The Grand Lobbies of Detroit via Imgur. To view all the pictures in the series click here.
“Cities have the capabilityof providing somethingfor everyone, only because,and only when, they arecreated by everybody."
The Grand Lobbies of Detroit via Imgur. To view all the pictures in the series click here.
You’d be surprised by the types of things that can reinvigorate a community. In St. Joseph, Michigan, it started with a public art display. Downtown Flint’s turnout involves an array of events, new restaurants and a farmers market unlike any other in the state. On this month’s Prosperity Agenda radio show we discuss the role that arts and culture play in a community’s economic development. My co-hosts are Jim Edelman and Tom Daldin of the hit PBS TV show, “Under the Radar” and our guests are Jamie Bennett executive director of ArtPlace America; Flint Mayor Dayne Walling; and Susan Solon, of the City of St. Joseph. 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.
Here is an excerpt from the upcoming book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities, to be released in September. The book examines important civic actions happening on the ground today and provides readers with practical applications for making their ‘places’ better.
From the Introduction
(On) “the connectivity of people.
A dense network of streets and buildings breeds human connection. People have known this for thousands of years, having evolved the concept from small villages to grand cities. We found that compact design and a mix of housing, commercial uses, and open space led to an increased livability for everyone. Street life was important. Neighborhoods had their own idiosyncrasies which fed the larger city’s own unique cultural landscape. Center cities acted as the hub of a regional wheel. Through centuries of trial and tribulation we had discovered a model that was both efficient and resilient.
Then…we changed course. Urban development was largely replaced by a less dense variety; a walk to work was replaced by an automobile commute; and local merchants were exchanged for chain stores. All of this was accomplished in the name of civic progress; some of it worked, much of it didn’t. One area that clearly suffered was that human beings became much less connected to those around them. In the early years of the 21st century, we are coming to grips with how this dynamic impacted everything from innovation and commerce to cultural identity and quality of life.
Derived from a desire for change, the placemaking movement aims to create positive change on streets, in neighborhoods, and throughout the world.”
From the chapter about the City of Marquette’s transformation:
““They called it Bum’s Jungle, and that was someplace nobody was supposed to go. The girls never went, of course, but some of the teenage boys would go down to get one of the bums to buy their beer,” said Black. “During the day they’d go begging door to door, and the women would feed them lunches. In the winter they’d vanish, I don’t know where, but when spring came, there they’d be again, like they’d never left.”
By the end of the 1980s, Marquette’s Lower Harbor had clearly outlived any remaining usefulness as a commercial shipping port. Once-crowded warehouses sat abandoned, roofs rotting and floorboards crumbling. Pilings from storm-wrecked docks stood rotting in the bay. Unused rail tracks and trestles rusted in place like industrial skeletons. Some cities might have simply given up, fading into grey ghosts of their former glory days. Not Marquette. If mining and shipping could no longer support the city, they would find something else that would. But first the city itself would have to become something else in order to attract that new economy.
It was time for a change…. (a) sense of public ownership enabled the city to move quickly and efficiently on the path to transformation, even amid the usual range of personal and political frictions found in any unit of government. Implementation was aggressive, and because the plan had such clearly defined goals, the city manager and staff were able to quickly identify and seize upon opportunities, reordering priorities as needed. Citizens offered support instead of blockades and because of that, they were able to see rapid, steady progress which further fueled their ongoing enthusiasm and support. Public confidence in the vision grew, civic engagement increased, pride swelled and the city found itself exponentially richer in social capital – a highly prized but often elusive commodity.
The first and most visible change was the clean-up of the cinder pond, an industrial waste site once used as a coal unloading facility adjacent to the first ore dock and furnace, where in the late 1800s slag was dumped into the water along with sawdust from a shingle mill. Since the old coal yard was no longer needed, owner G.N. Spear had offered it to the city in his will on the condition it be used for recreational purposes. The city purchased the parcel in 1977 for $300,000 using a mix of federal funds, matching local dollars, and philanthropic support from the Shiras Institute. The green space was finished in 1981 and Ellwood Mattson, a local banker, spearheaded efforts to raise the final $500,000 needed to complete the park.
At the time the property was purchased, some residents had scoffed at the idea. Who would use a park there? But it didn’t take long for the naysayers to become true believers too.
Located just north of the ore dock in Marquette’s Lower Harbor, the 22-acre Mattson Lower Harbor Park was dedicated on July 24, 1989. The grassy open space area offers park benches, picnic tables, a period-style concession and restroom facility, a boat ramp and nearby breakwater, and a children’s playground with a large wooden play-scape built with community donations and volunteer labor. The shoreline bike path runs through the park and an illuminated walkway with period style lighting parallels the waterfront along the bulkhead. Fishermen flock to the park in the spring and fall for coho and chinook salmon as well as rainbow, lake, and brown trout.
In just a few years the park has become the city’s most popular location for special events, playing host to such activities as the Seafood Festival, the International Food Festival, Winterfest, and an ongoing schedule of concerts, fireworks, and other large gatherings. A lighted outdoor ice rink is located in the park during the winter months. The 101-slip Cinder Pond Marina, completed in 1995, is located immediately east of the park.
“Once they started doing their festivals down there, it’s been so successful everywhere down here,” said Black. “There’s probably something going on every weekend. The first year of Beer Fest I thought it was going to just be a local thing. They had under 1,000 people. The second year they went up. This year they sold out in presales and had 3,500 show up and it was raining…
…The Lake Superior waterfront is still the city’s biggest asset, said Black.
“If there’s a freighter coming there could be 50 or 60 people waiting because it’s so fascinating. We who live here take it for granted, but there’s no other place you can get up closer to an ore freighter. There’s a lot of places along Lake Michigan where you can’t even get a view of the water. Here it’s available to people and that’s huge. I think that’s why our tourism has a lot to do with the lake. It just has a different feel than any other place.”
Many of the Marquette South mountain biking trails have been in existence for at least 20 years, with new trails constantly being built. Currently, more than 25 miles of singletrack exist in the Noquemanon Trail Network just south of Marquette. The singletrack system has earned national acclaim as a premier mountain biking destination from Bike Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine and others. Efforts are currently underway to gain the coveted “Epic Trail” designation from the International Mountain Biking Association.
In the winter, snow biking is coming on strong as the latest recreational trend to hit the region, and Marquette is taking full advantage of it. The specially built bikes feature extremely wide, heavy-treaded tires; hence the nickname “fat tire biking.”
“The new winter market for us is definitely the snow bikes. For the last several years we just haven’t had the snow we used to up here; it’s narrowed down really to a few good weeks in February. So as the snowmobile group has narrowed down, we’ve looking to the snow bikers as the hot new thing,” said Black. “They now groom the south trails for them and it’s huge. At some point it will get too crowded and it’ll ruin the experience, so now they’re looking into it on the mountain biking trails on the west end of the county.””
As a follow-up to the successful Economics of Place: The Importance of Building Communities Around People, the Michigan Municipal League will release a new book in September detailing some incredible placemaking projects in the state. The book highlights individual successes and places emphasis on lessons learned so that other communities can use the stories for motivation and guidance. The continued reinvention of cities and villages in the state provides the perfect backdrop for gathering meaningful knowledge.
Be ready for surprise contributions from some “accidental” placemakers and urbanists, too.
Stay tuned to this blog for news about the release.
Below is an invitation from new filmmaker Anthony Brogdon for you to check out his documentary titled “The Great Detroit”. The film depicts the positive aspects of the community with over 40 interviews and lots of little known facts. The DVD is only $9.99. You can order it here or at Amazon.
“I am a first time filmmaker, my background includes operating Multi-Business Concepts. The last venture for MBC was as an importer of various imprinted merchandise everything from ink pens, to brief cases, to note pads, to clocks etc. I grew the company from a one man shop working as a distributor for US based wholesalers to two offices one in Detroit and another in Atlanta with over 8 employees. I grew tired of that line of business and decided that writing was my passion. So after years of procrastination I finished my first play “Foot Soldiers”. And, with the confidence that came with the years of being in business, I produced the play and staged it in two local smaller theaters. After that I decided to alter the script into a screen play and shoot for bigger opportunities as a feature length move. But with limited experience I felt that producing a documentary would be a better place to start such an endeavor. Now in search of a topic and after talking with some people who I myself were unhappy with how Detroit was portrayed in the media I felt that a documentary that examined Detroit in a positive light would be my subject. I was introduced to the Michigan Film Office website which had a listing of people who offered various services. I found a camera man who agreed to work with me. I began to write an outline of what topics I wanted to cover, search for people who worked in those areas, invited them to participate and off I went. Well, I had a little capital to work with, marginal success in a crowd funding campaign, plus bigger success with my personal appeal for people to purchase patron ads via my website and 3 years of effort I completed The Great Detroit, It was-It is-It will be. What I hope that people get by watching my film is that Detroit has a rich history, that there’s plenty of great things happening and people who are making it happen and that our future is very bright. I interviewed 55 people to cover a little of everything from how and why the Detroit was founded to how Detroit became a manufacturing powerhouse and not just in automotive, to the history of Motown, Techno and more to our flourishing arts, medical, educational communities to how people are donating time and money to make a difference and more. Couple that with some breathtaking photos of Detroit’s landscape highlighting our riverfront, parks, neighborhoods, and business districts. Plus, noting many little know facts and you have a 74 commercial about Detroit. Now, to give the film some balance there are three comments that site some less than flattering aspects of Detroit. So if at the end a viewer says that Detroit can’t be that great then I’ve done my job because I overpowered them to good material. My plans for the film include theater screenings for which I have had 5 since the film’s release in April but more are scheduled in the fall and not just in the metro Detroit area but statewide, nationally and even internationally, to have meet and greets, etc, to have convenience stores in the downtown and midtown area and museum gifts shops carry the dvd, and a hopefully telecast on PBS and online news sites. I hope that people say ‘this is the finest film ever made about Detroit’.”
You can read more about the film here.