Why Cities Matter in Michigan

I was recently asked by the Lansing State Journal to provide them with a guest editorial on why cities matter to the state of Michigan. Below is my response. 

'Old Town' in Lansing, Michigan

Why Cities Matter in Michigan

So why do cities matter? I’ll answer that question with some questions: How many of us know a young person—maybe even your own son or daughter—who has recently moved or is planning to move to Chicago, New York, Austin, Portland or another metropolitan area?

I’ve asked this in various speaking opportunities, and every time multiple hands go up. Then I’ll ask this follow-up question—how many of those young people left for one of these cities without having a job? Hands again go up.

The answers I get are similar to those in numerous studies that continually show our most talented workers choose where they want to live first, and then get a job.  They choose places where they can enjoy a particular lifestyle that’s built on the core assets they value like downtowns and neighborhoods that are walkable and offer the opportunity to meet in places such as coffee shops, restaurants, clubs and public spaces.  It means choices in getting around including available mass transit. And it means places that offer art and culture opportunities as well as green spaces and recreational advantages and are open to people of all backgrounds and lifestyles.    The same core values are also held by the next generation of older Americans, retiring baby boomers.

Working to create a prosperous future in Michigan, where average incomes place us once again at the top, rather than the at the bottom, depends on our ability to attract and retain knowledge-based workers, entrepreneurs and growing industries. To be successful we must invest in and effectively develop and leverage our  key human, natural, cultural and structural assets and nurture them through enacting effective public policy. In Michigan, our cities are actually in a prime position. They anchor regions across our state that have more than 80 percent of our population, jobs, exports, and higher education degrees.

That is why I was excited to see a recent series of articles in the Lansing State Journal featuring viewpoints from several individuals who are high on Lansing.  From the Chamber Director to a local corporate officer and half a dozen others, we read about the power of talent and young professionals in creating prosperity and the importance of a strong core city. This group gets it as do others across our state.

If we want to create a prosperous Michigan again, we must be about investing in our cities. Such programs as the Michigan Municipal League “Center for 21st Century Communities” and the new “MIPlace Initiative” offer much in the way of guideposts.

Investing in cities used to be thought of as a social necessity. These days it is an economic necessity. Policymakers in other states, cities and countries have understood this dynamic far longer than we. It’s a new year. It’s time to get to work.

Daniel P. Gilmartin is executive director and CEO for the Michigan Municipal League. Dan’s blog: Economics of Place.