PAL Update July/August 2005


A Bimonthly Publication of People and Land                                                  July/August 2005

Smile Skyward — Flyover Is Taking Michigan's Picture

For the first time since 1978, aerial images of the entire state of Michigan are being gathered and analyzed, thanks to a federal and state partnership brokered by the Michigan State University Land Policy Program (LPP). Capturing the images is a first step in providing information essential for state and local land use planners and decision makers.

Responding to urgent needs across the state, the MSU Land Policy Program worked with the U.S. Farm Service Agency’s National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) to assemble $1.2 million in funding from federal and state partners. Federal agencies involved were the U.S. Farm Service Agency, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, together contributing $800,000, while the remaining $400,000 came from six state agencies and MSU.

“That’s a bargain. We had a general estimate to do this flyover for about $2.5 million,” said Jessica Moy, director of Remote Sensing & GIS Research and Outreach Services at MSU, which is directing the flyover and coordinating the analysis. “Partnering with the federal government was a great opportunity, with two-thirds of the funding coming from federal contributions. It could have been another five to ten years before we had another such opportunity.

“It actually is a chance for Michigan to redeem itself,” added Moy. “Back in 1978, which was the last time flyover data was completely analyzed for the state, guidelines were put in place for five-year updates. That didn’t happen until now – thirty years later.”

The updated aerial imagery will have a wide array of uses by the scientific and land use communities. Because the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Forest Service were particularly interested in the mid-growing- season imagery, the flyover was begun in June and will be completed by harvest. The FSA, for example, is interested in monitoring crops – where they are, their health, any areas of stress. Without this partnership, FSA might have funded only a flyover of southwest Michigan. Or the Forest Service might have funded a flyover of only northern Michigan or the U.P. This flyover, being a complete update, will be extremely important for all the partners.

“An update means an interpretation of the imagery – this is residential, this is commercial here, upland forest there, lowland forest adjacent to that, coniferous forest, row crops versus pasture, and so on,” said Moy.

It’s a little like knowing how to read an x-ray, agreed Moy.

“This is a layer of data that can be used for planning and decisionmaking, and can be compared to the data of 1978. In land use, we can say, ‘look, your community shows an increase of five percent in residential area. How do you feel about that? Do you want to control it? Do you want more? Less?’ It helps communities to see their landscapes in new ways that they may not have thought of before.”

Moy said the decision to go with photography rather than satellite imagery was very important to land use planners and decision makers because photography provides far greater detail. “With complete funding of the interpretations, the level of detail will be about an acre, so we will be able to see what is happening in Michigan acre by acre – like how fragmented the landscape is and to predict the potential for change. Put statewide zoning maps over that and you can see, for example, that what you thought was agriculture is actually low density urban, low density residential.”

That kind of information on a large scale could help Scott Everett, Regional Director for American Farmland Trust, who is mainly concerned about the low density fragmentation of land, which is transforming farmlands into parcels too small to farm and too big to mow. Everett would be happy to see recognition that 5-, 10- and 20-acre fragmentation is the real enemy of agriculture – not planned development like high density, mixed use development. “If it would help people to see that we need both a state and local commitment to PDR programs on a large scale, then I think this research could be valuable,” Everett said.

For Brad Garmon at the Michigan Environmental Council, the kind of detail promised by analysis of the aerial photography is beneficial in two ways. “The first is looking at Michigan in general and seeing what impact we’re having on a large scale.

“For example, we can look at how much of a watershed is being covered with the built environment, the impervious surfaces, that will impact groundwater infiltration and surface water quality. Then we can tackle the problem on a large scale by looking at the policies that are moving us toward irreversible impacts on these natural resources that support our economy and define us.

“The other benefit is a local perspective,” Garmon said. “If we’re ever going to do better planning and get some tools in the hands of local governments to plan and protect natural resources, they need information to make better decisions.”

Gil White, of the Michigan Association of REALTORS®, agrees, and hopes the new information will help Michigan’s 1,866 units of government think regionally. “I think it’s going to result in a good tool. Since we’re a home rule state, with our natural tendency to be real parochial, I don’t think people make the connections between their decisions and how it impacts the region. Seeing it might enable them to make the connections that they’re part of a larger, macro area.”

The aerial imagery is crucial to Stuart Gage, at the Michigan State University Computational Ecology and Visualization Laboratory, which will overlay the information with other data to update the Michigan land use maps projecting land use trends out to 2040. Predictive modeling will be much more accurate with new data to compare to the data gathered in 1978. (See Picture Michigan Tomorrow story.)

The timetable for making the flyover information available is quite aggressive, considering the massive amounts of work involved. Within 90 days of the flyover being complete, the initial imagery will be released to MSU’s RS & GIS lab, and to any of the partners, if they choose. But quality control measures will be just beginning – color balancing the images, and matching up spatial references to each, will be done during the fall and winter by the federal agency in charge, the Farm Service Agency.

“Our hope is that by late winter, early spring, the final products will be delivered from the FSA – that’s six to eight months, a typical time frame,” said Moy. “That’s when we here will begin mosaicking the images into management level tiles – for example, by county, by watershed, planning region, etc. By next May, we’ll release that imagery to all the partners, and by June it will be available to the public on the Web site of the Michigan Center for Graphic Information.”

For more information about the aerial survey, visit the MSU Land Policy Program’s Web site at

Picture Michigan Tomorrow — If You Dare

Picturing Michigan in 2020 and 2040 with accurate, updated information could be a little scary. That’s what an MSU laboratory is in the process of doing – with far greater accuracy than the previous effort.

“We were working with data that was not current, and in some cases only pieces of data,” said Stuart Gage, director of the Computational Ecology and Visualization Laboratory (CEVL) at MSU. “I would not be at all surprised if the new projections will be very different.”

The new projections Gage talks about are those derived from new predictive models and new data, like the flyover of Michigan currently being conducted across the state. (See the Smile Skyward story.) “Picture Michigan Tomorrow is the next stage of building out a new set of models to do what we did before in a more strategic and detailed way,” said Gage. “When we did the Tipping Point, we used the old Land Transformation Model and ran the data with different transportation and population scenarios to develop the three time series – 1980, 2020, and 2040.

“Then we took those time series apart and ran the data county by county to provide a Tipping Point Analysis for each county. It is information county officials can still use to examine how trends might look if projected into the future.”

What’s different about Picture Michigan Tomorrow? When talking about it, Gage uses two words quite frequently – “accuracy” and “detail.”

“We’re creating a new methodology for doing these projections over again, with some more economic data and more detail, and providing a better set of tools,” said Gage. “Right now we’re searching for the best models in the world to do this sort of work.”

The data and tools will plug into the new imagery from the aerial photo survey analysis to provide – you guessed it – a far more accurate set of predictions.

As Jessica Moy, director of Remote Sensing & GIS Research and Outreach Services at MSU, explains it, “You need two time periods to do a predictive model. The flyover will show us how Michigan has changed in 30 years, since the last aerial imagery was analyzed. With that kind of information, predictive modeling can be very accurate.”

That word again.

“We’ll have the new models and much of the other data processed and in place within the next six to eight months,” said Gage. “When we overlay that with the flyover results, we’ll have more accurate models and more accurate and complete data. So the resulting projections will be very detailed and complete.”

The projections also will be useful practically, according to Chuck McKeown, a new outreach specialist with the MSU Land Policy Program, and the person who is coordinating the input into Picture Michigan Tomorrow. “In a township or even at the state level, policymakers will be able to predict the impact of policies,” he said. “We’ll be able to put those policies into the models and show them what’s likely to happen as a result of any particular policy.

“Let’s say you look at a robust transportation model coupled with a land use model, and if we put a highway spur here, what does that do to forecasting sprawl? That’s the traditional land use aspect of it, but what does it do when you link it with a storm water model then to generate actual impervious surface cover flow for the communities there? We’ll be able to show anyone what the impacts will be for just about any land use activity.”

McKeown says there are a host of models – different ecology models, forestry models, agricultural models, and much more. “Right now, we’re taking the tack of assessing what’s out there, what the learning curve is, and we’ll be establishing a suite of tools that we can use for a variety of things.”

In addition to assessing models, one of the core projects that Picture Michigan Tomorrow is taking on is assembling, over the next eight to twelve months, a large mosaic of all the zoning regulations in Michigan. It’s one of the key pieces of data that will be plugged into the models to predict the outcomes of policy and development decisions at all levels of government, including all townships and counties.

“Another big project that links directly into this is putting a team together as soon as appropriate to examine an urban quality of life correlation to land use planning – good, bad, or indifferent,” he said. “You can develop a scientific survey of people across the state in terms of their actual quality of life and develop metrics for each of these little communities in terms of quality of life, how people feel about how and where they live. Then you look at how well these communities are planned—where you are encouraging quality of life and where you are not.”

Gage and McKeown and others on their team envision a very powerful set of tools for Picture Michigan Tomorrow. They won’t be tools just for researchers and academics, but will have day-to-day land use applications across Michigan.

Ultimately, says McKeown, the goal of Picture Michigan Tomorrow is to create an accessible, permanent modeling institution at MSU. “We want a permanent presence where people know there is someone at the other end of the phone they can call when they’re making planning decisions about incorporating different options – we want to be able to plug those in and show them what’s likely to result.”

Summary of PAL I and II Evaluation

In the last six months, the PAL evaluation team at Public Policy Associates, Inc., has delivered two reports that summarize PAL's achievements as well as broader changes in Michigan's land use policy climate.

Land Use and the Agenda

In the PAL evaluation, newspaper coverage has been used as a proxy measure for popular discussion and awareness of land use. Between 2002 and 2005, coverage of land use in the state’s general audience newspapers doubled, conservatively estimated. The quantity of coverage increased much more rapidly than did the quality, with quality defined as coverage that addresses or demonstrates key concepts including the need for change, the value of bringing diverse groups together in discussion, and the economic, environmental, and social consequences of land use decisions.

Another measure of agenda status was the degree to which candidates for elective office mentioned land use on the campaign trail. Fifteen percent of candidates for the State House of Representatives mentioned land use in their 2004 campaigns, including a relatively even mix of Democrats and Republicans. Notably, 66 percent of open-seat races featured at least one candidate discussing land use. Candidates for county office mentioned land use in 32 of Michigan’s 83 counties in the 2004 election cycle.

State Policy Change

After the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council (MLULC) delivered more than 150 recommendations in August 2003, PAL’s evaluation adopted these recommendations as its benchmark in determining whether state elected officials were pursuing the types of changes of priority to the business, environmental, development, agricultural, and community interests that have collectively worked through PAL and other avenues to establish a vision of better land use for Michigan.

To date, 38 bills have been enacted pursuant to the MLULC recommendations. These new acts enabled joint municipal planning, provided new options for open-space preservation, streamlined the platting process, improved the state’s brownfield redevelopment process, established a fast-track landbanking authority, enabled new tools for the control of urban blight, and established an affordable housing trust fund, among other positive changes. Several executive orders have furthered the Council’s recommendations, with examples including a new requirement for context sensitive design processes within the Michigan Department of Transportation and new expectations that state buildings will be located in areas with adequate infrastructure.

While implementation activity to date is encouraging, many observers concur that several of the Council’s most far-reaching recommendations have not advanced through the legislative process. Legislation has been twice introduced to establish commerce centers and agricultural production areas, but has yet to be presented to the governor. Bills to consolidate the state’s outdated enabling acts for planning and zoning remain in legislative committees, and there has been no action on key recommendations involving education for appointed planning officials, tying state investments in roads to multi-jurisdictional transportation plans, using state infrastructure dollars to encourage compact development, or increasing funding to the state’s purchase of development rights (PDR) program. Also notably missing is legislation relevant to the Council’s recommendations for a balanced growth strategy, which would authorize access to new planning and zoning tools in those jurisdictions that commit to a plan that embraces Council recommendations in the areas of density, affordable housing, and capital-improvement planning, among others.

Local Policy Change

At last count, 18 Michigan counties had formally adopted a PDR program for farmland preservation, 10 of these with PAL assistance. There are now six local jurisdictions with a funded PDR program, up from one in 2001.

PAL additionally funded numerous efforts to bring stakeholders and the public together in organizations that cross municipal lines to explore and advance joint planning and other land use issues of greater than local concern. Grantees report slow but steady progress, and draw attention to continuing challenges in encouraging collaboration across municipal lines. PAL grants have supported efforts in Traverse City, West Michigan, Jackson County, southeast Michigan and Ann Arbor, the Upper Peninsula, the Thumb area, Kalamazoo County, Otsego County, Petoskey, and Charlevoix, as well as counties throughout the state working on farmland preservation programs or interested in training for planning officials.

Education and Leadership Development

PAL’s investment in the Citizen Planner Program has resulted in documented improvements in trainees’ knowledge and skills. Follow-up research with participants and county Extension agents found that, in many counties, a positive change for the better in the functioning of planning commissions was noted, and that participation in the training often results in an increased appetite for further education. Evaluation data collected by grantees also confirmed that tours are a particularly effective way of fostering leadership.


Legislative leaders on land use tend to represent areas with strong local land use movements, particularly those areas with strong business leadership, so the evaluation team recommended that PAL do more to connect local activists with their legislators and to enable and support business leadership. Based on declining awareness of the Land Use Leadership Council’s recommendations, as well as direct feedback suggesting that the recommendations have been challenging for the Legislature to process, the evaluation team recommended that PAL continue its work with stakeholder organizations to develop and refine a list of policy priorities. The evaluation team also recommended that PAL do more to document the costs to the State Treasury that result from inefficient land use, as there is very little apparent recognition that land use policy creates significant budget pressure.

Within the grants program, the evaluation team recommended that PAL consider a more flexible time period, as several projects were not funded for sufficient time to monitor implementation of new plans and policies. The team also recommended that PAL place greater emphasis on local leadership development, using tours and other hands-on approaches, and that PAL work through existing networks to distribute information about model policies and programs. Some recommendations encouraged PAL to continue successful practices, including an emphasis on nontraditional partnerships. Finally, anticipating the partnership between the MSU Land Policy Program and Public Sector Consultants, the team recommended that research and practice grantees be matched to provide better access to data among practitioners and better insight into community needs for academic faculty.

Land Policy Information Tool Taking Shape

Quick, bookmark

You’ll want to go there often, as the site is undergoing regular updates and changes, even though it’s been online for 18 months. Originally designed for the university research community, to let faculty and researchers know about MSU and external grant opportunities in the land use area, it’s now being made more accessible to the general public, especially land use policymakers and decision makers. That’s the first-tier audience the Land Policy Program (LPP) wants to reach, so that this audience will be aware of the site and will go there for information and assistance. As that group uses the site, and word spreads, the site will embrace a wider audience.

“Our intent is to make the LPP Web site the go-to place for any land use policy information, resources, and assistance,” said J.D. Snyder, Grants and Outreach Coordinator with LPP. “We still have a ways to go in that, but we’re in the process of redesigning the Web site, and are meeting regularly to discuss the kind of information and data we want to populate the site with.”

The initial purpose of the site was very successful in getting response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) for land use research projects. “We had a good response – about 80 proposals just over a year ago, the first year of the university grants program,” said Snyder.

“We funded about 50 of those grants, and the research results from some of those initial grants are already on the Web site,” said Snyder. “We expect the balance of the final reports and data to be on the site by the end of this calendar year.”

In addition, LPP and the university announced another RFP for land use grants this spring, and received 32 proposals. “The number was down, but the quality was exceptional in terms of being fundable proposals,” reported Snyder. “We found that people were more aware of the purpose and intent of the LPP program in terms of producing integrated outreach research projects that have policy relevance to policymakers and decision makers.”

All these grants were university-funded grants in land use, effectively demonstrating the value of the PAL-MSU partnership in encouraging useful research in land use. In addition to some project results and data, visitors to the site will find abstracts of all the research proposals for 2004 and 2005. These can be found under Funding Opportunities – Grant Awards and Principal Investigators.

Snyder emphasizes that all these research projects were university grants. The RFP for PAL III community grants will be forthcoming in the next few months, in conjunction with Public Sector Consultants and the PAL Advisory Group. As that information becomes available, it will appear on the Web site.

“The site already has a lot of information available – both in terms of recent research and previously completed research – that’s useful for the land use community,” said Snyder.

“These are also very informative links,” said Snyder. “We’re also planning to produce a publication for wide distribution that will describe the information available on the site, including the linked organizations and the sort of information they provide.”

In the meantime, Snyder invites one and all to visit the site frequently to remain up-to-date with current research information.

600 W. St. Joseph, Suite 10 Lansing, MI 48933 (517) 371–7467

Sep. 29, 2005

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