Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Suburbs Alliance’

What Makes the Greatest Place? Interns Describe Their Ideal City

July 15, 2011

What do young people want their region to look like? What do they seek in a place? These are important questions as the state of Michigan struggles to keep college graduates in the state. The Suburbs Alliance has been gathering perspectives from Millennials across metro Detroit through the Millennial Mayors Congress’s regional visioning initiative (see some of the early results here). It seemed logical to ask our interns some of these same questions.

Detroit's Cadillac Square is a unique place in the metro region.

True to Richard Florida’s theories, our interns are looking to live in vibrant urban centers. Stephanie cited attractions like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Ann Arbor library system as big draws. Jordan Eizenga loves the number of concerts in Detroit, though he says “I sometimes suspect they’re just part of a plot to bankrupt me.” Clearly, big-city culture is a draw, whether it’s high, low or in between.

At the same time, interns suggested that the measure of a community wouldn’t necessarily be found by reviewing museum listings or events calendars. “Urban vibrancy could be less tangible than a row of boutiques, upscale dining, or luxury loft living,” said native Detroiter Michael, and more tied to the “struggles and ambitions” of residents. Similarly, Jordan E. said what excites him most are “people trying to improve the place they live in.”

Economic opportunity is undeniably important. “If I can’t work somewhere, I can’t live there,” Jordan E. conceded. Yet interns also emphasized the need to sustain the private sector with needed public services. Michael noted that the region’s economy was long overdue for “accessible, punctual, and frequent” public transportation.

Programs like former Governor Granholm’s Cool Cities Initiative aimed to boost Michigan cities’ lure for Millennials through creating places that appeal to young professionals. This strategy is undeniably important, as the interns’ responses attest. But it can’t be implemented independently from concerted structural reform. For example, walkable communities with a lively street scene are hard to muster when public transit is, in Michael’s words, “flat-out horrible.” We need big changes on a metropolitan level, like establishing a regional transit authority that removes the underlying barriers to people-scaled places. If we’re serious about building a finer region, we need to be in it for the long haul.

In Highland Park, A Region Raises a Hoop House

July 6, 2011

A barn-raising in the heart of Detroit? That’s certainly what it felt like as activists from across the region gathered in Highland Park on Sunday, June 26, to construct a 2000-square-foot hoop house from plastic sheeting and metal tubes. This solar-powered greenhouse can grow food year-round—even in Michigan winters. Armed with the right equipment, it doesn’t take more than a day to construct one. As UniverCities Energy Data Intern Jordan Eizenga and other Suburbs Alliance staff found, it does take a number of willing hands.

Jordan Eizenga is framed by the house's metal structure.

Jordan (not to be confused with Energy Policy Intern Jordan G.) found lending his hands easy enough. He moved to Ferndale this summer to be near the Suburbs Alliance main office, and biked the few short miles along Woodward Avenue from Ferndale to help build the house. The site was behind the Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) house near Woodward and McNichols. A branch of a national youth network organizing for solutions to global climate change, GELT seeks to give young people a holistic understanding of the transition to a sustainable, community-scaled economy through neighborhood projects like the hoop house.

Things heat up in the hoop house's interior.

By late morning, most of the metal hoops that formed the hoop house’s structure were already in place, and the lot was a hive of activity. Builders included master hoop-house mechanic Jeff McCabe, co-founder of Ann Arbor’s SELMA Café, Margaret Lewis, publisher of the Highland Park-based Legacy News, and scores of others from the block, the neighborhood and the greater region. Now that’s metropolitan cooperation in action! While at rest, the group traded farming tips and enjoyed impromptu rapping from the youngest attendees.

The plastic sheeting has been hauled into place.

“Billow it!” As the sun sank lower, the team gathered on either side of the curving metal frame to push and pull the plastic walls of the house into place, sending ripples through the giant sheets to carry them over the top. Slowly, under the careful hands of Jordan and two dozen others, the double sheets slid down to meet the wooden frame near the ground. What had been empty space open to the elements at dawn became a warmer interior where plants will grow come winter.

Collective celebration with the help of a timpani.

There’s much more to be done before the hoop house produces its first crops. For Jordan and the other six Suburbs Alliance staff on hand, though, the day was an inspiring confirmation that people from all over the area can come together to build a healthier, greener and tastier future. Working cooperatively, the group built in one day what a single person couldn’t have constructed alone. Metro Detroit needs to bring that lesson to a regional scale: we’re stronger together.

The UniverCities Story, Part 1: The Michigan Suburbs Alliance

June 10, 2011

Stronger together.

The UniverCities Connection program may seem like the new kid on the block. True, it’s just now graduated from its old web page into the blogosphere. But like any fresh face, it’s got its own unique ancestry. This year’s UniverCities interns are here thanks to a chain of events stretching back almost a decade.

In 2002, city officials from the older suburban towns around metro Detroit realized they faced common problems that demanded collective solutions. The region’s continued outward sprawl had hit these “inner-ring” or “first-tier” suburbs with the population loss and disinvestment already hobbling the central city. They decided that for the long-term prosperity of the entire region, these destructive patterns had to be replaced by cooperative action that benefited all communities. The Michigan Suburbs Alliance was born.

The Alliance's Ferndale headquarters.

Since that time, the Suburbs Alliance has grown from 14 metro Detroit communities to more than thirty. It’s helped cities remove barriers to new investment through its Redevelopment Ready Communities program and launched the Regional Energy Office to help them collaborate in cutting energy use and promoting environmental sustainability.

As early as 2005, the UniverCities Connection program provided the Suburbs Alliance with vital student talent for research that helped get major initiatives off the ground. This summer’s intern program, however, has a special connection to one of the Suburbs Alliance’s newest projects: the Millennial Mayors Congress. We’ll bring you the full story next week.