Cadillac community stakeholders were busy at work again last week creating a sense of place centered around a critical one-block area of the downtown, connecting the backs of businesses like the Clam Lake Beer Co. along Mitchell Street and the new Baker College student apartments with the city’s lakefront park, band pavilion, award-winning Clam River Greenway and soon-to-be White Pine Trailhead.

After one-on-one stakeholder interviews and a great community visioning session in early December, a steady stream of stakeholder groups and interested citizens could be found visiting the two-day charrette last week, examining the two initial design concepts created by the MSU PlacePlans design team. The convenient location of the charrette process on the third floor of a contiguous building provided a bird’s-eye view of the design area, greatly aiding discussion.

Collaborative discussion resulted in creative suggestions such as the addition of a second dock for boaters, a separate dedicated fishing pier, landscape-designed seating for music events, the memorial fountain as a year-round attraction, brightening up and creating friendly access at the backs of bordering businesses, and creating safe and attractive walkways from nearby parking.

Rotary Pavilion - CadillacCadillac residents and business owners were not only philosophical and strategic about the typically bristly issue of reduced parking, but also about the service delivery alley and the sometimes polarizing subject of potentially closing Lake Street. They tended toward compromise in all areas, such as keeping Lake Street engineered as a roadway, but designed as a pedestrian environment with retractable bollards for opening and closing the roadway as practical.

The Michigan Municipal League is proud to be partnered with MSU  and MSHDA in the PlacePlans program, and we are as excited as the people of Cadillac to see the next and near final, concept unveiling.

Holland PlacePlansWe visited with a full house of residents in Holland this past week who were intrigued to learn more about the PlacePlans project, and how it will further the goals of the city’s strategic plan.  Everyone was eager to discuss the opportunities that might emerge through strategic development of the City’s Western Gateway.  The Western Gateway is a critical connection between the successful downtown district and the thriving Farmer’s Market and civic center area, ending at the beautiful waterfront park.

Discussion quickly turned to the opportunities that lay untapped in this key corridor, and ways that great design and effective strategic planning can converge to promote economic development.  With numerous projects and initiatives underway the community is poised to create a truly unique urban space, distinct from the principal shopping district and complementary to the Farmer’s Market.  Development of the Western Gateway would activate what is now a missing link, knitting together some of the communities best assets—the waterfront, civic center area, historic neighborhoods, farmer’s market, and the downtown district.

Ideas around food innovation emerged as a primary interest, with great discussion of ways that the farm market and major food producers in the area might utilize the Western Gateway as a hub for entrepreneurial activity related to the food industry.  It was fantastic to hear the community members share such creative ideas about how to use what is best about that area to establish an authentic district that would add to the fabric of the community.

A street artist performs in downtown Flint.

A street artist performs in downtown Flint.

There was an excellent editorial in Thursday’s (Feb. 13, 2014) Lansing State Journal about the value of Michigan’s cities (aka placemaking: placemaking.mml.org) to our state’s economic recovery. You can read the editorial here but the LSJ is paid-based website so if you don’t have an LSJ account let me summarize it for you.

The headline of the editorial, “Michigan needs its cities to thrive” is an amen-moment for the League. We’ve been saying this for year’s now and it’s nice to see more and more media understand. A recent survey by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy also showed local municipal officials also increasingly embrace the placemaking concept.

Placemaking (placemaking.mml.org) essentially is creating places or communities where people want to work, live and raise families. Placemaking takes a variety of forms (check out placemaking examples on this League placemaking webpage.)

The editorial explains that for Michigan to thrive it must have vibrant cities and for too long now the state has taken revenue sharing that our communities were entitled to. It said Governor Snyder’s proposed 2014-15 budget would increase constitutional revenue sharing to communities by 3 percent and statutory revenue sharing by 15 percent. The League has stated this increase is appreciated but it doesn’t even scratch the surface toward to $6.2 billion the state has diverted away from communities in the last decade (read more about that in this new revenue sharing fact sheet put out by the League this week).

Furthermore, the increase in statutory revenue sharing being sought by the governor comes with strings. That money would be tied to performance requirements under the Governor’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP). This EVIP program, in the League’s opinion, simply is not working and creates unnecessary inefficiencies for our communities.

The LSJ editorial says (and I love this part) “it’s high time the state committed more resources to making local communities strong. While all state residents live in Michigan, their quality of life is substantially defined by the quality of cities, villages, townships and counties in which they live. … Distressed areas don’t suffer alone. They spread economic unease to neighborhing communities and, in the case of Detroit and its bankruptcy, potentially to the entire state.”

It concludes with this one-two punch: “… It is essential that the state resume stronger support for local government. Details can and will be negotiated, but Snyder’s proposal should be the minimum that lawmakers consider as they continue reviewing the FY 2014-15 budget.”

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

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan discusses the League's Partnership for Place initiative.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan discusses the League’s Partnership for Place initiative.

When it comes to the value of placemaking and how it ties to municipal financing in Michigan, Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan doesn’t mince words: “The state’s current system of funding our communities is broken and change is essential to returning Michigan to prosperity.”

I had the opportunity to talk with Noonan, the 2013-14 president of the Michigan Municipal League, prior to a recent League board meeting and she talked about her desire for changes to the state’s municipal finance system and why the concept of placemaking is so important to Michigan’s future. Learn more about the value of placemaking at placemaking.mml.org and view the League’s Partnership for Place placemaking plan here.

Her comments come on the heels of a recently released report/survey on placemaking by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. The survey shows that more local governments than ever before are utilizing placemaking as an economic development tool in their communities. The League has long promoted placemaking as an economic driver and Noonan was very encouraged by the survey results.

Q&A with Mayor Noonan, League board president:

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan does a media interview with Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan does a media interview with Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio.

Q: What is your reaction to the new UM study that shows more cities are using placemaking as an economic development strategy?
A: “I’m excited because in the long run it is an absolute verifiable fact that talent and companies tend to migrate to communities that offer high quality of life. Placemaking is a strategy to highlight a community’s assets. Those assets can make your community more attractive to high quality talent and companies.”

Q: What do you think these survey results could mean for Michigan?
A: “With the stance taken by federal government post 2008, the auto industry has come back like a lion. The service industry around the state is experiencing such an economic upturn and when you combine manufacturing and the service sector, Michigan is in the top quarter if not the top 20 states in recovery. The state government – Governor Snyder and legislators – need to realize that helping local government through placemaking will enhance our recovery exponentially.”

Q: Do you think there is a relation between turning Michigan around economically/adding jobs and placemaking?
A: “I do. One of the areas you would point to that is doing this well would be west Michigan, through their mass transit programs and just how they use the beauty of the area to their advantage, with their gorgeous coast line. They are a premiere example of how to do placemaking right. Traverse City is another one. County by county throughout our state I think we are on the cusp of a huge success story.”

Q: Do you think our state lawmakers see that relation between placemaking and Michigan’s economic recovery?
A: “No I do not. I’m afraid the business sector, state Legislature and the Governor have not identified with placemaking to the extent they need to. But we have a growing percentage of them that are beginning to see it so we must keep the dialogue going strongly.”

Michigan Municipal League President Jacqueline Noonan, Mayor of Utica.

Michigan Municipal League President Jacqueline Noonan, Mayor of Utica.

Q: How can we get the governor and lawmakers to understand the importance of placemaking?
A: “We have to share information like the UM study with them directly. We also need to make sure they get the league’s excellent printed materials, such as the book, The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People and the MIPlace materials. To borrow from what the governor says, we need to have Relentless Positive Contact with state officials about the importance of placemaking so no matter what direction they turn they are going to see it.”

Read the placemaking UM report here. Read the UM press release. Read the League’s Placemaking blog post on the study.

View a recent Michigan Municipal League Review magazine article about Noonan and how her community is using placemaking as part of its rebirth.

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