Throughout 2017, the League’s Review magazine featured updates on the successes, failures and lessons learned from the 20+ local community engagement and redevelopment initiatives facilitated by League staff, Michigan State University faculty and expert consultants as part of the PlacePlans pilot program. PlacePlans was sponsored by MSHDA, MSU and the MML Foundation. It helped catalyze dramatic downtown transformations in cities like Jackson and Cadillac, creative redevelopments like Kalamazoo’s Fare Games competition and innovative approaches to civic engagement in Traverse City.

Now, we’ve collected all of these “Where Are They Now?” articles and posted them on the PlacePlans program page (as well as the links in the previous paragraph). In addition, you can review a summary of a study Wayne State University performed measuring the effectiveness of the program and its most important components.

Thanks go to our guest authors and contributors who helped with this article series throughout 2017: John Wallace and Marcus Peccia with the City of Cadillac, Patrick Burtch with the City of Jackson, Kathy Jennings from Second Wave, Kelly Clarke with the Kalamazoo County Land Bank and Nathan Elkins from Influence Design Forum.

Earlier this year, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) announced a new Neighborhood Enhancement grant program targeted at beautification and public space improvements. After the response to the first round, MSHDA has already announced round two of the grants are available.

Applications must be led by a non-profit organization working in concert with local government. The impacted neighborhood must meet MSHDA’s low/moderate-income requirements. See the RFP for more details.

Applications are due by December 20, so local government leaders and non-profit partners should start working on their project ideas now!

During the past year or so, one theme has become increasingly prevalent as I travel the state and talk to leaders from communities of all shapes and sizes: Michigan’s current housing supply is not keeping up with modern needs. That’s true whether you’re coming from the perspective of business owner trying to recruit & retain talented workers, a lake town trying to make the most of tourist attention, or an hourly wage worker trying to find an affordable option for your family.

The rising interest in this topic was evidenced by the large turnout last week at Networks Northwest’s Housing Summit. Public, non-profit and private sector leaders from the entire northwest lower peninsula gathered to share and celebrate successes, but also air challenges and frustrations.

First the good news: necessity has been the mother of invention, as communities are trying creative solutions to the housing supply problem. The cities of Charlevoix and Frankfort and the counties of Benzie and Leelanau were recognized for their housing partnerships at the Summit. Patrick Moran joined the event from the Holland region to share the inspiring story of cross-sector collaboration behind the Housing Next initiative. I shared additional examples of success that cities are finding through their participation in MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program.

These are all inspiring case studies of community leadership and innovation. But the uphill climb Charlevoix, Frankfort, Holland and hundreds of others are facing is intimidating and the mood much of the day was dour. Housing advocates in Michigan are facing numerous obstacles, including dwindling state and federal resources, lack of capacity on both the public and private sides of the equation, local political opposition to new development and an outdated public policy environment.

Networks Northwest, Ottawa Housing Next and others working in this field should be commended for their tireless efforts and innovative approaches. But they can’t overcome all these obstacles alone. What can the rest of us do to help?


On October 11, Lansing is hosting its third annual Creative Placemaking Summit. I’m honored to be one of the presenters and will be sharing the stage with two of my favorite creative placemakers, Rebekah Kik and Danielle Lewinski. Our assignment is to tackle a tough topic: the cultural conflict between the anything-goes experimentation at the heart of the placemaking movement and the sometimes stifling, but usually well-intentioned bureaucracies of private and public landowners that often have to approve or enable placemaking projects. Put more simply, what happens when a wild & crazy idea runs into the “culture of no”?

Danielle, Rebekah and I have experienced this issue from many perspectives, so we hope to share our experiences with the Summit attendees and identify opportunities for empathy and problem-solving. But this is a tricky and evolving issue, so I’d love to hear from you about how you’ve addressed it. Email me or tweet at me with bright ideas. Better yet, join me at the Summit and we can discuss in person. Conference organizers have lined up an impressive group of leaders from around the country as presenters.