The “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan’s coastal communities - Element 1: Mixed land and water use

Having homes, businesses, and natural areas near one another can have numerous benefits to local economies, environments, and community members.

Many communities have segregated land use types due to antiquated notions that separating land uses are somehow “efficient” either in managing or in creating order to how communities are designed.  Cities that have segregated patterns of land uses inherently rely on auto or other long-distance transportation options to move from one land use type to another. While some land uses like industrial areas that cause noise and air pollution may still require distancing themselves from heavily trafficked areas, many land uses complement one another when placed within a walkable or bikeable distance from one another. 

Imagine, for instance, living in a place where you can walk your kids to school in the morning before continuing on to work. At lunchtime, you might find yourself walking down to the nearby public park on the water and enjoying the sun and the breeze while watching the boaters and kayakers go by. On the way home after work, you might stop at the local market and do your grocery shopping. This scenario might be ideal and somewhat unrealistic, but there are numerous other scenarios where having mixed land uses in coastal and waterfront communities can benefit local businesses, while improving the quality of life and promoting environmental awareness and conservation.

One outcome of mixing land uses may be a reduction in the use of petroleum-based transportation, but the real goal of having many land use types in close proximity is the creation of an identity for a community (often called a “sense of place”) to which community members can connect.  This connection can increase awareness of local issues and instill a sense of joint-ownership of public areas; which may increase their patronage of local shops and businesses, as well as increase their efforts to reduce litter or damage to environmental areas that they enjoy visiting regularly.

To restate from the introduction article on this series, there is no one size fits all approach to achieving the triple bottom line in coastal and waterfront communities. Mixed-use communities just might not make sense in some areas where the infrastructure and construction costs for conversion is too great, or that the community values one element over others (for instance, the community values the economic tax base from a large company or has large amounts of natural protected area that they wish to remain undisturbed).

In Michigan, where many coastal counties have seen a decrease in population between 2000 and 2010, mixing uses in future plans may be an ideal way to create a community identity that draws businesses and people that wish to establish themselves in a location where the triple bottom line is a long term goal.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively involved in projects that seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life, and promote economic activity in Michigan’s coastal areas.  This article was adapted from Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a report created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant.  The document can be accessed at: http://coastalsmartgrowth.noaa.gov.

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