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Press Release


Contact:
Matt Bach, Director of Communications
Michigan Municipal League
(734) 669-6317
mbach@mml.org; www.mml.org

For Immediate Release: June 18, 2012

Detroit’s Canfield Social Yard Wins Contest

Let’s Save Michigan Also Announces Winners in Muskegon, Hartland, Detroit

A panel of national placemaking experts selected Detroit’s Canfield Social Yard project as the $2,000 grand prize winner of the Let’s Save Michigan “It’s About Place” contest.

The contest, which started in May with online voting of 46 projects from 28 Michigan communities, concluded this week with a group of judges selecting four projects to receive a share of $4,000 in prize money. The money is to be used to implement the projects, said Sarah Szurpicki, the contest’s project coordinator. A $1,000 second-place prize was awarded to The Fat Garden Project in Muskegon; and two $500 runner-up prizes went to Innovation Square project in Detroit and the Old Hartland High School Project in Hartland.

Nora León, of the Canfield Social Yard project, was ecstatic about winning the contest. The Canfield Social Yard project seeks to raise awareness of the west Woodbridge area in Detroit and foster a culture of neighborhood and civic engagement by programming a vacant lot with entertainment and educational events that support existing community efforts and encourage new projects.

"We are beyond excited about winning the Let's Save Michigan “It’s About Place” competition,” León said.  “It is a tremendous honor and we can't wait to get our hands dirty and bring Canfield Social Yard to life. We think the project has the potential to become a great asset for the Woodbridge community.”

The other three winning projects are:

Muskegon: The Fat Garden Project – second prize $1,000: The Fat Garden Project helps the Fatty Lumpkins Sandwich Shack secure much-needed parking but more important, transforms a portion of a vacant lot into a beautiful, functional picnic and garden area complete with works of art by local Muskegon artists.

Detroit: Innovation Square – runner-up $500: Innovation Square will transform a “cracked, warped and tired” parking lot in Tech Town into an inviting outdoor space that encourages inter-organization collaboration and community development, with the goal of generating sufficient momentum to secure follow-on funding.

Hartland: Old Hartland High School – runner-up $500: The Old Hartland High School project will create a year-round gathering place with an atmosphere that encourages interaction and socialization among community members and where community groups can hold casual meetings under the backdrop of a large Poetry Word Wall.

Sarah Rooks, President of the Watermark Center in Muskegon, hopes the Fat Garden project, which was the top vote getter in the online voting stage of the contest, can inspire others.

“We are humbled to be chosen as the ‘People’s Choice’ and have felt a lot of support around the Fat Garden concept,” Rooks said. “We hope that the Fat Garden project encourages others to think forward and promote projects that draw on sustainability, accountability, and the environment; fostering big ideas that grow our great state.”

In describing grand prize and second prize winners, contest judge Diana Lind, Editor in Chief of Next American City, said “the winning projects illustrate the inherent resourcefulness of our communities and the widespread desire to reclaim our underperforming places. While the Canfield Social Yard shows how a vacant lot can become a social space, the Fat Garden Project exemplifies how to turn a car-oriented place into a human-centered one. That's what placemaking is all about—reimagining the smallest spaces for maximum impact on the daily lives of regular citizens.”

Judges gave significant weight to the feasibility of a project in selecting the winners, as well as to submissions that show they have considered how to manage the project over time. Other criteria include creativity and originality, community engagement and the overall impact that the project could have on the community.

Placemaking judge Nate Berg, staff writer for The Atlantic Cities, was very impressed with all the finalists’ ideas. Moreover, he was struck by how well the projects coordinated with the surrounding community and local government.

“Ideas—even really good ideas—are far more plentiful than the capacity to take on the often long and frustrating task of working within bureaucracies to bring those ideas to reality,” Berg said. “It should be inspiring for people throughout Michigan and beyond to see such dedication from these finalists for making small but important improvements to their neighborhoods.”

Placemaking judge Kathy Madden, Senior Vice President of Project for Public Spaces, also offered why the contest was an important vehicle to create positive neighborhood change.

"People everywhere intuitively recognize a good place, because it draws them in and makes them want to stay and come back again and again,” Madden said. “The proposals submitted to this placemaking contest represent citizen ingenuity, and have the potential to be catalysts for significant change in both the real and perceived sense of place in their communities. The applicants are all local heroes."

Let’s Save Michigan hopes to find ways it can help all the entrants, especially the finalists, with guidance and connect to resources in their communities.

“It’s incredible. All told, the finalists garnered almost 30,000 votes,” says Sarah Szurpicki, the contest’s project coordinator. “We are so excited about the contest since it clearly shows how important the message of placemaking is in Michigan cities. This is only the beginning of what’s possible.”

Let's Save Michigan advocates for policies and practices that support, revitalize, and promote Michigan's cities. For decades, disinvestment and our auto culture have contributed to the decline of our great public spaces. But thankfully, there is a new understanding in many communities and among many of our leaders that we need to reinvest in our public spaces, and rebuild the public amenities that make people choose to live, work, and play in Michigan's cities of all sizes. For this contest, the nonprofit Let’s Save Michigan asked stakeholders across Michigan to find an underutilized space in their community—an alley, a pocket park, a vacant lot—and then work together with members of the community to create and design a plan to turn that underutilized space into a welcoming, vibrant public place.

To view media coverage from the contest, click here.

The Michigan Municipal League’s Let’s Save Michigan initiative is a citizen engagement and advocacy effort that promotes smart policies to build a restored Michigan—a state with good jobs, vibrant cities, accessible transportation, and first-rate cultural centers.

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