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2013-10-31 / Community

Brown: “Not just to survive, but to thrive!”

Placemaking in the Thumb
BY JOHN BONKE
Staff Writer


Leah DuMouchel presents some key points of placemaking - a way to plan a space to make a place. 
Photo by John Bonke Leah DuMouchel presents some key points of placemaking - a way to plan a space to make a place. Photo by John Bonke CASEVILLE — Almost four dozen Thumb area residents from across the tri-county area attended a recent placemaking meeting to learn more about the concept which says regions need to deliberately plan in this ‘New Economy’ and attract new kinds of workers. State Representative Terry Brown, who organized the event, said placemaking could help the Thumb “not just to survive, but to thrive!”

Those gathered represented chambers of commerce, civic clubs, county, city, village and township officials, government agencies, and schools. And also included a pastor, individuals and two Huron County residents from a small village who have a big vision for their community.

The meeting was hosted at Sandwalker Studios in the downtown Caseville area. The post-production sound studio, owned by Bob Brown, sits along Main Street, which is also M-25.

John Iacoangeli, one of the two presenters, said the studio is a great example of placemaking. The building’s location and functions, show that any type of facility can be located just about anywhere thanks to such technology as the Internet, wi-fi, and fiber optics, he noted.

One of the main points Leah DuMouchel, the other presenter, stressed was that businesses, communities and governmental agencies within a region need to work together to compete not among themselves but against other regions. She said new business ventures look to locate within a region, not one town or another or on one side of a city. She also said that one natural resource is brain power and that if a region doesn’t have individuals with such abilities and capabilities, it must attract them. These creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs are active and dynamic and love to interact with others.

DuMouchel also explained that there is a New Economy that is global, entrepreneurial and knowledge-based. She said a region needs to have clean, green, quality places with physical and cultural amenities to attract educated folks with talent and ideas. She added that the various groups within a region must form partnerships which learn and adapt. Iacoangeli said that government has to get rid of red tape and make things happen. DuMouchel said that the transition brought about by the New Economy shifts real estate demand from suburban sprawl to congregated areas.

Placemaking takes planning was one of the underlying themes of the workshop. DuMouchel said that placemaking is action-oriented, reform-based and future-looking; it’s about engaging and empowering folks in public, non-profit and private sectors.

A place needs to be unique, attractive and people-friendly, but even more so, a place needs to be people-centric and not built around cars, DuMouchel said. “Cars don’t have feelings,” she said. A place must be built on a human scale and it must mesh public and private spaces in an effective manner. Some planning considerations include useful sidewalks, bike lanes and parking as well as trees, flowers and other landscaping. Attractive places also have quality buildings with unique character and design. Placemaking can be a series of targeted projects to create or transform a space into a place where people want to be and stay or can’t wait to come back to, DuMouchel said, and added that zoning may need to change to incorporate a mix of ideas.

DuMouchel said a planned space would be somewhere folks will hang around and not just show up for an event such as a parade; places can be designed so active folks will show up and use them.

There are six basic place types: Natural, Rural; Suburban; Traditional Neighborhood; Downtown and Urban Core. Each has its own mix of economic, social and psychological components. Regions are mix of these such as the Lapeer to Detroit Corridor and the Greater Traverse City Area.

Iacoangeli stressed the importance of placemaking saying that Michigan lost 860,400 jobs from 2000 to 2009 and 62,257 in population from 2000 to 2011. He said that if Michigan ‘stays the course,’ it might take 21 years at four-percent growth to return to 2001 levels. Millennials, folks who are in their 20s, need to find a job, he noted, but they also might look to make one for themselves as entrepreneurs. Another category of entrepreneurs is senior citizens who have years of experience and a lot of expertise and want to put that to good use.

Iacoangeli said that the new world economic leaders are Brazil, Russia, India and China, with South Africa and Nigeria emerging.

He added that here in the United States, regional and local government must take the lead saying, “If the public sector won’t invest in their community, others won’t either.”

Rep. Brown said, the presenters shared a vision of what the communities in the Thumb are capable of doing.

“It is time to begin work on tangible ways to implement what we are learning,” Brown said.

One of the take-aways, Brown noted, was that areas need to work together and promote not only events in our own communities, but also work as a region to promote all of the region’s communities.

Brown said the workshop was “an epiphany” for those in attendance and added the new way of thinking might well be, “instead of trying to grab our own piece of the pie from each other, we have an opportunity to grow the pie, so there is more for all of us.”

Brown noted there is some momentum for going forward and that those present stated that they would like to be involved further in our efforts. Although no dates have been set, the consensus is for regular meetings involving folks from Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties.

Brown added the effort should be locally-directed. “It’s really about taking control as much as possible of the destiny of the Thumb region.” Brown said he’s willing to assist by seeing what he can do as a State Representative.

Huron County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Carl Osentoski said the meeting went “extremely well.” He added that his impression was that everyone was interested in placemaking and that they were going to go back to their respective communities to work on implementation strategies.

Osentoski noted that there was a sense that some of the issues should be addressed on a larger stage.

“By leveraging local resources, we might be able to achieve what individually we could not,” he explained.

Looking ahead, Osentoski said that one of the next steps will be to evaluate how individual communities can start to work on placemaking and how that, on a larger scale, the HCEDC can work with them to achieve goals.

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