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Press Release


Contact:
Matt Bach, Director of Media Relations
Michigan Municipal League
(734) 669-6317; C (810) 874-1073
mbach@mml.org; www.mml.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 19, 2015

Michigan Community Stakeholders Learn Strategies to Retrofit Suburbia

More than 50 hear from experts, share experiences in Westland

WESTLAND, Michigan – Suburban leaders learned about road diets, why “stroads” are killing suburbs and how cities throughout the nation are turning eyesore buildings, parking lots and vacant spaces into vibrant, economic-bolstering gems.

These were just some of the lessons Monday during a free, day-long Suburban Summit organized by the Ann Arbor-based Michigan Municipal League. The summit was hosted at Westland’s new city hall, which has been recently retrofitted into a city hall from a vacant Circuit City building. The Westland event was one of two summits offered by the League as a way to address common challenges faced by similar communities in recent years. A second summit is scheduled for today (May 19) in Comstock Park.

For the summits, the League brought in national experts to show the positive economic impact various types of suburban development can have on communities and discuss what suburbs can do to breathe new life into underperforming properties. Attendees also shared their own ideas and experiences related to redevelopment work in their communities.

“This was an opportunity for people to learn about the economic case for improving and retrofitting key parts of their communities,” said Summer Minnick, the League’s director of external relations and federal affairs. “We also wanted stakeholders from similar suburban communities to come together to share the challenges they face as we emerge from the recession. Hopefully, they’ll now return to their communities with some possible solutions.”

More than 50 local leaders, officials and business and civic-minded people attended the Westland event including Westland Mayor Bill Wild, other Westland officials, as well as representatives from Farmington Hills, Garden City, Hazel Park, Roseville, Royal Oak, Saline, South Lyon, Sterling Heights, and Utica.

Mayor Wild said he was pleased for his city to host the Suburban Summit and show southeast Michigan leaders, municipal officials and business and civic representatives what his community has to offer.

"We’re hoping to share what we’ve learned with other communities,” Wild said. “When Circuit City went out of business they left these large big box buildings all over the country. It’s in the heart of our business district and we saw this vacant building as an opportunity for our community as we looked at moving our city hall. Our cost to build new would have been about $15 million to build a 36,000-square-foot new facility and we were able to purchase this 63,000-square-foot building and retrofit it and we were all in at $10 million, for a savings of $5 million. This is the center of gravity in the City of Westland now. We’re in the middle of our shop and dine district and now the traffic from city hall feeds that district so it’s just a win-win.”

Keynote speaker at both summit events was Ellen Dunham-Jones, professor of architecture and urban design from Georgia Tech and co-author of “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs.” Other speakers were Anthony Minghine, associate executive director and COO of the League; Mark Nickita, Birmingham City Commissioner and President of Archive Design Studio (D.S.); and Jennifer Rigterink, manager of Redevelopment Ready Communities for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC).

Dunham-Jones, Nickita, and Minghine explained the economic value of improving communities and how even subtle changes, such as narrowing streets – or putting them on “road diets” to slow traffic – can make a dramatic difference in a community’s vibrancy. Dunham-Jones also explained how many southeast Michigan communities struggle with “stroads”. A stroad, which combines the words "street" and "road", describes a street or road, built for high speed; that now has multiple access points and doesn’t function well for speed or accessibility. These are especially common in suburban communities in commercial districts.

Dunham-Jones gave examples of how communities are narrowing their stroads to slow traffic and make them safer. She said slowing traffic improves the business climate and makes an area more attractive and inviting, which can lead to more jobs and an increase in the local tax base. She also showed numerous examples of communities that have retrofitted defunct strip malls and indoor malls into vibrant community assets.

“What I do is show people the before condition that I feel everyone can relate to, and an after condition, which is often very surprising,” Dunham-Jones said. “We’re used to seeing a lot of change in downtowns, but we’re not used to seeing a lot of change in the suburbs and it takes a lot of imagination. What I hope is that I’ve been able to spark some new ideas, new approaches and they go back to their communities and see more opportunity than they might have seen beforehand.”

View a blog about the summits here: http://placemaking.mml.org/2015/05/19/writing-the-next-chapter-in-the-suburban-story/.

Media can also download high-resolution photos from the Westland and Comstock Park summits here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigancommunities/.  

 

The Michigan Municipal League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services.

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