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100 Years to Livewalking dog

A column by Caroline Weber Kennedy


The city functions as facilitator between its best assets and its residents.

Pause a moment and ask yourself, “What do I love most about my community?” “What do I love most about my other favorite places?” I live “up north,” so most of you would wager that what I love is the great outdoors, and you’d be right. I’m able to enjoy it daily because my city is the link between the necessities of my daily family life and daily fulfillment. Everything we need is close at hand, providing me with leisure time! And they’ve made leisure activities easy to access, too. In 2004, an alternative band topped the charts with a lyric: “When you only got 100 years to live.” This is my panic button. I’ve got places to go, things to do, and time flies—whether I’m having fun or not. I need the ability to accomplish what needs to be done and to enjoy life—daily.

So, Gladstone, Michigan, population 5,032 in the wild U.P. gives me the most bang for my buck when it comes to how I’m going to spend my 100 years. Whether my elected officials realize it or not, I moved here for location, parks, and recreation. And in these difficult economic times, this makes total sense—dollars and sense. According to Dr. John Crompton of Texas A&M University, parks can increase proximate property values by up to 15 percent.

Quality of Life Is the Currency I Value
Out my front door 100 feet straight ahead is the city boardwalk, extending along scenic Little Bay de Noc nearly from one end of town to the other. You can walk, run, bike, rollerblade, or skateboard it. It traverses wetlands supporting abundant wildlife—featuring morning birdsong, and evening frog concerts with an occasional loon on open mic night (like most places). Michigan’s adult obesity rate has increased 77 percent since 1995. However, access to places for physical activity has shown a 25.6 percent increase in the number of people exercising three or more days per week.

A few steps off the boardwalk and you’re on the beach. We jet ski and putter the pontoon to Escanaba or up the Whitefish River. More ambitious athletes kayak, paddleboard, wind- and ice-surf. But the point is, the city is the connection between my daily necessities and fulfillment. They provide and maintain the boardwalk, parking, beaches, boat launches, a yacht harbor, a fishing pier, ball fields, playground, skate park, and tubing and ski hill. The city functions as facilitator between its best assets and its residents. This is government at its best—using my tax dollars in a currency I love—improving my quality of life. And I am not alone; check successful recent millage campaigns for parks and recreation.

Host the Party
Paraphrasing Sean Stafford, assistant professor of Organizations and Strategy at University of Chicago School of Business, the role of government is not to be the life of the party, but to host the party. Stafford’s reference was to economic revitalization—bringing the right people together; helping make the right connections. This can be applied for every community asset. How do we capitalize on what we have? Park systems and recreation programs provide a wider range of benefits than we typically acknowledge. This city function is often the catalyst for greater things—utilizing small projects to institute big change. Parks, trail systems, recreation and events connect the other necessary pieces of our lives to make our days complete.

Emotions = Economics
After my 6,205 days of captivity elsewhere, I moved back to this area because I had great memories. Research shows our brain’s amygdala and hippocampus successfully encode emotional material for memory. If we have a great time somewhere, we’ll remember and want to return. That’s why events and community branding are so important—especially economically. I recall Fourth of July celebrations with lumberjack and log-rolling contests in the lagoon. It’s this great combination of patriotism, heritage, skills, and fun. We came back again and again (spending money). The city is the host, highlighting its history and heritage in its most enjoyable venue; creating a memorable experience by teaching and touching our emotions. Quality of life is key when we’ve only got 100 years to live. Decision makers statewide often under-value these commodities.

Kids Learn Healthy Lifestyles Through Recreation
My kids ride their bikes to our city rec programs and reach the skate park, fishing pier, and public beach the same way. They’re learning competitive skills, teamwork, discipline, sportsmanship and confidence. They develop alternative interests to “hanging out” and are empowered to try new things. They’re growing healthy and learning life lessons. And every community can do this—better connect their residents with their assets, bit by bit, and create events to promote them. We have even greater economic potential for downtown via running and biking events, a farmers market, and summer concert series—all run by the parks and rec department. Gladstone has an entire fascinating history that’s linked to our rail yards, but we still need to tell the story. These are all commodities to be nurtured. They create emotional memories, and that’s as good as money in the bank.

Caroline Weber Kennedy is manager of field operations for the League. You may contact her at 906-428-0100 or



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