Placemaking in Rural Michigan

by: Arnold Weinfeld, Michigan Municipal League

The importance of Place has become pervasive throughout Michigan policy conversations, from the offices of state officials to community groups.  There now exists a greater realization that our state cannot prosper unless we have the types of communities that attract people.  While this revelation represents a significant shift in conversations about what our state needs to prosper, there still exists a need to assist people in how to go about creating places that will make communities attract residents and spur greater economic activity.

People of all ages are looking for a style of living that includes walkability, transit options, arts and culture, and a green environment.  The competition for attracting and retaining a talented workforce is no longer with neighboring communities or states, but with the global community.  People, young and old alike, are choosing place first.  Now, more than ever, investing in communities is one of the most critical elements of any long-term economic development strategy, and is central to the long-term success of Michigan.

Clearly, placemaking as an economic development strategy is also resonating with local officials.  Some recent data from the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) survey of local government found that almost half of our cities are engaged in placemaking programs/projects for economic development purposes, with 62% of respondents saying that they have some or complete confidence in placemaking as an economic development tool.

The time is right to capitalize on mounting interest in placemaking as a community development approach.  Local officials, as well as important external stakeholder groups, are “sold” on placemaking as the key economic development approach.  The problem we face is when they ask: “What can we do in our community to move in the right direction?”

About the guest blogger:

Arnold has been with the League since November of 2004 and is responsible for the planning and development of new programs, services, publications, and outreach strategies to support the League’s broad policy initiatives and related programming.  He also coordinates the League’s federal advocacy efforts, working directly with Michigan’s Congressional delegation and national local government organizations such as the National League of Cities.  He also serves as president of the Michigan Municipal League Foundation, where he works to carry out the Foundation mission of educating local officials in coordination with League programs.

Before coming to the League, Arnold worked for the Michigan House of Representatives in a variety of capacities including legislative aide, policy analyst and policy director.  He also served as an elected member of the Waverly Community Schools Board of Education from 1994-2002 where he held the positions of Treasurer and Board President. He is currently treasurer of the Waverly Education Foundation.  Arnold is a graduate of Michigan State University where he received his bachelor’s degree in Social Science.