Ideally, municipal leaders can and should play a dynamic role in forming, guiding and implementing a cohesive vision for creating a unique sense of place in their community. But place-based projects themselves are often a grassroots phenomenon that grows organically out of an individual or group’s recognition of a need in their community, and then coming up with a response or solution that addresses it. In those situations, often the municipality’s role is to be the “host of the party” helping  to facilitate what’s needed and then to simply “get out of the way.”

Additional ResourcesThe following case studies show how various communities have successfully enhanced their sense of place using this dynamic approach in creative and surprising ways.

Main Street Community PartnershipMain Street Community Partnership
Inspired by a presentation about the power of investing in your own community instead of Wall St, a group of 22 Adrian residents and leaders chipped in funds to buy and rehab a historic but long-neglected structure on their main street.

Boyne City Main StreetBoyne City Main Street
A volunteer-driven organization led by an appointed board, a full-time Main Street manager, and supportive leadership from community. It focuses its efforts around the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Four-Point Approach®: promotion, design, organization, and economic restructuring.

Rust Belt MarketRust Belt Market
A “living market” featuring artists, collectors, local food products, musicians, and community events and gathering space in a repurposed big box commercial building. When selecting vendors to participate, the managers focus on quality local craftsmanship and potential for growth into standalone independent businesses.

Clark Park CoalitionClark Park Coalition
This grassroots, nonprofit coalition has grown to offer positive activities for nearly a thousand neighborhood youth each year. The Clark Park Coalition now offers one of the nation’s only free inner-city hockey programs, as well as quality soccer, baseball, softball, and tennis activities, in addition to providing summer and after-school youth programming.

Alert SystemHubbard Farms Emergency Alert System
The neighborhood struggled with a rise in petty property crimes and home invasions, in particular vagrants who preyed on vacant houses for either scrapping or squatting. Residents, frustrated by poor police response times, utilized free flash mob cell phone technology to mobilize themselves to help one another and secure vacant properties in their community.

NTNThe Noquemanon Trails Network (NTN)
Enhanced to cater to off-road bicyclists, expanding the recreational tourism brand of the area and establishing the city of Marquette as a national destination for cyclists—yielding impressive economic results for the private sector. The terrain and extreme seasons of Marquette lend it to four-season silent sports activity, which has historically been part of the local culture.


Using an “all boats rise with the tide” rent subsidy, the incubator provides cheap space for socially conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources, and networks. By providing the residents with subsidized spaces, creatives at Ponyride are able to focus on their work without sweating the details.

Nuisance AbatementCommunity Driven Nuisance Abatement
A grassroots approach to identifying and potentially taking legal action against the private owners of nuisance properties that are having a negative impact on a whole community. The Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Community Resources developed a strategy for addressing nuisance properties, with the possible option of legal action.

Love MuskegonLove Muskegon
The simple gesture spawned an anonymous group of young professionals who came up with a brand and started distributing materials with the phrase at events around the community. “The campaign gives everyone permission to have a love affair with their community,” stated national community development expert, Peter Kageyama. “That is so important.”

Hatch DetroitHatch Detroit
Aims to promote a more vibrant urban community by empowering local niche retail businesses with the capital and support they need to succeed and grow. Up-and coming innovators have the opportunity to showcase their new retail concepts to business experts, who then select a winner to receive a grant of $50,000 and additional startup resources to launch the storefront.

The Alley ProjectThe Alley Project (TAP)
A garage studio and alley gallery that showcases legal street art produced by local youth and community members. Professional artists, teens, and neighbors have worked together to build an infrastructure for creative expression and community responsibility in a neighborhood that is diverse and thriving but also sees a high rate of illegal activity.

DCFLDetroit City Futbol League
A very recreational adult co-ed soccer league based around neighborhoods designed to bring communities together in a fun and unique way while marketing different areas of the city.  In its third season the league consists of teams representing 28 Detroit neighborhoods with nearly 800 registered participants, over 80 percent of whom are city residents.

A pop-up retail initiative that partners community leaders, building owners, entrepreneurs, and artists to activate vacant storefronts with transformational businesses and art installations. Businesses have included eateries, galleries, and clothing shops, among many other entrepreneurial ventures.

Dequindre Cut Dequindre Cut
The Dequindre Cut Greenway is a 1.35-mile intown recreational path developed through a public, nonprofit, and private partnership that offers a pedestrian link between the Detroit Riverfront, Eastern Market, and many residential neighborhoods.

DIA Inside|OutDIA Inside|Out
Inside|Out brings 80 reproductions of masterpieces from the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) museum’s collection to the streets and parks of greater metro Detroit, pleasantly surprising and delighting residents of the participating communities and engaging them in dialogue about art.

Recycle HereRecycle Here
Recycle Here! started out as a traditional drop-off center in a community with few recycling options. Through the creativity of its staff, volunteers, and participating citizens, it has become a community gathering place and a showcase for artists and musicians.

Artist Village Detroit Artist Village Detroit
The Artist Village serves as a creative hub for artists, students, business owners, and neighbors living and working in the heart of Old Redford. A once abandoned commer­cial strip serves as the center of the village and houses the historic Redford Theatre, a small coffee shop, vintage clothing store, and an art education program.

oliver art center Frankfort Historic Landmarks Arts Center
The Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts (ELOCA) is a repurposed Coast Guard Station and serves as a popular community hub for residents and visitors.  The regional arts community has two galleries and three classroom spaces for art, music, literature, dance and exercise classes, as well as a professional test kitchen for the culinary arts.

Marks CartsMark’s Carts – Ann Arbor
Mark Hodesh was pondering ways to utilize the privately owned empty lot behind his already successful Downtown Home and Garden store. Capitalizing on a growing national trend of food carts, Mark’s Carts brings people of all ages together by offering delicious local food and communal seating, which has generated energy and activity on the nearby streets and neighborhood.

Detroit Soup Detroit Soup
A small group of individuals looking to make a difference in their community and trying to find a tool to financially support them in a modest way. The size of SOUP dinners are largely dependent upon the venue but can grow to over 100 participants with awards ranging from $500-2,000.

Downtown West BranchDowntown: The Heart & Soul of a Community
The city of West Branch recognizes the importance of bringing people together, of creating a destination where people can shop, enjoy a great restaurant experience and attend events with family and friends.  With this in mind, a group of business owners gathered to discuss ways to actively encourage more engagement in their downtown.

Ludington Sculpture ParkGrowing the Economy Through Arts and Culture
Located halfway up Lake Michigan’s beautiful coastline, Ludington harbors a rich cultural heritage of a bygone mill and lumbering era. The city was poised to celebrate its past and future, bringing art, nature and history together, and provide an impetus for future development.