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Dwight Pete Mitchell with his wife, Margo

It was easy to see how Benton Harbor’s Dwight Pete Mitchell City Center Park got its moniker. When its namesake was introduced at the park’s June 16 design workshop, thunderous applause broke out! Clearly, he was a very popular city manager during his 2002-2008 tenure.

Mitchell was part of a large crowd that gathered at Benton Harbor Public Library to get their first glimpse of Michigan State University’s preliminary design plans for the park. After gathering feedback from the community at a visioning workshop in April, professors Warren Rauhe and Wayne Beyea returned with two alternatives. Rauhe referred to the first plan as a “people’s park”, featuring a multi-purpose stage, concession stand, farmers market and an urban wetland area. He characterized the second plan as a “traditional park with a bold architectural attitude.” That plan includes an events lawn, central fountain, shaded space, and a “sail-covered” promenade.

Group-viewing-design-plans-300x200After a brief presentation from Rauhe, the crowd was let loose to wander around for the main event of the evening – gathering feedback. With sticky notes and pens in hand, they wrote comments on what they loved and didn’t love and posted them right on the drawings. Now, Rauhe, Beyea and their student teams will go back to the drawing board and assimilate all that feedback into a new round of renderings. In August, Benton Harbor residents will have a chance to review the new drawings as the plan for the park gets closer and closer to meeting the needs and desires of the community.

 

 

Arts-and-Culture-Panel-discussion-April-2015---Shary-Brown-300x200When one of our panelists showed up in a black tutu bedecked with twinkling lights and a matching head ornament, we knew we were in for something special. As board president of WonderFool Productions, Shary Brown completely embodies the whimsical nature of her organization’s events, FoolMoon and FestiFools, which were featured in the League’s new placemaking book, “The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.”

festifools-300x200Each year, FoolMoon and FestiFools engage hundreds of University of Michigan students and community members in the creation of luminaries and giant puppets. Huge crowds gather in downtown Ann Arbor to enjoy the results – two unique, brightly-colored street festivals.

“We operate on a different platform. We’re community built,” said Brown. “It’s our goal to help people understand that they, too, can be creative and come together as a community to be a collective creative experience.”

Brown was part of the League’s “Foolish Happy Hour & Panel Discussion” on April 10 (see press release), where panelists shared their views on the importance of arts and culture to a community’s economic vitality. She was joined by fellow panelists Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor city councilmember, Deb Polich, CEO of Artrain, and moderator Mary Morgan, founder and executive director of The CivCity Initiative.

Arts-and-Culture-Panel-discussion-April-2015-(11)-300x200One of the biggest challenges that arts organizations run into is skeptics that don’t believe that arts and culture can have a positive economic impact on a community. Brown, former executive director of Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, is quick to point out that a 2008 study of the Ann Arbor art fairs showed an influx of $70 million into the community in one week.

“It’s important to understand that these high quality events can draw visitors and money and build the brand of the community,” she said. When traveling to other cities and states, she has often heard people say that they’ve been to the arts fairs, or want to go experience them.

City Commissioner Kirk Westphal is one of those people. Eleven years ago, he and his wife were living in New York City and searching for a new place to call home. They had heard about Ann Arbor’s reputation as a dynamic city with a thriving arts and culture community, so it soon went from their short list to the top of the list. He cited a Knight Foundation study that emphasizes the role of arts and culture in helping form an attachment to the community so that people want to stay, or just as importantly, want to move there.

“There is no just serving the people who are here now,” said Westphal, an urban planner and videographer. “Every day there are people here for a job interview or applying to go to school. Brand matters, what’s going on matters. All those collective decisions affect the future of the community.”

logo_artrain12Deb Polich, in her dual roles as CEO of Artrain and director of the Ann Arbor Arts Alliance, tends to look at the arts community from a county-wide perspective. She pointed out that most of the things that people value in this region – such as education, libraries, and transportation – are publicly-funded. Arts and culture don’t usually fall under that umbrella, so she stressed the importance of the public investing in what they believe in.

A3arts_logo_250In recent years, Polich said that placemaking has been playing an important role in focusing people’s attention on the value of the arts. “Everybody is looking at placemaking to create communities people want to live in,” she said. “They’re investing in arts and culture because they see it as a huge driver in making communities livable.”

Funding the Arts

Since arts and culture so often don’t receive any public funding, arts organizations have to tap into their creativity to find other monetary means to keep their enterprises afloat. “We spend an enormous amount of time finding money to put on a free event,” said Brown, who often relies on the generosity of small businesses and residents for money, work space, and materials. “Nonprofits have to think of ways to building in valuable fundraising.”

Westphal acknowledged the defeat of an arts tax in Ann Arbor in 2012, but suggested that it gives the city an opportunity to think about arts funding differently. He also advised people to quiz city council candidates about their position on the arts. “We can always spend money on other things, but part of it has to be carved out for arts and the future of our community,” he said.

Other states have developed public funding mechanisms to support arts programming. In the Cleveland area, for example, there’s a tax levied on tobacco that is dedicated to the arts. In Austin, Texas, they use a 9 percent accommodation tax to support arts and culture. In November 2008, Minnesotans passed the clean water, land, and legacy amendment to the Minnesota Constitution which includes 3/8 of one percent of the state’s sales tax dedicated to the arts and cultural heritage fund. This amounts to $70 million annually – ½ the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. Michigan cities have very few taxing options and the panelists called on state lawmakers to change some of these regulations to help further the support for the arts.

Arts Wish List

All the panelists have a vision for what they would like to see in the Ann Arbor arts community five or ten years from now. Westphal would like to see a variety of place-based crowdfunding projects around the community that everyone can participate in and curate themselves. Brown would like to see a bricks-and-mortar creativity center that many creative organizations could share throughout the year. And Polich hopes that Washtenaw County leadership and residents begin embracing the many reasons that arts and culture are important – everything from sparking creativity and innovation to driving tourism and strengthening the local economy. Then maybe the question of “Why are the arts important?” will go away.

Click the following links for more information:

 

 

Adelaide-food-festival-bannerAt MLGMA’s Winter Institute in January, keynote speaker Peter Smith energetically and enthusiastically shared his experiences of using placemaking to transform the city of Adelaide, South Australia from ho-hum to a world-class destination.

About five years ago, Smith, CEO of Adelaide City Council, began rethinking the role of government and realized that there was great value in governments operating on a regular basis somewhat like they do in the event of a disaster. He cited the example of the 2011 earthquake that severely damaged Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city. Many policies and procedures were ignored in favor of quick decision-making, and community groups arose to fill in the void with creativity and innovation.

That’s the mindset that Smith brought to revitalizing the city of Adelaide. When he assumed the role of CEO of City Council in 2008, many industries were closing, young people were leaving, and the city was seen as boring and not welcoming to business. A city-wide “Picture Adelaide” project solicited feedback from residents and revealed that the council wasn’t viewed as trustworthy and the approval process for projects took far too long. Beyond that, 70 percent of the 4,000 ideas submitted were about improving public spaces. Those are the places that color people’s experience with their city and keep them attached and interested far more than infrastructure improvements.

Splash-Adelaide-2Based on the residents’ feedback – and using the lighter, quicker, cheaper approach to government – Splash Adelaide was born.  The first year, the city budgeted $150,000 for community-led public space projects and eventually got 30 projects off the ground – everything from street markets and skating events to library on the lawn. The projects were so popular with both the community and the council that in the following years, there were 70 and then 100 community-run activations. Last year, there were an impressive 150 projects and 4,000 Splash Adelaide followers on social media

And Splash Adelaide is being noticed and copied all over the world. In 2013, Adelaide was voted as one of Lonely Planet’s top 5 places to visit. In 2013 and 2014, The Economist ranked Adelaide as one of the top 10 livable cities. And perhaps more importantly, young people are recommending Adelaide for its new “vibe” and the majority of the city staff now understand placemaking and what it can accomplish for their city.

For more on Peter Smith’s presentation at the MLGMA Winter Institute, please visit MLGMA’s website.

Placemaker and CEO of Adelaide, Australia Peter Smith is coming to Michigan to speak at the Michigan Local Government Managers Association Winter Institute at the end of the month. Because he’s traveling so far, we figured we better take advantage of his time here with a fun, low-key, networking and information-sharing event in Detroit.1-26 event

Join the League at a networking and idea-mixing event with experts and practitioners who are passionate about building great communities.

Placemaking Happy Hour & Panel Discussion: Monday, January 26 from 4-6 PM at Seva Detroit

RSVP ButtonLook forward to great conversation and a cross disciplinary panel discussion moderated by Michigan Association of Planning Executive Director Andrea Brown. Panelists include:

  • Peter Smith, CEO of Adelaide, Australia
  • Alicia Marion-George, Co-owner of Motor City Java & Tea House
  • Sarida Scott, Executive Director of Community Development Advocates of Detroit
  • Steve Baker, Councilmember for the City of Berkley & IT Strategy and Innovation Lead at DTE Energy

The event is free and open to the public but space is limited so please RSVP here.

The League is pleased to host appetizers and there is a cash bar available. We’ll also be selling our new book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.

Come for the event, but stay for dinner

Spend the evening in Detroit! Seva has a full dinner menu and there are plenty of restaurants in Midtown and within walking distance of the event, including: