Michigan Future, Inc has released a new report entitled “The New Path to Prosperity: Lessons for Michigan From Two Decades of Economic Change.” The report analyzes data from the American economy over the past two decades. In addition, it takes a closer look specifically at the Michigan and Minnesota economies over that same time period. Two very different pictures emerge as the report chronicles those experiences. As the Minnesota economy became more knowledge based, their economic conditions far out-performed Michigan’s in various employment figures, per capita income, and real private sector employment earnings per capita. Author Lou Glazier summarizes the data by stating the path to prosperity for states and regions is through a knowledge based economy. Further proof that public policies going forward must be aimed at attracting talent and investing in the amenities and places that they demand. This report can serve as a catalyst for our Partnership for Place legislative agenda helping us get to Better Communities, Better Michigan.
“Why is Detroit the absolutely coolest city on earth? The world is vibrating with excitement for Detroit! The word is out to young people. Government has stepped back and allowed young people to act. Nothing is going to stop Detroit from success!” ~Andres Duany,
Say what?! Yes, these inspiring words spoken by Andres Duany, founding member of the Congress of New Urbanism were shared with several hundred local officials at the Michigan Municipal League’s Annual convention during the Colloquium keynote. Duany is passionate, inspirational, and at times combative, and with a rich vernacular, he pushes the envelope with ideas and thoughts, and never disappoints.
Describing his five and a half hour tour of Detroit that he had taken that morning, he stated that it was “eating his brain and blowing his mind”. And he meant that in a good way! Although acknowledging the enormous challenges that Detroit faces, hearing that from one of the great urbanists in the world was music to the listener’s ears. To top that off, he said that when you compare Detroit to good cities like Atlanta and Raleigh, “Detroit blows the doors off the other places – bigger and cooler, quite amazing”. He goes on to question what we are measuring when it comes to taking the temperature of a city’s health. He poses, that “if Detroit is so miserable, are we looking at the right statistics”?
To set the stage, Duany talks about why so many U.S. cities have failed. He gave 3 reasons:
- The Interstate highway system which allowed people to move to the suburbs and drive back to the cities for cultural events.
- VA and FHA Loans – These were designated only for new construction, not for rehabbing old houses, and new construction was happening in the suburbs.
- Racism, Blockbusting, Redlining – The problem is not with poverty (we will always have it, he says), but the congregation of poverty. (He said that the car helped separate the rich from the poor.
He continued on to say that for too long, cities have seen themselves competing with their own suburbs, rather than with other cities. Cities are at a tremendous disadvantage, Duany says, with serious challenges in overcoming the obstacles to build and invest in urban living. Living styles in cities and suburbs are polar opposites. Suburbs provide a good back yard, but lousy fronts; cities have no yard but wonderful street life out front. Speaking about his own field of planning, Duany provides insight to the role that planners have played in fostering the estranged relationship between cities and suburbs.
With up to 60% of Americans preferring urban living, what do we need to do to get competitive cities back? We need less government bureaucracy – what he calls Lean Urbanism ; Tactical Urbanism small-scale interventions characterized by their community-focus and realistic goals; and less red tape (pink codes) and more flexibility. Duany states that we need to clean out the building codes for the next generation so that real urban buildings are allowed to be built.
The market response to every revitalized place has been pioneered by young people, artists, and gays, Duany states. They don’t ask permission to do things or bother to get permits, they just do it. He goes on to espouse the fact that municipal bureaucracy killed risk adverse activity with their codes and permits. With so many codes in the past 30 years, “government has exterminated the risk oblivious”.
Take a few minutes to listen to Duany himself. Following his keynote presentation, he held a breakout session with standing room only. This clearly demonstrated that his message was relevant and resonating with many of our local officials. Understanding what’s happened in the past, can help clear the path for the future if we are going to build strong urban places that will thrive for the long-term. Despite the size of our community, it is important to understand the economic connectedness that we all share when our larger urban core areas are pulsating with energy, growth, and vitality. Duany gives us plenty to think about.
Please share your thoughts and reactions!
Break Out Your Colored Pencils: It’s Time to Play Transportation Planner!
Let’s Save Michigan is giving away a brand new, Michigan-made bicycle for the best design idea for a slice of Michigan roadway. LSM’s Highways for Habitats design competition asks participants to: 1. Identify a road that is a drain on its community, and 2. Reimagine that road so that it works better for the community it bisects.
The contest seeks, for example, those five-lane roads that divide a quaint downtown into isolated halves, or separate a neighborhood from a public park—those roads that make their surroundings feel unsafe to pedestrians and bicyclists, families with kids and seniors waiting for the bus. Entries should imagine a new version of that street—one that works for all kinds of users, and that encourages community health and economic development.
Contest participants are asked to submit one photo of the site they select, along with their design and a few words about why it makes sense, at this contest submission page (http://www.letssavemichigan.com/highways-for-habitats-entry-submission/) by Friday, October 18. The public will vote online to select the finalists, with the grand prize and a runner-up to be selected by a panel of judges.
A few words on what to enter: LSM is NOT necessarily expecting professional engineer-caliber drawings. Contestants can simply a picture, snap a photo of it with a camera phone, and submit that photo. Everyone has a shot at the prize, so long as the entry effectively gets across the brilliant idea.
To help generate ideas, LSM has been collecting examples from all over the world on the Let’s Save Michigan blog for the past few months in a Highways for Habitats blog series. LSM also has compiled resources from around country about good road design. Take a look and get inspired.
Entries can be uploaded here.
It’s been done all over the world: Roads can conduct vehicles while helping foster community and economic development. With the help of contest participants, Let’s Save Michigan plans to show Michigan’s leaders how it can be done.
LSM would like to thank the grand prize sponsor, Detroit Bikes! and the runner-up prize sponsor, Cross Country Cycle!
Every year, the Michigan Municipal League’s peer-nominated Community Excellence Award competition recognize transformational ideas and innovative solutions to the many challenges facing communities. Increasingly, these local success stories are place-based projects and initiatives that are having a profound socioeconomic impact on communities in each of the state’s seven regions.
The 2013 CEA winner was Ironwood in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the Depot Park revitalization project has transformed a historic railroad depot into a key focus point in the community. Once completed in its entirety, the park will merge city blocks and add a pavilion, playground equipment, landscaping, volleyball courts, and other amenities in an effort to promote health, history and recreation. The park also serves as a trail head for the vast network of non-motorized trails crisscrossing the region.
The other regional finalists were also outstanding examples of the power of placemaking to transform a community by creating a sense of place and identity while enhancing the quality of life.
Fenton, Holly and Linden’s Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail
St. Joseph’s Silver Beach development
Belding’s Community Garden
DeWitt’s Community Showcase
Imlay City’s SEED economic gardening program
Rogers City’s “Dancin’ Downtown” streetscape and revitalization