The Prosperity Agenda: CNU 24 Congress to Put National Spotlight on Detroit and Michigan

prosperity-agenda-thumbSince the inception of the Prosperity Agenda radio show about five years ago, we’ve been talking about placemaking here in Michigan and the importance of creating communities that you love. Sometimes we can view this work in a vacuum but in truth placemaking is part of a much larger, global movement.

This international placemaking revolution will be put on display right here in Detroit in June when the 24th annual Congress for the New Urbanism comes to Michigan for the first time – ever. CNU 24, as it’s affectionately called, will bring to our city upward of 2,000 planners, architects, designers and community leaders from around the Globe. It will put Detroit in the national spotlight, but it’s also a highly interactive event. We here in Michigan hope to learn as much as those who come to Michigan for the Congress.

You could call CNU 24 a conference, but it’s really much more than that.

On this month’s Prosperity Agenda radio show on News/Talk 760 WJR we talk to some of those involved in CNU 24 and why it’s so important to Michigan.

My co-host for the show is Crystal Proxmire, publisher, editor and reporter of Oakland 115. Our guests are CNU CEO and President Lynn Richards, CNU Board Chairman Doug Farr, and Birmingham Mayor Pro Tem and CNU 24 Host Co-Chair Mark Nickita.

The Michigan Prosperity Agenda is a monthly radio show that challenges listeners to help make Michigan a better place to live, work and play by creating vibrant and prosperous local communities. It has aired on News/Talk 760 WJR since 2010. The hour-long radio program is hosted by me, Dan Gilmartin, CEO of the League. The show is sponsored by the League and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). The show airs April 27, 2016, on News/Talk 760 WJR, but you can listen anytime at the League’s website or by subscribing to the FREE iTunes podcast. Learn more about the League’s placemaking work here on this blog.

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Main Street in small town America and the need to diversify businesses

Northville

Main Street

On my walk this morning to a coffee shop, east on Main left at Center, I came upon a new occupant of a recently empty storefront. On a street jammed with restaurants and retail shops, I was surprised to see that the new tenants are attorneys. The surprise was a pleasant one, and its not because I am in search of representation (knock on wood). Most lawyers I know are housed in big city business districts or within nameless, faceless office parks along highways. So I found this to be a nice, and interesting, discovery. Once I spotted a Norman Rockwell print in the window, The Problem We All Live With, and a framed letter that explains its significance to their practice I figured that the owners hadn’t simply stumbled upon the storefront on Main Street by accident.

The Rockwell Tribute

The Small Window Rockwell Tribute

Restaurants and pubs are great for small downtowns, but their presence can actually have a negative effect if they become too numerous. Small businesses that depend on daytime foot traffic aren’t helped much by a restaurant that concentrates its efforts on the nights and weekends crowd. After all, that is when the jewelry stores and spice shops are closed. Throw in the competition for exclusive parking spots and you will see that finding the right mix of eateries and retail is essential.

Professional services are another leg of the stool. Small towns need those, too. The best towns, in my humble opinion, provide a mixture of everything. They are places where you can get a bite to eat, grab a beer with friends, window shop, get tax advice and just sit quietly on a public bench and watch the people go by. Or write a blog. These places are active and more resilient than towns that rely strictly on the fickle and ever changing pallets of people as their sole economic strategy.  Providing different reasons for people to come downtown means that different people will come downtown. Which is healthy for the city. My friends at the Project for Public Spaces call this the “Power of 10.”

 

Victorian Architecture

Across the street

Locating businesses on Main Street is step one. Selling their products and services is the ultimate test. So give them a boost this weekend and shop local.

On a related note, here is another plug for a recent report that outlines what works in small towns and big cities alike. The findings point out the importance of providing a sense of place and connects great places to economic gain. The cover photo for the report is from the same street that’s above looking in the opposite direction.

 

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Placemaking works, new report asserts

“PSC found significant research connecting these assets to economic prosperity, and that, given the uniqueness of every community, these asset areas are most effective when combined (in part or in total) to match specific communities’ needs.”
Placemaking in Michigan
Public Sector Consultants (PSC) recently released a report titled Creating 21st Century Communities: Making the Economic Case for Place. The report digs into the Michigan’s Municipal League’s own findings about what assets make communities economically viable and healthy.  Our review of successful cities reveals a strong correlation with the following assets:

Chief among their findings is that the data is overwhelming and clear: placemaking works! The authors found significant research that ties the assets to growth in income, property values, educational attainment and new business starts. We’ve know this for years, but reports like these drive the point home.

Give it a read.
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Placemaking in Small Towns: Niles, Michigan

News feeds are usually chalk full of great placemaking projects in big cities. If you are a follower of the movement to (re)create great places then you have probably stumbled across  oodles of great examples from famous places. If parks are your thing then you’ve got the inspirational story of Bryant Park in New York City (10.7 million results in a quick Google search).  Public markets advocates can look to Barcelona for guidance and ideas (2.1 million results). If you like to root for underdogs then you can check out one of the 1.2 million results under “Detroit Comeback.”

PlacemakingDespite their being of equal inspiration, stories about efforts in small towns are a bit harder to come by. That’s why I’m highlighting a recent effort in Niles, Michigan that shows that there are plenty of passionate, motivated people in small town America who ‘just get it.’ The Michigan Municipal League’s recent project there is proof. The Turn the Corner PlacePlan is the result of months of work in the community (and WITH the community) to draft a blueprint for progress in a key area within the historic district of the city of 11,600 people. Even if you have never been to Niles, it is worth a look. As are the other excellent PlacePlan reports done in communities across the state.

Thanks to our partners at MSHDA for providing funds for the work. And let me give a special shout out to Richard Murphy who spearheaded this project. Great work, Murph!

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The Prosperity Agenda: Honoring Michigan’s Community Builders

prosperity-agenda-thumbWe often talk about the importance of having great communities in our state. Communities can and should be the economic drivers of Michigan. A strong community encourages innovation and attracts residents, visitors, businesses and jobs. But every community is only as good as its people.

It takes people to make decisions and choices that make communities great. Sometimes these are not easy or even popular decisions. This takes leadership.

On this month’s Prosperity Agenda radio show on News/Talk 760 WJR we talk to some of those leaders and key people working to make Michigan’s communities great. Some of them were recently honored in Lansing as more than 400 local leaders from throughout the state went to the state’s capital for the Michigan Municipal League’s annual legislative conference (March 22-23, 2016).

My co-host for this show is the Kevin Elsenheimer, executive director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which is also co-sponsor of our show. Our guests are Dearborn Mayor and Michigan Municipal League President Jack O’Reilly; Grand Rapids Mayor and Michigan Municipal League Vice President Rosalynn Bliss; former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell; Marja Winters Farrow, of Benton Harbor and Detroit; and Ypsilanti Mayor Pro Tem Lois Allen Richardson.

The Michigan Prosperity Agenda is a monthly radio show that challenges listeners to help make Michigan a better place to live, work and play by creating vibrant and prosperous local communities. It has aired on News/Talk 760 WJR since 2010. The hour-long radio program is hosted by me, Dan Gilmartin, CEO of the League. The show is sponsored by the League and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). The show aired March 23, 2016, on News/Talk 760 WJR, but you can listen anytime at the League’s website or by subscribing to the FREE iTunes podcast. Learn more about the League’s placemaking work here on this blog.

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