Bob Gibbs discusses the economic development potential in Pontiac during the CNU Legacy Project Charrette Friday, April 15.

Bob Gibbs discusses the economic development potential in Pontiac during the CNU Legacy Project Charrette Friday, April 15.

The economic development potential for the city of Pontiac is tremendous. Just how great? How about a demand of up to 211,700 square feet of new retail and restaurant development producing up to $55.2 million in annual sales. That’s how great, said Pontiac native Bob Gibbs, urban planning and retail consultant director for Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham.

“By 2021, this economic demand could generate up to $58 million in gross sales,” Gibbs said. “And that’s a conservative estimate.”

This message presented by Gibbs and others in downtown Pontiac Friday night came during the first of three days of an intensive design and planning program called, a Congress Legacy “Charrette” Project. It’s being done in the city by the Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU). It’s one of four such charrettes happening this week in conjunction with the international CNU 24 conference coming to Detroit in June. The other three charrettes were in Hazel Park, April 12-14; and April 15-17 in two Detroit neighborhoods – Grandmont-Rosedale and Vernor Crossing.

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman and Planner Galina Tachieva speak at the CNU Legacy Project Charrette in Pontiac Friday, April 15.

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman and Planner Galina Tachieva speak at the CNU Legacy Project Charrette in Pontiac Friday, April 15.

The work done at the charrettes will be presented to planners, architects, urban designers and municipal leaders at the CNU 24 in Detroit June 8-11, 2016. For details on the conference go to CNU24.org.

But the keys to making this development happen in Pontiac won’t be easy. Gibbs explained capitalizing on this economic growth potential will require policy changes, improved marketing and a redesign of the traffic layout and parking configuration in the downtown area, Gibbs said.

Should these changes be made, Gibbs’ market analysis showed the city could support an additional 45,000 square feet of department store merchandise, 38,600 square feet of grocery store goods, nearly 36,000 square feet of special food and specialty food sales, 16,300 in gift store square footage, 14,200 square feet in pharmacy, 12,700 square feet in bars, breweries and pubs, 11,600 square feet in limited service eating places, 8,400 square feet in full-service restaurants and additional square footage in the areas of furniture and home furnishings, hardware stores, jewelry stores, lawn and garden supply stores, book and music stores, florists, beer, wine and liquor stores, and shoe stores.

Downtown Pontiac has tremendous economic development potential, officials said.

Downtown Pontiac has tremendous economic development potential, officials said.

Gibbs added the downtown could support 10 to 12 additional restaurants.

Essential to the project is turning the current one-way Woodward loop, nicknamed locally as “Wide Track,” that surrounds the downtown into a two way street. Not doing that would limit the city’s market potential to one to two additional restaurants – tops, Gibbs said, adding the Wide Track is not needed and does not help Pontiac.

“I grew up in Pontiac and I remember when it was in its hay day,” Gibbs said. “It’s exciting for me to come back here and do this study and see the growth potential it has. All in all the city has potential to support upward of 215,000 square feet in new restaurants and new retail if physical restraints were removed and modern retail practices were implemented. You are the county seat for the eighth wealthiest county in the United States. We think there’s market potential if you implement changes.”

More than 60 Pontiac supporters attended the CNU Legacy Project on Friday, April 15, 2016.

More than 60 Pontiac supporters attended the CNU Legacy Project throughout the day on Friday, April 15, 2016.

Many of the proposals suggested for Pontiac are consistent with the eight assets identified in a recent study that make for vibrant communities. Those assets include improving walkability and physical design, entrepreneurship, public transit and economic development. That study can be found here at SaveMiCity.org.

About 60 Pontiac area supporters attended the first day of work in Pontiac Friday in the project called, “Building Upon the Assets of Pontiac: Creating a Vision for a Vibrant and Transit-Ready Pontiac.” More people are expected to participate Saturday and Sunday. The final plan and public discussion will take place 4 p.m. Sunday at 17 S. Saginaw St. in downtown.

Project team leader Galina Tachieva, managing partner of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., explained the goals of the Pontiac Legacy Project are to:

  • Create a vision for a remarkable, vibrant downtown to serve as a template for other downtown spaces;
  • Restore a walkable urban fabric to one of America’s great industrial cities with high quality public spaces;
  • Identify options for the Phoenix Center and adjacent Lot 9;
  • Create a transit-ready southern edge of downtown with the potential to become a regional multi-modal transport hub and a catalyst for transit-oriented development.
Galina Tachieva discusses ways to improve Pontiac.

Galina Tachieva discusses ways to improve Pontiac.

“The common tendency is that all of you want a beautiful, safe, attractive, downtown,” Tachieva said. “You have a lot of examples of good frontage but you also have a lot of what we call missing teeth. The goal is to fill in the missing teeth and make it a pleasant, pedestrian-friendly walking experience.”

The project, called “Revitalizing downtown Pontiac through transit-oriented development,” was lead by DPZ & Partners and had local support from Archive DS and Gibbs Planning Group.

Pontiac resident Linda Hasson attending the event was pleased with what she saw Friday night.

“You seem to really care and I appreciate that,” Hasson told Tachieva and Gibbs. “We need a push. I’m excited.”

For more information about placemaking go to placemaking.mml.org and for details on the CNU24 in Detroit in June go to cnu24.org. (View additional photos of downtown Pontiac and the charrette meetings go to this album on flickr.)

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

Downtown Pontiac.

Downtown Pontiac.

hazel-park-sign-600x250
While attending the League’s Capital Conference last month, I had the pleasure of sharing breakfast with local officials from Hazel Park, all of whom took a moment to update me on the new and exciting things happening this year in their city. Hazel Park certainly seems to have been the center of encouraging progress over the last year. New restaurant ventures and neighborhood revitalization efforts have drawn attention to the area, and the Congress of New Urbanism has even chosen the city for a charrette program intended to reimagine city buildings, public spaces, streets, and sidewalks.

hazel-park-mabel-gray-exterior-main-300x200By all accounts, I’m encouraged by what I see unfolding in Hazel Park. Yet, one singular aspect of my conversation with the city’s local officials stood out among the intriguing developments mentioned above. Hazel Park boasts a politically and ideologically diverse group of local officials, yet Councilman Mike Webb explained emphatically that every individual is dedicated to setting aside their personal convictions in order to make decisions that truly benefit Hazel Park.

In 2016, the concept of compromise should not be revolutionary. In the midst of a discussion about award-winning chefs, art fairs, and breweries popping up in the community, my main take-away should not have been shock that such a politically disparate group of officials work with each other for the good of a community. In modern America, this cooperation should be expected of local, state, and national leaders.

But it isn’t. In fact, my shock at Hazel Park’s symbiotic arrangement made it apparent to me that we’ve grown to expect the opposite. In short, this polarization in government is the main reason why a significant (and growing) portion of my generation is decidedly skeptical of politics at all levels, and only one of many reasons why young people (ages 18-35) make up only 6 percent of board and commission members in metro Detroit.

What do Millennials Think of Local Government?

Last year, our friends at the Florida League of Cities conducted a study on my generation and our views of government generally, but local government specifically. This snippet sums up their findings well:

[Millennials] do not like the bickering or fighting they see in congress, and the whole process generally annoys them. They shied away from the partisanship of government and simply want things to work.

When summarizing what it is that millennials want and expect from their local governments, the study found that they “want the fundamental elements of government to work. They enjoy local parks, yearn for better mass transit, and generally feel safe in their homes.” Young people want their local governments to progress towards the best possible way of life with the least possible amount of interference, and they want officials to elevate local standards of living above personal political ideology.

Asking municipal officials to display a higher level of responsibility and selflessness than is expected of government on a state or national level seems like a tall order, and indeed it is. But Hazel Park has managed it, and the results are startling. A lot of good things are happening there, and they’re happening because, when necessary, councilmembers and other officials are willing to remind each other to get down off their soap box and get things done.

By any standards, Hazel Park’s revitalization is incredible – but it’s made even more incredible considering the array of obstacles they’ve had to overcome to make this progress happen. They’ve chosen not to let personal political agendas be one of those obstacles, and I would imagine that members of my generation would be encouraged by hearing this.

Why Does Local Government Need Millennials?

Time is moving forward and eventually those currently serving their communities and states in an official capacity will have to retire. If millennials aren’t adequately prepared to step into their complicated roles and take responsibility for their communities, what will happen?

I can imagine that most municipal leaders are not exactly eager for “the selfie generation” to step into positions of influence and take on day-to-day municipal challenges. However, millennials getting involved in local government is better than the alternative – a huge generational void in leadership that leaves cities drastically under-staffed and mismanaged. Millennials bring a high sense of ethics, a thorough understanding of burgeoning technology, an innovative spirit, and an eagerness to have a positive social impact in the workplace – all things from which Michigan’s many communities could only stand to benefit.

Despite these strong attributes, however, the task becomes unnecessarily complicated without the mentorship of today’s leaders. Those currently serving possess a thorough working knowledge of a community’s budget history, municipal strengths and weaknesses, and what a community will need to thrive in the future. It is integral that this knowledge be passed on to those to whom the torch will fall within the next decade. In order for this to happen, however, local officials must make a concentrated effort to celebrate what’s going right in their areas, to better communicate that local politics aren’t necessarily a microcosm of Washingtonian egotism, and to resuscitate millennial interest in government.

I wrote this blog because I don’t think that millennials hear about leaders like those in Hazel Park very often. The polarized, even vindictive nature of Washington-based politics tends to drown out the very good things that are happening locally, and it jades our views towards the political system as a whole.

In short, it’s a messaging problem.

One of our many city managers in Michigan, in a survey for MLGMA’s rebranding initiative, said this about his local involvement: “I get a real charge from helping people. Sometimes it’s the littlest things we can do to the biggest things. From a falling tree to saving a lost kid… It’s about making lives better.” This idea resonates with my generation, so why don’t we hear it more often? Leaders like those in Hazel Park owe it to themselves to be more vocal about their love for their community, for compromise, and for progress, because it might just change a millennial’s mind.

Though many municipalities have bravely ventured into social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with residents, for the grand majority of local governments Snapchat remains uncharted territory. It’s understandable that local officials have hit roadblocks with social media; maintaining active accounts could be a full-time job, and the ever-developing technology is oftentimes unfamiliar to municipal leaders, many of whom view social media platforms as a minefield of potential liabilities.

In the past year, Snapchat’s popularity (and legitimacy) has grown exponentially – so much so that the White House opened an account last month to better communicate with a growing young demographic. Indeed, over 60 percent of smartphone users from the ages 13 to 34 use the app. Snapchat could serve as a vital branding resource to municipalities as they strive to improve communication, reach a younger generation, and market their communities to potential residents.

Snapchat (300x200)Essentially, Snapchat allows users to take photos and videos, add captions or drawings, and upload the content to a collective 24-hour “story” that followers can view. Take a look at what they can do, and then check out the many ways that local officials could use Snapchat to connect with residents:

Promote Community Events

Municipalities can use Snapchat to share information leading up to and during public events. For instance, if your community were to host a fireworks display, Snapchat could provide time/location information beforehand, and then showcase real-time video of the fireworks. This is a surprisingly powerful tool. As followers see how exciting public events look on Snapchat, they’re more likely to actually attend future events in person.

Support Philanthropic Programs

Snapchat stories can serve as a tool that allows officials to post both details and real-time progress regarding canned food drives, donation campaigns, and other city-wide philanthropic events. Ultimately, this information can increase participation and community enthusiasm for charitable activity.

Showcase Local Businesses and Jobs

Snapchat gives local governments an opportunity to showcase entrepreneurs and startups, giving a boost to community businesses that support local economies. Potential participants could simply fill out an application indicating interest, and the city’s Snapchat could then share photographs of their storefront, the things they sell or produce, and even a short video statement from the owners. Furthermore, if any businesses are seeking full-time or seasonal help, local officials could post a short notice on their Snapchat story to spread the word about potential employment opportunities.

Spotlight Community Leaders

If you work for your municipality in some capacity (whether elected or appointed), take a moment and ponder whether the majority of people in the city, village, or township you serve actually knows that your position exists. It may be worthwhile to take a day and dedicate your Snapchat story to “A Day in the Life of City Councilwoman X” or “Meet Your City Manager Y.” Giving your Snapchat followers a glimpse of the wide array of responsibilities taken on by city officials not only increases transparency, but also encourages future civic engagement from younger generations.

Construction Updates

Snapchat App 2 (300x200)If your city is in the midst of constructing a new community center, refurbishing a notable town building, or (eternally) revamping local roads, Snapchat can be used to show photos indicating progress and convey information regarding expected end dates.

Share Local History

Municipalities possess a wealth of history of which residents frequently remain unaware. Snapchat can be used to share photos of historical markers, encourage visits to historic districts integral to your town’s origin, and celebrate founding days. By using photos and video, Snapchat can more adequately capture a community’s rich traditions and showcase it as a place that people are proud to call home.

Police Department Information

Police departments frequently turn to Twitter or Facebook to share public safety announcements, but Snapchat can prove an equally valuable resource to deliver this information. Using Snapchat’s capabilities to share captioned photos or videos, municipalities can more effectively relay safety tips and police information to a younger demographic.

Highlight Public Schools

Dynamic activities in public schools, though appreciated by students, parents, faculty, and school administrators, may frequently go unnoticed by other members of the community. Does one of your schools have an impressive Environmental Club, a championship-winning athletic program, or a great hands-on chemistry class? Encourage school communities to let you know when great things are happening, and then use Snapchat to highlight school initiatives worthy of community-wide recognition.

Snapchat App (300x200)Voting Reminders

Millennials are famous for our willingness to make use of new technology. We’re also famous for our despicable voter turnout. Snapchat can be used as a tool to remind younger people to go out and participate in the decisions that directly affect their school districts and localities.

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In short, Snapchat provides an efficient and personal method of visual communication that younger demographics (and older demographics, believe it or not) have grown to appreciate. As social media becomes an increasingly important branding platform for communities, local governments have a lot to gain from experimenting with what Snapchat has to offer. Emerging from your comfort zone, exploring new methods of communication, and reaching younger demographics on the social media platforms that they already use daily can work wonders in creating enthusiastic and engaged communities.

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Samantha Audia, Michigan Municipal League Intern

SamanthaAudia-150x150Samantha joined the Michigan Municipal League team as an intern this winter, and will graduate from the University of Michigan in the spring with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. Previously, she has worked with several political non-profits in the Washington, D.C. area, and contributed to an array of publications. Samantha calls Garden City home but currently resides in Ann Arbor, and she looks forward to blogging for the League throughout the winter.

Open Jackson LogoAbout 80% of citizens are concerned with the accountability and openness of government. To help address this issue, open data has been quietly growing popularity for the past few years (also see open data mentioned in the League’s Year in Review blog). And if you haven’t heard about it yet, open data will certainly be a topic of discussion in Michigan throughout 2015.

According to the Open Data Handbook, open data is “data that can be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone.” But don’t worry, data isn’t just anything — it’s not email messages and it’s not personal information. This type of data is often public information governments already collect, but don’t always use to its greatest potential —  things like statistics on crime, education, waste management, street lights, and housing.

open dataThe big idea behind open data is that public information is shared in a format that’s easy for people (citizens, government departments, businesses, developers, etc.) to access and use. Taking a closer look at data can help increase government efficiency, transparency, and accountability, boost civic participation, and encourage economic development.

So far, the federal government, 16 U.S. states, and more than 30 local governments have adopted open data policies. The city of Jackson is the only Michigan municipality to adopt an  ordinance and the community is currently working with students from the University of Michigan’s School of Information Citizen Interaction Design program to establish internal policies to better implement open data strategies.

Because the concept is new to Michigan, the League wanted to get ahead of the game and compile a few useful resources for local leaders interested in learning more.

On our Open Data Resource Page, you’ll be able to find helpful open data publications, resources, and sample policies from across the country.

As communities discuss open data, be sure to keep the League in the loop! We’re glad to help collect information, examples, and resources to help leaders make the case, question, and explore open data.