As innovation has made it possible for my generation to satisfy needs at an increasingly rapid pace, we’ve adapted accordingly. Millennials expect the same efficiency that we see in services like Amazon Prime and Spotify to be reflected in our transportation options as well, which is perhaps why many of us have readily embraced the seamless, on-demand mobility provided by ridesharing apps.

Last week, I discussed how shifting mass transit preferences impact the way in which cities allocate their transportation dollars. Similarly, as transportation becomes ever more service- rather than product-oriented, and ridesharing services approach new regions, apps like Uber and Lyft will maintain an increasingly formidable influence on our society’s mobility.

Irresistible Innovation

Lyft (300x225)A wealth of research and articles exist that attempt to determine exactly why ridesharing apps have so captivated my generation, and the conclusions are universally predictable. Millennials like ridesharing apps for the very reasons that you’d probably assume: for the most part we crave efficiency, we only carry cash if necessary, we expect seamless connectivity, and we seek out social experiences.

On-demand mobility conforms to the flexibility and spontaneity of our own schedules. It’s a social experience that we can share with friends, yet personalized to the extent that we can play our Spotify playlists, specify the quality and size of car that arrives for us, and rate our experience afterward. Ridesharing also allows us to abandon those awkward post-taxi moments comprised of pooling together cash and determining a tip. Most notably, Uber and Lyft allow us to split the fare equally between users, rather than hunting down our friends for money later.

In every way, rideshare appeals to the sort of innovative adaptability that my generation champions.

Beyond the Obvious

It seems easy to attribute the growing popularity of app-based mobility simply to the rising preferences of the millennial generation listed above. But in reality, ridesharing services do more than entertain my generation’s tech-centric, “sharing economy” transportation dreams. Uber and Lyft provide every person willing to download the app (not just millennials) with a creative and flexible way to problem-solve in their own respective situations.

More Than Getting from Point A to Point B

While I certainly use Uber (my ridesharing app of choice) as a travel solution, I’ve also been known to use it as a unique problem-solving tool for many of life’s little challenges. For example, my roommate and I frequently called an UberXL from the grocery store in order to dodge lugging our groceries a mile back to our apartment in the D.C. heat. I’ve been known to use ridesharing for desperate fast-food drive-through excursions, and admittedly as a ride home upon giving up on exercise halfway through a jog.

In short, each individual transit need is unique, and services like Lyft and Uber present an adaptable solution to every unusual demand.

Ridesharing but Not

Uber (300x200)The very concept of “ridesharing” indicates an experience meant to be used in common with others, yet I’ve personally found that Uber is most useful to me when I’m desperately alone. For example, upon finding myself in need of a 3:00 a.m. emergency room visit while my roommate was out of town, ridesharing was my only alternative to calling an ambulance. Humorously enough, I actually think that my driver arrived faster than an ambulance would have. Because I had already entered my destination as George Washington Emergency, my driver even came prepared to help me into the car and then into the ER.

Of course, this is an outstanding circumstance. Yet the principle that ridesharing offers a solution to individuals who lack the luxury of being able to pool transportation resources with others stands true. Ridesharing is great with friends, but even more indispensable when travelling alone.

A Groundbreaking Resource for Women

For women, Uber provides an unparalleled resource in terms of personal safety. As a woman, having access to Uber and Lyft gives me the comfort of knowing that if, at any point, I want to leave a situation alone, I have the ability to do so safely.

Even over the last few years, I’ve observed the immeasurable impact that ridesharing has had on female mobility. Before Uber and Lyft, women seeking to leave a situation on their own and without a personal vehicle had a very limited range of undesirable options: essentially taxi, mass transit, or walking. Nothing says ‘I’m alone and vulnerable’ quite like hailing a cab alone on a dark street at night, let alone walking, for that matter. Though mass transit could be a viable option, at the very least it involves a walk there and home, and it may not even be running at night.

Ridesharing offers an alternative option to women seeking to travel alone, enabling them to leave their present situation and walk straight into a waiting vehicle. Knowing that we have access to reliable transportation from any situation or location, simply by using an app, has revolutionized the manner in which my friends and I travel. Ultimately, ridesharing services allow women an unparalleled degree of freedom and safety in individual transit.

In short, though ridesharing resonates with my generation because it synthesizes many of our ‘values’ into one very efficient program, ridesharing gives people of all ages a whole new set of tools with which to problem-solve. As mobility trends continue to shift, municipalities should consider embracing ridesharing programs and their community impact, not only because reliable transportation stimulates local economies, but because programs like Uber and Lyft grant society an incomparable freedom of movement and the ability to re-invent the way we get from place to place.

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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.

When it comes to getting from point A to point B, the increasingly innovative nature of mobility has made mass transit a special area of interest for municipalities as they contemplate how to best allocate resources to attract and retain millennials.

My generation has recently been heralded as the mass transit generation, and although the verdict is still out, studies show that at the very least we’re more interested in using multiple means of travel, less interested in obtaining a driver’s license, and altogether eager to take advantage of developing transportation technology to ease and enhance our commute.

Dynamic Transit

Millennials are more enthusiastic than their parents about the mass transit option, especially when mass transit proves a more efficient method of travel than driving to work. Consider: 40 percent of millennials state that they use mass transit as an opportunity to ‘work on their way to work’. Although frequent stops or even delays may cause an individual to budget more time for a commute, 45 minutes spent catching up on e-mails or preparing an agenda for the day may seem a better alternative to 30 minutes spent behind the wheel of a car. Furthermore, young professionals tend to see public transportation as a social experience. As they flock to urban centers, the usage of public transit gives millennials an opportunity to engage in their new community.Bus Map (2) (300x223)

Mass transit also gives my generation alternatives to owning a vehicle, a responsibility that may seem altogether unnecessary and unfavorable for individuals living near urban hubs. Several expenses go into possessing a car: the actual cost of the vehicle, gas, insurance, vehicle maintenance, parking, and tolls. Coupled with escalating urban rent and the absurd amount of student loan debt that millennials lug around, car expenses impose a large and unnecessary financial burden on those for whom mass transit is an alternative option.

Apps and Accessibility

For previous generations, owning a vehicle was the only way in which travelers could ensure spontaneous mobility. Adherence to complicated train schedules, bus schedules, and closing times essentially meant that any trip undertaken had to occur within a certain predetermined time frame that one missed bus or train could completely shatter.

The advent of new transportation technology by way of apps has significantly impacted the manner in which we can get from point A to point B. Consider Transit App (or HopStop before it was acquired by Apple), which will plan out an entire trip between different modes of transportation in seconds, complete with real-time train and bus schedules. Technology like this makes an entire network of mass transit more approachable to millennials seeking on-demand mobility – simply by downloading an app.

The Reality

Public transportation is a concept near and dear to my heart. Throughout my first experience living in Washington, D.C., I encountered all the trials and tribulations that came with owning and operating a vehicle in the city. Between the narrow roads, the parking situation, how much I paid for the parking situation, the toll roads, and the traffic, I can attest that using a car in the city was financially draining and mentally exhausting. When I moved into the city for the second time, I was thrilled that my office was accessible by metro and left me no need to use a vehicle.

That being said, although the D.C. metro system got me where I needed to go and allowed me to dodge the pitfalls of operating a car in the city, it certainly wasn’t the epitome of technological efficiency as portrayed in many of the articles cited above about public transit systems. The Washington Post actually ran a story this week about the D.C. metro system and its shortcomings, based on survey responses of D.C.-based millennials. They quoted one respondent as saying “Our Metro seems to catch on fire or derail more often Mass Transit (300x201)than it runs on time,” and some of the notable descriptions of the system included “absolute worst in the world” and “death trap.”

Therefore, I’m not surprised that mass transit has yet to surpass cars as the premier way for my generation to get around in D.C., or nationally for that matter. Millennials may be increasingly open to mass transit, but the fact that several city-based transit systems have yet to evolve past 20th century obstacles leaves us to choose between what the Washington Post terms ‘the lesser of two evils.” For 84.5 percent of today’s 18-34 age group, that lesser evil is still driving.

Yet, as municipalities begin to reevaluate the manner in which they allocate their transportation resources, anything is possible. Millennials will ultimately flock to cities that can provide freedom of mobility in a cost-effective, safe, and efficient fashion. Therefore, municipalities have everything to gain from investing in high-quality, innovative public transit. Michigan’s willingness to embrace a competitive 21st century transportation infrastructure will set it apart from other states, and work towards attracting and retaining an entire generation of young professionals.

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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.

2015-2016-bannerAs the year draws to a close, we have been reflecting on the League’s accomplishments in 2015. We love where you live, so we’ve been working hard to represent and serve the needs of our member communities in a variety of areas. From our advocacy efforts in Lansing and Washington, D.C. to our placemaking initiative, Legal Defense Fund, talent attraction, crowdfunding, risk management, and our vast array of information, resources, and training, we have done our best to make sure your voices are heard and you have the tools you need to lead your communities. As you read through some of our accomplishments for 2015, rest assured that plans are already in motion to make 2016 an even more successful year.

Legislative Activity

School-Bus-on-Bad-Roads-Potholes-small-for-web-300x199One of the top news stories out of Lansing this year was Governor Snyder’s signing of a long-term road funding package in November, following the defeat of Proposal 1 back in May. But there were many other noteworthy accomplishments in 2015 by the League’s advocacy staff in Lansing and Washington, D.C.

Transportation funding also was a hot topic in D.C., and a major long-term package, called the FAST Act, was signed into law by President Obama earlier this month. Of course, the major national issue in 2016 will be the presidential election, and the League is an active supporter of the Cities Lead 2016 platform led by the National League of Cities.

Back in Michigan, other legislation positively impacting our municipalities includes bills allowing for training reciprocity to out-of-state firefighters; cleaning up the personal property tax (PPT) implementation process; establishing the March Presidential Primary as the election date for local ballot questions; extending the Commercial Rehabilitation Act; expanding recreation authorities; clarifying rental inspections; and changing portions of the Mobile Home Commission Act. Some of these bills have been signed into law and others continue to move through the process.

There are also numerous other issues in which the League was very engaged in 2015 and will continue to be into 2016 , including the Dark Stores Big Box property tax loophole; local speed limits; and a shift in broadband relocation costs to communities.

In addition, throughout 2015 the League has been extremely active behind the scenes informing lawmakers about the state’s broken municipal finance system and the need for change. Stay tuned for more on this major initiative in 2016. For all the latest legislative news be sure to frequently visit the League’s Inside 208 blog here.

PlacePlans

This year, our PlacePlans team not only took on seven new projects around the state, but we also started to see previous years’ projects coming to life. Even as we saw successes from past projects, we continued to refine our process and expand the range of projects we took on to meet our cities’ needs.

Benton-Harbor-Dwight-Pete-Mitchell-Final-MSU-Concept-Oct-2015-400x267

Four of the 2015 PlacePlans maintained our partnership with the MSU School of Planning, Design, and Construction, and built on our shared experience from the past two years. We worked with Benton Harbor, Boyne City, Lathrup Village, and Monroe to develop concepts for public spaces in their downtowns.  In two more cities, Niles and Traverse City, PlacePlans brought in experts from Michigan’s private sector to look at how public spaces and new development could work in concert to create great places. And in Saginaw, we found the need was not about design, but about governance. We facilitated conversations between the various organizations investing in and around downtown to help identify shared priorities and opportunities to support each other’s efforts.

Across these projects, we looked for ways to get more people involved and build more connections to resources that could help the cities move forward. We added local steering committees to our design projects to help us plan outreach and help city staff carry the projects forward after the grant term; we put together “pop-up” events to support planning efforts by taking ideas out to the actual spaces and showing people how they could work;  and we worked closely with partners in MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program and Public Spaces Community Places crowdfunding program to help our cities get a head start on implementing their designs.

Finally, we worked with five of the cities from earlier iterations of PlacePlans, providing mini-grants to support implementation of their plans. These projects range from the construction of a commercial kitchen near Kalamazoo’s farmer’s market that can support small prepared-food businesses to the creation of developer information packages for key redevelopment sites in Sault Sainte Marie.

Over the last three years, the PlacePlans team has worked with 22 cities across the state—and with thousands of residents and businesses in those communities. We’re now seeing streets transformed, vacant properties rehabilitated, and stronger community ties as a result. There’s no doubt 2016 will see the visions for these places continue to take shape. For our part, we look forward to continuing to learn from these cities’ efforts and to sharing those lessons with the rest of our communities.

PlacePOP

Group-in-chairs-300x200This year, the League launched PlacePOP, an exciting new program focused on civic engagement and tactical placemaking. For a small fee, the League works closely with local partners to develop engaging, temporary improvements to spaces that can improve aesthetics, strengthen community connections, and catalyze future development. So far, the League has partnered with a number of communities with projects ranging from imagining public plazas, to building parklets that temporarily narrow wide streets, to activating vacant storefronts with pop-up retail. For more information and to schedule an activity in your community, visit PlacePOP.

Awards

2015-Diamond-Awards

2015 MSAE Diamond Award

The League’s placemaking work not only is transforming Michigan communities, but it’s also becoming a nationally recognized model throughout the nation and world. The League and our staff received multiple awards in 2015 to acknowledge the tremendous efforts being done in the area of placemaking and truly showing that “We Love Where You Live.” The League won a Diamond Award from the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) for our PlacePlans program in the innovative collaboration category for associations with budgets of $1 million and greater. The League also received a Silver Award for its Review magazine in the magazine publishing category. The League’s magazine also won a Gold MarCom award from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. And in June of this year, the League’s John LaMacchia was named a Rising Leader in 2015 by MSAE.

Information and Resources

The League has been hard at work in 2014-2015 to build the information and resources our members need in support of their daily operations. In addition to our sample ordinances, resolutions, and policies on a wide range of municipal topics, we create and maintain one-of-a-kind databases and informational resources.

For example, did you know that the League conducts an annual statewide survey of pay and benefits?  We collect pay and benefit information on 140+ municipal classifications and make that data available through an online database. This type of information is very useful to members as they prepare budgets, research for labor negotiations, or otherwise assess the comparability of their compensation structures.

The database easily exports to Excel and includes information on population, region/county, number of employees in each classification, and a variety of other useful details. This enables the user to perform customized analyses to meet their objectives.  The survey is also helpful in developing benchmarks. For example, the average base pay range maximum for a full-time police officer in the state is $51,345 (147 respondents).  Breaking that down by community population reveals some considerable differences:

police-salary-chart-400x240

The 2015-2016 survey is currently underway, so be sure to participate so you have access to this valuable data set.

The League also compiled a comprehensive database of our members’ Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) and Pension liabilities. We’ve built the database to include 335 members, and completed additional “deep-dive” analysis on the 100 largest employers, which represents over 90 percent of League members’ employees. Like the pay and benefits dataset, this will be a useful tool for members to use in benchmarking and budgeting.

Legal Defense Fund

curb-lawn-300x200The League’s Legal Defense Fund provides support to communities in Michigan involved in significant litigation or other forms of controversy. One of the most important cases we assisted with this year is Shoemaker v The City of Howell, which was recently decided in favor of municipalities. The issue at hand was the maintenance of the ara of land between the street and sidewalk – variously known as the curblawn, outlawn, or curb-strip. A homeowner in the city of Howell refused to take care of the curblawn after the city finished a streetscape project, which resulted in one of the homeowner’s trees being removed. The homeowner sued the city. The District Court sided with the landowner. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgement and found in favor of the city due to the legitimate governmental interest in the public health and aesthetics.

We also provided support in Deffert v Moe, a case involving open carry of a firearm. Grand Rapids police officers responded to a 911 call regarding a man with a gun. Officer Deffert thought the man appeared to be mentally unstable, so he ordered him on the ground at gunpoint, removed his firearm, then released him after determining that he had a valid permit to carry. The man field suit against the city claiming violation of his first, second, fourth, and fourteenth amendment rights; assault and battery; and false imprisonment. The court found the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain the man long enough to make sure that he was not a threat to himself and others.

Building the Talent Pipeline

Most discussions about talent development in public management start with a somber description of one generation headed for retirement while younger generations pursue careers outside of government and the damage to development positions done by the recession.  True, we’re witnessing a gap in available managers that is in part due to both trends.  But even so, it is an exciting time to be in talent recruitment.  When circumstances don’t allow us to do what we’ve always done, we end up doing something new.

diverse-job-interview-322x200There may not be as many opportunities to start out as an assistant manager or management analyst, so we’re finding candidates from other areas of local government.  Through the League’s Executive Search Service, we have completed 14 searches across the state in 2015.  Nine placements are first-time managers or new to the field, and five of the nine came from public planning and/or economic development backgrounds. This year, 29 percent of our placements were women – which, if you follow the #13percent movement, is more than twice the share of women in the profession.  Even with nearly half of our applicants from out of state, all but two of our placements were from Michigan.  In a time where managers are going to need to innovate to move communities forward, we’re looking forward to seeing what the new managers will create.

As for the challenge of attracting emerging professionals to local government as a career path, we’ve partnered with the Michigan Local Government Management Association (MLGMA) to engage the Master of Public Administration and Policy programs across the state.  Through increasing communication, enhancing student opportunities to attend conferences, and developing resources to bring new talent into the profession.  Although millennials may not be flocking to local government, those the enter the profession tend to stay.*  We’re currently developing resources to connect students with internship and projects in order to give them exposure to public service and build capacity for communities.

Our efforts to recruit and encourage the best leaders for our communities will continue, and we’re expecting next year to be even more exciting!

* Understanding Millennials in Government, Peter Viechnicki. Deloitte University Press. 

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon, and the League has been helping communities take advantage of this unique placemaking tool. We’ve partnered with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Patronicity on Public Spaces Community Places, a crowdfunding initiative that matches funds for local placemaking projects in cities and villages.The current funding success ratio for the 52 identified projects is a whopping 98 percent, with over $1.7 million coming via crowdfunding and another $1.4 million via matching grants from MEDC and MSHDA. None of the projects are large enough by themselves to change the world, but their cumulative effect is paying dividends across the state.

dcfc_keyworth_rendering-300x199

Rendering of Keyworth Stadium

Michigan’s new investment crowdfunding law has made other types of placemaking projects possible. The law enables people in Michigan to legally invest their own money in local businesses with anticipation of a return. It’s not like the popular Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaigns that are simple donations for a cause, it is an actual platform for investment in small businesses. The League believes the law provides entrepreneurs and start-ups with an exciting new avenue for raising funds. Detroit City Football Club is one such organization taking advantage of this opportunity. They are currently running a community investment campaign to restore the historic Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck as their new home base. An investment in projects like the DCFC’s stadium restoration checks a number of important boxes for a community: recreation, historic preservation, social entrepreneurship, and community (re)building. We will continue to look for ways that crowdfunding in its varied forms can help Michigan communities thrive.

Risk Management

risk-mgmt-firemen-300x200The Risk Management Services Division administers two statewide municipal insurance programs: the Michigan Municipal League Workers’ Compensation Fund and the Michigan Municipal League Liability and Property Pool. The Workers’ Compensation Fund has served our members for almost 40 years. It has grown to over 900 members, with $140 million in assets, protecting 2,500 injured workers each year.

The Liability and Property Pool has 415 community members, $80 million in assets, and handles over 1,200 property, liability and police-related claims and lawsuits each year.

Our efforts to reduce losses, specialized claims service, and careful program management allowed us to return $11 million in dividends to our members last year – over $220 million since the program’s inception.

Sprawl – we know it when we see it.  We all live with sprawl in some way or other, but do we ever stop to think how it impacts our lives?  Or do we just go through the motions of everyday life and become comfortably numb to our daily activities and surroundings? And it impacts us financially, as well.  We pay a lot more for sprawl development than for compact development.

Sun City West Sprawl 300x225A recent trip to the Phoenix area, hit me harder than usual.  It wasn’t my first time there, but my awareness and critique of how we build communities become increasingly unforgiving as time goes by.  If I were asked to describe Arizona in a few short words, it would go something like this:  cement pavement, strip malls, franchise restaurants, multilane roads (in one direction), boundless traffic, breathtaking views, soothing mountains, relentless sunshine, blue sky, rich history. Talk about divergent narratives – and all of them are true.  I’m not going to espouse why everyone should experience the beauty of Arizona once in their lifetime, I will leave that to the travel books. I just want to share (or vent is more like it) a few thoughts on poor planning – the bane of our everyday life.

I’m not a trained traffic engineer or certified planner, but I don’t have to be – and neither do you – to know what’s working and what’s not.  We just have to stop and think about how we go about our daily lives, and ask ourselves a few basic questions:  how much time do we spend in a car?  Do we have a local coffee shop or restaurant that we can easily get to?  What do we consider to be the heart of the community?  Can we walk to the library?  (Check out Strong Towns, an organization advocating for vibrant and resilient communities, which offers ten simple questions called the Strong Towns Strength Test to test the strength of your community.)

Most of us know someone who has fled the frigid north for the year-round warmer climates.  On my trip to Phoenix, I visited a friend who lives in a senior community, west of Phoenix.  It is an award winning community development which has separated the housing from shopping, restaurants, and cultural venues.  Sound familiar?  With an aging population, there should be less reliance on a car, not more.  So why are they building and expanding (construction can be seen everywhere) the road system?  The lanes are already confusing, and it’s difficult to access stores and restaurants that you see on the other side of the median.   At all hours of the day, traffic is heavy.  I saw no evidence of traffic calming devices or alternative modes of transportation.  That means you have to get in your car (or take your life in your hands in a golf cart) to get anywhere.  Even though a Starbucks coffee shop was only 2 blocks away from where I was staying, there was no way that I or anybody else was going to feel safe walking over there.  Even the most foolhardy would not risk crossing the multilane roads which lacked any clear markings for pedestrians

verrado pic 300x225I did, however, see an example of a planned community, which has all the potential for great community living. It is called Verrado, in Buckeye, Arizona, west of Phoenix. It is built on the principles of New Urbanism.  Once you get off the freeway, you truly enter an oasis of peaceful, walkable neighborhood living, with the presence of bike and walking paths everywhere.  Although there were a fair amount of people in the small town center on a Sunday, a second visit during the week, showed a lot less people.  It was clear that this community is in its infancy.  More businesses and restaurants need to open to attract more people before it becomes a true destination.

Of course, we don’t have to go to Arizona to find examples of uncontrolled sprawl.  We can go anywhere in this country and find it, including right here in Michigan.  We are becoming an older nation, and unlike previous generations, as boomers age, they are choosing to age in place.  That means that communities will have to be ready to meet their growing needs. There is no time to waste.  We need to build more mixed-use communities, retrofit our suburbs, and consider alternative modes of transportation that will accommodate these challenges.  And in the end, we will be providing a great quality of life for all generations.