Michigan Future, Inc has released a new report entitled “The New Path to Prosperity: Lessons for Michigan From Two Decades of Economic Change.” The report analyzes data from the American economy over the past two decades. In addition, it takes a closer look specifically at the Michigan and Minnesota economies over that same time period. Two very different pictures emerge as the report chronicles those experiences. As the Minnesota economy became more knowledge based, their economic conditions far out-performed Michigan’s in various employment figures, per capita income, and real private sector employment earnings per capita. Author Lou Glazier summarizes the data by stating the path to prosperity for states and regions is through a knowledge based economy. Further proof that public policies going forward must be aimed at attracting talent and investing in the amenities and places that they demand. This report can serve as a catalyst for our Partnership for Place legislative agenda helping us get to Better Communities, Better Michigan.
First, a brief history lesson. Woodward Avenue , a multi-lane road that stretches over 27 miles, making its way through 11 communities, dates back to 1805 when it was originally platted. In 1909, responding to demand for smoother roads by bicyclists and early auto owners, the first mile of concrete highway in the world was laid. Referred to as metropolitan Detroit’s “Main Street”, Woodward Avenue paves a rich story that is intrinsically connected to Detroit’s legacy as a growing commercial center and as birth place of the American automobile industry. Over the span of a century, as the automobile industry accelerated, so did the development of Woodward Avenue, spurring new businesses and retail growth along its path. In 1999, it was designated a Michigan Heritage Route because of its more than 300 historic sites. It plays host to one of the most iconic celebrations of the car culture – the Woodward Dream Cruise.
To facilitate continued improvement of the Woodward Avenue Corridor, The Woodward Avenue Action Association was founded in 1996. Always a magnet for investors and developers over the course of its history, Woodward Avenue continues to evolve with a changing culture. After decades of focusing on building roads and streets for the automobile, Michigan, like so many places around the country and world, is looking at communities differently and placing more emphasis on building them around people. This transformational thinking has placed Michigan as one of the leaders in adopting Complete Streets concepts – plans that will embrace all users of the road – pedestrians, the physically challenged, bicyclists, transit users, as well as drivers. The Woodward Avenue Association has embarked on an ambitious program to redesign and reshape Woodward Avenue into a Complete Street and is leading a design team made up of representatives from each of the 11 communities, MDOT, a team of consultants, and various other organizations. My colleague, Luke Forrest, serves on this team. The goal is to “develop standards and policies to increase the livability of Woodward and its surrounding communities and business districts; as well as to make the All American Road function efficiently and safely for residents, as well as visitors to the region.” Dan Burden, Executive Director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute and world renowned walkability expert working on the project, calls it a “great laboratory and a grand opportunity to be an example of change for the future.”
A series of 5 Charrettes are being held in various host communities. Each one takes place over a span of 3 days and invites residents and stakeholders to drop in any time during designated hours to participate in walkability audits, interactive design workshops, or listen to scheduled presentations. This week, my colleague Liz Shaw and I took part in the walkability audit in Birmingham, one of the host cities. It was a very open and welcoming setting, allowing us to become immediately engaged in the process. Simultaneously, lots of discussions and the poring over of maps and designs were happening throughout the room.
With the second in a series of five interactive community events just wrapping up, some themes are emerging: the need to use color and plants to enliven the right-of-way for all forms of transit users; the need to strategically use the preserving and adding of trees as safe buffers between cars, pedestrians and bicyclists; and the need to reduce the speed of cars to foster a more safe environment. (Although it sounds counterintuitive, by decreasing the number of lanes, you calm the traffic without reducing capacity. Burden affirmed this by saying that “we squander success when we have an overabundance of lanes.”)
The first phase of the project hopes to wrap up this fall and a cohesive plan should begin to emerge for all of Woodward Avenue in early 2014. Get engaged and follow Transform Woodward’s progress. To make it really easy, you can download an app and provide your own ideas. Woodward Avenue has shown resilience throughout the ages, growing to accommodate the needs of the automobile. Now it has the opportunity to accommodate the demands of a 21st century economy and lifestyle.
The Michigan Municipal League’s annual Community Excellence Award showcases innovative solutions, programs or projects that have had a positive impact on their community, and can be replicated in other communities with similar challenges. The winner from each region will go on to compete for the statewide CEA title during the League’s Annual Convention September 17-20 in Detroit.
Most CEA entries could also be described as placemaking success stories. Here’s what Michigan communities shared at this year’s CEA presentations during the League’s 2013 Capital Conference in Lansing:
REGION 1: (southeastern portion of the state’s Lower Peninsula)
Fenton, Holly and Linden’s Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail represents intergovernmental cooperation, recreational opportunities and economic development for the communities in southern Genesee County and northern Oakland County. Spearheaded by Headwaters Trails Inc. and supported by the Keepers of the Shiawassee,recreation activity on the Shiawassee River has increased over the last decade largely due to promotional signs; mile markers along the river to inform paddlers of their location; promotional brochures; annual clean-up events; canoe and kayak races; and moonlight paddle events.
Eastpointe’s Service Line Affordable Protection Program (SLAPP) is an insurance program that covers the costs of replacing both water and sewer laterals for the monthly low charge of $4. The community has more than 2,500 participants out of an eligible group of about 8,000 potential users. The majority of Eastpointe homes (and their water and sewer connections to the city lines) are 50 to 90 years old. Replacement is the resident’s financial responsibility, which is often an unexpected cost many can’t afford. This plan provides reliable contractors, covers all the costs of replacing the lateral connections for that small $4 monthly charge, plus reconstruction of city property as needed.
Grosse Pointe’s Wellness Center and Patient Facility is a joint effort of the city, Neighborhood Club and Beaumont Health System. The $12 million state of the art Wellness Center and Patient Facility includes a 1,200-person/family health club, Beaumont Health System Child Development Clinic and Offices, a day care center, a gym, and a lap pool.
New Baltimore’s “Make New Baltimore Your Destination” presentation highlighted a number of community improvements including a waste water plant, police station, library expansion, non-motorized bike/walking trails leading to the local high school, a new 24-foot-security boat, four new baseball diamonds, and a new city park with walking trails on a 40-acre parcel of land.
Plymouth’s Northville-Plymouth Fire Agreement represents the re-definition of the shared services concept by two municipalities. Both cities – Northville and Plymouth – are similar in size and population and accomplished what many community officials and local politicians thought was impossible: Consolidating fire services for two non-contiguous cities under one simple 11-page, inter-local agreement. One year later the public is happy, both cities are saving money, and they are delivering high levels of service.
Rochester’s Main Street Makeover was a $7.6 million project to rebuild Main Street, improve water service, and add streetscape improvements to enhance the overall downtown experience.
Westland’s Core Shopping and Dining District project was a significant investment to purchase a 67,000 square-foot building that had been vacant for many years By moving the city hall into this vacant big box building, they freed up 14 acres of prime property on Ford Road. Because of this $15 million investment by the city, the area has experienced a large amount of positive change and investment by others.
REGION 2: (south-central and southwestern portions of the Lower Peninsula)
St. Joseph’s Silver Beach development project transformed vacant property and antiquated industrial buildings dotting the city’s lakefront. Silver Beach now includes the Silver Beach Carousel, the Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone and Michigan’s largest interactive water fountain. Thanks to the generosity of the community, Whirlpool and several local families, more than $8.2 million was raised to privately fund the project. Today, Silver Beach Center is a mecca for tourists and local residents who want to create memories.
Albion’s Crowell School project was a joint effort with Albion Public Schools, Albion Senior Center, and Kellogg Community College to house operations in an old school that was slated to be closed and vacant. By working together, they kept the old Crowell School a viable neighborhood asset, saved the school district $70,000 annually, and housed different entities with similar operations under one roof.
The Baroda, Bridgman and Berrien Springs and the surrounding townships of Lake, Baroda, and Oronoko came together to reinvent the Lake Street/Shawanee Road “Lake to Grapes” corridor into a nationally recognized agri-tourism location offering wine and fresh produce. The work included cooperative rebranding of the local economy emphasizing tourism, promoting the vintner/brew geography as a nationally recognized brand, rebranding individual community identity into themes such as “Beach Town” and “Heart of Wine Country,” and undertaking an award winning cooperative “wayfinding” communication program.
South Haven’s Kal Haven Trail Extension and Williams Street Reconstruction project included the extension of the Kal Haven Trail into downtown South Haven, and the reconstruction of the historic Williams Street, which features prominent views of the Black River and Lake Michigan.
REGION 3: (west-central area of the state’s Lower Peninsula)
Belding joined with Belding Area Schools for a community garden that is accessible to all residents of the city and surrounding areas. It provides social, educational and nutritional opportunities to those who may not otherwise have access to fresh produce. Donations and grants to date have exceeded $10,500. Phase 1 of the project opened to gardeners on Memorial Weekend 2012 and featured 16 beds, including two handicap accessible beds. Thirteen families signed up to work the garden for the year with three sponsoring a bed for their family and one sponsoring a bed for the food pantry. Four families gardened solely for the benefit of the Belding Food Pantry. To date, the Belding Community Garden has donated about eight bushels of fresh produce to the food pantry.
Whitehall’s Lake Street reconstruction project has transformed it into the first fully integrated “green street” in the state of Michigan. It integrates bioswales, naturalized detention, filter strips, treatment wetlands, permeable concrete, and permeable pavers to reduce sediments, nutrients, and other contaminants from entering the lake through typical “first flush” stormwater discharge. Harmful pollutants will no longer reach the lake: 95 percent of all metals; 90 percent of suspended solids, organics and bacteria; 80 percent of phosphorus and ammonium; and 75 percent of nitrogen. The project also includes a breathtaking extension of the city’s pedestrian walkway, enhancing the community’s livability as a quality place.
REGION 4 (east-central part of the state’s Lower Peninsula, excluding the Thumb)DeWitt’s First Annual 2012 DeWitt Community Showcase featured the cooperation of three different jurisdictions—the city of DeWitt, DeWitt Township and DeWitt Public Schools. The event was held at the DeWitt High School and was an opportunity for area businesses, students and community civic groups to “show-off” to the community what they had to offer. The event was free for all who participated and featured a Taste of DeWitt, student art pieces, student performances and more than 100 exhibits by area businesses and civic groups. The event drew more than 2,000 area residents.
Ithaca’s transfer of police services and duties from the Ithaca Police Department to the newly created Ithaca Unit of the Gratiot County Sheriff’s was an example of economy, cooperation, and efficiency by the city council, police, and city staff, as well as the sheriff, county commission, and county staff.
Mount Pleasant’s Access Adventure Trail opened in 2010 and was expanded in 2012 as a universally accessible non-motorized pathway through Chipp-A-Waters Park that joins to another trail leading through five other parks. The paved trail was made possible through the efforts of many community partners. It is 10 feet wide and includes an eight foot by 150 foot pedestrian bridge that crosses the Chippewa River, with a scenic turnout where visitors can view both sides of the river at wheelchair height through glass panels. The trail also features universally accessible fixed viewing scopes. It is part of a three-year project focused on universal access and inclusiveness in the city’s recreation facilities, programs and services designed to serve people of all ages and abilities in the Mount Pleasant community.
REGION 5: (Michigan’s Thumb)
Imlay City’s economic gardening program began in the fall of 2010 with the development of a strategic process to foster growth in the key areas of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and overall economic development, or SEED. Growth is fostered through continuous networking events, Entrepreneur Meet Ups, educational workshops and other initiatives.
Harbor Beach’s interpretive sign project created a greater sense of place for both residents and visitors to the city, through the creation and installation of 20 interpretive signs along the city’s bike path, depicting significant historic sites and events in the community’s past.
Lexington’s volunteerism is a long-running tradition that is key to the village’s success and survival throughout the years. Examples include the fire department, the Lexington Business Association, and the Lexington Yacht Club. Volunteer groups raise thousands of dollars each year that is put directly into Lexington’s economy.
REGION 6 (northern portion of the Lower Peninsula)
Rogers City’s placemaking effort includes a streetscape upgraded with people-friendly amenities including new LED lighting and ADA ramps, flower baskets, and wayfinding signage. Ten percent of the city’s existing downtown storefronts opened with new destination businesses in 2012. New events, programs and amenities to bring people downtown include recreational trails and pocket parks, a new downtown museum annex, two new public art projects and several exciting new library programs. Social life has been enhanced with such festivities as “Martin Mania,” a downtown street dance to celebrate nature and help at-risk children. The effort has paid off with as many as 100 new jobs in a city of 2,782 people.
REGION 7 (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula)
Ironwood plans to revitalize a railroad depot into a park that promotes health, history, and recreation. The plan is to merge city blocks, add a pavilion, playground equipment, landscaping, volleyball courts and other amenities. The park will also serve as a trail head for non-motorized trails crossing the region.
Ontonagon’s Complete Streets initiative was in May of 2012. Village streets were prioritized for paving projects in 2013. The selected streets were reviewed under the state’s Complete Streets criteria, designed for increasing accessibility for all users, from pedestrians and bicyclists to mass transit users and those with physical disabilities. Two blocks of Quartz Street were selected to include a paved non-motorized path for bicyclists and walkers. The council approved the street projects in June. The Quartz Street pathway will be completed in the summer of 2013.
Sault Ste. Marie’s Historic Water Street streetscape renovations and revitalization have provided a waterfront gathering place for people to relax, exercise, learn and celebrate. It includes a new half-mile interpretive walkway stretching from the Soo Locks to the historic homes of some of the community’s most notable founders. The walkway features 33 informational panels detailing the area’s rich history from its beginnings as a Native American village to its establishment as Michigan’s oldest European settlement in 1668. City Hall, a recently repurposed historic Federal Building, is situated on historic grounds at the center of the walkway, providing a premier location for festivals and community gatherings, from weekend festivities to leisurely evening walks.
My colleague, Liz Shaw and I, decided that at the first faint signs of spring, we would begin our little journey of experiencing many of the great bicycle trails that wind their way through Michigan. (I should note that Liz has ridden just about all of them over the years.) It took a while for spring to arrive, but we finally made our first trek out to Paint Creek Trail last weekend. The trail paves the way for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and even horses! It can get pretty crowded, but on this particular beautiful Sunday morning, it was an oasis of calm.
Paint Creek Trail is an 8.9 mile rail-to-trail stretch across a region crossing through the cities of Rochester, Rochester Hills, Village of Lake Orion, and Orion/Oakland townships. It meanders through fields, prairies, woodlands and marshlands, and with the leaves not fully sprouted we could still catch glimpses of some beautiful homes tucked along the trail. Not only are there many parks and recreation areas along the way, but restaurants and shops offer many diversions for trail users to enjoy. Always looking for an excuse to eat, we enjoyed a great lunch outdoors at the Paint Creek Cider Mill. The owner said the trailside location is a definite benefit and that during the warm months he gets a huge percentage of his business from trail users.
This might surprise you, but Michigan is #1 in rail-trail miles – 2,623 miles! The only states that come within a bike ride’s reach of us are Minnesota and Wisconsin. And Paint Creek was the first rail-trail opened in 1983. The rail-to-trails movement began in the 1970s when an abundance of rail lines lay unused (a sad testament to the demise of a once bustling transit option, but that’s another story) and trail advocates began working hard, often over a period of many years, to covert old rail lines to multi-use trails. Today, many of the trails now link into long continuous (and sometimes cross-state) routes in multiple regions of the state. More projects are in the offing.
Non-motorized trails are an important piece of the placemaking vernacular. They offer a rich, healthy, experience for people of all ages, celebrate the seasons and beauty of Michigan’s outdoors, make us think beyond jurisdictional lines, and provide economic benefits to businesses and home owners nearby.
We’ll share more of our biking odyssey in the coming months. Meanwhile, happy trails!