Resilient Communities Are Tough, Pliant, and Durable

Mayor George Heartwell, Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss and Asst. CM Haris Alibasic of Grand Rapids

Mayor George Heartwell, Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss and Asst. CM Haris Alibasic of Grand Rapids

Floods. Wildfires. Droughts. Hurricanes and tornadoes. Fuel shortages. Energy blackouts. Extreme heat and cold. You can get tons of information about what’s going wrong in the world —and even more opinions on who or what is to blame. Enough of both, in fact, to fill Noah’s Ark and sink it, all before you’ve loaded up a single lemur or humpbacked whale.

So forget all that for now. What matters is how we deal with whatever gets thrown at us, so that we survive and yes, even thrive, in the face of it. And that takes planning and preparation. That’s what resilient communities are all about.

When it comes to dealing with natural disasters, cities are literally on the front line—taking the hit full in the face from extreme weather events, environmental catastrophes, public health emergencies, you name it.  Wherever you have large concentrations of people and infrastructure and you have not planned for the unexpected, you have a critically vulnerable soft spot —like exposing your community’s jugular and just hoping nothing bites. And that attacker could be coming in armed to the teeth with blizzards, floods, and gale force winds.

Back before Katrina hit New Orleans, the popular attitude was to view natural disasters and their aftereffects as horrible but rare and unavoidable events. There was a kind of passive fatalism about it all, reactive rather than proactive.

We can’t afford that kind of attitude anymore. In the last few years we’ve seen that extreme weather, energy, and economic challenges have become the new norm. So how many times can Dorothy’s house land on the Wicked Witch before she learns to get out of the way? Whether you want to call it climate change, global bad luck, or the Wrath of Khan, it’s a brave new world out there, kids. Emergency planning takes a whole lot more than hiding out in a storm shelter under the city library. Good emergency plans include sustainability, proactive infrastructure investments, and continual updating with the latest information and innovations.

Here in The Review, you’ll find lots of great articles on a wide range of topics. You’re also going to learn what smart, proactive local leaders are doing to prepare their communities for the worst.

You’ll read about Whitehall’s “green road” that has effectively mitigated the city’s decades-long history of storm water flooding and industrial pollution. You’ll hear how the Land Information Access Association (LIAA) worked with Monroe, Ludington, and several other cities to develop resiliency plans. You’ll learn how the city of Grand Rapids came through a major flood in April 2013 with relatively little damage, largely due to preemptive investments in floodReviewwalls and storm sewer improvements, sustainable infrastructure, and a rapid-response emergency action plan. In fact, the city’s proactive efforts to protect itself and its residents from flooding and other extreme weather events prompted President Obama to appoint Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell to the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in November of 2013.

Looking for a way to start? The Resilient Communities for America campaign ( is calling on the leaders of local government “to take effective, wide-ranging local actions to prepare for climate change impacts, improve local energy independence, renew America’s infrastructure, and strengthen their economies in the process.” The campaign will also provide members with critical resources to help them achieve those goals. It’s worth a look…

…Because we don’t need to be Chicken Little yelling that the sky is falling down. But it helps to have those umbrellas handy in case it does. Just sayin’.

*This blog is adapted from my column in the May/June issue of The Review

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Crowdfunding Program Officially Kicks Off In Michigan!

From The League’s Press Release 6.16.14 Launches Michigan into National Movement

So what is crowdfunding? Why should I care about? How can a business use it? How can an investor use it? What do I need to know before I get started? And where do I go to get started?

There are a lot of questions about the crowdfunding law that started in Michigan earlier this year and a new Michigan Municipal League website not only answers these questions, but serves as a launching pad for potential investors and businesses looking to access resources to get started.

A one-stop website for all the crowdfunding needs of Michigan businesses and investors was announced today by the Michigan Municipal League.

The website,, is believed to be the first of its kind in Michigan and provides resources, how-to information and links to crowdfunding resources.

“We’re excited to launch this website to inform and connect Michigan, our communities, businesses and investors to the crowdfunding movement,” said Michigan Municipal League CEO & Executive Director Dan Gilmartin. “Michigan’s new crowdfunding law is so attractive for entrepreneurs and small businesses that we believe it’s a tool cities can use to attract and retain talent in a way that no one else in the nation can at this time. We want to maximize this opportunity for our cities and help them thrive and take advantage of the new local investment movement where it makes sense.”

The website has information about available training on crowdfunding and serves as a gateway for investors and businesses in Michigan who want to learn more through two companies performing this work, and on

Localstake is an investment crowdfunding platform that startups and small businesses use to raise funding from investors in their community. Its mission is to help growing businesses more efficiently and effectively connect with capital in their community. With investment minimums as low as $250, Localstake provides investors of all wealth backgrounds the ability to invest in what they know best: local businesses in their community.

“We are thrilled to bring Localstake to Michigan and give local residents the power to invest directly in their local businesses,” said Kevin Hitchen, one of the founders of Localstake.

Fundrise is a nationally recognized leader in real estate crowdfunding. Founded in 2010, with the goal of revolutionizing the way people invest in real estate, its platform gives people the power to invest directly in local real estate for a minimum of $100.

“We believe that if people can invest in places they care about, then together we can build great downtowns, better neighborhoods and stronger cities,” said Dan Miller, co-founder of Fundrise. “Our company is very excited to work with the League to help grow the state’s economy and create strong communities.”

Academic, business and public-sector experts around the world agree that investing in communities is vital to long-term economic development in the 21st century. This new economy is being built at the local level, growing jobs by ones and twos through entrepreneurs and small businesses. Crowdfunding helps create not only jobs, but places which people want to live, work and enjoy.

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The Prosperity Agenda: Placemaking and Michigan’s Aging Population

prosperity-agenda-thumbDid you know nearly 2 million residents are over the age of 60 in Michigan? For Michigan’s cities and downtowns this is an unprecedented opportunity to prepare and accommodate this population as they retire or continue working as the case might be.  This month’s Prosperity Agenda radio show on News/Talk 760 WJR tackles this aging in place issue and what some communities and organizations are already doing about it. My co-host for this month is Natalie Burg, a freelance writer for Issue Media Group and numerous other publications. Our guests are Laurie Volk, principal in charge of Zimmerman/Volk Associates’ market studies; David Allen, chief market analyst for the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority (MSHDA); and Roger L. Myers,  president/CEO of Presbyterian Village of Michigan, a leading organization in the senior living and services industry.  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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Better Transportation System An Agent For Growth- Michigan Legislature Must Act

As the Michigan legislature continues to grapple with how to appropriately pay for transportation improvements in the state it is increasingly obvious that this is a make-or-break matter for the state. (Will they vote this week? Next week? Ever?)

Michigan ranks 50th among states in per capita expenditures for roads. That’s dead last for the mathematically challenged among us. The effects of the lack of investment can be felt from Monroe to Ironwood and everywhere in between. Southeast Michigan ranks as the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without public transit. We’re struggling to find the political will to build a second bridge span with our neighbor directly to the south even though Canada is this country’s largest trade partner and Detroit is the busiest shared border. (That’s not a typo as Canada is directly south of Detroit) Many of our ports remain outdated and uncompetitive for increased commercial and recreational traffic even though we enjoy more fresh water coastline than anyone.

A road repair truck is eaten by a pothole in East Lansing. Was Freud an engineer?

A road repair truck is eaten by a pothole in East Lansing. Was Freud an engineer?

I often write about the truly amazing things going on in this state as it reinvents itself from post-industrial jumble into a center for creativity and innovation. The stories are truly inspiring and it is amazing to be part of it during this time of renaissance. Great things are happening in big cities and in small towns. New ideas are hatching in boardrooms and in garages. Tough times and chaos, as we know, breed risk tolerance and innovation.

But I have learned in recent years that in order to catalyze these efforts you need an engaged and supportive system of government that includes an attentive city hall and state leaders who understand the importance of their roles in scaling the good that happens in the community. In many cases transportation infrastructure is the #1 thing that government leaders can do to spur real growth. I can’t think of a single business or quality-of-life ‘indicator’ that doesn’t improve when/if the legislature acts.

  • Better roads move product faster. Check
  • Road diets make urban places more competitive for housing. Check
  • Talented workers prefer reliable transit to owning a car. Check
  • People are healthier if their communities are walkable and bikeable. Check  
  • Tourism gets easier. Check 
  • The powerhouse economies of Toronto to the east and Chicago to the west get that much closer and become more accessible for business. Check

I could go on.

I have written in the past that the proper role of government in modern-day America is  that of “the host of the party, not the life of it.” In this case, the Michigan legislature needs to act soon or else our recent gains as a state simply aren’t sustainable. It’s time to stop simply managing the decline of Michigan and start betting on its future. Providing for quality roads and transit systems that improve the lives of people is a good place to start.

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A Great Source for Cities and Placemaking News

placemaking-header1If you haven’t checked out then you’re missing out on some cutting edge thinking around building and sustaining great city spaces. The page contains some of the latest cutting edge research and has links to important case studies with helpful “how-to” guides, videos and articles about placemaking and community building.

Give it a look. And let me know what you think. Thanks!



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