Dan Gilmartin, the CEO and executive director for the Michigan Municipal League, will

Dan Gilmartin is a keynote speaker at the 2018 Vermonth League of Cities & Towns Townfair 2018 taking place this week.

Dan Gilmartin is a keynote speaker at the 2018 Vermonth League of Cities & Towns Townfair 2018 taking place this week.

be in Vermont this week as the keynote speaker for the Vermont League of Cities & Towns annual Town Fair conference.

Gilmartin is an internationally known expert on the concept of placemaking and other municipal issues and has conducted presentations all over the world, including in Australia, Sweden and the Netherlands.

He was asked to speak at the Vermont conference because event organizers were looking for a keynote address that combines placemaking with innovation and retaining and attracting young talent to The Green Mountain State. These are all topics Gilmartin has covered extensively in Michigan and beyond in his Economics of Place blog, Economics of Place podcast and former The Prosperity Agenda radio show on News/Talk 760 WJR. He also is contributing author to two League books: The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People; and The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.

This is one of three national public speaking opportunities Gilmartin will be doing on various topics this month. He was also will be the keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Water & Pollution Control Conference (OWPCC) taking place at Rose State College in Oklahoma City, Oct. 8-11, and he will be a co-speaker during a session on building strong communities, inside and out at the Engaging Local Government Leaders’ (ELGL) 2018 Milwaukee Pop Up Conference in Wisconsin on Oct. 12.

Here is the official description for Dan’s keynote address at the Vermont conference:

Dan Gilmartin

Daniel Gilmartin

Keynote: Building Great Communities 

Daniel Gilmartin is the Executive Director and CEO of the Michigan Municpal League and is contributing author to The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People and Economics of Place: the Art of Building Great Communities. Through his work with communities throughout the country, Mr. Gilmartin is recognized as a leader in the fields of urban revitalization, placemaking, local government reform, and transportation policy. He serviced on the Placemaking Leadership Council and previously served on the Michigan Future, Inc. Leadership Council and the board of directors of the National League of Cities. Prior to his current position as executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League Mr. Gilmartin served for four years as the lead advocate for Michigan’s communities in Lansing and in Washington, where he concentrated on key issues that included transportation, land use, and urban redevelopment.
Speaker: Daniel Gilmartin, Executive Director & CEO, Michigan Municipal League

By Luke Forrest

Enabling Better Places coverWalkable downtowns and main streets are highly desirable qualities in today’s communities. But how do you move your community in that direction?

A good place to start is by updating your zoning code.

On Sept. 21, at the League’s annual Convention in Grand Rapids, we will debut a new resource for community leaders: Enabling Better Places: User’s Guide to Zoning Reform. This publication is a how-to manual of practical, realizable steps for local governments to take to make their communities more walkable and economically successful.  It’s the product of nearly two years of collaboration between the League, Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), Michigan Association of Planning (MAP), and Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The League, MAP, and MEDC are proud that Michigan is serving as the proving ground for the Project for Code Reform, CNU’s national initiative to support cities and towns as they reform outdated zoning codes to promote walkable places. CNU worked with its Michigan partners to create the new guide, focusing on downtowns and main streets in small and medium-sized towns and cities in Michigan. The cities of Albion, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Saginaw, and Traverse City served as test markets. But the lessons learned are easily translated to towns and cities in other parts of the state and the country. The guide was made possible by financial support from partner organizations and technical support from nationally acclaimed code experts from DPZ CoDESIGN, Ferrell Madden, and PlaceMakers, LLC.

The guide—which is linked to MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities® program—focuses on the “how” of the process of code reform rather than the “what.” It gives communities wide latitude to create solutions that are unique to their needs and circumstances. The emphasis is on incremental change to enable a community to adapt and digest an update in a single neighborhood or district before moving on to other reforms. This helps governments test approaches, build political will, and gain community support as they go.

Other project partners for Enabling Better Places include AARP Livable Communities, The Richard H. Driehaus Prize at the University of Notre Dame for Contributions to the Public Realm, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.


New ways of getting around our communities keep popping up: Lyft now claims to be available for ridehailing statewide, bikeshare systems are active in half a dozen cities (and under consideration in others), and now…

Electric scooter sharing has arrived in Michigan.

Bird scooter photo from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bird_scooters_on_the_sidewalk_in_San_Jose.jpg

You heard me right: scooters.

Last week, Bird Rides Inc. deployed e-scooters in parts of downtown Detroit. Anyone (with a smartphone and credit card) can take a ride by using Bird’s app to find and unlock an available scooter, zooming to their destination at up to 15mph, and then leaving the scooter anywhere it won’t be a nuisance for the next rider to find and use.

Like some bike-share systems, these scooters are “dockless,” which means they can be picked up and dropped off anywhere, rather than only at defined (and costly) stations. Not only does this mean scooters could end up in odd or problematic places, it means the companies deploying them don’t need to do any construction or make significant capital investment, so may skip even a conversation with municipal staff—just, poof, one day the vehicles suddenly appear around town.

It’s too soon to have a good understanding of what impacts these vehicles will have—but it’s exactly the right time to think about nudging those impacts in the right direction. Before e-scooters (or e-bikes) hit your downtown is the best time to think about managing any downsides if (when?) they arrive locally, and to push them to improve mobility broadly within your community.

Fortunately, resources are emerging that can help communities navigate these issues:

  • Alex Baca recently wrote a primer on dockless bikeshare for CityLab and a followup Q & A with BetterBikeShare.org—both aimed at city officials trying to wrap their heads around these systems, and most of which is immediately applicable to e-scooters deployments as well. Baca formerly ran a bikeshare system in Cleveland, so has hands-on operational experience with some versions of these modes.
  • NACTO just released version 1 of their Guidelines for the Regulation and Management of Shared Active Transportation, which outlines recommended standards for issues like operation of vehicles in the public right-of-way, vehicle maintenance, provision of usage data, parking expectations, and programs to provide equitable access to low-income residents.
  • Detroit’s DPW has issued initial guidance on how the city’s existing nuisance and right-of-way codes are likely to apply to e-scooters, including expectations around their maintenance, placement, and use, with the caveat that this first interpretation is likely to change as the city gains direct experience with the vehicles.

That caveat, “subject to change at any time and without notice as understanding and experience continues to develop,” is a good summary of the overall approach communities will need to take towards these new transportation devices. Let us know what challenges your community encounters!

I first visited Vancouver  for a few days of vacation in 2012.  It is a place that I’ve always known that I would return to. That opportunity arose when I was asked to attend the Placemaking Leadership Forum conference in September, which I will talk about in a minute.  First, a few observations about Vancouver.
waterfront-smallIt’s all about the feeling that you have been invited to participate in the daily life of a city that makes one feel so welcomed.  Upon my arrival, the first place I walked to was the waterfront. Everyone is drawn to the waterfront. Water and mountains define Canada. Vancouver doesn’t have a big public square, so people gravitate to the edge of the water. Waterfalls, big and small, are scattered throughout the city.  The city is even adding water fountains to fire hydrants so that less privileged areas can have waterfalls. The goal of the city is to have all streets end at public spaces with a view of the harbor, but there is still a lot of work to be done before that is reality. In order to achieve this, a very complex undertaking of private investment and public support has been ongoing to build a climate of cooperation and understanding.

vancouver-hornby-streetVancouver has amazing street edges – bike lanes, trees, and curbs – giving you a sense of protection as you walk or bike in the busy downtown. I very quickly identified Hornby Street as my favorite street, and on every outing, even if I had to go out of my way, I made sure that street provided a thruway to wherever I was going.

Although I have never been a big fan of glass architecture, I’m beginning to understand the role it plays in connecting people to its buildings. You see slim towers with low rise podiums, which have rooftop patios and trees, (to attract the suburbanites). The towers are separated and seem to float above the podiums. Images of people and places can be seen through these buildings, creating a relationship between the people and the buildings.

With this backdrop, two main events took place during the week of September 12-18:  the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Annual Conference, and the Placemaking Leadership Forum, building on the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) Placemaking Leadership Council and the discussions on the outcome of the three Future of Places conference series. (The New Urban Agenda, the agreed upon outcome of the three Future of Places conferences, was adopted in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016.)  I only attended the Placemaking Leadership Forum, but both conferences took place at the same venue and overlapped, providing an exhilarating hub for placemakers around the world.
ethan-kent-smallThe discussions at the Placemaking Leadership Forum certainly reinforced for me that the power of placemaking continues to grow and spread around the world, and its impacts – socially, environmentally, and financially – are too significant to ignore.  An especially proud moment was when Ethan Kent, senior vice president of PPS, recognized Michigan as a leader in placemaking governance.  He emphasized that as placemaking becomes institutionalized, we must guard against the tendency to create new gatekeepers. The roots of placemaking came from taking power, not giving power.

Although I have been attending placemaking conferences for several years now, I always leave with new ideas and concepts to add to the conversation. This conference was no exception.  Listed here are some notable takeaways worth thinking about:

  • “We don’t want a masterpiece but a great canvas – it’s the layers afterwards that matter.”  (Eduardo Santana-Pershing, executive director, Pershing Square Renew)
  • “The system isn’t broken, it was built this way.” (Husam Alwaer, professor of Urban Design, Scotland)
  • “First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.” (Jan Gehl, Danish architect and urban design consultant)
  • “People change their habits according to services and infrastructure provided.”
  • “The new generation wants to consume experiences.”
  • “From a health perspective, there is nothing more important than placemaking”
  • “Placemaking for peacemaking.” (Rony Al Jalkh, visiting fellow, PPS)
  • “At their heart, cities are the absence of physical space between people.” (Ed Glaeser, American economics and author)