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PAL Update – June/July 2003

National Expert Bruce Katz Discusses Land Use in Michigan

“The stronger Michigan cities and its older communities are, and the more it preserves its natural heritage, the more competitive it will be.”

That was one of the central messages of Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, in a recent presentation to the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council.

Katz reviewed trends in decentralization in Michigan and the economic costs to localities and taxpayers. These include increasing costs to build schools, new roads, and public facilities, as well as a host of infrastructure costs that drain public dollars. And, of course, there are the human costs, because decentralization increasingly isolates low-income families and minorities from opportunities, while also making cities less attractive to talented workers and major employers.

“Cities that are doing it close to right, like Portland and Seattle and the Twin Cities and a few others, are very attractive to talented people,” said Katz. He points out that the economic vitality of these places contributed positively to economic growth in their states and regions.

“The starting point for Michigan and many northern states is the number of local governments that have land-use and zoning powers, which directly correlates to the level of and extent of sprawl and decentralization,” says Katz. “These local units are in a wasteful competition for high-end residential and retail and commercial growth, and that has tremendous impact on growth patterns.”

“One thing Michigan needs to think about is expanding its view of land-use reform to incorporate not just what happens at the fringe of metropolitan areas, but what happens with the reclamation of urban land for productive use.”

To Katz, focus on fringe and farms and urban remediation are flip sides of the same coin. Katz says that northern cities have enormous swaths of land that were dedicated to industrial use in the past, and now that the nation is transitioning out of prior industry, states need to invest in cleaning up that land.

“It comes down to this connection that conserving land at the metropolitan fringe, or preserving farmland, or protecting the environment is fundamentally related to having an alternative. And the alternative is the revitalization of cities and older suburbs.”

Revitalizing Michigan cities was also an idea promoted by Governor Jennifer Granholm in remarks before the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island on May 30. Learn more at www.michiganlanduse.org/resources/councilresources/katz.pps

Mark Your Calendar!
Advisory Group Meeting at Crystal Mountain
Thursday, September 11, 2003

The next PAL Advisory Group meeting has been scheduled in conjunction with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Future Forum. Watch your mail for more information.

PAL Supports University/ Community Partnership

Pictured left to right are Cindy Heinbeck, Supervisor of Alpine Township and Rural Committee member; Craig Sattler of the
Home and Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids (a project partner); Jeanine
Bryant of Comerica Bank, Chair of the Urban Committee; and Sarah Smith of the Southeast Community Association of Grand Rapids, Urban Committee member.

“In the Grand Rapids area, we have a history of recognizing symptoms of sprawl, such as blighted neighborhoods, traffic congestion, and loss of farmland,” says Kendra Wills, project and rural component coordinator for the United Growth Coalition. “But this focus on symptoms disregards the interconnected nature of the problems and the larger regional issues at the root of many problems.” Wills says that sustainable improvement is only possible with a systemic solution that sees sprawl as a function of policy and not simply the outcome of a free market. She believes the United Growth Coalition will unify the voice of citizens in Kent County on land-use issues and find common ground among its members and policy decision-makers to promote positive land use. Since 1999, MSU Extension and MSU Center for Urban Affairs Grand Rapids have coordinated Rural and Urban committees and several land-use education initiatives under United Growth. Now, as part of a Phase II PAL grant, the Urban and Rural committees are teaming up to form the United Growth Coalition.

By joining the Urban and Rural committees, the United Growth Coalition plans to pull together a host of rural and urban stakeholders and organizations to form a cohesive and coordinated, citizen-based network promoting positive land use. The United Growth Coalition will build on the common ground that is shared by urban and rural interests. The United Growth for Kent County project is a team effort of Michigan State University to focus on sprawl, and may be the only university/community partnership in Michigan specifically collaborating on land-use issues. Wills says the partnership is an unprecedented opportunity for MSU faculty and students to conduct practical and applied research on land-use issues in Kent County. The United Growth project, which currently has 85 partner organizations, is being closely examined by MSU for its replication potential.

Products & Resources Available

These maps are the result of the MSU Land Transformation Model, which takes historical land-use/cover data and projects it ahead based on a complex set of land-use, demographic, and transportation relationships.

A People and Land presentation that makes the case for why PAL is important is available to advisory group members. It’s intended to help elevate the discussion about land use, and argues persuasively that diverse groups must come together and what’s at stake if we don’t. This is a product of the Michigan Land Use Project. Also available are two brochures prepared by the Michigan Land Use Project intended to inform the land-use dialog. They present significant facts on land use and include maps that demonstrate urbanization trends, ranging from 1980 to 2020, and to 2040. 

PAL “Voices” on Michigan Farm Radio Network

As reported in the first issue of PAL Update, the Michigan Farm Radio Network has agreed to underwrite a radio report series dedicated to land-use issues. These air during the Wednesday noon report. Among recent stories:

A discussion with David Skole of Michigan State University on the Michigan Land Reserve Project, which forecasts how current land-use trends will impact Michigan’s economy through 2040. The story served as a reminder of what is at stake if nothing changes in terms of how land-use decisions are made. Skole said the fruit and horticulture industries will be hardest hit, with the greatest impact in Southeast Michigan and
Grand Rapids.

Guests Deb Rowe of Scenic Michigan and Keith Charters of New Designs for Growth discussed the Scenic Resources Guide developed by Scenic Michigan. The guide is an excellent tool for local planning initiatives in Northern Michigan, but it can be used anywhere. It is very useful for communities along major corridors. 

To listen to the archives,visit www.mfrn.com.

PAL Profile

Michigan Land Use Leadership Council Member, Gordon Guyer

Gordon Guyer has already served the people of Michigan well in agriculture, higher education, and natural resources development. A former director of the Michigan Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture, he’s also held numerous key positions with Michigan State University, including two years as its president. Along the way, Dr. Guyer has retired “five official times” but remains involved in land-use issues because they are so profoundly important.

“I try to pick and choose my commitments,” he says, “but I feel if we can make substantive progress in quality land use and sustainable development we will have made a contribution for generations to come.”

Dr. Guyer is an internationally renowned entomologist, so he can be said to know land-use issues from both the microscopic view and the “big picture” of someone who has for years witnessed the impact of people on the land.

“Practically everything we do in Michigan hinges on how we maintain our resources,” says Dr. Guyer.”We’re so fortunate to have a diversity and abundance of resources.

“My commitment goes back to when I was doing research and teaching and involved in regulating chemicals,” he adds. “It made me realize how quickly the environment can become degraded if we’re not willing to take action.”

Dr. Guyer is in an interesting position on the Council. “I’ve worked all my lifetime for the university or the state, for Democratic and
Republican governors. And when people ask me who I liked to work for the most, I always say it didn’t make any difference as long as they were both Michigan State Spartans,” he laughs.

“That’s how I feel about serving on the Council. I don’t represent a single individual or a single issue.” You might say that Dr. Guyer solely serves the land and water he values so highly.

Welcome to the Land Use Coffee Shop

Michigan Integrated Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) has a track record of building awareness of land-use issues, convening partners and stakeholders in many rural, urban, and suburban communities.

Having received a technical assistance Phase II grant from PAL, its sights are even higher. With the Michigan Land Use Partners (MLUP) project, the partners are adding depth to the information MIFFS makes available and breadth to the audiences it reaches with that information.

“Someone pointed out that MLUP’s Web site is a kind of ‘Land Use Coffee Shop,'” says Dr. David Skjaerlund, president of Midwest Land Legacies and an MLUP partner. “A place where anyone can go to find out what’s happening around land-use issues. A kind of network of local individuals sharing what they know.”

Michigan Land Use Partners supports and promotes programs that help create healthy livable communities that balance the benefits of community growth with the protection of natural resources, including farmland and open space.

“Our goal is not to create a new organization, but a partnership network that can both complement and multiply the efforts of state and local organizations working on the land-use issue,” stated Jim Coury, Michigan Association of RC&D Councils.

“Our partnerships are based on a mutual, working relationship between interested leaders and organizations,” explained Scott Everett, director of the Central Great Lakes Region of American Farmland Trust, which is a partner in this effort. “We believe that by working together and serving in a partnership approach, we can accomplish more.” The initial leadership for MLUP, which continues to expand, included representatives from American Farmland Trust, Leelanau Conservancy, Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, Michigan Association of RC&D Councils, Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems, Michigan State University Extension, Midwest Land Legacies, USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Thumb Farmland Preservation Office, as well as county commissioners, township officials, planners, and county Farm Bureau members.

To learn more about MLUP, visit www.landlegacies.net or call(517) 702-1530.

Initial Survey of Legislature on Land-Use Issues Completed

The first of an ongoing survey of members of the Michigan Legislature on their perceptions of land-use issues was completed early in June. The survey was conducted by Public Policy Associates, Inc. The survey asked the legislators to respond to questions on several issues, including:

  • Their knowledge of land use

  • The importance their constituents place on land use

  • Significance of land use as an issue in their recent election campaigns

  • The types of groups they feel must be “at the table” for constructive state-level discussions about land-use policy

  • The places they turn to for information about land use

  • Whether or not they are familiar with PAL, and if so, what they heard and from whom

The survey received a 66 percent response rate, and the results will help PAL target the legislature with information its members can use. And, of course, PAL would like to raise the profile of land-use issues. On average, as an issue important to their constituents, Michigan legislators rate land use a 3.47 on a 5-point scale, well below such issues as K 12 education (4.66) and health care (4.40). Of 11 issues the legislators were asked to rank, Republicans ranked land use 4th, Democrats ranked it 9th.
When asked to rate the importance of groups as important participants in land-use policymaking, the legislators made some interesting judgments.

They rated as lowest philanthropic organizations, universities, and state agencies, including the Departments of Natural Resources and Transportation. Highest rated as important participants in land-use policymaking were townships, cities, farming groups, counties, home builders, the real estate industry, economic development organizations, and the general business community. In general, the responses agree with PAL’s philosophy of multisectoral policy debate.

In an open-ended question, legislators were asked where they turn when looking for information on land use. The top seven were:

  1. Michigan Townships Association/local township officials

  2. Planners/planning commissioners/other elected officials in sslegislator’s district

  3. Michigan Farm Bureau

  4. Builders/developers

  5. Real estate industry

  6. Michigan Environmental Council or other environmental organizations

  7. Chamber of Commerce/business interests

The above information is just a sketch of some of the data collected. For the complete Survey of Michigan Legislators, visit the PAL Web site at www.peopleandland.org.

People and Land
600 W. St. Joseph, Suite 10
Lansing, MI 48933
(517) 371-7467

PAL Update: A bimonthly publication of People and Land, June/July 2003

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