The Prosperity Agenda: What We Can Do to Make Michigan More Immigrant-Friendly

prosperity-agenda-thumbThere’s been a lot of news lately out of Washington D.C. regarding immigrants, but did you know in Michigan there’s an aggressive effort underway to make Michigan an immigrant-friendly state? On this month’s Prosperity Agenda Radio show on News/Talk 760 WJR we discuss what Michigan is doing to become one of the nation’s most immigrant-friendly states and how new state policies have the potential to bring new jobs and opportunity to the Great Lakes State. My co-host for this month is Mary Kramer, publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business, and our guests are Bing Goei, a Grand Rapids community leader, entrepreneur and immigrant who was appointed director of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Office for New Americans in January 2014; Scott Woosley, executive director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA); and Steve Tobocman, a leader of the Global Detroit effort. 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 show airs 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, 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 placemaking concept here as well as on this blog.

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New $500,000 Grant Program Kicks-Off for Placemaking Projects in Michigan

Attention Placemakers and Crowdfunders in Michigan!

crowdfunding1A new Public Spaces, Community Places grant program, funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), is now available at The funds will be used to match funds up to 50% that are raised via the State’s new crowdfunding legislation. Check it out and get rolling on a project in your city or village. It’s easy to start.

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Blue Economy Opportunities for Michigan Cities and Villages

Lake St. Clair, Placemaking, Blue EconomyIt’s time for Michigan to make some waves.

Maybe more than any other state, Michigan is literally shaped by the water around it. Culturally, economically, historically, and of course, physically. The Great Lakes define our 3,000 miles of coastline. More than 11,000 inland lakes and hundreds of rivers and wetlands nourish everything in between. Our water resources have always been at the top of Michigan’s most valuable natural assets, the lifeblood for our farming, fishing, shipping, manufacturing, recreation, and tourism.

None of that is new. What’s new is this concept called the Blue Economy—and by understanding what it means, and acting on it, we are in a unique position to become national and even global leaders in the emerging technologies, research, and economic development based on innovative and sustainable uses of our freshwater resources.

Not surprisingly, some of the countries with the least of this valuable resource are the ones making the biggest strides in “smart water,” from conservation and management innovations to water technology business development. Some of our Great Lakes cousins—Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Ontario—are also realizing their freshwater riches provide a unique advantage to get ahead of the pack in technology, research, education, and business development.

But no one—repeat, no one—is in a better position to do that than Michigan, the Great Lakes State itself. So what are we waiting for? The Blue Economy can drive a new round of job and wealth creation in Michigan. Michigan can provide the perfect home for research into smart and sustainable technologies to help solve global water problems. Our water assets can be a powerful placemaking strategy for economic and community development.

Sure, innovation is hard. It’s always simpler to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. To ride the waves behind us, not make the ones ahead.

Famous surfer Bethany Hamilton, who was 13 years old when she lost her arm in a shark attack, had this to say about her sport: “I don’t need easy. I just need possible.”

There are plenty of people working on “possible” right now. Michigan Sea Grant is part of a national network of more than 30 university-based Sea Grant programs in coastal states across the country, administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is a groundbreaking task force of 11 federal agencies working on the lakes’ most urgent environmental issues. Michigan has already leveraged state and local funds into $163 million in GLRI funds. Off the coast of Alpena lies the nation’s only freshwater National Marine Sanctuary, protecting 4,300 square miles of Great Lakes shipping history. In 2012, the state hired John Austin, director of the Michigan Economic Center at the East Lansing-based Prima Civitas Foundation, to guide our ship forward into the Blue Economy. According to Austin’s white paper commissioned by the governor’s office of the Great Lakes, water is already responsible for nearly a million jobs and $60 billion in the Michigan economy.

It’s time to quit dipping our toe in the water and jump in with both feet. We can be among those innovators out front making the waves that the whole world can ride into a prosperous and sustainable Blue future. It’s time to quit looking back, and start sailing ahead.

Like Christopher Columbus said: “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

* This blog is adapted from my column in The Review.


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Placemaking in Southwest Detroit

*I thought I would share this great piece from my very talented colleague covering our exciting placemaking work in Southwest Detroit.

Last week, the League’s Southwest Detroit PlacePlan project took an important step with a three-day charrette, a community-based design workshop. Southwest Detroit is known for great food, a lively atmosphere, and local art. Known as Mexicantown, Hispanic culture is evident in almost all aspects of the community.

Vernor is Southwest Detroit’s main street and is populated with densely packed storefronts, restaurants, and independent businesses. Due to Southwest Detroit’s proximity to Canada and the international bridge crossing, the area unfortunately has quite a bit of industrial land use and suffers from a high volume of truck traffic.

A Google map of Vernor with "the gap" highlighted.

As seen in the map above, Vernor’s vibrant commercial district is divided by about a half mile “gap,” created by complicated intersections, a former industrial complex, wide one-way roads, a viaduct, and an unnatural bend in the road. In an effort to better connect the east and west sides of Vernor, the League partnered with Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) and Archive DS to collect resident ideas, concerns, and desires to reduce the gap and better connect the community.

Over the three-day process, ArchiveDS designers worked long hours in SDBA’s storefront office to get to know the community, collect ideas from residents, and create stages of potential improvements. Because development is often a slow, expensive process, ArchiveDS developed a number of solutions to more immediately improve the area, with long-term recommendations to look forward to when financing and leadership allow.

(Left) Current view of the Vernor and Livernois intersection. (Right) Proposed streetscape improvements: Bump-out parking, bike lanes, crosswalk, landscape improvements, and sidewalk bordering techniques. Some of these aspects are very low-cost but make a big impact on pedestrian comfort.

For example, Southwest Detroit has many independently operated taco trucks, ice cream vendors, and small, independent businesses. Currently these vendors are scattered across empty lots and sidewalks throughout the district.

To capitalize on this aspect of the community, ArchiveDS recommends building small sitting areas in underused parking lots for food trucks to park and sell on a regular basis. The endeavor doesn’t have to be highly organized, as it is at Mark’s Carts in Ann Arbor, but can be a simple space for residents to gather, have a meal, and enjoy the outdoors.

(Left) Current view of the Vernor viaduct. (Right) Proposed recommendations to make the space more pedestrian friendly: Local art, protected pedestrian/bike area, and creative lighting.

Larger, more long-term changes will certainly benefit the gap and ArchiveDS pulled in elements of the community into the recommended changes. As seen above, the viaduct between Livernois and Dix is a harsh divide of the east and west sides of Vernor. The team recommends incorporating local art, a clearly defined pedestrian/bicycle area, and creative lighting to make the space more comfortable and welcoming.

An imagined market in an industrial building near the Livernois and Vernor intersection.


A major problem in the identified area is a former industrial building. Although a clean up and improvements are necessary, the building could become a major asset to the community. As seen in ArchiveDS’s rendering, the building could be transformed into a indoor/outdoor market to benefit local business owners, residents, and visitors to the community. Transforming the space into a destination wouldn’t come without substantial funding, but identifying what the community wants is the first step towards changing the area’s future.

The Archive DS team is now writing a full report to share with SDBA and the Southwest community. The League will move to a supportive role as the community continues to identify priorities, coordinate funding, and gain momentum for the project.

To read more about the League’s placemaking work click here.

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Placemaking Is…

Placemaking is, at its roots, a response. A response to a modern pattern of city building that does not value the everyday experiences of people.

Human beings have been in the business of making cities since before recorded history. People built cities then proceeded to destroy, rebuild, sack, abandon, reimagine and resurrect them. Cities faced war, famine, floods, and  disease- always changing and adjusting to meet new challenges. The result was a Darwinian prototype of the modern city- resilient, connected, and structured, with enough room for a measure of authenticity.

In the 20th Century this changed. Unique, connected places gave way to blandness and separation. Bustling city streets lost out to congested freeways as governments attempted to create new places void of the real and perceived problems of the city.

Placemaking rejects sameness in favor of genuine communities that celebrate the significance of the human spirit.

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