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.

Sarah Pavelko discusses the PlacePlans project in Southwest Detroit.

Sarah Pavelko discusses the PlacePlans project in Southwest Detroit on WJR.

For many years now, the Michigan Municipal League has talked about placemaking as a vital part of making our state prosperous again. Simply put placemaking is about creating communities that people love. It’s about turning “that community” into “my community.” So how do we accomplish this? How do we create places to cherish? Often it starts with an idea and a new League program called PlacePlans is taking the ideas that already exist in eight Michigan cities and helping turn them into reality. This PlacePlans effort is the focus of our final show for 2013. We’re truly saving the best for last. My co-host for this show is Detroit Free Press reporter Matt Helms and our guests are Gary Heidel, the new Chief Placemaking Officer for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority; Sarah Pavelko, Project Manager  of the Southwest Business Association in Detroit; and Steve Wolbert, Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs at Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy in Flint. The show airs 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, on News/Talk 760 WJR but you can listen anytime at the  League’s website or by subscribing to the FREE iTunes podcast. Learn more about the placemaking concept here as well as on this blog.

Sometimes good ideas are not supported by good policy or the original reasons for having such policy just don’t make sense anymore.  One such case is a little known 1949 Michigan state law that prohibits angled parking on state trunk lines.  With so many of our communities affected, this would be one viable tool to help calm speeding traffic through downtowns.

west-branch-by-matt-1West Branch, Michigan, is a small community of 2100 people, located about 60 miles north of the middle of the mitten. Like so many other communities across the state and country, they have seen their downtown struggle to survive and compete with drive-by shopping malls and restaurants just off the freeway exits.  To lure the visitor past the “I could be anywhere” eateries and shopping, West Branch has been aggressively marketing their downtown, successfully branding and creating a destination through their Fabulous Fridays.  With their unique stores and enticing local restaurants, West Branch is enjoying a more sustainable business climate.  But they are just getting started.

Burden in West Branch for BlogWith the Michigan Municipal League’s help, the city brought in Dan Burden to conduct a walkability audit to get his expert advice and feedback on how to make the trunk line more pedestrian friendly and safe.  With a 5 lane state road cutting through the downtown, it is clear who has the wind to their backs – people in speeding cars and trucks.  The pedestrian is left to play dodge ‘em cars (and trucks) across the road.  To address some of these issues, Burden, with his immeasurable knowledge and experience, led a group of enthusiastic stakeholders and local officials, as they looked at ways to calm the traffic and improve the walkability experience for the pedestrian.

angled-parkingEnter John LaMacchia, the League’s Legislative Associate who works on our transportation and infrastructure issues.  Fitting nicely into the League’s policy agenda through our Partnership in Place Plan, LaMacchia worked closely with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) in drafting legislation that would allow angled parking on our state trunk lines.  Specifically, the new law will give a community that has a state trunk line the option of front or reverse angled parking, with MDOT’s approval. Although this is only one small piece of the puzzle in calming traffic and making West Branch a more pedestrian friendly community, it’s a big step in the right direction.  It not only gives communities another flexible means to grow their communities into more dynamic, livable places, but raises awareness, invites discussion, and elicits ideas on how to make our downtowns once again, premier destinations.

This legislation received strong bi-partisan support and the League would like to thank Rep. Peter Pettalia for sponsoring this legislation and Sen. Tom Casperson, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.  We also appreciate the support of MDOT and the cities of West Branch and Howell!


Better Communities. Better Michigan. The PodcastWelcome to Better Communities Better Michigan – the Podcast! 
The Michigan Municipal League is the one clear voice for Michigan communities, working in Lansing and throughout the state for the unique and vibrant places where people want to live. From state policy to cutting edge local initiatives, we’ll discuss issues that impact us all, and identify key strategies to promote highly adaptable, economically competitive communities that are ready to face the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

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