shutterstock-environment-green-initiatives-21c3-wind-turbine-energy-small-for-webThe 2014 Olympics may be over, but gold, silver and bronze awards are still being handed out to a select group of Michigan communities. A total of 33 Michigan local governments were recognized for environmental leadership at the Michigan Green Communities conference in Flint today (Tuesday, February 25, 2014). They are the second set of governments recognized under the recently expanded Michigan Green Communities Challenge (http://mml.org/green). The program helps local leaders measure their progress in implementing energy, economic development and environmental improvements.

The program is directly tied to the Michigan Municipal League’s ongoing effort around placemaking and creating desireable communities. To foster placemaking, the League has identified eight key assets that every community should strive to have. One of those assets is green initiatives and the Michigan Green Communities Challenge helps communities of all shapes and sizes achieve energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Awards were given at four levels of accomplishment:

  • Gold: Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Charlevoix, Dearborn, Dexter, Farmington Hills, Grand Rapids, Meridian Township, Oakland County, Rogers City, Williamstown Township
  • Silver: Berkley, Birmingham, Delta Township, Lathrup Village, Monroe County, Novi, Quincy, Saline
  • Bronze: Delhi Township, East Jordan, Royal Oak, Sterling Heights, Troy, Warren
  • Member: Bangor Township, Clawson, Coldwater, Curtis Township, Fremont, Fruitport, Lansing, Livonia

Press releases about the honored communities will be posted here on the League’s newsroom page.

The Challenge is a new tool to help local leaders measure their progress in implementing energy, economic development and environmental improvements. It is supported by the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Economic Development Corporation Energy Office, Michigan Municipal League, and Michigan Townships Association. It uses a rating system to recognize sustainability­ accomplishments and serves as a guide for the community leaders looking to learn from their peers. Participation is free and open to all local governments in Michigan as part of the statewide Michigan Green Communities network that aims to support local sustainability efforts.

The Challenge launched in 2009 and emphasized energy efficiency projects in an effort to help local governments prepare for and make the best use of federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funds. In the past, graduate students from the University of Michigan worked with Challenge participants and the staff of a partner organization to update the program and reflect the evolving sustainability standards. The updated challenge reflects broader topics, such as green economic development, resource conservation and water quality, in addition to maintaining a strong energy component.

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

A street artist performs in downtown Flint.

A street artist performs in downtown Flint.

There was an excellent editorial in Thursday’s (Feb. 13, 2014) Lansing State Journal about the value of Michigan’s cities (aka placemaking: placemaking.mml.org) to our state’s economic recovery. You can read the editorial here but the LSJ is paid-based website so if you don’t have an LSJ account let me summarize it for you.

The headline of the editorial, “Michigan needs its cities to thrive” is an amen-moment for the League. We’ve been saying this for year’s now and it’s nice to see more and more media understand. A recent survey by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy also showed local municipal officials also increasingly embrace the placemaking concept.

Placemaking (placemaking.mml.org) essentially is creating places or communities where people want to work, live and raise families. Placemaking takes a variety of forms (check out placemaking examples on this League placemaking webpage.)

The editorial explains that for Michigan to thrive it must have vibrant cities and for too long now the state has taken revenue sharing that our communities were entitled to. It said Governor Snyder’s proposed 2014-15 budget would increase constitutional revenue sharing to communities by 3 percent and statutory revenue sharing by 15 percent. The League has stated this increase is appreciated but it doesn’t even scratch the surface toward to $6.2 billion the state has diverted away from communities in the last decade (read more about that in this new revenue sharing fact sheet put out by the League this week).

Furthermore, the increase in statutory revenue sharing being sought by the governor comes with strings. That money would be tied to performance requirements under the Governor’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP). This EVIP program, in the League’s opinion, simply is not working and creates unnecessary inefficiencies for our communities.

The LSJ editorial says (and I love this part) “it’s high time the state committed more resources to making local communities strong. While all state residents live in Michigan, their quality of life is substantially defined by the quality of cities, villages, townships and counties in which they live. … Distressed areas don’t suffer alone. They spread economic unease to neighborhing communities and, in the case of Detroit and its bankruptcy, potentially to the entire state.”

It concludes with this one-two punch: “… It is essential that the state resume stronger support for local government. Details can and will be negotiated, but Snyder’s proposal should be the minimum that lawmakers consider as they continue reviewing the FY 2014-15 budget.”

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

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.

Brighton is one of many Michigan cities to embrace the placemaking concept.

Brighton is one of many Michigan cities to embrace the placemaking concept.

A new study released today (Jan. 22, 2014) by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy shows that more local governments than ever before are utilizing placemaking as an economic development tool in their communities.

The Michigan Municipal League for several years has promoted placemaking as an economic driver and it’s extremely encouraging to see the concept taking hold and making a different in so many Michigan communities, said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin.

“These survey results further prove that local government leaders not only increasingly talk the placemaking talk, but that they also walk the placemaking walk,” Gilmartin said.

Placemaking is a community and economic development strategy that attempts to capitalize on local assets to create appealing and unique places where people want to live, work, and play.

“In placemaking, communities use what they have whether it’s arts, cultural amenities, parks, architectural design, lakes or walkable streets to create a strong bond between people and the places they live,” said Tom Ivacko, administrator and program manager for the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP).

The poll, part of the Michigan Public Policy Survey series at CLOSUP, reports:

- 51 percent of Michigan’s local leaders say they believe placemaking can be effective
in their jurisdictions as of 2013, compared to 39 percent who reported confidence in
placemaking’s effectiveness in 2009.

- Even in jurisdictions that are not engaged in placemaking efforts, 35 percent of local leaders say it would be an effective strategy for their jurisdictions, and just 12 percent believe it would be ineffective.

- Local leaders see links between placemaking and entrepreneurship, but say they face barriers to attracting more entrepreneurs including access to capital (72 percent), unappealing buildings and landscape design (29 percent), deteriorating infrastructure (27 percent), lack of late night entertainment (26 percent) and information technology infrastructure (21 percent).

- Jurisdictions in Southeast Michigan (55 percent) were the most likely to pursue placemaking in 2013, followed by those in the Upper Peninsula (37 percent), the
Northern Lower Peninsula (33 percent), the Southwest and West Central Lower Peninsula (each at 29 percent), and the East Central Lower Peninsula (25 percent).

The League and other proponents of place-based economic development argue that by creating vibrant downtowns, neighborhoods, or public spaces, and improving a community’s quality of life, talented workers will be drawn to move there, and they will attract new businesses as well as start their own.

View the full report herehttp://closup.umich.edu/files/mpps-spring-2013-placemaking.pdf. View a press release about it here. And you can go to placemaking.mml.org for more on the placemaking concept and examples of placemaking in action throughout Michigan

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