UIX Discussion: A philanthropic perspective on designing cities

UIX Discussion: A philanthropic perspective on designing cities

As the city government continues to get itself sorted out (Detroit passed a resolution last week to return powers to elected officials but keep the emergency manager in control of the city’s bankruptcy process), residents and visitors keep doing what they’ve been doing: being innovative, creative, and promoting community.

Last week, the Urban Innovation Exchange (UIX) hosted an event in Detroit as a way to advance the city’s innovation movement. They hosted a series of talks, presentations, and tours to highlight ways residents in cities around the country are improving their communities one small project at a time.

Small has a big impact

At Wednesday’s forum, The Art of Place, attendees heard from 11 creative leaders who are spearheading unique placemaking projects. Organizers from Detroit SOUP, The Alley Project, and others represented some of the city’s innovative projects, but the audience also got to hear about interesting projects across the country. To highlight a few:

UIX Presentation: The art of placemaking

UIX Presentation: The art of placemaking

CoSIGN Cincy is a way to change the perception of a neighborhood by allowing artists to create new signs for local businesses in Cincinnati. Organizers hosted a competition that paid for the development of the top-10 signs.

The project’s ability to connect unlikely people – artists, business owners, engineers, city zoning officials, and the greater community – makes it a great placemaking project that has a clear impact on the area’s local economy. Not only do new, unique signs improve the streetscape’s aesthetics, some owners said foot traffic nearly doubled after the sign was installed.

Eve Picker is active in the fields of design, architecture, and community and real estate development. She founded CityLAB in Pittsburgh (a self-described as “a do tank, not a think tank”) and smallchange.com, a new real estate crowdfunding platform to raise equity for transformational real estate projects. In her UIX presentation, she walked us through the costs and returns of small, community-led projects (such as a street market) vs. those of large, top-down projects (such as an athletics stadium). Eve urged the audience to help change the way our elected officials think about change, and do what we can to support the more creative, innovative, and small community-led initiatives.

Food, education, and entrepreneurship

Dlectricity: Artists projecting images on a garage near the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Dlectricity: Artists projecting images on a garage near the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

At UIX’s Thursday forum, The Future of Food, a variety of food entrepreneurs and food access advocates shared their successes and lessons to an engaged audience.

Sustainability was the main focus of the speakers from the CDC Farm & Fishery (Detroit), Rid-All Green Partnership (Cleveland), and Tiny Diner (Minneapolis): the two former being urban farming and aquaponics operations and the latter being a neighborhood food system in the form of a restaurant.

Education was a large part of most of the featured programs, bringing together equity and health. The Food Trust (Philadelphia), Food Revolution Cooking Club (Pittsburgh), and Detroit Food Academy (Detroit) are active with youth and often work in schools to educate students about nutrition and cooking. FoodLab Detroit and (revolver) (Hamtramck) offer new venues to showcase food entrepreneurs and engage the community.

There was clear consensus and optimism among the speakers to move away from an industrialized, one-size-fits-all food system for local, customized networks that consider social and environmental costs.

Making place with art

Dlectricity: Light stage on Warren and Woodward

Dlectricity: Light stage on Warren and Woodward

Detroit also hosted annual creative events last week, the Detroit Design Festival and Dlectricity. With more than 50 art displays or discussions throughout the week, the city’s Midtown and Downtown was full of activity, art, and people. Arts and culture are essential components of a thriving, knowledge-based economy. A healthy creative sector attracts and retains residents and businesses, and produces economic benefits.

Detroit seemed to be the champion of placemaking last week: the city prioritized people, place, conversation, and creativity. All components of a healthier, more vibrant city.

As the League has traveled around the state of Michigan, we’ve seen numerous shining examples of creative placemaking in communities large and small. The stories behind these placemaking efforts were so inspirational that we wanted to share them with the world.The result is our new book, “The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.”

This book goes beyond placemaking as a concept, to offer real-world examples of economic drivers and agents of social and cultural change in Michigan’s own backyard. They represent some of the many place-based catalysts that can spark the kind of transformational changes that reinvent and revitalize a community, with tangible payoffs in terms of livability, social and cultural enrichment, and economic development. But most of all, they show us that placemaking is an art not a science, and displays itself in as many shapes, sizes and colors as a community can imagine.

Each page takes the reader on a virtual journey across the state to discover how these large and small efforts have transformed communities. Get a taste of how Baroda and Paw Paw have cultivated the local wine industry into a growing tourist attraction. Feast your eyes on Traverse City’s Film Festival and Ludington’s Sculpture Garden that bring in art aficionados from near and far. Get ready to pedal through scenic pathways, like Oakland County’s Paint Creek Trail and Marquette’s Noquemanon Trails Network—along with thousands of others who frequent the trails as well as the surrounding communities. Kick your civic engagement practices over the goal line as you read Detroit’s playbook on using sports and food to bring the community together. Many more stories like these fill the pages of the book.

These in-depth case studies are presented as storytelling narratives meant to engage and inspire readers with the power of placemaking. But they are also intended to provide a path to replicate their successes. Each chapter includes valuable resources, data and teaching tools related to the specific topic.  Each chapter will also include case-specific examples of Public Policies and Programs, Legislation, Action Initiatives, Community Partnerships, and Economic Drivers that can facilitate similar efforts.

More details on the book, including ordering information, are available here.


MSAE-Diamond-Awards-group-shotThree new awards are now proudly on display at the League’s Ann Arbor office following the recent 2014 Diamond Awards Dinner for the Michigan Society of Association Executives.The awards program recognizes excellence, innovation, and achievements in the association industry and honors outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the association profession.

This year, the spirited awards competition had 38 entries in ten categories within two budget divisions. The League was honored for its efforts in the following areas:

  • The Review magazine won a Diamond Award, the highest level, in the magazine publishing category for associations with budgets of $1 million and greater.
  • Crowdfundingmi.com – and all of the League’s crowdfunding partnerships and efforts – won a Diamond Award in the innovative collaboration category.
  • The Great Revenue Sharing Heist informational campaign won a Gold Award in the government relations project category.

“The Diamond Award represents the best of the best in Michigan’s association industry,” said Cheryl Ronk, CAE, CMP, president and CEO of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. “Michigan Municipal League’s innovative collaboration through crowdfunding and its magazine, The Review, are now exemplary models for other associations to borrow brilliance. Congratulations again to the Michigan Municipal League!”

The League is no stranger to winning awards in the MSAE competition. Last year, the The Review won a Diamond Award and the placemaking.mml.org website won Gold. In 2012, the League won two Diamond Awards and the Strategic Association Leader for CEO Dan Gilmartin. And in 2009, the Legislative Link e-Newsletter earned a Diamond Award and our website took home Gold.

We are proud to see the work of our staff be recognized in such a highly-prestigious competition. Good work, team!

View these photos showing scenes from farmers markets from throughout Michigan. Check out hundreds of additional photos in this collection on flickr by the Michigan Municipal League.

The 300-plus farmers markets that exist in Michigan come in all shapes and sizes. They’re in large urban centers and tiny villages. They pop up in parking lots, fields, roadsides, on Main Street and in permanent, historic structures.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

They sell traditional farmers market fare – corn, apples, maple syrup, potatoes, and pumpkins – and the unexpected – homemade spices, baby clothes, fresh-caught fish, jewelry, and even sea urchin. You can get your knives sharpened, your face painted and your groceries for the week. At a farmers market you can find old friends and meet new ones. And you can talk to the vendor who grew the melon or flowers you’re thinking about buying.

Farmers markets can even help create a place for people to gather and revitalize a community and give an economic boost to existing businesses and inspire new merchants to open.

In writing a how-to case study about Michigan Farmers Market for the Michigan Municipal League, I got the chance this summer to visit more than 30 markets across our great state. I saw thousands of people pack into the new location for the Flint Farmers Market to great fanfare for its grand opening in downtown on June 21. I smelled the yummy salsa dish a woman was preparing for her church fundraiser at the Dansville Farmers Market. I saw a man holding a rooster in Birmingham, a robotics team in Grand Blanc, a violinist performing in East Lansing, a flutist in Traverse City, and Spanish mackerel on sale at the new Downtown Market in Grand Rapids.

I’ve always enjoyed going to farmers markets but the sights and sounds I experienced in my market tour this summer were truly inspirational, exciting and simply fun. While I saw many successful markets, I did experience some that seemed to need a shot in the arm. I also attempted to go to a couple markets that I eventually learned are no longer in operation.

So what makes one market flourish as another withers on the vine?

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

The success or failure of a market can come down to three words: Relationships, relationships, relationships, said Dru Montri, director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association, an East Lansing-based non-profit organization that tracks and provides support to farmers markets throughout the state. Montri said the 320 farmers markets in their data base this year is a record high since the association formed and starting tracking farmers markets in 2006. While some close each year many more open.

“Farmers markets are based on relationships,” Montri explained. “That’s the best thing about markets, and it can also be the most challenging aspect of markets. It’s relationships between farmers themselves, relationships between vendors and the market management, relationships between the market manager and sponsors and relationships between vendors and shoppers. All of those are very, very important. People love farmers markets because of that. People love going and talking to vendors about how things are grown.”

But Montri said when relationships sour that can impact everything in a market. A successful market will have strong leaders who can forge good relationships on all levels. She suggests a market have a board of directors or advisory team to oversee it.

Montri said the number of farmers markets in Michigan have doubled since 2006 for several reasons. Those reasons include an increase in consumer interest about where and how their food is made and processed; a growing awareness among community leaders about the value a farmers market can have in economic development and creating a sense of place and community in their town; and a desire by farmers and vendors in direct marketing options, which tend to be more profitable.

She believes the number of markets will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, especially as more markets start to offer financial assistance programs to those in need, such as the acceptance of SNAP Bridge Cards and related services.

“There is such a large number of consumers who haven’t even yet considered shopping at farmers markets,” Montri said. “As long as we have the potential to bring more people into farmers markets, we have the opportunity to expand the number of markets. As long as we are strategic about growth, we can avoid these saturation points. But, starting a market a mile away from an existing market on the same day of the week, for example, can cause over saturation.”

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League's flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League’s flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

You can view slide shows of all the markets I visited here in this collection on the League’s flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigancommunities/collections/72157647210449456/.

There are photos of markets from these communities and locations: Royal Oak, Howell, Old Town Lansing, Flint, Downtown Lansing, Grand Blanc, Farmers Market at the CapitolTraverse City, Canton, Harbor Springs, Detroit Eastern Market, Saginaw, Midland, Frankenmuth, Port Huron, Williamson, Grand Rapids YMCA, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Birmingham, Grand Rapids Aquinas College Metro Health, East Lansing, Mt. Clemens, Mt. Pleasant, Dansville, Fenton, Bay City, Grand Rapids Fulton Street, Port Austin, Grand Rapids downtown, Walled Lake, Wayne State University, Islandview Market in Detroit, Lathrup Village, Farmington, Brighton and Linden.

Check out a video of Montri discussing the value of farmers markets here: http://placemaking.mml.org/michigan-farmers-markets/

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