Holland PlacePlansWe visited with a full house of residents in Holland this past week who were intrigued to learn more about the PlacePlans project, and how it will further the goals of the city’s strategic plan.  Everyone was eager to discuss the opportunities that might emerge through strategic development of the City’s Western Gateway.  The Western Gateway is a critical connection between the successful downtown district and the thriving Farmer’s Market and civic center area, ending at the beautiful waterfront park.

Discussion quickly turned to the opportunities that lay untapped in this key corridor, and ways that great design and effective strategic planning can converge to promote economic development.  With numerous projects and initiatives underway the community is poised to create a truly unique urban space, distinct from the principal shopping district and complementary to the Farmer’s Market.  Development of the Western Gateway would activate what is now a missing link, knitting together some of the communities best assets—the waterfront, civic center area, historic neighborhoods, farmer’s market, and the downtown district.

Ideas around food innovation emerged as a primary interest, with great discussion of ways that the farm market and major food producers in the area might utilize the Western Gateway as a hub for entrepreneurial activity related to the food industry.  It was fantastic to hear the community members share such creative ideas about how to use what is best about that area to establish an authentic district that would add to the fabric of the community.

PlacePlans Flint

What turns out a crowd of more than 60 on a frigid snowy night in Flint?  People of all ages, backgrounds, and interests ventured out when most people would just want to be snuggled up on the couch (even a number of students who had a snow-day that day!)  The allure is the prospect of having a voice in turning a challenged three-mile stretch into a true community asset, real Placemaking in action.  The Grand Traverse Greenway project, underway through our PlacePlans program, has the potential to bring so much to the community…it will be a key north/south trail that provides a real alternative for pedestrians and bicyclists.  It will connect large employers and commercial areas to the downtown district, university corridor, medical centers, and riverfront.  It runs near schools and parks and other existing assets in the area.

PlacePlans Flint

During the first visioning session voices were raised in hope, expressing what could be–families using the greenway for healthy recreation, students and young professionals biking it as an alternative to a car commute, the community enjoying it as a platform for activities and events, to connect to area parks, lakes and wetlands, and even to spark entrepreneurship (there were several suggestions for bike rentals, ice cream, food trucks, and community gardens on or near the Greenway.)  Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy, a generous corporate partner supporting this project, envision their employees walking or biking on breaks, using the Greenway to access all that the area has to offer.  They view the quality of place in Flint as key to attracting and retaining the right people, and believe the Greenway can have a very positive impact.  Similarly, the colleges and universities that host over 30,000 students (yes, you read correctly, Flint is home to more than 30,000 college/university students attending Kettering University, University of Michigan-Flint, Baker College, Mott Community College…) share the conviction that excellent place is key to attracting and retaining students and staff.  Students from the International Academy were excited to share their dreams for the Greenway too, and the ways this asset could engage youth within the community.

flint-placeplans-session-mapThe project leaders from MSU talked about the ways good design can promote safe and appropriate use of public space. After all, people are good stewards of public space when the design and maintenance of the area signals it is a respected and valued asset. And the best way to feel secure is to activate the space, with lots of people using it in a responsible way–during all seasons and at all times of day. It was so wonderful to hear from students, neighbors, families, bike enthusiasts, bird watchers, and the myriad perspectives and personalities that will help shape the Grand Traverse Greenway. If the first meeting was any indication, this is a project destined for success!

It has been an inspiring few weeks, launching outstanding PlacePlans projects in communities across Michigan.  I was fortunate to be in downtown Holland during a beautiful snow storm–yes, you read correctly, it was WONDERFUL to be out walking in the snow, on their heated sidewalks downtown, and warming up by the outdoor fireplace.

Outdoor fireplace, Holland, Michigan

Outdoor fireplace
Holland, Michigan

And I wasn’t the only person out on a snowy Wednesday night, there were joggers, lots of shoppers spending local, and New Holland Brewing was packed (it was field research, I swear!)  The City of Holland is a great example of what can happen when place-based assets converge, take root, and flourish.  To leverage that momentum, the Holland PlacePlan will focus on how to best connect the waterfront and farmer’s market area with the thriving downtown, and to the beautiful historic residential areas.  The challenge will be to accomplish this in a way that is complimentary, innovative, and value-added to the community.

From Holland we headed over to Kalamazoo, where we got better acquainted with the numerous projects that are underway.  The Kalamazoo PlacePlan will bring together projects and initiatives either planned or underway—including a new Healthy Living Campus for Kalamazoo Valley Community College, a thriving

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Farmer’s Market, the Bronson medical campus, and new investment in the Edison neighborhood. This is an important opportunity to connect assets with the existing neighborhood fabric and create a distinctive place.

The City of Flint is also focused on developing a community asset that will provide physical connection and the opportunity for fitness and recreation through its Grand Traverse Greenway PlacePlan.  On January 9th the community will begin designing the Greenway, a 3-mile segment of former railway, into a dynamic multi-use trail, creating links between Downtown, the Flint River, neighborhoods, and Flint’s universities, medical centers, schools, and recreation areas.

wjr-prosperitylogoHear more about why Diplomat Pharmacy, a major employer and economic driver in Flint, believes the Greenway will help them recruit and retain talent, and promote healthy living and recreational opportunities for their employees.

The Detroit PlacePlan is also featured on our radio program, and is the ambitious effort of The Southwest Detroit Business Association to redevelop a 6.9 acre vacant and blighted property in the heart of one of the city’s strongest commercial districts creating a public space, locally-oriented retail and community meeting space as well as new employment opportunities.

Follow along as these and the other PlacePlans take shape over the next several months!




Cadillac is dreaming big and has so many irons in the fire it is hard to keep track.  PlacePlans will help connect their place-based assets and generate even more momentum.  A critical development is the Baker College student apartments that will house over 30 students right downtown, steps from the lakefront park and pavilion, and a stone’s throw from the Clam Lake Beer Co., a fantastic downtown hotspot where everyone really does know your name.  The community is also working toward establishing a trail head for the White Pine Trail downtown, which will bring bikers, snow mobile riders and outdoor enthusiasts into Cadillac.  This PlacePlans project will bring conceptual design assistance and a clarified vision for a one-block downtown area to life.  We will catalogue the place assets and suggest ways to strategically leverage them for maximum economic impact.

PlacePlans Visioning SessionCommunity stakeholders participated in an initial visioning session, led by MSU and attended by several partners from state agencies like the MEDC/CAT Team, DNR, MDOT, DEQ, SHPO and MSU Extension.  This is the second year of the PlacePlans program, funded by MSHDA through the governor’s MiPlace initiative.  Placemaking is resonating with communities large and small and the Michigan Municipal League is thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with the state and MSU in helping our members move from a vision, to a plan, and into real projects that will help create vibrant, successful places.