We know we like vacation destinations, but why not expect the same thing at home?

People know what types of places and cities they like. Those are our tourist destinations. But then we come back home and do not expect the same in our hometown. Placemaking is about changing that, and making Michigan competitive in the new global economy.

“We know what we like – we travel to those places” Summer Minnick said at Michigan State University on June 13, 2013. “All of us vacation at communities that are great places. But then we go home and do not demand the same greatness in our own cities.”

Minnick is the Director of Policy Initiatives and Federal Affairs at the Michigan Municipal League. She was one of three panelists at the 2013 Michigan Citizen Planner Advanced Academy at MSU. The discussion was before an audience of local planning and zoning officials, professional staff, and others from around Michigan. The focus of the annual day-long event this year was on Placemaking. Other panelists were Joe Borgstrom, Director of Specialized Technical Assistance and Revitalization Strategy for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and Matt McCauley, Director of Regional Planning at Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.

Often, good Placemaking is both creating a good community for your own residents, as well as amenities which attract tourists, Borgstrom said.

“Tourists do not want to vacation to go to a big box store,” Borgstron said. The two efforts, above, parallel each other. For example, in Boyne City, in the area of Petoskey and Harbor Springs, have aggressive with its Placemaking efforts for both tourists and residents.

Placemaking is a major strategy for Michigan’s economic recovery. It is not the only strategy Michigan municipalities should be using, but it is one of many strategies and plays an important role in our economic recovery. The purpose of Placemaking is to create a community and region which attract educated knowledge workers. Placemaking means creating good physical form that attracts strong business and social activity that fosters positive emotional feelings in people who are attracted to the space the form creates: a strong sense of place.

But more than that, panelists spoke to other important reasons for Placemaking:

“If you are concerned about your housing value,” Borgstrom said, then Placemaking is important. The Baby Boomer generation was the largest generation. Now Millennials (the Baby Boomers’ children, 18-30 year olds) have become the largest generation. Both the Boomers and Millennials tend to have households without children, and are looking for very different housing types than what is typical for Michigan.

“Millennials delay getting drivers licenses, and want a walkable community with a different housing mix” Minnick said. “Eighty-eight percent of Millennials and Boomers want walkable compact downtowns” with vibrant Places.

On a different topic, McCauley observed that “planning commissions are too often in the business of ‘no’. Placemaking and new economy strategies are not about regulating your community, it is about how you get the community to thrive and the effort is about work to say ‘yes.’”

“We all have a responsibility to do this,” Minnick said. “Planners are in a unique position to educate and show why this is important.”

“Take a look at what you can do to get more people,” Borgstrom said. “Allow living on upper floors in commercial areas, allow tables and chairs on the sidewalk.”

“People at tables on the sidewalk create synergy, people feel safer, and the Place becomes vibrant,” Minnick said. Having people and activity attracts more people.

Minnick explained Placemaking is not new, it has been around since the 1970s, but it is now important for Michigan because Michigan is losing talent and people to other states where Placemaking is ahead of us. Places like Chicago and Minneapolis – both cold weather cities. Michigan is 10-20 years behind in this effort.

“Michigan needs Placemaking to compete regionally, nationally, and globally,” she said.

The Michigan Citizen Planner Advanced Academy is a Michigan State University Extension annual event to provide follow-up training, master citizen planner credits, and a chance for Citizen Planner alumni to gather each year. The Advanced Academy is held in June of each year. Watch the MSU Extension coming events and Citizen Planner web page for announcements of coming training events.

Other Michigan State University Extension News stories on placemaking include:

Related Articles