International Gathering of New Urbanists in Detroit

The Congress for the New Urbanism convenes this week in Detroit for CNU24. Detroit is a perfect place to see the good and the bad, the new and the old, and what works and what doesn’t in city life. The 1,500 participants are in for a great experience in my hometown.

Gem Theatre

CNU24 participants gather in the Gem Theatre

I’ll be blogging about important takeaways from the conference as they happen, so check back often if you want the latest and greatest- at least according to me.

Not familiar with CNU? Check out the CNU Charter below for what the movement means to its members.

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The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.

We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.

We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.

We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.

We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions, and environment.

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From Kaid Benfield. “We need to aspire to build places that people love. They won’t be sustained if people don’t love them.”  Are you listening suburbia?

“The greenest buildings are those already built.” Ditto for suburbia.

Andres Duany spoke this morning about Detroit’s attraction for young people. Increasing numbers of young entrepreneurs are flocking to the city to launch their careers and be part of its rebirth. A double bottom line, if you will. I can tell you that you can see it in the buildings. on the streets and increasingly in the neighborhoods. The vibe is strong and the opportunities for enrichment personally and professionally are boundless.

Bogota, Colombia regularly closes 70 miles of streets to make them bike/walk friendly. It is referred to as the “Open Streets” concept. The policy has confirmed health gains among  citizens and increases in property values as a result. Small businesses chart growth as well. Several Latin American cities have followed suit. Seattle is a leader among U.S. cities. Thank you Mike Lydon for being a real leader in this area.

The Belt Detroit

The Belt- an ally in downtown Detroit

An observation for locals. If you haven’t been to downtown or midtown Detroit lately then you haven’t been. And… in five more years it will barely be recognizable. Amazing growth. A cool combination of large scale investment and grassroots activation.

If you are looking for a good data  that supports the economic case for dense, urban development than check out Joe Minicozzi, principal Urban3. His analysis of building patterns in cities is game changing. *SPOILER ALERT- WalMart style big boxes suck.

Below is a picture that proves that public spaces don’t have to be big and expertly planned to be effective. This spot is just to the west of the Gem Theatre and measures 60 feet long and 10 feet wide, but it is a perfect spot to blog from and one of my new favorite hideaways in the city. A good space needs to have a purpose (or, more accurate, purpose(s)) and be activated to match. This small oasis sits in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the theatre district and offers a place to relax and share conversation. And blog. The city owned park down the street is pretty and very well maintained. But there is nobody in it. Check out the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) for tips that make public places useful and appreciated.

GemTheatre

Alley west of the Gem

I love you Miami Beach. I  really do. You have been a destination for my family and I for years. You are a charming blend of great weather, unique architecture and international flair that is not found in other U.S. cities. I often tell my friends that Miami Beach is the only city in America that I visit where I feel like I’m in another country.

But… you need to get real. Projections have large swaths of your land being swallowed by a rising ocean tide in the coming decades. The suburbs west of the city of Miami are in trouble, too.

So start moving forward before it is too late- a combination of mitigation and adaptation is needed to deal with the long term effects of a rapidly changing climate. New urban style development is part of the answer.

One of my favorite parts of the CNU meetings is checking out the onsite bookstore. The books are great and provide me great information. But the reason its so cool is that 99% of the authors are sitting with you in meetings rand comparing notes on work. This makes it extra rewarding.

Economics of Place

The Bookstore at CNU

Oh look! There’s one of the books that Colleen Layton (in attendance), Liz Shaw and I wrote. I wonder how that got there?  If you’re not here (or even if you are) and you want to get the skinny on some fantastic placemaking achievements in Michigan, including several “how to” guides, then go here to order your copy of The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities. Thanks for your consideration.

Campus Martius

Campus Martius at 3 pm on a Thursday.

Campus Martius is a shining example of good urbanism and creative placemaking. It is located smack in the middle of downtown. The inner core of the space is a skating rink in the winter and a beach in the summer. Bars, stages, eating areas and a beautiful military monument (this was once a training area for Civil War era regiments) dot the landscape.  Everything we are learning this week is on display right here. You’ll find everybody here. Kids and grandparents. Lawyers and laborers. Hipsters and hagglers.

 

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The Prosperity Agenda: Time to Fix Michigan’s System of Funding Communities

prosperity-agenda-thumbFor several years now the Prosperity Agenda radio show has discussed the importance of creating places where people want to live, work and enjoy. It’s a concept called placemaking or simply put – building communities that you love and never want to leave.

Inspiring and helping communities reach their potential and capitalize on their existing placemaking assets is a large part of what we do at the Michigan Municipal League.

To be frank, placemaking costs money. However, there’s a significant economic development argument about the advantages to placemaking. In other words, today’s communities of all shapes and sizes can’t afford not to create vibrant places.

On this most recent radio show on News/Talk 760 WJR we talk about the economic benefits to placemaking, the financial challenges facing Michigan’s communities and some proposed solutions.

My co-host for the show is Mike Wilkinson, who has covered this topic as computer-assisting reporting specialist for Bridge Magazine (Bridgemi.com). Our guests are Shanna Draheim of Public Sector Consults; my colleague Anthony Minghine, associate executive director and COO for the League; and Hazel Park City Manager and MML Board Member Ed Klobucher.

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 May 25, 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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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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