Downtown Pontiac has tremendous potential - planners said following three-days of intensive study by the Congress of the New Urbanism.

Downtown Pontiac has tremendous potential – planners said following three-days of intensive study by the Congress of the New Urbanism.

Three days of conceptualization and team effort culminated in Sunday’s meeting to conclude the Congress of New Urbanism Legacy Project charrette in Pontiac, Michigan.

Intended to reimagine Pontiac’s downtown space, over 50 participants and residents met April 17 to share and take ownership of three days’ worth of ideas, goals, and concrete planning initiatives that can make these objectives a reality.

Project team leader Galina Tachieva of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. showed a series of photos illustrating the downtown’s lively past, and explained that the city has still managed to retain the bones of a thriving urban space.

With the right vision, management, and policy changes, Tachieva explained that these remnants of prosperity encased by the Woodward loop could begin to heal themselves and recover the vibrancy of their past.

The Phoenix Center in downtown Pontiac was the focus of some of the discussion during the three days of the CNU Legacy Project charrettes in the city.

The Phoenix Center in downtown Pontiac was the focus of some of the discussion during the three days of the CNU Legacy Project charrettes in the city.

The team presented a wide range of short-term, mid-term, and long-term proposals to reshape Pontiac’s urban space. These included immediate fixes to lacking crosswalks and inadequate street parking, as well as future plans for a public marketplace, safe and expanded transit hubs, and eventual redevelopment of the Phoenix Center roof into a central space for leisure, exercise, and arts in the community.

Together these plans, just a brief overview of a comprehensive and wide-scope project, will help bring the kind of large-scale retail and restaurant development described by consultant Bob Gibbs, equating to $55.2 million in annual sales.

The residents who participated in Sunday’s wrap-up seemed enthusiastic about the many possibilities that this project raises for the future of Pontiac. Specifically, participants engaged in discussion regarding the placement of transit stops, development of multi-use housing, and location of a public marketplace.

The diverse team of consultants and planners that worked on the project reminded those attending the wrap-up that these plans, though comprehensive, were only a departure point. From here, the residents of Pontiac will take ownership of this project, and work together throughout the next decade towards growth and vibrancy. 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.

Posted by Matt Bach on behalf of Samantha Audia. Samantha 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 and spring.

Law enforcement officials participate in a panel discussion at the Race and Law Enforcement in the Urban Community forum in Saginaw November 14, 2015.

Law enforcement officials participate in a panel discussion at the Race and Law Enforcement in the Urban Community forum in Saginaw Nov. 14, 2015.

(View additional photos from the event here)

More than 100 people attended a highly successful forum in Saginaw on Race and Law Enforcement in the Urban Community.

The event, sponsored by the Michigan Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (MBC-LEO), featured national and state speakers discussing the rising concern of race relations following numerous high-profile cases of police incidents involving African-American men and women across the country.

Kicking off the event was Leon Andrews Jr., Director of Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) for the National League of Cities. Andrews came in from Washington D.C. for the event and reviewed the issue. He also showed a video and slide presentation of the many faces of young people, as well as people of all ages, who have succumbed to violence in urban communities throughout the nation.

 

Leon Andrews Jr. of the National League of Cities REAL program speaks at the forum in Saginaw.

Leon Andrews Jr. of the National League of Cities REAL program speaks at the forum in Saginaw.

“In some cities, more than half of all young adult black men are currently under correction control, either in prison or jail, or probation or parole,” Andrews said. “One in three young African American men will serve time in prison if the current trends continue.”

Event organizer Dexter Mitchell, Buena Vista Township manager, was pleased with the event and the turnout, which included coverage by area TV news stations, WNEM TV 5 and WEYI TV 25.

“This forum was not intended for attendees to have a magic bullet to resolve this problem as they left the meeting,” Mitchell said. “Rather the purpose was to open a dialogue and a conversation and we accomplished that.”

Mitchell added he hopes to have future forums on similar topics take place throughout the state.

Other speakers Saturday were Angela Austin, My Brother’s Keeper, Lansing; Cal Talley, chairperson of My Brother’s Keeper, Saginaw Michigan Challenge; George Copeland, Saginaw Valley State University student; and Montel Menifee, Bay Regional Director of the Office of U.S. Senator Gary Peters.

Race and Law Enforcement Forum sign editedThe event concluded with a law enforcement panel discussion featuring Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton; Inkster Police Chief William Riley; Saginaw Police Chief Bob Ruth; Buena Vista Township Public Safety Director Robert Schulz; Saginaw County Prosecuting Attorney John McColgan Jr.; Saginaw County Sheriff Bill Federspiel; Michigan State Police Lt. David A. Simon, Post Commander of the Tri Cities Post; and Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman.

The forum was attended by youth and concerned citizens from the Saginaw area as well as elected officials from throughout the state, including the communities of Durand, Flint, Auburn Hills, Highland Park, Saginaw, and South Haven.

Huge crowd attends MBC-LEO forum on Race and Law Enforcement in Saginaw Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015.

Huge crowd attends MBC-LEO forum on Race and Law Enforcement in Saginaw Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015.

There were multiple opportunities for conversation between the audience and the speakers. The topics covered included ways to help young men who have college educations get jobs that match their education, the desire for additional assistance for young black women facing legal issues, and the need for more programs and opportunities for people who are now out of the prison system and trying to better themselves.

MBC-LEO is an affiliate organization of the Michigan Municipal League, which also was a supporter of the event. The conversation that took place in Saginaw fits directly with one of the eight assets the League has deemed essential for building vibrant communities – diversity and multiculturalism. Other event sponsors were Meijer, Spicer Group, Vividar Mor, W&W Cleaning Services, Siemens, Absopure, OHM, the National League of Cities, and the Saginaw Community Action Committee.

Click here to view additional photos from the forum.

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

Placemaking is such a buzz word of 2014 – and that’s a good thing! Placemaking awareness has been on the rise for the past few years, but themes, ideas, and policies are now more generally accepted and promoted. Placemaking is something people can relate to, want to talk about, and want to promote, which is great news for Michigan communities.

2014 has been a wonderful year for new research, stories, and perspectives on placemaking, engagement, and talent attraction throughout Michigan and across the globe. As part of the League’s services, we’ve been documenting and cataloguing articles related to our placemaking asset areas to use in presentations, guidebooks, research, and talking points. Here are my top five favorite reports of the year:

Investing In Place, American Planning Association

investing in placeMillennials were certainly a discussion topic of 2014. Articles like What Millennials Want – And Why Cities are Right to Pay Them So much Attention, Millennials & Mobility: Understanding the Millennial Mindset, and the Deloitte Millennial Survey populated newsfeeds. As a millennial, the results didn’t seem that staggering – we care about placemaking, doesn’t everybody? In case some leaders still weren’t getting the picture, the American Planning Association went a step further to explore the similar wants and needs of the country’s two largest population groups: millennials and boomers. It turns out they want the same things. Recommendations to please the largest populations include:

  • Engage residents: 75% of millennials and boomers agree that engaging citizens is essential to rebuilding local economies and creating jobs
  • Prioritize walkability and transit: Fewer than 10% of millennials, gen Xers, and boomers are interested in traditional, auto-dependent suburban living
  • Invest in quality of life: 74% of respondents believe investing in schools, walkability, and transportation is a better way to grow the economy than traditional approaches.

Using findings from this report, community leaders can frame future investments and development plans based on the public’s interests.

The Rise of Innovation Districts, The Brookings Institute

Communities and metro regions across the country are recovering from the Great Recession, but most are still behind their pre-recession peaks. There are some areas, however, that are recovering faster and stronger. According to the report, downtowns where people both live and work grew 77% faster than the country as a whole. Similarly, metro areas with more than 1 million people grew twice as fast than areas with populations under 250,000innovation districts

The report explores all aspects of innovation districts – which Brookings defines as a high density area of entrepreneurs, education and medical institutions, start-ups, and mixed-use developments that are interconnected through transit, technology, and physical proximity. The Rise of Innovation Districts says these districts are where jobs can grow faster, stronger, and more equitably, where density can reduce carbon emissions, and where local governments can generate more tax revenue. The report continues to explore the economic, physical, and networking aspects of how innovations work, as well as how community leaders can spark and scale innovation districts in their own communities.

Even for smaller communities, the report can be used as leverage to promote different areas of placemaking from entrepreneurial incentives, to walkable streets, to efficient transportation options.

State Policies Matter, Michigan Future

state policiesThis report is Michigan-specific, and especially with drama from Michigan’s current lame duck legislature, civic leaders should take a few minutes to read or re-read this paper. State Policies Matter describes how Michigan and Minnesota were once very similar states, with similar statewide policies and economies. Since 1990, however, Michigan and Minnesota have been growing more and more dissimilar: Minnesota now ranks 11th highest in the country in per capita income while Michigan is ranked 35th, and Minnesota’s unemployment and poverty rates have declined but Michigan’s have stayed about the same or worsened. This report seeks to explain the growing differences between the two states through policy decisions state and local leaders have made over recent decades. Major differences include the following:

  • Income taxes, business taxes, sales taxes, and gas taxes are all significantly higher in Minnesota, which means per capita state and local taxes are $1,000 – $5,000 higher than in Michigan.
  • These higher tax revenues allow Minnesota’s government to invest more in important priorities. For example, Michigan spends $1,447/person on k-12 education, while Minnesota spends $2,067/person. Michigan spends $223/person on transportation, while Minnesota spends $465/person. And Michigan spends $119/person in local government aid, while Minnesota spends $465/person.
  • Social policies are also more equitable in Minnesota than in Michigan. For example, the state allows same-sex marriages, allows affirmative action for college admissions, and allows undocumented high school graduates to receive in-state tuition at state universities.

This report can be seen as a timely warning to our state and local leaders to reconsider some current policy priorities.

The Equity Solution, PolicyLink

This fall, PolicyLink launched the National Equity Atlas, an online resource of demographics and economic data across the US with policy implications focused on racial equality. This data highlights the persistent, and often growing gaps, between the rich and poor, and white and non-white populations. Some important findings include:

  • equity atlasRacial economic inclusion could annually add $2 trillion to the national economy
  • 66% of racial income gap is due to wage differences, and only 34% is due to employment differences
  • Every region in the country would be stronger with racial inclusion. Potential annual gains range from $287 million to $510 billion in the nation’s 150 largest metro regions.

Users can manipulate data on the National Equality Atlas site to represent findings from their state or region. Michigan can be looked at as a whole or in the Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing regions.

The report also highlights policy recommendations for closing economic gaps between racial lines. Some examples include:

  • Invest in transit and other infrastructure projects to improve connectivity and create jobs
  • Leverage anchor institutions to grow new business in underinvested areas
  • Raise the minimum wage through local living wage ordinances or statewide initiatives
  • Remove barriers of employment, like prohibiting credit checks for job applicants and increasing citizenship for immigrants.

City Open Data Policies, National League of Cities

open dataMunicipalities collect and store a ton of information but most of it just sits there. Recently, excitement around open data has grown through initiatives from Code for America and other organizations – if there’s data, let people access it, manipulate it, and see what they can come up with. Open data is simply “data that can be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone” and is a pretty new idea for cities around the world. This report highlights lessons learned so far from 5 cities who have implemented open data policies and outlines recommendations and resources for communities looking to implement something similar.

Jackson is the only Michigan community, so far, to venture into the possibilities of open data. With work from city leaders, student interns, and national institutional advisors, Jackson has already adopted an open data ordinance and is currently working on creating an online portal. Communities interested in learning more are encouraged to contact Jackson and take recommendations from the NLC report:

  • Find leadership for open data initiatives
  • Commit to open data through legislation and formal policies
  • Allocate resources to open data initiatives – although it’s low cost, the best policies have appropriate staffing and budgeting
  • Rely on experts to provide technical expertise and customer service for online platforms since municipalities often don’t have the in-house resources readily available

So what are you supposed to do with these five reports?

Read them, share them, and use them to make decisions in your community. And if you want more light reading for the holiday break, just let me know! Since April, we have been cataloging interesting articles, reports, and case studies related to placemaking. So far we have about 200 in our database, so there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Looking forward to another year of research, placemaking, and community building!

 

Communities prioritizing talent attraction and retention should focus on investing in equality, says a new report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC’s Municipal Equality Index recently published its 2014 evaluation of municipal LGBT equality laws across the country.

Munic Equality IndexAccording to the report, residents in communities with “vibrant gay and lesbian” areas have better life satisfaction and a stronger emotional attachment to their community, as well as higher incomes, housing values, and concentrations of high-tech businesses – all great news for a local economy.

Nine Michigan cities were examined in the study and East Lansing received a perfect score, which only 11% of American cities can claim.

Nathan Triplett, East Lansing Mayor and Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees Vice President, said in the report: “To build a prosperous and vibrant city, we must be welcoming to all who wish to make our community their home and place of business. While equal opportunity and equal protection under the law are clearly moral imperatives and often thought of in those terms, we also recognize that they are economic imperatives for thriving 21st century communities.”

Of the other Michigan cities examined in this report, Ann Arbor ranked the second highest with 83 points out of 100, and Detroit ranked third with 74 points.

Communities interested in improving their local civil rights policies can visit the League’s resource page on human rights ordinances for samples from across the state, including East Lansing.