Creativity shines all over the state as Michiganders launch placemaking projects designed to attract 21st century businesses and talent. To offer an up-close view of these projects, Recycle Herethe League has designed a series of Explore More mobile workshops. We’ll guide you through places where imagination and teamwork have transformed neighborhoods from dull to dazzling.

The first Explore More mobile workshop will travel through Detroit, where we’ve found places like Recycle Here! and The Alley Project that serve as unique canvasses for students and professional artists. Old buildings have become cool housing or great sites for business owners following their entrepreneurial dreams. And an abandoned railway has been converted into the Dequindre Cut Greenway, an inviting recreational trail filled with walkers and bikers. Destinations like these, and how they sprang to life, will be part of your adventure on an Explore More mobile workshop. We hope you’ll join us and get a flash of inspiration that you can translate into creative placemaking projects in your own community.

Register now for the first Explore More mobile workshop:

July 8 – Detroit

Jump on board and get inspired!

I got goose bumps watching giant paper mache creatures come to life, limited only by their creator’s imagination. It was the 8th annual Festifools, an event that takes place on the first Sunday of April to celebrate April Fool’s Day.  For one hour, these majestic puppets marched to the beat of music up and down Main Street, often stopping to interact with the throngs of spectators.  Although it is a well-orchestrated event requiring hundreds of hours of preparation, the beauty of it is that it has the look and feel of a random, spontaneous, “let’s get together” street party that brings out people of all ages.

Festifools photo 1Mark Tucker, a University of Michigan art teacher to mostly non-art majors, was searching for a novel way to bring his students together with community members to create something unique and exciting for his “Art in Public Spaces” course.  The result was the Street Theather Art (START) project.  Through his work with a neighborhood theater group, he got the idea to create a student puppet-making workshop assisted by community volunteers which would culminate at the semester’s end with a public parade in downtown Ann Arbor.  With the whole concept not really clear in his head, and not knowing if they could even really deliver, his encouraging talks with the business community and the city spurred him on – and Festifools was born.  Because of its enormous popularity, a second event was added:  FoolMoon, a nighttime luminary festival that takes place on the Friday night before the Festifools parade.

Tucker saw the importance of actively encouraging students to work with the community and used his students to bring the arts to the community in a fun, whimsical way creating an engaging and educational experience for all ages.

Festifools - clownsCultural Economic Development is one of the 8 assets that the League has identified to help create desirable and unique places to live.  It’s an event like Festifools that not only brings people together, but contributes to the long-term economic health of a community and region.

The League had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and visit the studio where the puppets are made as well as participate in one of the several workshops held downtown that invites the community to come in and make their own luminary.  We had a chance to hear all about this creative experience from Tucker himself and we will be telling his story in more detail in the future.  For now, check out the video and get a flavor of what these majestic puppets have to offer.  I promise that you’ll get goose bumps too!

Sarah Pavelko discusses the PlacePlans project in Southwest Detroit.

Sarah Pavelko discusses the PlacePlans project in Southwest Detroit on WJR.

For many years now, the Michigan Municipal League has talked about placemaking as a vital part of making our state prosperous again. Simply put placemaking is about creating communities that people love. It’s about turning “that community” into “my community.” So how do we accomplish this? How do we create places to cherish? Often it starts with an idea and a new League program called PlacePlans is taking the ideas that already exist in eight Michigan cities and helping turn them into reality. This PlacePlans effort is the focus of our final show for 2013. We’re truly saving the best for last. My co-host for this show is Detroit Free Press reporter Matt Helms and our guests are Gary Heidel, the new Chief Placemaking Officer for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority; Sarah Pavelko, Project Manager  of the Southwest Business Association in Detroit; and Steve Wolbert, Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs at Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy in Flint. The show airs 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, on News/Talk 760 WJR but you can listen anytime at the  League’s website or by subscribing to the FREE iTunes podcast. Learn more about the placemaking concept here as well as on this blog.

One of the League’s eight critical assets to building vibrant communities is education.  In Michigan, the link between communities and school districts can be clouded as they are considered separate entities, where school districts are run by their own boards.  And the boundaries mostly never match.  There are some cities in Michigan that encompass up to half a dozen school districts!

This said, we’ve always maintained that it is important for local officials to realize the importance of the link between building a better community by building better relationships with the local K-12 school system and if available, a community college or four year school that might be within the city boundaries.  Certainly, all of these entities need a vibrant, healthy place for their teachers and professors to choose to live and parents to settle in to send their kids to school.  And at the end of the day, both local and school officials need to be working together to make that happen.

One of the bigger issues that certainly brings this to the forefront is that of after-school programs.  Time and again studies have shown that the after-school time period of 3-6 pm is the most worrisome and is that time of the day when school age children can find themselves in trouble on their own or in harm’s way.  There seems to be real opportunity in this area for local community and school district to partner.

And, its happening.  In Michigan, cities like Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills are well known for their work in this area.  The Michigan After School Partnership collaboration also is very active in promoting such partnerships.  The League has worked with both MASP and the National League of Cities on this matter as well.

Now, a new study by FHI 360 and The Wallace FoundationIs Citywide Afterschool Coordination Going Nationwide? , uncovers what mayoral support for coordination of after-school programs has meant in places around the country.

If you’re interested in learning more, The National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families, in partnership with The Wallace Foundation  is holding a webinar on Tuesday, November 19th from 2-3 pm  EDT to discuss the report findings.  Speakers will include not only report authors but also representatives from community after-school programs across the country.

To register for the webinar visit: