By Shanna Draheim, Director, Policy Development

As someone who has spent my career in public policy, and who must routinely explain what I do for a living, even to my family, I often envy the doctors and teachers of the world who get to see how they impact people’s lives every day.  Of course, we policy wonks know we have an impact – it’s just that we don’t always see it as clearly or frequently.

Which is why its important to step back sometimes and celebrate when we’ve been dogged in our work and achieved some successes.  And the Michigan Municipal League has been dogged about placemaking.  Since the early 2000s, the League has been a leader and a partner in bringing the concept and practice of placemaking to Michigan communities.  Our new report, “A Decade of Placemaking in Michigan” is a retrospective of our efforts.  The purpose of the report is to help remind us where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished, and use that to help the League set the stage for our future placemaking work.

The League has been a strong voice for, and resource on placemaking for over a decade.  As such, it’s hard to boil down the highlights to only a few.  Some of the key efforts include:

  • Significant outreach to communities, stakeholders, and community development professionals, including professional development training, hundreds of presentations to organizations around the world, publication of two books on placemaking, hosting the 2010-2016 Prosperity Agenda radio show on 760 WJR, and mobilizing a two-year Let’s Save Michigan outreach campaign.
  • Assistance to communities in creating and implementing PlacePlan and PlacePop projects in their downtowns (in cooperation with our state and other Sense of Place Council partners)
  • Advocacy and support for state and local program and policy changes to support placemaking
  • Development of new funding tools to support placemaking projects

The League’s efforts to help move the placemaking agenda came at the right time as Michigan’s traditional manufacturing economy was declining and communities desperately needed new options to create economically strong, vibrant places.

And the League has not done this work alone.  The vision, leadership and support of the Board of Trustees was essential – they have been placemaking champions and cheerleaders.  Perhaps most importantly however, has been our partnership with organizations like Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the Michigan Economic Development Council, Michigan State University, business organizations, and other non-profit groups through the Sense of Place Council.  These partners have been critical to the success of adopting placemaking in Michigan by “normalizing” placemaking concepts, providing credibility, broadening the scope and scale of outreach efforts, and providing key funding for communities’ placemaking work.

Our placemaking work has had an impact—local and state leaders have adopted placemaking concepts and made significant investments to improve the quality of life in Michigan communities.  The League has watched and participated as communities have engaged with their residents to redevelop formerly blighted or underutilized areas into fun and attractive community amenities, plan and host art and cultural events, and change local policies that enable things like outdoor dining and public gathering spaces that draw people into downtowns.  There is much to celebrate.

So, what’s next?  Our placemaking work will continue, but will evolve.  In the coming years, the League will provide a wide range of services and strategies that push the placemaking for economic prosperity agendas forward, and enjoin the state’s job creation strategy with efforts to improve civic life.

rt_rising-tide-logo-600x250Pouring rain didn’t deter representatives from ten Project Rising Tide communities. They jumped in their cars and headed to the League’s Lansing office on Sept. 29 for a day full of enlightening sessions. The League and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation brought together expert speakers on everything from effective public service to talent attraction.

Project Rising Tide is a program established by Governor Snyder in 2015 – and administered by Michigan’s Talent and Economic Development (TED) team – to help economically challenged communities become better positioned for redevelopment opportunities. The mission of the program is to provide at-risk communities with the tools they need to design and build a successful economic framework. It supports vibrant, thriving communities to attract business investment and talent by creating a sustainable path toward economic stability and growth. The ten communities selected for the pilot program are: Central Lake, Charlotte, Evart, Grayling, Harrison, Hillsdale, Newberry, Paw Paw, and River Rouge.

Effective Public Service
Bob Slattery, DPW Director for the City of Burton, kicked off the day with a presentation on Effective Public Service. He emphasized four key areas that public officials need to focus on: attitude and action; roles and duties; teamwork, and sources of authority. Public officials need to exemplify high civility and ethics, develop trust, be knowledgeable of operations, and listen to their constituents. All city officials, staff and councilmembers need to be aware of and respect each other’s roles and responsibilities, project a positive image of the city, stay educated, and be prepared and professional. Everyone should act as a team and remember they’re there to serve the community. And perhaps most important, Slattery asked “If better local government doesn’t begin today, when will it begin? And if it doesn’t begin with me, with whom will it begin?

Navigating the Talent Pool in Local Government
April Lynch, Ferndale city manager, drew on her wealth of human resources experience for her presentation. She stressed that a city is technically a “business” with thousands of “customers” (residents). As such, city leaders should have the have the mindset of hiring quality talent. Attracting that quality talent has become more difficult because local government benefits aren’t as generous as they used to be. With that in mind, we need to provide services to make employees feel supported, valued, and that they have an opportunity for growth and development. In Ferndale, the city offers services like flexible work schedules, family friendly policies (Ferndale was the first Michigan city to offer paid parental leave), and The More You Learn, the More You Earn, a cross-training program that rewards motivated employees, contributes to their job growth, and ultimately provides better service to Ferndale residents.

Civic Engagement Strategies
The League’s Sarah Craft shared some of her experiences working with communities across the state on community engagement strategies. Engagement is not a cookie-cutter process, but rather can take a variety of creative forms. For example, a Vassar visioning event morphed into Vassar Vision Taste & Talk – a unique, outdoor event that combined two things most people love: food (from local restaurants) and talking!  There are several elements that go into making any engagement strategy successful: a steering committee (solicit a broad, diverse group of stakeholders); institutional partners (involve local businesses and nonprofits); visioning (decide what you want to accomplish); and marketing and communications (keep people updated often and celebrate successes).

Grant Writing
Julie Hales-Smith, a consultant with North Coast Community Consulting, says you never get anything if you don’t ask, so she advised the audience on how to ask for grants for community projects. Writing grants is very time-consuming, so the first step is to make sure it’s the right grant for your needs. Are you eligible? What’s required? Is it feasible? If the answer is yes, then identify your team, chart out all the steps, timeframes, and responsibilities. Above all else, follow the grant funder’s instructions exactly and get your proposal in on time. Once it’s submitted, work your contacts to see what their experience has been with the funder, and nurture your relationship with the funder.

Structuring the Project – The Local Perspective
Deborah Stuart, Mason city administrator, shared her experiences with development projects in her community. She said that Mason has had several new developments or redevelopments in recent years, which have been good for the city in many ways, but they haven’t added anything to the city’s general revenue. The status of the properties (brownfields, Land Bank properties, etc.) was such that the revenue went to other entities. However, the developments do increase the city’s costs as they have to provide them with services, such as police and fire. She urges that any development project be evaluated on a number of factors, including the cost/benefit ratio and the impact on local jobs. And don’t be afraid to negotiate the best deal for your community.







Gem Theater

Detroit was at the heart of CNU 24 last week!

For the past two years, the League partnered with Congress for the New Urbanism to bring their 24th international convention to our doorstep. League staffers held positions on the host committee and participated in legacy charrettes for four Metro Detroit neighborhoods, all in preparation for last week. That’s when experts in urban planning, design, architecture, and related disciplines gathered from around the globe to learn from each other and – in this case – discover the story of Detroit’s transformation.


Detroit Opera House

I’m a native Detroiter and have seen the city go through some tough times, but I was truly impressed with the beauty, vibrancy, and positive energy I encountered. I was doubly-impressed when I heard the enthusiastic exclamations of CNU attendees from as far away as Ecuador and Australia. “The Opera House is gorgeous!” “I can’t wait to ride the People Mover!” “Campus Martius is so cool!” “Detroit is much nicer than I expected!”

For four days, the schedule was jam-packed with sessions, workshops, forums, and tours. Participants could head to the beautiful Gem Theater to learn about the principles of new urbanism from Andres Duany, one of the founding members of Congress for the New Urbanism. Walk across the street to the spectacular Detroit Opera House to hear about Detroit’s history and revitalization or how new forms of transportation are changing the way people move around their cities. Or hop on a tour bus and experience the wonders of downtown Detroit architecture, America’s best small city (Ann Arbor), Birmingham’s new urban downtown, or Windsor’s Old Sandwich Towne, one of the oldest established communities in Ontario.

Evenings were full of activity, too, including Thursday’s Charter Awards ceremony, which recognized exemplary work in architectural, landscape, urban, and regional design. Two Detroit-based companies – Bedrock Detroit and Hamilton Anderson Associates – won the grand prize for the design of their Brush Park project.  At the ceremony, the 2016 Congress Legacy Project teams also presented their final reports.

Legacy Projects

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Hazel Park Vernor Crossing Grandmont-Rosedale Pontiac

All the sessions were as varied in topic as they were in location, but I found that a common theme ran through many of them: putting people first. We were reminded of an important Jane Jacobs quote: “People make cities and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

In a session on urbanism and sustainability, Kaid Benfield, senior counsel for environmental strategies at Placemakers, emphasized that we need to aspire to build places people love or they won’t be sustained. In a session on new transportation options, Russell Preston, design director of Principle Group, advised the audience that they should think about people and place first and weave transportation options around them. In a session on the revitalization of Detroit’s neighborhoods, Quincy Jones, executive director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, shared that people are committed to their neighborhoods and will fight for them.

Be-The-Change-300x200But perhaps most importantly, in a session on Detroit’s food and food justice movement, Devita Davison, marketing and communications director for FoodLab Detroit, passionately told the audience that Detroit has its problems, but Detroiters also have hope. It’s up to all of us to be the change we want to see.


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Baskin-Robbins Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant IHOP

What??? You don’t see Baskin-Robbins, IHOP, and Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant in these photos??? I do!

I grew up in the North Rosedale Park neighborhood of Detroit’s Grandmont Rosedale area. The section of Grand River Avenue between Warwick and Evergreen was my commercial playground. In my mind’s eye, my friends and I are riding our bikes up to Baskin-Robbins – almost every day the first summer it opened. After school, we’re walking over to Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant and ordering up a Coke and fries at the counter. And on Saturday mornings, we’re heading to IHOP with our families to try out all their scrumptious varieties of pancakes and syrup.

2016-4-15-Charette-audience-300x200That’s what I was thinking about as I attended the April 15 kick-off of the CNU Legacy Charette for Grandmont Rosedale. It was held at Bushnell Congregational Church – where I enjoyed many junior high dances with Kathy, Joann, Zachary and all my other Cooke School friends. Some of the people in attendance remembered those days, but all were interested in making that stretch of Grand River Avenue vibrant again.

2016-4-15-Charrette-presenters-300x200More than 50 residents and business owners attended the session, which began with a presentation by two urban planners from Florida-based Dover, Kohl & Partners. The project called “Making Grand River Avenue more walkable, bikeable and accessible” was lead by Dover, Kohl & Partners and local support came from Design Team Plus, Hall Planning & Engineering Inc. The project sponsor was the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and CNU.

The first order of business was to gauge the type of commercial corridor street design that appealed to the audience. The planners presented photos of a variety of street scenes, which people could vote on with electronic clickers. Not surprisingly, streets with attractive storefronts, lush landscaping, wide sidewalks, and safe crosswalks were the hands-down winners.

Next, the participants met in small groups to discuss their desires for Grand River Avenue. With large aerial maps of the area at each table, the men and women got busy sketching out ideas and creating lists of their top five priorities. After an hour, each group presented their priority lists, which contained a lot of similarities. Among the most common themes were:

  • Calming measures for Grand River, such as a boulevard or angled parking in the median
  • Safe, well-marked crosswalks
  • Attractive storefronts and interesting businesses to draw people to the area
  • Wide sidewalks
  • Beautification features, such as landscaping and public art

The public design workshop continued throughout the weekend. Now, the planners from Dover, Kohl & Partners will review all the input they gathered and presented a more refined plan at CNU 24 in June.