Home > Economics, Editorial, Grand Visioning > City Gov. Effectiveness With Placemaking & Resiliency In Mind (Part II)

City Gov. Effectiveness With Placemaking & Resiliency In Mind (Part II)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This series is a localized version of Strong Towns’ 10-step action program for small towns/cities to build strong local economies, what they call the 10 Starter StrategiesPart I was posted earlier today with 1-5. Also, the title has been changed to City Gov. Effectiveness instead of City Economics…

Part II

Picking up where I left off…

6) Coordination of park investments with economic development: If we fund it, we’re doing it. The Bayfront Plan is just the beginning. The Barns project is another. The removal of the Boardman river dams is another. There are also many of us who look forward to creating a real budget for neighborhood park development. Our latest Natural Resource Parks & Recreation Master Plan has a strong goals and objectives section that needs champions. For a tourist destination and a destination that needs to attract talented young professionals to not do this is simply foolish.

Parks generate economic growth and activity.

7) Walkability study: The City doesn’t yet grasp the importance of city-wide walkability as an economic engine. It’s a choice we need to make for the future viability to attract new entrepreneurs and families. The cost savings are more and more clear for the individual as well as for cities. Strong Town’s quick calculations in one aspect of this point are too appropriate not to include.

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As an example of this, if a family wanted to relocate to a traditional neighborhood and, due to great walkability, could get by with only one car, they would save an estimated $7,500 per year on transportation costs. If instead of spending that money on transportation they could invest it in their house, they would have (at 6% over 30 years) an additional $103,000 of purchasing power.

In addition, we need to publicly invest in public transportation as part of any walkability plan and provide economic incentive to build mixed-use density within a few blocks of BATA routes and to create park & rides for our suburban neighbors.

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8 ) Implement an Import Replacement economic development strategy: Do we have an “economic development advisor?” The DDA focuses much attention on “job creation”, but who is representing other nodes of development in Traverse City? Is this the community development coordinator position held by Bryan Crough? Perhaps the Mayor’s idea for a neighborhood ombudsman could play a role. The recently adopted economics element to the master plan is also a start as well as the before mentioned form-based corridor studies.

There are some social nudges that the City could attempt as well. The tip from ST to focus on getting current businesses to hire 1 more employee makes sense. How many businesses do we have in Traverse City? In his first State of the State, the new Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, described this as “economic gardening” before “economic hunting.”  As he emphasized:

“We need to focus on being the best across the state and not dwelling on who claims credit. We need to put more emphasis on economic gardening as opposed to hunting. For those unfamiliar with economic gardening, it means we’ll focus first and foremost on building businesses that are already here in the state.”

Replace “the state” with “Traverse City” and you have our challenge.

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9) Small business subsidy plan: Expand our local small businesses over focusing on large employers-which we actually don’t have too many of. Hagerty Insurance is great, it employs a lot of people and is an anchor we don’t want to lose. We also have Munson, the college and a few other anchors, but for the most part we are a city of small businesses that are locally owned. We get local, so this action is a no brainer for government to grasp and support.

The City needs to support efforts like: Taste the Local Difference, ideas generating out of the Grand Vision Growth & Investment Network and the Local First group. And, who knows, perhaps Baybucks, still being circulated, could have a mainstream moment.

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10) Gov. 2.0 Public Engagement Platform: Here, Traverse City is failing; miserably. The City has an ineffective communications strategy, let alone an engagement strategy. In part, it might because we ARE such an active citizenry with lots of identified stakeholder groups at the table and that covers up poor communications performance. However, as a result many people get left out of the process. There are simple improvements that could be made with changes like creating searchable PDFs of all meeting packets and ordinances. Finding relevant information is not easy on the City website. It’s no longer good enough to just have a website, it needs to be a functional one. And, they aren’t alone. There are many of us in the community willing and able to help, often for free.

The City is very hesitant to embrace social media and wary of sites like this one. In fact, it has been expressed to me that emails to the CC generated through a BLOG like Plan For TC or MyWHaT are actually viewed with less impact; it’s seen as an unfair advantage due to the efficiency. This is the opposite attitude and direction for the City to embrace.

The City still largely views it as something new & unknown despite the vast number of cities’ doing the heavy, leading edge lifting. Traverse City simply needs to mimic success.

I’ve often said and ST’s mentions, we should follow the lead of the small town of 6,000 called Manor, TX that is taking Gov. 2.0 to new heights and embracing applications like SeeClickFix. Ideas for Seattle is another forum idea that is worth looking at. I’ve suggested all three of these models to the City and the Grand Vision. They’ve  gone nowhere. It’s a staff issue, as well as a cultural issue for northern Michigan, but nothing we can’t overcome.

Government staff and commission representatives could start by commenting on this BLOG from time to time…we don’t bite!

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That’s it. The 10- action steps. Traverse City is doing some of them to varying degrees of success and rejecting others.

This post was intended to be something short and sweet and then turned into something longer than envisioned. I could be completely wrong on any or all the local connections. I’m admittedly stretching my abilities here. I’m calling them from a slightly more informed position than some, but certainly not from a fully entrenched position of insider, expertise knowledge. For each action, I’m certain there are countless examples that would better inform on the subject.

Please, I invite you to share any insight you may be able to shed on the subject. As I mentioned in part I this morning, the main goal is to stimulate discussion and an open sharing of knowledge & perspectives. Do you serve on a board, commission or local organization working on any or all of these issues? Please, share your voice.

What do you think of Strong Towns’ 10-actions program?

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This BLOG and the advocacy behind it takes time; more than I care to admit. It’s not really a job, but it is work and MyWHaT is looking for underwriters to help support it. Can you help? Underwriters may use the MyWHaT PayPal account, fill out a Underwriter Form to mail orsend me a message to meet over coffee and discuss options. Terms can be creative; we take Baybucks, bartering and pledges.

If you’d like to make a personal donation, PayPal is by far the best method.



  1. Brian
    February 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Traverse City’s downtown walkability definitely played a role when we decided to move back to TC last spring. As two home-based entrepreneurs, we were able to pick where we wanted to walk or bike and then pick a house. We were able to get rid of one car (and save close to the figure you note). We’re able to get to the majority of what we need and want by walking which also keeps the majority of our economic activity within this same area.

  2. Kate
    February 3, 2011 at 10:34 am

    This seems right on to me. The long term vision is key, and I’m all for the tangible outcomes (complete streets, walkability, investment in parks and local businesses) as strategies to attract and retain entrepreneurs and families. I am another example of someone who chose to move to TC, brought a job with me, and purchased a house in the central neighborhood precisely because I can walk and bike to many (most) of my regular destinations and have easy access to green space. The more we can enhance these features, the more desirable TC becomes. And I agree that a forward-thinking city government that invites engagement from residents – and makes good use of the energy and talents that residents offer to share – is one that will achieve these ends.

  3. Michelle
    February 7, 2011 at 9:35 am

    I offered to help bring the cities website into the 21st century. The offer still stands.

    The second thing that frustrated me was the ability as a disabled person to get around and into businesses and offices. Frustrating and difficult. Most of downtown is historic and can’t be changed? though one would think that the disabled should be able to shop in Traverse City.

    It was one of the first things I was frustrated with since moving here a year ago.

    TC is made up of small businesses who depend on tourist dollars to stay afloat was one of the reasons I created Network Traverse City, Michigan on Facebook.

    1072 + the ones I haven’t found in six months.. local small businesses are embracing internet as a tool to communicate and stay in business. So I agree economic gardening is crucial to the survival of the strong local business base. Since the tourist dollars are dependent on the economy of the US, the gas prices climbing and the cost of food and lack of jobs in the state may very well cripple that income in the coming year/s.

    As for all the grand vision plans I think the vision is a bit more grandiose than realistic. When issues like infrastructure are addressed by adding cost without income.

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