Placemaking projects don’t have to be large scale to have large impact

What do kayaking, way-finding signs and sidewalks have in common? They were all recently funded placemaking projects.

The idea behind placemaking is to make communities places where people want to live, work and recreate. Recently, three communities in Northern Michigan were awarded grant funds from the Community Growth Grant. Michigan State University Extension partner Northern Lakes Economic Alliance worked closely with one of their partners, Networks Northwest that established the Community Growth Grant program through Governor Snyder’s Regional Prosperity Initiative. The grant was set up to help communities pursue placemaking projects, an important part of today’s economic development strategy.

Each of the communities; Village of Ellsworth, City of Boyne City and Village of Pellston had a vision of how they wanted to enhance places in their areas. The Village of Ellsworth teamed up with Antrim County groups and businesses to establish a new non-profit, called Paddle Antrim. Paddle Antrim was formed to educate the public about the Chain of Lakes water system and to bring more visibility to the unique communities located along the way. The group is a partnership of the four Antrim County area Chambers of Commerce; Bellaire, Elk Rapids, Central Lake, and East Jordan, Short’s Brewing Co and other organizations and local governmental units. They will be hosting their first event, a two day kayak/canoe event in September of 2015. The event will include special activities, business promotions and educational offerings on the canoe and kayak sport.

The City of Boyne City placemaking grant will be used to improve their downtown park, called Old City Park. The projects will include: free public access to Wi-Fi, way-finding signs, and an informational kiosk in Old City Park.

The Village of Pellston will use their funds in combination with funds from MDOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program to construct new sidewalks within the Village. All of these projects create a greater sense of place for those who live in and visit them.

Networks Northwest has funded 20 placemaking projects over the past 22 months throughout Northwest Lower Michigan. Other placemaking grant opportunities include: free movie night program, a handicap bridge in a park, kayak stations, benches and a skate park.

Michigan State University Extension has had a unique relationship with the regional economic development organization Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, the NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension as it provides leadership to state-wide programs sponsored by MSU Extension.

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