometimes good ideas are not supported by good policy or the original reasons for having such policy just don’t make sense anymore.  One such case is a little known 1949 Michigan state law that prohibits angled parking on state trunk lines.  With so many of our communities affected, this would be one viable tool to help calm speeding traffic through downtowns.

west-branch-by-matt-1West Branch, Michigan, is a small community of 2100 people, located about 60 miles north of the middle of the mitten. Like so many other communities across the state and country, they have seen their downtown struggle to survive and compete with drive-by shopping malls and restaurants just off the freeway exits.  To lure the visitor past the “I could be anywhere” eateries and shopping, West Branch has been aggressively marketing their downtown, successfully branding and creating a destination through their Fabulous Fridays.  With their unique stores and enticing local restaurants, West Branch is enjoying a more sustainable business climate.  But they are just getting started.

Burden in West Branch for BlogWith the Michigan Municipal League’s help, the city brought in Dan Burden to conduct a walkability audit to get his expert advice and feedback on how to make the trunk line more pedestrian friendly and safe.  With a 5 lane state road cutting through the downtown, it is clear who has the wind to their backs – people in speeding cars and trucks.  The pedestrian is left to play dodge ‘em cars (and trucks) across the road.  To address some of these issues, Burden, with his immeasurable knowledge and experience, led a group of enthusiastic stakeholders and local officials, as they looked at ways to calm the traffic and improve the walkability experience for the pedestrian.

angled-parkingEnter John LaMacchia, the League’s Legislative Associate who works on our transportation and infrastructure issues.  Fitting nicely into the League’s policy agenda through our Partnership in Place Plan, LaMacchia worked closely with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) in drafting legislation that would allow angled parking on our state trunk lines.  Specifically, the new law will give a community that has a state trunk line the option of front or reverse angled parking, with MDOT’s approval. Although this is only one small piece of the puzzle in calming traffic and making West Branch a more pedestrian friendly community, it’s a big step in the right direction.  It not only gives communities another flexible means to grow their communities into more dynamic, livable places, but raises awareness, invites discussion, and elicits ideas on how to make our downtowns once again, premier destinations.

This legislation received strong bi-partisan support and the League would like to thank Rep. Peter Pettalia for sponsoring this legislation and Sen. Tom Casperson, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.  We also appreciate the support of MDOT and the cities of West Branch and Howell!