We’re really excited to announce PlacePOP, our new placemaking & engagement consulting service. PlacePOP is a low-cost, high-impact approach to inclusive planning that communities can use to test ideas, engage residents, and strengthen support for place-based projects.

PlacePOP in action at the Boyne City PlacePlans event.

PlacePOP in action at the Boyne City PlacePlans event.

Working with local partners, the League will plan, promote, and execute an event that demonstrates how activating a space can catalyze a community. Large scale planning takes a lot of time, money, and resources, and often leaves residents feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. PlacePOP is a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach to planning that brings people together, improves public spaces, and guides future development. PlacePOP can:

  • Empower people to experiment with place as a way to improve their community
  • Build local capacity and tests creative ideas to move planning projects forward
  • Promote interest in a specific, underutilized area
  • Educate local stakeholders on the impact of quality placemaking
  • Engage a wide audience of residents, visitors, and local stakeholders to share ideas, give feedback, and build ownership that guides capital improvement projects

There are a ton of examples of how communities have used temporary, tactical placemaking to guide local planning. For example, communities can:

  • Use pop-up retail to test demand and build buzz around a vacant storefront
  • Activate an underutilized lot using temporary outdoor furniture and family-friendly activities to see if the community should build a permanent pocket park
  • Improve walkability between two key areas to see if it changes people’s patterns
  • Use art, music, lighting, and seating options to create interest in a public space

Some PlacePOP History

Kids share their ideas at the 2014 Berkley Art Bash.

Kids share their ideas at the 2014 Berkley Art Bash.

We started brainstorming the idea of PlacePOP last year, after working with the city of Berkley on a place-based downtown planning project. Through previous planning efforts, the city identified a downtown intersection (12 Mile and Robina) as a potential catalyst for economic development. The city and elected officials wanted to engage residents and collect ideas of what “could be” in that area.

We worked with a steering committee of residents, the DDA, business owners, elected officials, and city staff to lead an impactful engagement event during Berkley’s annual Art Bash. We rented patio furniture, displayed local art, put out sidewalk chalk, and programmed the space with a yoga class in the middle of the afternoon. Most importantly, we asked people to brainstorm how they wanted to use the space. We collected a ton of ideas and the city was blown away by people’s interest in doing something dramatic, like closing the road to become a pedestrian plaza.

“Our city has several catalytic developments in our master plan, and thanks to the League’s efforts, we are making significant progress in achieving one of our highest priority projects,” said Steve Baker, a Berkley councilmember and an active leader on this project. “Placemaking is even more vibrant in Berkley thanks to the MML’s support!”

Collecting  feedback on draft designs at the 2015 Berkley Art Bash.

Collecting feedback on draft designs at the 2015 Berkley Art Bash.

Berkley residents and visitors will soon see these efforts come to fruition since the city is currently working with a consulting team to come up with detailed schematics on the intersection’s improvements.

Because we saw so much value and impact in this work, we decided to go big or go home. We bought a trailer, filled it with furniture, games, and engagement materials, and started incorporating PlacePOP into some of our PlacePlans projects (check out what we did with Boyne City last month). We also worked with the city of Lansing and local stakeholders on a really fun project just last week which focused on the Capitol Avenue corridor. Check out details on the project and pictures from last week’s event.

How PlacePOP works

The beauty of PlacePOP is that each project is unique since it’s 100% tailored to the community For example, communities can simply rent the trailer and its contents for under $1,000, or we can lead a deeper project with engagement, event facilitation, and a project report. Generally speaking, the process is as follows:

  1. Re-imagining a parking space during Convert Capitol Ave in Lansing.

    Re-imagining a parking space during Convert Capitol Ave in Lansing.

    Get started – We’ll meet with core stakeholders to identify project goals, partners, and opportunities. The group will explore options for the demonstration project, establish goals for the exercise, and explore expanded outreach, education, and communication opportunities.

  1. Work out project details – We’ll create a preliminary project plan with event logistics, assignments, materials, partners, activities, and communication strategies.
  1. Host the event – With the help of local partners and volunteers, we’ll facilitate the placemaking demonstration project during a planned community event. We’ll set up, staff, and guide volunteers to accomplish project goals.
  1. Debrief – We’ll host a debrief meeting with core stakeholders to recap the event, articulate lessons learned, and identify opportunities moving forward.
  1. Report out – We’ll prepare a report that summarizes the project’s process, feedback and data collected at the event, and recommendations to keep the momentum going to implement longer-term planning.

So let’s get going!

Doing engagement in Lansing during Convert Capital Ave

Getting great ideas in Lansing during Convert Capital Ave

If your community is thinking of ways to build capacity and encourage development, invite us over for coffee so we can brainstorm with you. Contact us anytime about bringing PlacePOP to your community:

Sarah Craft
Michigan Municipal League Project Coordinator

We’re looking forward to working with you!

A once-abandoned commercial strip in northwest Detroit’s Old Redford community is now the center of activity for artists, students, business owners, and neighbors. The transformation of Artist Village wasn’t quick, and it certainly wasn’t easy.Artist village

More the 10,000 volunteers dismantled 300 abandoned homes to repurpose the materials for new construction. Nonprofit Motor City Blight Busters partnered with public, private, and nonprofit organizations to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project. Hundreds of community leaders came out of the woodwork and dedicated time, money, and resources to Artist Village. And years later, the area is vibrant, home to many small businesses, artists, and a strong group of organized residents.

The Michigan Blight Elimination Guidebook

Many Michigan communities are still struggling to manage blight and vacancy issues – Detroit is, by far, not alone. Diminishing revenues often prevent municipalities themselves from taking the lead on blight elimination, but the local government, state, resident groups, and organizational partners are working together to address blight and vacancy across the state.

Read the document at MIBlightGuidebook.org/

Read the document at MIBlightGuidebook.org

In light of these challenges, the Michigan Vacant Property Campaign (MVPC) recently released a comprehensive Blight Elimination Guidebook that gives communities the tools, resources, and process to address blight and vacancy at the local level.

“In the face of shrinking resources, this guidebook empowers leaders to develop plans that strategically address blight.” said Danielle Lewinski, vice president and director of Michigan Initiatives at the Center for Community Progress and MVPC member. “Its step-by-step approach will not only help communities in Michigan, but can also serve as a model for cities around the country that are working hard to address vacancy and abandonment with limited dollars.”

The guidebook is hosted at miblightguidebook.org, making it an ever-changing document that compiles the most recent blight mitigation resources, opportunities, and ideas from across the state. It also serves as a primer for Michigan communities interested in developing a strategy to more effectively address blight with limited resources. The document is designed to provide municipal leaders with a variety of blight elimination resources and lead them through the development of a blight elimination plan.

Additional Blight Resources

MVPC is a collaboration of four partner organizations that each address blight and vacancy issues in unique ways: Center for Community Progress, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, Michigan Community Resources, and Michigan Municipal League.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 3.14.02 PMHere at the League, we have a number of resources, sample ordinances, articles, and case studies all addressing blight from a local government and community perspective.

Artist Village is just one great example of cooperation and community activism that has sparked economic development and civic engagement. Communities across the state – small towns in the UP, villages in northern and mid-Michigan, and cities on the east and west side – all have incredible success stories in their effort to eliminate blight and fill vacant structures. There’s still a lot of work to do, but this resource will guide communities to promote strategic and collaborative blight elimination on a limited budget.

Feel free to contact the League or MVPC for more information on the report and blight elimination assistance.


Placemaking can take on many theoretical definitions, but in practice, placemaking includes things like a farmers market, family-friendly parks, interesting small businesses, great restaurants, walkable downtowns, and streets lined with trees. Placemaking is what matters most to people.MIplace Pics

According to a Brookings Institute report, people cite quality of life features (like parks, events, and walkability) ahead of local economic health and job prospects when deciding where to live. And if people love where they live, they’ll actually spend more money. The Soul of the Community Report from the Knight Foundation found that there’s a correlation between how attached people feel to where they live and local GDP growth. The more people love their community, the more economically vital that place will be.

Outdoor marketHere at the Michigan Municipal League, we have clearly prioritized placemaking in almost all aspects of our work. Our core values, policy agenda, training events, and programming all center around place. The State of Michigan has also focused on placemaking for the past many years through the MIplace Initiative. The goal of MIplace is to help communities create more jobs, attract and retain talented workers, and raise incomes through targeted local and regional placemaking activities. Leaders in Michigan understand that placemaking is an important means to state-wide prosperity.

Placemaking Workshops

In an effort to continue to educate a diverse group of local leaders, the state has partnered with the League and Michigan State University to develop an in-depth training program, the MIplace Training Curriculum. This spring, MIplace is hosting more than 30 workshops across the state that go deep into placemaking education.

miplace logoWorkshop attendees can expect to leave with knowledge on the context for placemaking in Michigan, the economic benefits of place, and important elements of form, structure, and connectivity. In day-long workshops, attendees will also work with a place expert to develop a draft placemaking strategy specific to their community. Workshops are free and registration information is available on the MIplace website.

Not convinced placemaking is right for your community? The League is also available to speak with local leaders and do a short, 20-30 minute overview of placemaking sharing information, answering questions, and sparking some excitement! Feel free to contact me to schedule something in your community: scraft@mml.org.




The MSU Center for Community and Economic Development is hosting their annual Contemporary Issues Institute on the topic of civility: Cultivating a Civil Society in an Era of Incivility.

Civility Conference Info

Event participants will have the opportunity to learn from and discuss with innovative thinkers and doers from across the state on how to promote more civil behavior in personal, public, private, and online realms.

The event will take place Friday, March 6 from 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM in the Michigan State Capitol BuildingThe event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Complete the short registration form here.

In order to get a great conversation going in each session, the planning team hopes to attract a wide range of attendees. People in local government, community leaders, business owners, planners, academics, students, and others are all encouraged to attend! Be prepared for interactive sessions with a chance to share experiences, challenges, expertise, and lessons learned.

State Representative Andy Schor is offering opening remarks and the Flint Youth Theatre will bookend the event with short, theatrical interpretations of civility.

Session topics include:

  • Our Individual Character
  • Putting Civility in Place: How Placemaking & Interior Design can Promote Civility
  • Theories of Civility
  • Media, Technology & Incivility

Putting Civility in Place

With the League’s emphasis on placemaking, I am excited to moderate the session Putting Civility in Place. Research tells us that place has a huge impact on how people feel and act. For example, people who live in high-rise apartments are less trusting of their neighbors than single-family home residents, being in nature boosts altruistic behavior, and students’ grades improve when their school is designed to increase human connection. To explore this topic further, we have the following speakers lined up to discuss how place impacts people, communities, and workplaces:

Feel free to spread the word about this event, and don’t forget to RSVP!Civility Registration Button