Praise for Economics of Place!!!

From Planetizen’s Top 10 Books for 2012. EoP – “noteworthy.”

The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People
Edited by Colleen Layton, Tawny Pruitt and Kim Cekola
Michigan Municipal League, 175 pages

The Economics of Place maps out an arts-driven regeneration plan for Michigan like a modern day Magna Carta, punctuated by testimonials from professionals in the field. The collection of essays encourages the reader to avoid externalizing ‘place’ as something separate from our core identity. Instead we should give more consideration to how places make us happier or healthier, and how this in turn drives economic activity. In praising the knowledge economy, mixed-use urban infill, benevolent immigrants, and social and cultural entrepreneurs, the work occasionally becomes proselytizing. But the book is brought back down to earth by its specific focus on the future of Michigan, which adds context to all the theory. The Michigan Municipal League provides an array problems and solutions, but also excellently outlines the principal obstacles to these development patterns. The concluding chapters contain a considered examination of counterproductive federal transit and housing policy that undermine planners’ work to increase density and promote urban centers. While historically curious, the empirical breakdown of these laws and their effects set out specific courses of action for practitioners to follow.


And from the Detroit Free Press Associate Editor Ron Dzwonkowski

“If you build it, he will come.”

That line, often misquoted as “they will come,” was written by W.P. Kinsella in his 1982 book, “Shoeless Joe,” which became the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” which made the line iconic in American culture (along with, “Go the distance!” from the same book and movie).

“I knew about halfway through the novel that I was creating something special,” Kinsella told me recently in an e-mail from his home in British Columbia. “So after that, nothing surprised me.”

Why do Kinsella’s words resonate? Because, like most clichés, they are rooted in simple truth.

And for Michigan, a state that people, especially young people, are leaving by the thousands, that truth may be getting overlooked.

“It’s the place, stupid!”

That’s a headline from a recent book compiled by the Michigan Municipal League that attempts, in a series of essays, to recast the debate over Michigan’s future from one about taxes and regulation to one about how we build the kinds of places where people want to live, where people feel safe and happy, where people can exercise their ideas and find the “human capital” to turn them into something tangible. If we do that, the evidence is clear from places that already have, people will come.

The wrong debate

For the four decades that I have been covering public policy debates in Michigan, much of the expelled hot air has been about the best use of taxes and regulations, more or less, to create a climate that will attract investment capital — money that creates jobs. How different Michigan would look today if that debate had been about the best way to attract “human capital” — or to invest in it, so Michigan today had a well-educated 21st-Century work force instead of one that struggles with basic literacy.

In his introduction to “The Economics of Place,” Municipal League CEO Dan Gilmartin writes: “With apologies to many of my friends who represent traditional business organizations, you guys need a new playbook. Finding a correlation between low tax states like Mississippi and high–income states like Massachusetts is near impossible, although I will submit they both start with the same letter. I loathe paying taxes as much as the next guy, and advocate for squeezing more out of every dollar raised, but simply cutting taxes and expecting the growth to follow in an environment that increasingly depends on quality of place is a scheme hatched in some anti-tax Disneyland. … Worse yet, the tax debate continues to sap energy and keeps us from acting on what really matters economically.”

The book lays out eight assets that are critical to quality of place today, some reflecting a generational shift away from suburban living — suburbs are today the fastest-aging segment of the American demographic — and others reflect the relentless advance of technology.

They are walkability, green initiatives, a healthy arts/culture scene, a climate for entrepreneurs, multiculturalism, constant connectivity, effective public transit and educational institutions that serve as community anchors.

So is it any wonder that Ann Arbor weathered the Great Recession better than the rest of Michigan? Doesn’t it make sense that Grand Rapids has embraced the annual ArtPrize competition? Isn’t there a lot of promise in Detroit’s burgeoning Midtown?

State of denial

Some places are getting it, Gilmartin agreed.

But the state as a whole? Still chasing that next auto plant and arguing about taxes and regulation.

“It turns out,” Carol Coleta, a Chicago-based consultant and former president of CEOs for Cities, writes in one of the book’s chapters that “58% of any city’s success, when success is measured by per capita income, is predicted by the percentage of college graduates in its population. … As much as I believe that talent is the primary driver of city success, I believe quality of place is a deep driver of talent. You can’t separate the two.”

In other words, if you build it …

“The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People” is available for $14.95 through or


We at the MML are all very humbled by your response to the book and its ideas. Thanks a bunch!

  • Phil is the best.

  • Lori A

    Great Book! Especially like Cooley’s article on Detroit and democratic governance.