There may not be a lot of spare change in the state's coffers to pour into community development initiatives, but at least the Snyder administration's new "vibrant cities" initiative has a strong vision to back it up.
Spearheaded by former Department of Natural Resources chief Rodney Stokes, the initiative will promote "city placemaking," a statewide effort to make Michigan towns and cities special, liveable - and attractive to business. Snyder focused on the idea in a March 2011 speech to the Legislature on local government reform, and has now tapped Stokes to raise its profile.
The vibrant cities idea recognizes a growing theme in today's economy: economic development and community development are tightly bound together. Increasingly, in order to be competitive, communities need to become places where workers, entrepreneurs and businesses want to live. The initiative is responding to a growing desire around the state for expanded trail systems, reclaimed lakefronts and riverfronts and increased opportunities for recreation and outdoor activities.
Stokes' focus for the next six months will be on urban areas - with meetings planned in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Saginaw - to try to coordinate existing state grants, private partnerships and other resources.
The program certainly has a worthy goal - getting cities to think outside of their normal business-development boxes. But we hope state officials are able to think outside of their boxes, as well. We hope the vibrant cities initiative extends beyond the state's large urban centers. What's good for Grand Rapids and Lansing can be good for Escanaba and Marquette, too.
Across Superiorland, public-private partnerships have been crucial to funding the kinds of projects the vibrant cities movement is touting. There's now a seamless trail network extending through the city of Marquette into Chocolay Township, part of the city's 17-plus miles of paved multi-use path. The city leveraged $43,000 in local money to acquire a nearly $250,000 state grant to pave the final stretch.
It's the kind of project that will make our area more walkable, bikeable and liveable - the kind of vibrant city that can attract and retain young professionals. It also puts one more piece of the envisioned countywide Iron Ore Heritage Trail in place. A recreational, historical showpiece for walking, biking and cross-country skiing which will boost the area's attractiveness as a place to visit and live. It's the kind of project that will continue to need state support to succeed.
We're happy Gov. Snyder is focusing on the vibrant cities concept. We only hope it includes micropolitan as well as metropolitan areas in its focus as it moves forward.