Melanie Piana

How proactive equity and inclusion strategies benefit Michigan communities

First, congratulations to Ferndale Councilmember and former Vice President Melanie Piana, our new League president! With her numerous years on
council, leadership skills, and extensive work in forging partnerships with Detroit and other communities, she will bring considerable knowledge and experience to her
new role. In our feature story, you can learn much more about President Piana as she shares her ideas and goals for the coming year.
Ferndale Council

Melanie Piana

Michigan is in a global fight for talent. If we establish ourselves as an open and welcoming state, we can win. What do we need to do? Not only is it critical to continue creating great places to live, but we need to include diverse communities of people—those who possess different cultural backgrounds, perspectives, and social identities—in the conversations and decision-making process. This is vitally important to create stronger communities and promote a healthier economy. It will provide places where people want to live, and businesses want to set up shop. Here is the reality: Demographics are shifting rapidly to an increasingly diverse population. Statistics project that the U.S. will become “minority white” by 2045, comprising 49.9 percent of the population (Brookings, March 14, 2018). We need to recognize and harness the opportunities that a shift to a more diverse society will bring.

Many communities and regions in Michigan are already taking concrete steps to become more inclusive. An outstanding example of this is the city of Ferndale. President Piana joined me on the League’s podcast program to discuss how the City of Ferndale is navigating the concept of being an open and welcoming community. (Go to www.economicsofplace to hear the whole podcast.) Embracing diversity and inclusion is something that Ferndale has been working toward for a long time and is now a tangible goal as part of their strategic vision. This is a city plan that has boldly sketched out objectives that will establish solid regional partnerships. The city recognizes the
importance of working the “borders” on projects such as shared services, but cultural differences and lack of shared values necessitate open dialog. Although physical lines define
a municipality’s legal boundaries, residents view where they live in a much broader scope. Ferndale wants to be part of a larger community by connecting neighborhoods that cross
physical lines. One example is to break down the perceptions of 8 Mile—a physical and mental barrier between Detroit and surrounding suburbs. These regional barriers affect our
economy and our quality of life.
Acknowledging the strong association between inclusive communities and the ability to attract talent, Ottawa County and Holland are also doing important work in this
area. Ottawa County is developing strategies through a Cultural Intelligence Team represented by a wide range of departments and agencies. Their goal is to promote an
environment where people will feel valued and welcomed. The City of Holland and its Human Relations Commission are hosting community feedback sessions to help define
what it means for Holland to be an “inclusive city.” Once this is established, an action plan will be developed. You will be hearing much more about this important topic
in the coming year.
*This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of The Review

Dan Gilmartin

Dan Gilmartin is the executive director & CEO of the Michigan Municipal League. Through his work with communities, Dan is recognized as a national leader in the fields of urban revitalization, placemaking, local government reform, and transportation policy. Under his leadership, the League was recognized by Crain's Detroit Business as a “Cool Place to Work” in 2011.

Model D Media recently referred to him as “an urban thinker with an eye for the small, oft-unnoticed changes that can make ‘places’ out of streets and buildings.”