rt_rising-tide-logo-600x250Pouring rain didn’t deter representatives from ten Project Rising Tide communities. They jumped in their cars and headed to the League’s Lansing office on Sept. 29 for a day full of enlightening sessions. The League and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation brought together expert speakers on everything from effective public service to talent attraction.

Project Rising Tide is a program established by Governor Snyder in 2015 – and administered by Michigan’s Talent and Economic Development (TED) team – to help economically challenged communities become better positioned for redevelopment opportunities. The mission of the program is to provide at-risk communities with the tools they need to design and build a successful economic framework. It supports vibrant, thriving communities to attract business investment and talent by creating a sustainable path toward economic stability and growth. The ten communities selected for the pilot program are: Central Lake, Charlotte, Evart, Grayling, Harrison, Hillsdale, Newberry, Paw Paw, and River Rouge.

Effective Public Service
Bob Slattery, DPW Director for the City of Burton, kicked off the day with a presentation on Effective Public Service. He emphasized four key areas that public officials need to focus on: attitude and action; roles and duties; teamwork, and sources of authority. Public officials need to exemplify high civility and ethics, develop trust, be knowledgeable of operations, and listen to their constituents. All city officials, staff and councilmembers need to be aware of and respect each other’s roles and responsibilities, project a positive image of the city, stay educated, and be prepared and professional. Everyone should act as a team and remember they’re there to serve the community. And perhaps most important, Slattery asked “If better local government doesn’t begin today, when will it begin? And if it doesn’t begin with me, with whom will it begin?

Navigating the Talent Pool in Local Government
April Lynch, Ferndale city manager, drew on her wealth of human resources experience for her presentation. She stressed that a city is technically a “business” with thousands of “customers” (residents). As such, city leaders should have the have the mindset of hiring quality talent. Attracting that quality talent has become more difficult because local government benefits aren’t as generous as they used to be. With that in mind, we need to provide services to make employees feel supported, valued, and that they have an opportunity for growth and development. In Ferndale, the city offers services like flexible work schedules, family friendly policies (Ferndale was the first Michigan city to offer paid parental leave), and The More You Learn, the More You Earn, a cross-training program that rewards motivated employees, contributes to their job growth, and ultimately provides better service to Ferndale residents.

Civic Engagement Strategies
The League’s Sarah Craft shared some of her experiences working with communities across the state on community engagement strategies. Engagement is not a cookie-cutter process, but rather can take a variety of creative forms. For example, a Vassar visioning event morphed into Vassar Vision Taste & Talk – a unique, outdoor event that combined two things most people love: food (from local restaurants) and talking!  There are several elements that go into making any engagement strategy successful: a steering committee (solicit a broad, diverse group of stakeholders); institutional partners (involve local businesses and nonprofits); visioning (decide what you want to accomplish); and marketing and communications (keep people updated often and celebrate successes).

Grant Writing
Julie Hales-Smith, a consultant with North Coast Community Consulting, says you never get anything if you don’t ask, so she advised the audience on how to ask for grants for community projects. Writing grants is very time-consuming, so the first step is to make sure it’s the right grant for your needs. Are you eligible? What’s required? Is it feasible? If the answer is yes, then identify your team, chart out all the steps, timeframes, and responsibilities. Above all else, follow the grant funder’s instructions exactly and get your proposal in on time. Once it’s submitted, work your contacts to see what their experience has been with the funder, and nurture your relationship with the funder.

Structuring the Project – The Local Perspective
Deborah Stuart, Mason city administrator, shared her experiences with development projects in her community. She said that Mason has had several new developments or redevelopments in recent years, which have been good for the city in many ways, but they haven’t added anything to the city’s general revenue. The status of the properties (brownfields, Land Bank properties, etc.) was such that the revenue went to other entities. However, the developments do increase the city’s costs as they have to provide them with services, such as police and fire. She urges that any development project be evaluated on a number of factors, including the cost/benefit ratio and the impact on local jobs. And don’t be afraid to negotiate the best deal for your community.







Gem Theater

Detroit was at the heart of CNU 24 last week!

For the past two years, the League partnered with Congress for the New Urbanism to bring their 24th international convention to our doorstep. League staffers held positions on the host committee and participated in legacy charrettes for four Metro Detroit neighborhoods, all in preparation for last week. That’s when experts in urban planning, design, architecture, and related disciplines gathered from around the globe to learn from each other and – in this case – discover the story of Detroit’s transformation.


Detroit Opera House

I’m a native Detroiter and have seen the city go through some tough times, but I was truly impressed with the beauty, vibrancy, and positive energy I encountered. I was doubly-impressed when I heard the enthusiastic exclamations of CNU attendees from as far away as Ecuador and Australia. “The Opera House is gorgeous!” “I can’t wait to ride the People Mover!” “Campus Martius is so cool!” “Detroit is much nicer than I expected!”

For four days, the schedule was jam-packed with sessions, workshops, forums, and tours. Participants could head to the beautiful Gem Theater to learn about the principles of new urbanism from Andres Duany, one of the founding members of Congress for the New Urbanism. Walk across the street to the spectacular Detroit Opera House to hear about Detroit’s history and revitalization or how new forms of transportation are changing the way people move around their cities. Or hop on a tour bus and experience the wonders of downtown Detroit architecture, America’s best small city (Ann Arbor), Birmingham’s new urban downtown, or Windsor’s Old Sandwich Towne, one of the oldest established communities in Ontario.

Evenings were full of activity, too, including Thursday’s Charter Awards ceremony, which recognized exemplary work in architectural, landscape, urban, and regional design. Two Detroit-based companies – Bedrock Detroit and Hamilton Anderson Associates – won the grand prize for the design of their Brush Park project.  At the ceremony, the 2016 Congress Legacy Project teams also presented their final reports.

Legacy Projects

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Hazel Park Vernor Crossing Grandmont-Rosedale Pontiac

All the sessions were as varied in topic as they were in location, but I found that a common theme ran through many of them: putting people first. We were reminded of an important Jane Jacobs quote: “People make cities and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

In a session on urbanism and sustainability, Kaid Benfield, senior counsel for environmental strategies at Placemakers, emphasized that we need to aspire to build places people love or they won’t be sustained. In a session on new transportation options, Russell Preston, design director of Principle Group, advised the audience that they should think about people and place first and weave transportation options around them. In a session on the revitalization of Detroit’s neighborhoods, Quincy Jones, executive director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, shared that people are committed to their neighborhoods and will fight for them.

Be-The-Change-300x200But perhaps most importantly, in a session on Detroit’s food and food justice movement, Devita Davison, marketing and communications director for FoodLab Detroit, passionately told the audience that Detroit has its problems, but Detroiters also have hope. It’s up to all of us to be the change we want to see.


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Baskin-Robbins Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant IHOP

What??? You don’t see Baskin-Robbins, IHOP, and Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant in these photos??? I do!

I grew up in the North Rosedale Park neighborhood of Detroit’s Grandmont Rosedale area. The section of Grand River Avenue between Warwick and Evergreen was my commercial playground. In my mind’s eye, my friends and I are riding our bikes up to Baskin-Robbins – almost every day the first summer it opened. After school, we’re walking over to Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant and ordering up a Coke and fries at the counter. And on Saturday mornings, we’re heading to IHOP with our families to try out all their scrumptious varieties of pancakes and syrup.

2016-4-15-Charette-audience-300x200That’s what I was thinking about as I attended the April 15 kick-off of the CNU Legacy Charette for Grandmont Rosedale. It was held at Bushnell Congregational Church – where I enjoyed many junior high dances with Kathy, Joann, Zachary and all my other Cooke School friends. Some of the people in attendance remembered those days, but all were interested in making that stretch of Grand River Avenue vibrant again.

2016-4-15-Charrette-presenters-300x200More than 50 residents and business owners attended the session, which began with a presentation by two urban planners from Florida-based Dover, Kohl & Partners. The project called “Making Grand River Avenue more walkable, bikeable and accessible” was lead by Dover, Kohl & Partners and local support came from Design Team Plus, Hall Planning & Engineering Inc. The project sponsor was the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and CNU.

The first order of business was to gauge the type of commercial corridor street design that appealed to the audience. The planners presented photos of a variety of street scenes, which people could vote on with electronic clickers. Not surprisingly, streets with attractive storefronts, lush landscaping, wide sidewalks, and safe crosswalks were the hands-down winners.

Next, the participants met in small groups to discuss their desires for Grand River Avenue. With large aerial maps of the area at each table, the men and women got busy sketching out ideas and creating lists of their top five priorities. After an hour, each group presented their priority lists, which contained a lot of similarities. Among the most common themes were:

  • Calming measures for Grand River, such as a boulevard or angled parking in the median
  • Safe, well-marked crosswalks
  • Attractive storefronts and interesting businesses to draw people to the area
  • Wide sidewalks
  • Beautification features, such as landscaping and public art

The public design workshop continued throughout the weekend. Now, the planners from Dover, Kohl & Partners will review all the input they gathered and presented a more refined plan at CNU 24 in June.

by Melanie Piana, Ferndale City Council

ferndale-paid-parental-leave_-stock-photo-300x200I’ve watched my friends, women and men, prepare for a new baby with joy and excitement, and also concern about how much time they would have to bond and physically heal before heading back to work. Like many women in the workforce, my friends scraped together their paid time off with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows them to take up to 12 weeks unpaid without fear of losing their job. In many instances, my female friends returned to work 4 to 6 weeks or less after giving birth, while their mates took off only a handful of days.

Who can afford to take unpaid days when a new baby or child arrives?  It’s the worst possible time not to earn a paycheck: diapers, baby food and child care all cost money. As a result, people are forced to accrue personal debt just so they can adequately tend to such a significant life-changing event.

Although my husband and I do not have children, my friends’ choices about what is right for them typically equate to not enough time to heal, bond with the baby, and readjust to life’s new routines. For cities, the general policy for maternity leave is determined by how much paid time off an employee can accrue. Based on years employed, the time off expected and allowed for maternity leave is unequally taken between males and females. Women take more, whereas men take less.

The private sector knows that flexible work environments are essential to achieving work-life balance, promoting female leadership, and increasing gender equality. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon understand that paid parental leave increases options for women and families, and these types of benefits are highly sought by the next generation of workers.

Cities should be centers for talent attraction and cultivation, too. Who are the best stewards of taxpayer dollars? I argue that it’s talented people who innovate and solve complex and ingrained problems. Striking the right balance to provide taxpayer value and providing the right mix of benefits to attract workers is just as important in the public as the private sector.

Why this policy now?

We saw a need for a local government to become a more friendly workplace, to offer balance for families, and to show that our city cares about families and how policies can make a difference in a community.

Historically, talented workers were attracted to the benefits offered by cities even though the pay was typically a bit lower than the private sector. Now that most government entities share the same benefit packages of the private companies (401K / no pension), we need to be more aggressive in recruiting quality employees. Currently, the City requires that all leave related to pregnancy come from the employee; for those employees that don’t have enough vacation and sick saved up either would need to come back early or take their leave unpaid.

The City’s new policy will now provide up to 12 weeks paid time off for maternity, paternity, and adoption care leave — six weeks of new parental leave plus up to six weeks matched hour to hour paid time off. I encouraged Ferndale’s City Council to take this action.

The basic protections of the FMLA are not enough to establish a strong workforce in today’s competitive talent attraction and retention environment. Flexible work environments provide employees better opportunities to balance life circumstances. Ferndale focuses on teamwork, improve work-life balance, and increase employee productivity.

The municipal financial crisis necessitated Ferndale review how it delivers services and manages internal operations. Yes, we provide the same services, but City Council and City administration dissected how we delivered those services, and then figured out a way to improve quality and lower or maintain cost. As a result of continuous improvement and strategic investments, the city’s internal culture began to change, too. City Hall is not just a nine-to-five operation, especially with 24-hour access to online services.

With an eye toward a more flexible work environment, Ferndale’s paid family leave policy should employee turnover, job satisfaction, and overall productivity. It positions City administration to attract and retain talent to leadership positions. The new policy preserves working mothers’ income, thereby reducing economic disparities for women who are forced to choose between time at home with the baby or a paycheck and contributes to closing the gender wage gap between men and women.  Ferndale is known for acceptance and promotion of diversity. The new policy reinforces our strong community-wide commitment to diversity, acceptance, and progress.

I’m ecstatic that City Council unanimously approved this new policy, and I look forward to strengthening our support of women and families.

I express gratitude to our City Manager, April Lynch, and Jenny Campos, Human Resource Director at the City of Ferndale, for working closely with me to develop a policy that works for everyone.