Congratulations to Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong who was honored with the MLGMA Patriarch Award at the Colloquium.

The session topic was Lean Urbanism for Local Government featuring Andrés Duany, co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) and a pioneer in urban planning for the 21st century. Here are some of the highlights of his speech:

Duany on his 5.5 hour tour of Detroit, his fourth over a series of years starting in the late 1990s: “It’s absolutely eating my brain and blowing my mind.” The prior three tours displayed the “misery of Detroit” he said. Woodward Avenue is now “full of wonder and good potential,” he said. It’s bigger and cooler than Atlanta or Raleigh, he said, and those are champions of success.
So why is our perception so negative? Here’s what Duany says: If you only look at the numbers, the picture is dismal. But when you look at the restaurants and shops and people moving in, it’s tremendously successful. So maybe we are measuring the wrong things.

Other highlights from Duany’s presentation:

When it comes to planning for the future, be clear on what you can’t do. We need to be realistic in our goals, he said. The more realistic you are, the more credible you get.

What happened to our cities: 1. Interstate system made it easy for people to live in the suburbs and come into the city to use the amenities. 2. The VA/FHA post-war loans were only for new housing. 3. Racism, redlining, blockbusting isolated the poor. Poverty has always been with us. That’s not the problem, he said. What harmed cities were concentrations of poverty. The car permitted that segregation. 4. Planners of the 1960s attempted to compete with the suburbs by suburbanizing the cities – making them for cars not people, destroying street life and ruining what made cities worth living in. Too many downtown codes are tailored for suburbs, making it difficult if not impossible to do what is good for an urban setting. That’s why form-based codes make sense.

In today’s world, cities aren’t competing against each other. Cities are competing against their own suburbs (in Michigan's case, typically that means the townships).  Look at your city from the outside and see what can be done to equalize the choice for developers.

It’s not enough to not have crime. You have to have the perception of not having crime. Broken windows, lack of maintenance, chain-link fences, abandoned buildings all “tell” people a place is unsafe.

On why “the world is vibrating with excitement for Detroit”: Every revitalization of a decayed place, from the Left Bank of Paris forward, is led by the urban pioneers who have made it “cool” – they are the risk-oblivious: the young, the artists, and the gays. The risk-aware follow – the developers. Then the risk-averse – “the dentist from New Jersey” comes in and drives out the cool. It’s inevitable, he said. So wind back the bureaucracy, he said, to avoid exterminating the pioneer and the small developer, and to allow the young and creative to act. That's what tactical and lean urbanism are all about.


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