Successful placemaking is not about implementing a “one size fits all” step-by-step method that works in every situation. It is a dynamic, strategic approach to economic revitalization based on individually evaluating each community’s strengths and weaknesses in the core “quality of life” issues—and then developing tools and strategies that use those strengths to meet the challenges at hand.
PlacePlans is a joint effort between Michigan State University and the Michigan Municipal League to help communities design and plan for transformative placemaking projects. In autumn 2012, we put out a call for interest. Despite a very short window for response and limited promotions, we received applications from more than 30 communities. With advisory input from MSHDA staff, we selected projects based on a number of criteria including potential for implementation and potential to support private sector investment in housing redevelopment. Four cities were chosen to serve as the pilot PlacePlans communities: Allegan, Alpena, Dearborn and Sault Sainte Marie.
MSU faculty led a series of public meetings in each city, which collectively attracted more than 1700 attendees. Participants influenced the project vision both during participation in the meetings and by submitting comments online. Concurrently, MML staff interviewed key influencers in each city, such as property owners, major employers and representatives of anchor institutions.
After carefully considering community input, the MSU and MML teams jointly developed conceptual design plans and implementation recommendations. In June, final recommendations along with written reports were presented to each of the communities. The reports include recommendations for funding sources, ordinance changes and public-private partnerships the city leadership should pursue.
Allegan’s project focuses on redevelopment of its historic riverfront, which currently serves as special event and recreational space but is not fully capturing the possible economic value of adjacent commercial and residential properties in the downtown.
Alpena’s plan is to create a multi-use public plaza in the midst of downtown. Continued development of housing within the downtown area will ensure the plaza becomes a “third place” within the community where people connect and spend their leisure time.
Dearborn is currently building an intermodal rail station along the Detroit-Chicago corridor and is looking to redevelop the surrounding area into a bustling transit-oriented development district with multifamily housing and additional commercial activity.
Sault Sainte Marie’s project involves a new vision for Moloney’s Alley, an underutilized section of its downtown that has potential to connect its busy tourist area to the rest of the city and serve the growing demand for downtown living.