Dan Burden, a notable long-time friend of the Michigan Municipal League and co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, has caught the attention of the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, he was honored with a 2014 White House Champion of Change award for his tireless efforts to make pedestrians and bicyclists an important part of the transportation equation. It is a recognition well deserved.
Dan’s dedication is unyielding. His travels take him to communities all over the country for more than 300 days a year. Many of those days have been spent here in Michigan, leading walking audits designed to uncover neighborhood opportunities and find solutions. He brings people together from all sectors, engages them in conversation, and inspires them to reimagine the future of their community.
Along with several of my League colleagues, I have had the privilege of accompanying Dan on many of his walking audits. Every community has its own unique assets and challenges, so I learn something new each and every time. With his bright road construction safety vest and measuring tape in hand, he leads a group of stakeholders and local officials up and down sidewalks, through parking lots and alleys, and across busy streets, offering up all the possibilities. With his years of experience and knowledge—and contagious enthusiasm—even the naysayers start to believe. Step by step, Dan is truly making our communities more livable and walkable.
Congratulations, Dan! We appreciate all the great work you have done and continue to do in Michigan. Thank you for being one of Michigan’s greatest cheerleaders.
Throughout the first weekend of May, it is a time to celebrate Jane Jacobs, an inspirational leader among urban thinkers. It is celebrated through an event called Jane’s Walk. These urban walks are locally led walks giving residents the opportunity to explore their own communities and connect with other residents. Jacobs felt that a community-based approach was the foundation of city building. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities remains as relevant today as it did when it was first published in 1961.
Since its inception in Toronto in 2007, Jane’s Walk has spread to thousands of participants walking in neighborhoods and cities around the world.
A friend and I decided to go on the “spaces between buildings” walk, which took place on Sunday, May 4, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our small group of nine was fortunate to have two urban professors leading the way. I’ve lived in this community for over 30 years, so I wasn’t sure that I was going to discover anything new. But I did - small walkways and alleys tucked between and behind buildings, a painted garage; inspiring graffiti; and a long decorative sidewalk between a student high rise and the back of a church yard, that guided one along like the yellow brick road. They were great examples of negotiating that fine line between public and private space. Every community has empty areas can easily be activated. Engaging the community on how to redine those spaces, is what is so powerful.
If your community would like to host a Jane’s Walk, it’s easy to organize. Click here where you will find everything you need to have your own event next year. It’s a good way to educate the community, engage in conversations, and exhibit some community pride!
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.
Mark 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.
Cultural 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!