Watch the award-winning video.

The Michigan Municipal League’s animated Partnership for Place video shown at the start of 2014 Capital Conference received the highest award possible in the national 2014 Videographer Awards competition run by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

There were 1,500 entries from throughout the United States and the League’s video was among the top 12 percent to receive the highest honor – “award of excellence.” The League was the only award of excellence winner from Michigan. View the complete list of award of excellence winners here: https://enter.videoawards.com/winners/excellence/.

In addition to the recognition, the League will receive a movie-style clapboard as a trophy.

The League’s Partnership for Place: An Agenda for a Competitive 21st Century Michigan is a proactive policy agenda that proposes a commitment of action in partnership between the state and its municipalities. The goal of this effort is that these policies will facilitate Michigan’s economic growth and allow for the development of places to provide key services and amenities that contribute to a high quality of life.

The Partnership for Place focuses on a more regional approach to service delivery, which would change the way services are provided, how resources are dedicated, and how systems are supported. Approved by the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees in June of 2013, this policy agenda proposes actions that will re-establish a partnership for prosperity in four key areas: Funding for the future; Michigan in motion; Place for talent; and Strength in structure. Read more about the agenda here.

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

Four lanes of fast traffic coming around the curve on Portage make the Washington Square area an unappealing place to walk or bike.

Four lanes of fast traffic coming around the curve on Portage make the Washington Square area an unappealing place to walk or bike.

I spent the past few days in Kalamazoo, taking a hard look at Portage Street with Brad and Rebekah from LSL Planning (our consultants), the city’s community development and engineering staff, and about 50 community members. The city has plans in place to rebuild the street beginning in 2017, making this an ideal time to ask, “How should this street work when we’re done with it?”

For a few months, we’ve been looking at how to support biking, walking, and other options for getting to Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s new healthy living campus.  The campus will be just south of downtown Kalamazoo, nestled in among Bronson Medical Center, Western Michigan University’s new medical school, and the county’s mental health services, which will also be moving to the area.

Portage Street kept coming up as a concern in our conversations with representatives of these various institutions.  Portage is effectively the front door for many of these destinations, a major entry to downtown, and the heart of the Edison Neighborhood—or, at least, it should be. Currently, the street is focused on moving traffic through as quickly as possible, and the neighborhood and traditional business district along it have suffered as a result.

Community members  designed their ideal Portage Street as part of the conversation.

Community members designed their ideal Portage Street as part of the conversation.

Across a 24 hour whirlwind of open houses, presentations, walking tours, drawing, and
data crunching, we found nearly unanimous support for the idea of converting the street from four lanes to three, which would reduce crashes by getting left turns out of the flow of traffic, help keep drivers to the speed limit, smooth some of the curves in the street to handle truck traffic, and free up space for other users of the street.  Most of the conversation focused on how that extra space should be used—bike lanes to support safe access through the neighborhood?  On-street parking for businesses? Wider sidewalks for pedestrians, streetscaping, and sidewalk seating for restaurants? Center medians?

We came out of the workshop with some solid concepts, but also a major caveat: current traffic levels on the street are near the limits of what can be handled in three lanes. As KVCC and their partners in the emerging health and wellness district move towards construction, they’ll need to consider how they’re getting staff, students, and visitors in and out—if everybody shows up by car, the resulting traffic will likely overwhelm a three-lane version of Portage Street.

Kelly Clarke discusses the Kalamazoo County Land Bank properties along Portage, and how the street affects their business attraction efforts.

Kelly Clarke discusses the Kalamazoo County Land Bank properties along Portage, and how the street affects their business attraction efforts.

This is a great example of how placemaking is more complex than simply, “if you do this, then that will happen,” and must involve the active participation of community stakeholders: turning Portage Street into a multimodal corridor will both support new business and housing development on the doorstep of the new KVCC campus and also enable people to get around the area by walking, biking, and transit—modes fitting the health mission of the campus—but if the college were not at the table as an enthusiastic participant in this process, their development would itself inhibit the city from making a change to the street.

Fortunately, KVCC is not only at the table, but hosting it, and our next step will be to take them both the draft concepts from this workshop for further discussion, as well as some recommendations about how they can support a broad range of options for people coming to and from the new campus.

Although the effects of place projects may be less visible in large cities, projects in small-to-mid-sized cities, like Farmington, can initiate huge impacts on the economy, resident well-being, and connection to the community. For detailed information on Farmington’s downtown redevelopments, read the MML case study on how Sundquist Pavilion created an active downtown center and is helping to revitalize the community.

Farmington's weekly Summer Concert Series attracts a large audience to the city center.

Farmington’s weekly Summer Concert Series attracts a large audience to the city center.

Farmington’s main downtown placemaking project, which transformed a strip-mall parking lot into a community pavilion and park, started through a community visioning project. An article from Project for Public Spaces encourages city leaders to think of streets as public spaces and allow residents to envision the kind of interactions and places they want to support.

Farmington's sidewalk and landscape improvements make the street more welcoming.

Farmington’s sidewalk and landscape improvements make the street more welcoming.

In Farmington, city leaders partnered with a local university to do in-depth community visioning. Realizing there was no downtown “city center,” residents pushed for placemaking.

Even controversial topics, like parking availability, were smoothed over because of resident engagement. With the mindset that parking should be designed for people and not cars, Farmington engineers were able to eliminate a large portion of the strip-mall parking lot, but keep the same number of spaces.

Staying focused on the pedestrian also allowed Farmington to improve walkability and the downtown’s streetscape. Farmington narrowed the main road by adding bump-out parking, improved sidewalk aesthetics, and enhanced landscaping. These projects promoted walkability and encouraged local restaurants to build outdoor seating.

Farmington's Harvest Moon Festival hosts family-friendly events.

Farmington’s Harvest Moon Festival hosts family-friendly events.

All of Farmington’s activities are making it easier for residents to connect to their community, the most important asset a community can have. The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community reports that the more people love where they live, the more economically vital that place will be. And by the looks of it, some Oakland County cities are leading the way for downtown revitalization in Michigan.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson recently said downtown Main Street projects  have resulted in more than $648 million in investments, 870 new businesses, and nearly 7,000 new jobs across the county. As projects like Farmington’s downtown redevelopment continue, residents will likely be happier, more prosperous, and feel a deeper connection to their city.

Michigan communities, large and small, can learn from Farmington and other main street development projects to improve downtowns, increase walkability, and make the state a great place for all.


Supporting Research

  • The Knight Foundation: Soul of the Community– This study shows that what drives people most to love where they live is their perception of aesthetics, social offerings, and openness. The more people love their community, the more economically vital that place will be.
  • Better Cities & Towns: New Urbanism’s Impact on Mid-Sized and Smaller Cities – Placemaking development may have a profound effect over time in a big city, but effects in mid-to-small-sized cities are much more dramatic.
  • Project for Public Spaces: Streets as Places: How Transportation Can Create a Sense of Community – This article encourages city leaders to think of streets as public spaces and allow for residents to envision the kind of interactions and places they want to support, and outlines 10 qualities of great streets.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency: Smart Growth and Economic Success: Benefits for Real Estate Developers, Investors, Businesses, and Local Governments – Compact, diverse, and walkable development can increase property values, encourage job creation, and create amenities and places that improve residents’ quality of life.
  • Cities for People:Time to Reclaim the Streets – Streets and cars are the center of many cities across the world, however, building more pedestrian-friendly streets is key to effective placemaking.
  • Small Town Urbanism: Parking–Local leaders need to carefully consider parking when trying to create a walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly environment. Parking policies should be designed to benefit people, not cars.