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.

When I think of Europe, I think of castles, fountains, sculptures, and people sitting at charming outdoor cafes on cobblestone streets sipping coffee or an aperitif. (What is an aperitif? I don’t know–but it fits in with my image). One thing I never would have associated with Europe is lack of reasons for people to visit or move there.

U.S. McCloy Fellows and hosts at Puckler's Castle in Cottbus

U.S. McCloy Fellows and hosts at Puckler’s Castle in Cottbus

Imagine my surprise when I was in the German city of Oldenburg in September, to hear the mayor voice his concerns over attracting talent to his city.

Oldenburg Mayor Prof. Dr. Gerd Schwandner

Oldenburg Mayor Prof. Dr. Gerd Schwandner

He is a fan of Richard Florida’s book Rise of the Creative Class on attracting talent, providing technology, and practicing tolerance. He incorporated the three “Ts” (talent, technology, and tolerance) to his vision of the city’s future. It struck me immediately that this mayor was avant garde. He wanted to get rid of the “good ol‘ boys network,” so he eradicated some previous traditions, such as changing the guest list for the opening day of a big market. He passed over mayors and other potentates in his region and in their place invited more women, more young people, and people from a mix of cultural backgrounds.

Town criers with U.S> McCloy Fellows at the opening of Kramermarkt

Town criers with U.S. McCloy Fellows at the opening of Kramermarkt

The mayor is invested in changing things in his city and making it more welcoming to people of different ethnicities. “The idea of tolerance and integration fits in perfectly with our self-conception. Oldenburg regards itself as a modern city in a modern society. We appreciate the communication and mutual exchange with people from all over the world, we seek and keep friendship with them. In return, they contribute new views and insights to our community and make our city a better place.”  The city has developed an integration pamphlet, and has a city department dedicated to integration, “The demographic development of Oldenburg shows that the city is dependent on the immigration of qualified workers from other countries.”

This went over like a ton of bricks. But he was savvy enough to realize that he couldn’t go full throttle with his vision—he needed to gently bring his citizens along with him. So, he added another “T” to the city’s motto: Tradition. The photo of the gentleman in “uniform” should clue you in on the city’s deep sense of tradition. This is the uniform of the town crier—the official who would go to the public square and announce the news of the day (like the town crier in London at the hospital announcing the birth of Prince William’s baby). The tradition is centuries old and people are not ready to chuck tradition yet.

This experience reinforced my belief in need for municipalities to think about their futures and how they are going to remain viable. Will all your young people move away and not come back? When they want to settle down and raise a family, what will draw them back to you? Will you have the amenities they desire? Because they will choose a place that offers what they want, and research shows they want technology, sustainability, walkability, a place that is welcoming to all, with art & culture. If European cities are concerned, Michigan cities should be concerned, too.

At the end of March, the League will be hosting four German fellows (through the McCloy Fellowship for Urban Affairs). Where will we take them? What will we show them? These were the questions that went through our minds. What we came up with is a behind-the scenes look at innovative projects in the city of Detroit. Detroit is crucial to a thriving Michigan, and it is getting a lot of international media coverage, and not the good kind. We are going to take this opportunity to show an international audience the Detroit that induces a passion in the people that love it—the sense of being able to make a difference, the perseverance of dogged individuals to make their city a better place.

streetsignRecently, a team of League staff members visited the city of Sault Ste. Marie on two separate missions: two staffers were there to film a new Town Gown “vlog” (video blog) on the city’s partnership with Lake Superior State University, and its vision to become a “university town” rather than simply a “town with a university.” The other duo was there to look into the city’s Historic Water Street project that is redefining the under-utilized waterfront running along the Soo Locks.

Those might sound like very different subjects. But both are examples of how city officials are engaging with citizens and collaborating with community partners to build a sense of place that is uniquely “the Soo.”

The city’s streetscape renovations and revitalization have provided a waterfront gathering place for people to relax, exercise, learn and celebrate. The placemaking project 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.saultstemarie-waterstreet

On the town gown front, Sault United is a steering committee composed of community leaders representing the City, the University, War Memorial Hospital, the area and intermediate school districts, the economic development corporation, and the downtown development authority. The effort is a direct result of a pilot project led by the League to help the city find new ways to evolve into a true university town.

In both cases, the city has opened its doors to creative partnerships on every level, from bringing LSSU students downtown for a zombie walk and haunted homecoming parade, to working closely with local native tribes to ensure the new Water Street project tells both sides of the community’s rich and colorful past with accuracy and mutual respect.

The results of these ongoing efforts are already visible in terms of economic impact and a reenergizing of the entire downtown. Thousands gathered downtown for the city’s and university’s newly combined Halloween festivities. A photography scavenger hunt encouraged students to explore the city’s landmarks and businesses. A whole calendar of first-time and annual events brought crowds to a newly vibrant Water Street in 2012, with even more events planned for 2013 and beyond.

If you haven’t been to Sault Ste. Marie in a few years and think the Soo Locks are all there is to see, then it’s time to plan another visit to “the place where Michigan was born.” But bring a big suitcase. Once you’re there, you just might want to stay.