By Shanna Draheim, Director, Policy Development
As someone who has spent my career in public policy, and who must routinely explain what I do for a living, even to my family, I often envy the doctors and teachers of the world who get to see how they impact people’s lives every day. Of course, we policy wonks know we have an impact – it’s just that we don’t always see it as clearly or frequently.
Which is why its important to step back sometimes and celebrate when we’ve been dogged in our work and achieved some successes. And the Michigan Municipal League has been dogged about placemaking. Since the early 2000s, the League has been a leader and a partner in bringing the concept and practice of placemaking to Michigan communities. Our new report, “A Decade of Placemaking in Michigan” is a retrospective of our efforts. The purpose of the report is to help remind us where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished, and use that to help the League set the stage for our future placemaking work.
The League has been a strong voice for, and resource on placemaking for over a decade. As such, it’s hard to boil down the highlights to only a few. Some of the key efforts include:
- Significant outreach to communities, stakeholders, and community development professionals, including professional development training, hundreds of presentations to organizations around the world, publication of two books on placemaking, hosting the 2010-2016 Prosperity Agenda radio show on 760 WJR, and mobilizing a two-year Let’s Save Michigan outreach campaign.
- Assistance to communities in creating and implementing PlacePlan and PlacePop projects in their downtowns (in cooperation with our state and other Sense of Place Council partners)
- Advocacy and support for state and local program and policy changes to support placemaking
- Development of new funding tools to support placemaking projects
The League’s efforts to help move the placemaking agenda came at the right time as Michigan’s traditional manufacturing economy was declining and communities desperately needed new options to create economically strong, vibrant places.
And the League has not done this work alone. The vision, leadership and support of the Board of Trustees was essential – they have been placemaking champions and cheerleaders. Perhaps most importantly however, has been our partnership with organizations like Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the Michigan Economic Development Council, Michigan State University, business organizations, and other non-profit groups through the Sense of Place Council. These partners have been critical to the success of adopting placemaking in Michigan by “normalizing” placemaking concepts, providing credibility, broadening the scope and scale of outreach efforts, and providing key funding for communities’ placemaking work.
Our placemaking work has had an impact—local and state leaders have adopted placemaking concepts and made significant investments to improve the quality of life in Michigan communities. The League has watched and participated as communities have engaged with their residents to redevelop formerly blighted or underutilized areas into fun and attractive community amenities, plan and host art and cultural events, and change local policies that enable things like outdoor dining and public gathering spaces that draw people into downtowns. There is much to celebrate.
So, what’s next? Our placemaking work will continue, but will evolve. In the coming years, the League will provide a wide range of services and strategies that push the placemaking for economic prosperity agendas forward, and enjoin the state’s job creation strategy with efforts to improve civic life.