CAPITAL CONFERENCE 2012: THE POLITICS OF PLACEMAKING
Leading urban thinkers and doers Peter Allen, Sadicka White, Ernesto Sirolli and Helen Davis Johnson focused on many aspects of economic development and placemaking during this morning's Convention general session, but the unifying theme was the importance of engaging and learning from citizens of all ages. White, an experienced city administrator and urban planner in Ohio, promoted "intergenerational wisdom" as a key to adapting neighborhoods to the changing economic times. She advocated for an approach that combines cutting-edge research and knowledge with an appreciation for the positive aspects of how walkable, safe neighborhoods were designed in the past. Sirolli, who specializes in training community leaders to discover and assist entrepreneurs, picked up on that theme by discussing the essential nature of a team approach to economic success. "It wasn't Sam Walton who created Wal-Mart," explained Sirolli. "It was Sam, Helen and Helen's dad....No one can do it alone." Johnson brought the "intergenerational knowledge transfer" 2theme home by sharing practical examples of social change brought about in her hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee through the "Chattanooga Way" of diverse community conversations. She described the ground rules as, "If you sit at this table, you have to be part of this place and proud of this place." In Chattanooga, this led to millions of dollars in waterfront investment as well as grassroots initiatives like CreateHere.
Peter Allen, an urban developer, planner and educator, focused on the importance of multiple generations as well, but from the perspective of marketing and attraction. He encouraged community leaders to focus on the "bookend generations" - the Millennials and Baby Boomers - when creating their economic development strategy. He also encouraged them to nurture and cultivate community champions and "update and take advantage of original arguments for why your town was created." This includes preserving and enhancing historic structures and promoting walkable commercial centers.
Community leaders can learn more economic development strategies by visiting the Center for 21st Century Communities. For more about the Michigan Municipal League go to www.mml.org and for details about our 2011 Convention go to tour.mml.org.
Michigan State University's Director of Arts and Cultural Initiatives Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D, talked about how to identify, promote and protect a sense of place in a community during the League's Region 2 Education Seminar on May 20 at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing.
Dewhurst discussed how our places connect us to the past and our community and cultural traditions, while keeping the local environment distinctive. During his talk on developing strategies to reach placemaking goals, he proposed key questions to ask.
1. To identify your community's sense of place, ask what is distinctive about your community, inventory your cultural resources and collect the vfoices and stories of creative people and businesses. Interactive web tools can be a tremendous asset in this process.
2. To promote your sense of place, think beyond the standard, conventional forms of artistic expression to consider aspects of creativity like food and event traditions. Authentic character should be promoted to create a more distinctive sense of place, Dewhurst said.
3. Protect your community's sense of place through historic preservation programs integrated with the living, creatve and cultural heritage of your community. Maximize your investment by using your cultural inventories to guide an adaptive use of your places and spaces.
East Lansing itself was a great example of many of the day's key themes. Its Hannah Community Center is the city's historic high school, rehabbed and repurposed into an attractive community facility. It was also the weekend for the city's annual art festival, which draws thousands of residents and visitors to the downtown and campus area for a celebration of arts, crafts, music, food and entertainment.
The seminar also included six great presentations for the Region 2 Community Excellence Award. Click here to read more about the CEA presentations.
The League's Andy Schor presented an update on Lansing, including the recent victory in securing more funding for revenue sharing and brownfield and historic funding. He also moderated a legislative panel featuring Sen. Rick Jones, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Paul Opsommer and Sen. Gretchen Whitmer.
This afternoon at the League's Capital Convention, representatives of the cities of Ferndale, Midland and Mount Pleasant shared experiences from the front lines of efforts to complete their communities' streets. The three cities are in different stages of implementation, showing the diversity of approaches available to Michigan communities under Michigan's Complete Streets legislation.
Ferndale Councilwoman Melanie Piana shared her perspective as an elected official who spearheaded the successful efforts to adopt a Complete Streets ordinance. She stressed the importance of building a support team, educating stakeholder groups and strengthening partnerships. She encouraged local government staff and officials to bike their communities to see first-hand the strengths and weaknesses of the network. Complete Streets policy discussions can be a catalyst to coalesce disparate resolutions, policies and processes already in existence within the local government. Ferndale adopted an ordinance but has not yet created a non-motorized transportation plan.
Keith Baker, Midland's Planning Director, shared a different story about the challenges creating political will for a Complete Streets ordinance. He advocated working incrementally if necessary, starting with a local task force and then building a non-motorized plan. Midland recently adopted a non-binding resolution that is advisory in nature but requires review of all new construction projects.
Jeff Gray and Rich Morrison from Mount Pleasant's Planning and Economic Development departments showcased examples of innovative projects completed in their city to reduce traffic speeds and increase pedestrian safety without a formal Complete Streets policy in place. They also provided recommendations for dealing with the challenges of redeveloping a state trunkline running through a downtown.
The League's Complete Streets page provides examples resolutions, policies and other background information.
Luke Forrest is Project Coordinator with the Center for 21st Century Communities. Contact him at 734-669-6323 or email@example.com.
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