Friday, May 31, 2013

It's the place, stupid.

When I lived in the Ghent neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia, I could walk anywhere. There were restaurants, shops, galleries - everything within a block of my apartment. I LOVED living in Ghent. It's one of the most disappointing things about moving to Michigan that I'm not really able to live somewhere where I can just walk downtown must less to a downtown OR a vibrant neighborhood. 

Last fall I ranted about placemaking during all of the election hype happening nationwide and here in Michigan. In the introduction to the book The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People, my boss Dan Gilmartin goes into what is attracting people. He concludes, "It's the place, stupid." (He also has an Economics of Place blog. It's pretty cool - you should check it out.)

As my husband and I continually debate moving somewhere in mid-Michigan with vibrant neighborhoods, I flash back to the awesomeness that is Ghent and feel frustrated. Michigan is the car state, and everywhere has been built around driving to your destination. I want to walk out my door and walk a block to a variety of destinations. I want to be able to get a cup of coffee, a scoop of ice cream, a cocktail, lunch, buy a gift and spend time with my friends - all within walking distance. Is that too much to ask?

In the seven years since I left Norfolk, the city's focus on dense, mixed-use development has intensified. Their downtown is fantastic, Ghent remains a vibrant neighborhood and there's now light rail to boot. And here in Michigan we continue to nibble around the edges of public transit while pretending it won't completely change this state for the better.

More than forty six percent of Michigan's college graduates are leaving. NEARLY HALF!!! That makes me angry. Shouty caps angry. Yet we keep cutting business taxes and talking about how we need more jobs. More jobs that nobody wants to take because these talented millennials don't want to live here. It is beyond frustrating. If this state doesn't start to invest, and I mean REALLY invest, in things like public transit, walkability, dense, vibrant downtowns, and road diets, people are still going to be moving to DC, Chicago, Austin - name a cool city. BECAUSE IT'S THE PLACE STUPID.

Sorry for the shouting. I just really don't get how people don't get it. This is why I run - I've got to work off this angry energy.


  1. I evey time we go the Ghent it's like we're homesick. It's fantastic and getting better. Interesting what you sacrifice for a back yard and peace & quite.

  2. I'd give up my backyard and quiet for a vibrant neighborhood any time. Unfortunately I don't have that option. If we ever move back to Norfolk you can visit us in Ghent. :)