iag_seal_largeYesterday, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, made an exciting announcement for those of us supporting crowdfunding and placemaking in Michigan: the Public Spaces, Community Places program is one of seven finalists nationwide for the Innovations in American Government Award. This is wonderful recognition for the core partners on the program, Patronicity, MEDC and the League, as well as others who have contributed to the program, including MSHDA and MParks.

A team from the Michigan partner organizations will be traveling to Harvard’s campus May 16 and 17 to make a final pitch to the award judges. Summer Minnick and I will be representing the League. Follow along on this blog and via Twitter (Luke and Summer) where we’ll share additional updates.

See Harvard’s release for more information on the award and all the programs they recognized.

mshda_fb-200x300The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) recently announced a request for proposals (RFP) for a new “Neighborhood Enhancement Program” that provides communities an opportunity to fund placemaking projects in priority neighborhoods. MSHDA worked with the League and other statewide partners to develop the program and they are eager to receive creative and innovative proposals in three main categories: beautification, public amenities and infrastructure enhancement. MSHDA, in the first year of this program, is interpreting those categories broadly.

Cities must work through a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to apply. Proposals are due March 15. For complete details, visit the MSHDA website.

For several years, MML has talked about the importance of eight asset areas that help communities succeed and prosper in the 21st century.  One of those critical assets is being a “welcoming” community; recognizing that our global economy is fueled by the talent and ingenuity of people not only born here, but from around the world.  Last year’s research by Public Sector Consultants on behalf of the League found that:

  • Foreign-born workers and students have positive effects on “local employment, levels of educational attainment, populations, and incomes”
  • Communities with more foreign-born residents see greater capital investment;
  • Communities with more foreign-born workers—whether permanent or temporary—see higher employment for native-born workers as well; and
  • Foreign-born students attending Michigan colleges are three times as likely to stay in Michigan post-graduation as out-of-state students, creating long-term economic benefits for the communities they locate in.
From Corktown to Mexicantown, southwest Detroit shows off its residents' origins.

From Corktown to Mexicantown, southwest Detroit shows off its residents’ origins.

The question of being welcoming to immigration is also a factor in statewide economic prosperity. In his State of the State address, Governor Snyder laid out a goal of returning Michigan to 10 million people by 2020. Michigan Radio has noted that we’re on track to hit that target, but that our state’s economy depends on adding people in the labor force, not just to the total—if our population growth is only among retirees, parts of our state risk stalling out their economic recovery as they run out of workers, while others continue to miss out on any recovery altogether.

As it stands, Michigan Radio cited Lou Glazer of Michigan Future Inc. as explaining,

[under the status quo] that growth will largely be in older Michigan citizens who are retiring. “The challenge is growing the working age population – that’s really where we’re going to have trouble at the moment. We’ve got more people leaving the labor market than entering the labor market, so if we’re going to focus on population it really needs to be focused on working age population,” Glazer explained.

There are basically two ways to do that. The first: attract young career starters. The second: immigrants from other countries settling here.

 

The League’s own placemaking work has most vocally focused on the first of these two factors, stemming the “brain drain” rate of young residents with college degrees leaving the state. But recognizing the economic importance of this global diversity, many of our communities have passed policies or implemented programs over the years to help make their communities more welcoming to all people.

In recent weeks and days, the conversation around these policies has picked up as communities are evaluating how their local policies intersect with their residents’ immigrant status, and there has been increasing media coverage of some of the policies our cities and villages have adopted or are considering related to being a welcoming community, particularly to immigrants.

Communities prioritize local public safety over immigration status

Most recently, the city of Ypsilanti has made headlines for a “don’t ask” ordinance under consideration that would “bar city officials and police from asking about a person’s immigration status. Exceptions would include hiring processes, or when immigration status is relevant to a criminal investigation or government program eligibility,” as Michigan Radio summarizes. Ann Arbor has a similar ordinance dating to 2003, and Detroit and Hamtramck have ordinances from 2008 to this effect.

An Ypsilanti mural by teens from the Washtenaw Interfaith Council on Immigrant Rights  illustrates their experiences and struggles. (Photo by A2 Awesome Foundation)

An Ypsilanti mural by teens from the Washtenaw Interfaith Council on Immigrant Rights illustrates their experiences and struggles. (Photo by A2 Awesome Foundation)

In each case, the cities have cited the contributions that foreign-born residents make to their communities. But, in addition, they say that having city officials focus on immigration status during unrelated interactions can create an atmosphere of distrust or fear that actually worsens public safety—even visa or green card holders can feel intimidated or threatened by having their status brought up without cause.

Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton explained his own department’s policy this way to MLive,

“Our mission is to help keep a safe and secure community, so we believe we most effectively do that by identifying criminal behavior,” he said…

The Sheriff’s Office’s policy of not worrying about immigration status, similar to the city of Ann Arbor’s policy, is intended to foster cooperative relationships between local law enforcement and immigrants who otherwise might be reluctant to report crimes if they had to fear their own legal status might be questioned.

When local law enforcement decides to get involved in federal immigration matters, Clayton said, it tears at the relationship to the community, and immigrants go deeper into the shadows and become more susceptible to predators who might also prey on other citizens.

Whether it’s in encouraging witnesses to report crimes, or making sure properties meet building and fire safety codes, these local governments believe asking about immigration status is both irrelevant and could have a chilling effect that hurts the community. Even legal residents, they say, could be discouraged from coming forward if they fear being profiled as immigrants.

With regards to federal and state actions regarding “sanctuary cities,” however, several of these cities have specifically denied that label, saying that term suggests a disobedience of federal laws that their local policies neither promise nor deliver.

Tools available to local governments

The League has received several inquiries from members about policies related to diversity, welcoming and immigration.  In response to these requests, we have compiled these examples of policies from several Michigan communities that may be of interest to members:

We have not evaluated the merit of these types policies or the impacts relative to state or federal law. Each community has different needs and should consider what policy and program options best help them become welcoming places.  As always the League encourages our members to consult their municipal attorney when considering adoption of any local ordinance.

This week, the League released the latest issue of our Review magazine. I’m proud to announce that it includes a new feature, “PlacePlans: Where Are They Now?”, which gives us an opportunity to check in with some of the cities who participated in the MSHDA-MSU-MML PlacePlans pilot program and see what progress they’ve made.

Jackson-Dirty-Bird-Cafe-Patio-600x250

In this issue, starting on p. 21, the focus is downtown Jackson, where we explore what factors laid the groundwork for their burgeoning downtown development boom. You can read the whole thing at http://www.mml.org/resources/publications/mmr/issues/jan-feb-2017/review-jan-feb-2017-web.pdf but here’s an excerpt focused on the lessons other communities can learn from Jackson:

While every city is unique, many core principles of place-based redevelopment port well from one community to the next. Jackson’s experience highlights the following lessons that apply broadly:

  1. Prioritize investment areas as a community and stick to that vision

City Manager Patrick Burtch credits the City Council with in Jackson with coming to a consensus several years ago that investing in downtown, the City’s core, is the top priority. Burtch equates downtown with the “nucleus of the cell” and says that “the cell dies without it.” Investing public dollars always comes with public relations hits, says Burtch, but your elected and appointed officials must “be willing to stay on that path, because you have to spend money to make money.”

  1. Public space investments create positive momentum and catalyze large private investments

John Burtka, President of Grand River Brewery and partner in several of the ongoing downtown developments, cites the Dig Jackson investments as the crucial launching pad because it told the world, “Hey, we’re serious!” Burtch and Burtka agree those investments changed the mindset of the private sector about Jackson.

  1. Visuals are crucial inspirational tools

Pushed by Burtch, the Beckett & Raeder team developed design renderings for Dig Jackson that went far beyond the bounds of normal streetscape improvements, into master planning and the beginnings of a form-based zoning approach. Burtch says those plans have been invaluable in convincing skeptical community leaders and investors to participate. “3D architectural renderings provide a vision that is not always easily understood by those that are typically acting in differing disciplines,” he says.

  1. Engage anchor institutions, even those not located in the priority geographic area

The Jackson Anchor Initiative is an excellent case study on the power of getting important institutions rallied behind, and often leading, the community’s vision. In Jackson’s case, it has led to significant investments in downtown from institutions that are not even located there. According to Dr. Burtch, “the Anchor Initiative provides a significant measure of political coverage for a City Council that must make decisions regarding public investment in the urban core that are easily misunderstood”.

  1. Communicate through every medium possible

The City engaged the University of Michigan’s Citizen Interaction Design program to develop an excellent set of communication tools about the Dig Jackson project (see examples at digjackson.com), helping community leaders to allay fears about the disruption and costs associated with construction.