Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A runner's placemaking rant

It's election season, and there is nothing I hate more than election ads. Thank God for DVR so I can fast forward through most of them. But sometimes it's unavoidable like during a live sporting event, and it seriously makes my blood boil. Luckily (sarcasm intended) in Michigan this year we have six, count them six, ballot proposals, five of which amend our Constitution. It's a hot mess.

What makes me crazy about all of them is that none of these are aiming at what will ACTUALLY bring Michigan back and make it a better place to live, work, play, visit, raise a family.  We're completely missing the boat, and there's a significant disconnect between political rhetoric and what people actually want. And economic data shows that people are moving to vibrant communities. Period.  It's ultimately not tax structure and regulatory environment that are driving the nation's economy. To quote my boss, Dan Gilmartin, in his book The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People: "It's the place, stupid!"

Kids move to Chicago out of college and wait tables because they want to live there. It's a great place to live. They don't care that the sales tax is the highest in the country at 9.5 percent. They don't care that there's as much regulation or more than in Michigan. It's a vibrant community. It draws people. And that's an economic argument. College grads are choosing where to live first and THEN looking for a job. We can talk jobs all day long, but the people who work in those jobs have to live in the community. Have to send their kids to school there. Have to have things to do on the weekend. Job creation is not on an island by itself.

As a runner I've noticed a correlation between great cities and their recreational opportunities. Having paths for running and biking - safe paths that are well maintained - are something people are looking for. Let's stick to Chicago (because it rocks) where there is 18.5 miles of lakefront bike path. Go to Chicago any day of the week and you'll see people running, walking and biking - taking advantage of those recreational opportunities.

All the while, here in Michigan, we're fighting a ballot proposal that would require a 2/3 vote of the legislature on any new tax. We'd ask our term-limited legislature to get 2/3 of its members to approve tax policy changes when it's hard to get 2/3 of its members to agree on a resolution for kittens. Come on people - THIS is what we're focusing on? 

In Detroit, one of the largest cities in America, there's a lot of really cool community activism happening. People believe in that community, and there's so much opportunity to do something great. The revitalization of the riverfront has been an amazing project, and the rebuilding of Midtown is incredible. We should be fostering and supporting these projects in Detroit and in communities across Michigan to attract and retain talent. I want the news stories to be that college educated millennials are choosing Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Marquette as their cities - not Chicago, Minneapolis and Austin.

This is the kind of stuff I stew about when I am running. I hope voters in Michigan on November 6 think about what really matters - place - but I'm not that confident that they get it yet. For now I'll continue to visit those places that get it - where I can go for a run on miles of trails and fume about it.  


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