June 1, 2012
For the 32nd year, some 1,600 Southeast Michigan business, political and civic leaders are taking over the stately Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island this week for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference.
More recently, the conference has broadened to include business leaders from West Michigan and other parts of the state for face-time to get acquainted away from their hectic work world and to discuss and discover issues they may have in common. Joined by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, the group listens to top policy leaders and national policy experts on topics ranging from healthcare and education to public safety, urban planning and politics.
The 385-room Grand Hotel, with its endless front porch perched overlooking breathtaking views of the Mackinac Straits, celebrates 125 years of operation. It’s no stranger hosting these kinds of events with U.S. Presidents, as well as world, national and state leaders, having met over the years to explore issues and develop solutions on the car-less, four square mile island near the Mackinac Bridge.
While not in a quite as posh a setting as the Grand Hotel, some 250 Northwest Michigan business, government and local non-profit leaders also met last week at two community colleges in Petoskey and Traverse City for their own “Placemaking Summit” hosted by the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. They discussed many of the same issues facing Metro Detroit – healthcare, education, transportation and economic development.
“This is a regional conversation,” says Detroit native Dan Gilmartin, executive director & CEO of the Michigan Municipal League. “This is where the rubber meets the road. There is a lot of collaboration. Regionalism is important to keep. It takes leadership from the bottom up.”
Placemaking is a community-based approach to the planning, design and management of spaces that have local and regional importance. It involves the discovery and implementation of practices that make communities distinctive, economically viable, accessible and visually pleasing.
“Placemaking is the idea of creating unique places to attract economic development in a community,” says Matt McCauley, Director for Regional Planning & Community Development at the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments
Gilmartin says a community can’t be something it is not, adding that communities can take success strategies from popular destinations, but everyone has to use their own local assets whether they are natural resources like land and water or baseball parks, casinos, museums, biking/walking trails or ski hills. He cited several examples of Michigan communities’ offerings that help boost their appeal as destinations, such as the Traverse City Film Festival and a sculpture trail in Ludington.
“You can take the strategies used in Chicago, but you have to use your own assets,” he told a Petoskey group.
Keynote speaker Chris Leignberger, a former U of M professor and land use strategist, says communities are now attempting to attract the two largest population groups – Baby Boomers and Milleniums, a generation that includes young adults between 18 and 26.
He says both may be economically and politically different, but share a common interest wanting to live in similar places. He noted that recent economic changes have been accompanied by some shifts in American’s taste for living environment.
Automobiles became the previous primary mode of transportation with land development following a low-density suburban type of growth in the 20th century that was geared to toward car travel with shopping malls and parking away from the downtown. Today, more people are looking now for high density walkable areas to live.
More recently, Leinberger says the suburban environment has collapsed after being overbuilt, contributing to the burst of the real estate bubble with prices collapsing and larger economic slowdown.
While suburban living will remain relevant for many Americans, he adds that higher-density, more walkable living environments closer to services and entertainment are becoming again popular like most of modern Europe and early America. He explains this is partly because of the cost to buy and operate a car amid other rising living expenses and a weak economy.
“The American dream changes once again,” Leinberger says. “The American dream is to have a choice of drivable suburban or walkable urban, which we don’t have enough of.”