The German McCloy fellows visited Michigan in late March. The League had planned a very special Detroit itinerary for them, and we were excited to get started. But first things first–we gave them an introduction to the structure of local government in Michigan. They toured the League’s Ann Arbor building after a drive through Ann Arbor for a quick tour, and specifically to see some affordable housing development in the city.

We hit the streets of Detroit Monday morning. Our contingency consisted of Heather Van Poucker, Director of Information & Policy Research, myself, and our four fellows:   

  • Dr. Christine Wilcken, Assistant Chief Executive, German Association of Cities, Berlin
  • Sandra Bohm, Head of Department, Vehicle Registration Center, City of Offenbach
  • Dr. Christine Meyer, personal assistant of the Lord Mayor of Nuremburg, City of Nuremburg and
  • Henrik Neumann, city and regional planner, City of Jena.

Our first stop: Recycle Here!. The fellows thought they were going to see a run-of-the-mill municipal recycling center. Surprise! I set the stage beforehand, but Recycle Here! is anything but run-of-the-mill, and they were rather astonished at it. The overpowering sensation is not just the art (murals on all the walls, inside and out, the fire-breathing dragon, the outside sculptures)—but the force that is Matt Naimi. He is fired up about recycling, he is fired up about art, he is fired up about community. His intent to start a recycling center in Detroit has morphed into so much more.Recycle Here

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Our next site was the Green Garage & Green Alley. It is a building in Mid-town that is used as co-working space. It was a garage used to park fire trucks many,green garage 2 many years ago. It was reclaimed and rehabbed into a sustainable, energy efficient beautiful building. From there we moved on to visit the Revolve retail space around the corner. The last phase of our journey for the day was to the offices of  Michigan Community Resources for an introduction to the Detroit Future City work. We learned about the effort to include residents from all areas of Detroit into the planning process. A particulary innovative approach was through the use of online gaming to reach young people. Dan Pitera, of Detroit Collaborative Design Center led us through the start of the plan via Mayor Bing’s initiative to its current phase. It was so impressive–so comprehensive and visionary. It covers economic growth, land use, transportation and infrastructure, neighborhoods, land and bulidings, and civic engagement. Some of the imperatives from the plan are:

“We must provide residents with meaningful ways to make change in their communities and the city at large” and

“We must use innovative approaches to transorm our vacant land in ways that increase the value and productivity and promote long-term sustainability”

 We ended our day with a visit to the Guardian building to be awed by it’s beauty.

bike-sharingCycling used to be part of my personal transportation plan. On warm, sunny days, I loved riding my bike leisurely around my neighborhood near downtown Plymouth. Sometimes I had a destination in mind – usually the Dairy King on Main Street – and other days I just enjoyed feeling the breeze in my hair and admiring my neighbors’ beautiful flower gardens. Then along came my husband, who acted like he was training for a 100k ride through the mountains every time he hopped on his bike. I couldn’t keep up, so I gave up.

But the recent surge in bike-sharing programs in places like Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C. – and now Michigan – has piqued my interest. Like the legions of urban cycling enthusiasts, I appreciate the benefits to my health and the environment. But I’m also a fan of easily popping into stores where parking spaces are at a premium.

When I was in Chicago last summer, their new Divvy bike-share system was all the rage. Residents and tourists of all ages were renting one of the 3,000 distinctive-looking blue bikes and riding to offices, restaurants and beaches, happily avoiding traffic congestion and $25/day parking fees. The popular program, funded by federal grants and city funds, hopes to expand into suburban Oak Park and Evanston.

Bike-sharing is now catching on in Michigan. Communities are recognizing the benefits of less traffic congestion, more economic activity, cleaner air and better health that can be realized by adding a bike-sharing program to their transportation plans.

biking-in-Ann-ArborSoon, for just a few dollars, I’ll be able to jump on a bike housed at a kiosk near my Ann Arbor office, pedal to a cool restaurant for lunch, and work off the calories on my way back to work. No muss, no fuss, and no expensive gasoline sending toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Thanks to a $1.4 million budget and a partnership between the City of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan and the Clean Energy Coalition, the ArborBike program is expected to launch this summer with 14 kiosks around downtown, the central U-M campus and North Campus.

Other Michigan cities have found creative ways to launch bike-sharing programs in their communities. Detroit hasn’t yet put a formal program into motion, but last summer, Rock Ventures, a major company with several Detroit locations, started a bike-sharing program for its employees. With nine racks and 60 bikes, they logged 6.500 rentals from July through November.

capital-community-bike-share2With limited funding, Lansing became home to Michigan’s first municipally-sponsored bike-sharing system. Capital Community Bike Share, which launched in October, saved money by using A2B Bike Share’s technology, buying cheaper bikes and focusing on four locations near Michigan Avenue. Eric Shertzing, the project’s director, sees the program as a template that could benefit other communities. He also envisions replacing his fleet with Michigan-made bikes.

In Traverse City, discussions are underway for a formal bike-sharing program. But in the meantime, Carter’s Compost operates a simple system with three bikes they loan out free for two days each. Their mission: “We are dedicated to building community by using the power of the bicycle to make composting super easy for our TC neighbors.”

Dan Burden, a notable long-time friend of the Michigan Municipal League and co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, has caught the attention of Burden - Birmingham 2the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, he was honored with a 2014 White House Champion of Change award for his tireless efforts to make pedestrians and bicyclists an important part of the transportation equation. It is a recognition well deserved.

Dan’s dedication is unyielding. His travels take him to communities all over the country for more than 300 days a year. Many of those days have been spent here in Michigan, leading walking audits designed to uncover neighborhood opportunities and find solutions. He brings people together from all sectors, engages them in conversation, and inspires them to reimagine the future of their community.

Burden - BirminghamAlong with several of my League colleagues, I have had the privilege of accompanying Dan on many of his walking audits. Every community has its own unique assets and challenges, so I learn something new each and every time. With his bright road construction safety vest and measuring tape in hand, he leads a group of stakeholders and local officials up and down sidewalks, through parking lots and alleys, and across busy streets, offering up all the possibilities. With his years of experience and knowledge—and contagious enthusiasm—even the naysayers start to believe. Step by step, Dan is truly making our communities more livable and walkable.

Congratulations, Dan!  We appreciate all the great work you have done and continue to do in Michigan. Thank you for being one of Michigan’s greatest cheerleaders.

shutterstock-environment-green-initiatives-21c3-wind-turbine-energy-small-for-webThe 2014 Olympics may be over, but gold, silver and bronze awards are still being handed out to a select group of Michigan communities. A total of 33 Michigan local governments were recognized for environmental leadership at the Michigan Green Communities conference in Flint today (Tuesday, February 25, 2014). They are the second set of governments recognized under the recently expanded Michigan Green Communities Challenge (http://mml.org/green). The program helps local leaders measure their progress in implementing energy, economic development and environmental improvements.

The program is directly tied to the Michigan Municipal League’s ongoing effort around placemaking and creating desireable communities. To foster placemaking, the League has identified eight key assets that every community should strive to have. One of those assets is green initiatives and the Michigan Green Communities Challenge helps communities of all shapes and sizes achieve energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Awards were given at four levels of accomplishment:

  • Gold: Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Charlevoix, Dearborn, Dexter, Farmington Hills, Grand Rapids, Meridian Township, Oakland County, Rogers City, Williamstown Township
  • Silver: Berkley, Birmingham, Delta Township, Lathrup Village, Monroe County, Novi, Quincy, Saline
  • Bronze: Delhi Township, East Jordan, Royal Oak, Sterling Heights, Troy, Warren
  • Member: Bangor Township, Clawson, Coldwater, Curtis Township, Fremont, Fruitport, Lansing, Livonia

Press releases about the honored communities will be posted here on the League’s newsroom page.

The Challenge is a new tool to help local leaders measure their progress in implementing energy, economic development and environmental improvements. It is supported by the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Economic Development Corporation Energy Office, Michigan Municipal League, and Michigan Townships Association. It uses a rating system to recognize sustainability­ accomplishments and serves as a guide for the community leaders looking to learn from their peers. Participation is free and open to all local governments in Michigan as part of the statewide Michigan Green Communities network that aims to support local sustainability efforts.

The Challenge launched in 2009 and emphasized energy efficiency projects in an effort to help local governments prepare for and make the best use of federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funds. In the past, graduate students from the University of Michigan worked with Challenge participants and the staff of a partner organization to update the program and reflect the evolving sustainability standards. The updated challenge reflects broader topics, such as green economic development, resource conservation and water quality, in addition to maintaining a strong energy component.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.