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.

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!


shutterstock-biking1Did you know that Michigan has more than 2,000 miles of bike trail corridors? That’s more trailway miles than almost any other state in the U.S.

So why do less than one percent of Michiganders commute by bicycle?

One big reason is that trail corridors are absolutely fabulous for recreational biking – but very few of us are lucky enough to both live and work along a trail corridor. So most would-be bicycle commuters must brave the real roads to get from Point A to Point B.

And to be painfully honest, most of those roads still lack some of the things that make road bike travel feel truly safe and accessible for the average, garden-variety cyclist. In fact, it can be difficult if not downright hazardous in many areas. According to the most recent figures available on the Office of Highway Safety Planning online database, Michigan had 1,895 bicycle crashes – 24 of them fatal – in 2011 alone.

Progress is being made. Michigan is currently ranked #12 among bike-friendly states, due to such assets as having a Complete Streets policy, dedicated state funding for bikeability, an active state advocacy group, a Share the Road campaign, bicycle education for police, and a bicycle safety emphasis in Michigan’s strategic highway safety plan. Right now in Michigan about 100 local governments have adopted Complete Streets policies. But much of those Complete Streets transformations are still in the planning stage. It also leaves hundreds more municipalities that have yet to adopt such policies, and hundreds of bike-unfriendly road miles between them.

Highlighting all this is largely why I plan to ride in the 32nd annual PALM (Pedal Across Lower Michigan) tour from June 22-28. (Okay, yes, I’m also doing it because it will be fun!) I will join more than 800 other bicyclists ranging in age from a few months to 70-plus years as we spend six days riding from Norton Shores in Muskegon County on the Lake Michigan coast down to Luna Pier southeast of Detroit on the coast of Lake Erie just six miles from the Ohio border.

Here’s the basic daily route:
(including minimum daily mileage to optional maximum daily mileage)
Saturday: Norton Shores
Sunday 46-56 miles: Grandville
Monday 47-68  miles: Lake Odessa
Tuesday 58-72 miles: Dansville
Wednesday 51-105 miles: Manchester
Thursday 40-54 miles: Petersburg
Friday 27 miles: Luna Pier

Each night we’ll tent camp on the grounds of a middle or high school that’s graciously agreed to host the PALM group. Each morning, we’ll pack up and toss our gear onto a truck that will meet us at the next night’s campsite.
In between, 800-plus people will ride alone or in groups, fast or slow, cycling across the state on roads that many of us may have never traveled before, visiting some of Michigan’s unique small towns and experiencing the state’s landscape from a bicycle’s point of view.

Along the way for those six days, I plan to blog and tweet my adventures, highlighting the good (and not-so-good) aspects of bikeability in Michigan. I also hope to share impressions of the communities we cross, and will keep an eye out for examples of great placemaking ideas being put into action in unique and interesting ways.

shutterstock-biking3So please plan to join us by following along via:
The League’s Placemaking blog http://placemaking.mml.org/
@eshawatleague on Twitter, using twitter hashtag #palm2013
The Michigan Municipal League’s facebook page.

And for a little pre-ride food for thought, here’s what the League of American Bicyclists suggests to make Michigan more bike friendly:

• Adopt a safe passing law with a minimum distance of 3 feet to address bicyclist safety.
• Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for a motorist that injures or kills a bicyclist or pedestrian.
• Adopt a statewide, all-ages cell phone ban to combat distracted driving and increase safety for everyone.
• Adopt performance measures, such as mode shift or a low percentage of exempted projects, to better track and support Complete Streets/Bike Accommodation Policy compliance.
• Adopt a policy requiring state office buildings, state park and recreation facilities, and other state facilities to provide bicycle parking.
• Since arterial and collector roads are the backbone of every transportation network, it is essential to provide adequate bicycle facilities along these roads.
• Hold a bicycle ride sponsored by the Governor and/or legislators to show their constituents that their elected officials support bicycling.
• Adopt a statewide bicycle plan that addresses each of the five “Es”, has clear implementation actions, and performance measures to gauge success.
• Adopt a mode share goal for biking to encourage the integration of bicycle transportation needs into all transportation and land use policy and project decisions.
• Michigan has a high number of bicyclist fatalities. Ensure that bicycle safety is a major emphasis in all transportation projects, programs and policies to address this issue.

cea-winnersThe Michigan Municipal League’s annual Community Excellence Award showcases innovative solutions, programs or projects that have had a positive impact on their community, and can be replicated in other communities with similar challenges. The winner from each region will go on to compete for the statewide CEA title during the League’s Annual Convention September 17-20 in Detroit.

Most CEA entries could also be described as placemaking success stories. Here’s what Michigan communities shared at this year’s CEA presentations during the League’s 2013 Capital Conference in Lansing:

REGION 1: (southeastern portion of the state’s Lower Peninsula)
Fenton, Holly and Linden’s Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail represents intergovernmental cooperation, recreational opportunities and economic development for the communities in southern Genesee County and northern Oakland County. Spearheaded by Headwaters Trails Inc. and supported by the Keepers of the Shiawassee,recreation activity on the Shiawassee River has increased over the last decade largely due to promotional signs; mile markers along the river to inform paddlers of their location; promotional brochures; annual clean-up events; canoe and kayak races; and moonlight paddle events.

Eastpointe’s Service Line Affordable Protection Program (SLAPP) is an insurance program that covers the costs of replacing both water and sewer laterals for the monthly low charge of $4. The community has more than 2,500 participants out of an eligible group of about 8,000 potential users. The majority of Eastpointe homes (and their water and sewer connections to the city lines) are 50 to 90 years old. Replacement is the resident’s financial responsibility, which is often an unexpected cost many can’t afford. This plan provides reliable contractors, covers all the costs of replacing the lateral connections for that small $4 monthly charge, plus reconstruction of city property as needed.

Grosse Pointe’s Wellness Center and Patient Facility is a joint effort of the city, Neighborhood Club and Beaumont Health System. The $12 million state of the art Wellness Center and Patient Facility includes a 1,200-person/family health club, Beaumont Health System Child Development Clinic and Offices, a day care center, a gym, and a lap pool.

New Baltimore’s “Make New Baltimore Your Destination” presentation highlighted a number of community improvements including a waste water plant, police station, library expansion, non-motorized bike/walking trails leading to the local high school, a new 24-foot-security boat, four new baseball diamonds, and a new city park with walking trails on a 40-acre parcel of land.

Plymouth’s Northville-Plymouth Fire Agreement represents the re-definition of the shared services concept by two municipalities. Both cities – Northville and Plymouth – are similar in size and population and accomplished what many community officials and local politicians thought was impossible: Consolidating fire services for two non-contiguous cities under one simple 11-page, inter-local agreement. One year later the public is happy, both cities are saving money, and they are delivering high levels of service.

Rochester’s Main Street Makeover was a $7.6 million project to rebuild Main Street, improve water service, and add streetscape improvements to enhance the overall downtown experience.

Westland’s Core Shopping and Dining District project was a significant investment to purchase a 67,000 square-foot building that had been vacant for many years By moving the city hall into this vacant big box building, they freed up 14 acres of prime property on Ford Road. Because of this $15 million investment by the city, the area has experienced a large amount of positive change and investment by others.

REGION 2: (south-central and southwestern portions of the Lower Peninsula)
St. Joseph’s Silver Beach development project transformed vacant property and antiquated industrial buildings dotting the city’s lakefront. Silver Beach now includes the Silver Beach Carousel, the Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone and Michigan’s largest interactive water fountain. Thanks to the generosity of the community, Whirlpool and several local families, more than $8.2 million was raised to privately fund the project. Today, Silver Beach Center is a mecca for tourists and local residents who want to create memories.

Albion’s Crowell School project was a joint effort with Albion Public Schools, Albion Senior Center, and Kellogg Community College to house operations in an old school that was slated to be closed and vacant. By working together, they kept the old Crowell School a viable neighborhood asset, saved the school district $70,000 annually, and housed different entities with similar operations under one roof.

The Baroda, Bridgman and Berrien Springs and the surrounding townships of Lake, Baroda, and Oronoko came together to reinvent the Lake Street/Shawanee Road “Lake to Grapes” corridor into a nationally recognized agri-tourism location offering wine and fresh produce. The work included cooperative rebranding of the local economy emphasizing tourism, promoting the vintner/brew geography as a nationally recognized brand, rebranding individual community identity into themes such as “Beach Town” and “Heart of Wine Country,” and undertaking an award winning cooperative “wayfinding” communication program.

South Haven’s Kal Haven Trail Extension and Williams Street Reconstruction project included the extension of the Kal Haven Trail into downtown South Haven, and the reconstruction of the historic Williams Street, which features prominent views of the Black River and Lake Michigan.

REGION 3: (west-central area of the state’s Lower Peninsula)
Belding joined with Belding Area Schools for a community garden that is accessible to all residents of the city and surrounding areas. It provides social, educational and nutritional opportunities to those who may not otherwise have access to fresh produce. Donations and grants to date have exceeded $10,500. Phase 1 of the project opened to gardeners on Memorial Weekend 2012 and featured 16 beds, including two handicap accessible beds. Thirteen families signed up to work the garden for the year with three sponsoring a bed for their family and one sponsoring a bed for the food pantry. Four families gardened solely for the benefit of the Belding Food Pantry. To date, the Belding Community Garden has donated about eight bushels of fresh produce to the food pantry.

Whitehall’s Lake Street reconstruction project has transformed it into the first fully integrated “green street” in the state of Michigan. It integrates bioswales, naturalized detention, filter strips, treatment wetlands, permeable concrete, and permeable pavers to reduce sediments, nutrients, and other contaminants from entering the lake through typical “first flush” stormwater discharge. Harmful pollutants will no longer reach the lake: 95 percent of all metals; 90 percent of suspended solids, organics and bacteria; 80 percent of phosphorus and ammonium; and 75 percent of nitrogen. The project also includes a breathtaking extension of the city’s pedestrian walkway, enhancing the community’s livability as a quality place.

REGION 4 (east-central part of the state’s Lower Peninsula, excluding the Thumb)DeWitt’s First Annual 2012 DeWitt Community Showcase featured the cooperation of three different jurisdictions—the city of DeWitt, DeWitt Township and DeWitt Public Schools. The event was held at the DeWitt High School and was an opportunity for area businesses, students and community civic groups to “show-off” to the community what they had to offer. The event was free for all who participated and featured a Taste of DeWitt, student art pieces, student performances and more than 100 exhibits by area businesses and civic groups. The event drew more than 2,000 area residents.

Ithaca’s transfer of police services and duties from the Ithaca Police Department to the newly created Ithaca Unit of the Gratiot County Sheriff’s was an example of economy, cooperation, and efficiency by the city council, police, and city staff, as well as the sheriff, county commission, and county staff.

Mount Pleasant’s Access Adventure Trail opened in 2010 and was expanded in 2012 as a universally accessible non-motorized pathway through Chipp-A-Waters Park that joins to another trail leading through five other parks. The paved trail was made possible through the efforts of many community partners. It is 10 feet wide and includes an eight foot by 150 foot pedestrian bridge that crosses the Chippewa River, with a scenic turnout where visitors can view both sides of the river at wheelchair height through glass panels. The trail also features universally accessible fixed viewing scopes. It is part of a three-year project focused on universal access and inclusiveness in the city’s recreation facilities, programs and services designed to serve people of all ages and abilities in the Mount Pleasant community.

REGION 5: (Michigan’s Thumb)
Imlay City’s economic gardening program began in the fall of 2010 with the development of a strategic process to foster growth in the key areas of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and overall economic development, or SEED. Growth is fostered through continuous networking events, Entrepreneur Meet Ups, educational workshops and other initiatives.

Harbor Beach’s interpretive sign project created a greater sense of place for both residents and visitors to the city, through the creation and installation of 20 interpretive signs along the city’s bike path, depicting significant historic sites and events in the community’s past.

Lexington’s volunteerism is a long-running tradition that is key to the village’s success and survival throughout the years. Examples include the fire department, the Lexington Business Association, and the Lexington Yacht Club. Volunteer groups raise thousands of dollars each year that is put directly into Lexington’s economy.

REGION 6 (northern portion of the Lower Peninsula)
Rogers City’s placemaking effort includes a streetscape upgraded with people-friendly amenities including new LED lighting and ADA ramps, flower baskets, and wayfinding signage. Ten percent of the city’s existing downtown storefronts opened with new destination businesses in 2012. New events, programs and amenities to bring people downtown include recreational trails and pocket parks, a new downtown museum annex, two new public art projects and several exciting new library programs. Social life has been enhanced with such festivities as “Martin Mania,” a downtown street dance to celebrate nature and help at-risk children. The effort has paid off with as many as 100 new jobs in a city of 2,782 people.

REGION 7 (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula)
Ironwood plans to revitalize a railroad depot into a park that promotes health, history, and recreation. The plan is to merge city blocks, add a pavilion, playground equipment, landscaping, volleyball courts and other amenities. The park will also serve as a trail head for non-motorized trails crossing the region.

Ontonagon’s Complete Streets initiative was in May of 2012. Village streets were prioritized for paving projects in 2013. The selected streets were reviewed under the state’s Complete Streets criteria, designed for increasing accessibility for all users, from pedestrians and bicyclists to mass transit users and those with physical disabilities. Two blocks of Quartz Street were selected to include a paved non-motorized path for bicyclists and walkers. The council approved the street projects in June. The Quartz Street pathway will be completed in the summer of 2013.

Sault Ste. Marie’s Historic Water Street streetscape renovations and revitalization have provided a waterfront gathering place for people to relax, exercise, learn and celebrate. It includes a new half-mile interpretive walkway stretching from the Soo Locks to the historic homes of some of the community’s most notable founders. The walkway features 33 informational panels detailing the area’s rich history from its beginnings as a Native American village to its establishment as Michigan’s oldest European settlement in 1668. City Hall, a recently repurposed historic Federal Building, is situated on historic grounds at the center of the walkway, providing a premier location for festivals and community gatherings, from weekend festivities to leisurely evening walks.