Smart Growth Stories: Building relationships and planning connections in mid-Michigan

Looking down Michigan Avenue in Lansing, Michigan. Photo by Graham Davis, via Flickr.

Three counties in mid-Michigan are working to improve their region, and they’re using a much-talked about — but seldom seen — strategy to make it happen: collaboration.

The Mid-Michigan Program for Greater Sustainability is a dynamic and interactive effort to bring smart growth and concerted planning to the mid-Michigan region. Organized by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and made possible by a Regional Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Program is composed of hundreds of organizations from across Eaton, Clinton, and Ingham counties.

These organizations are working together to solve regional challenges and improve the economy of all three counties. The Program has created a comprehensive list of projects to improve the region. With nine specific task forces that address issues ranging from economic development to housing needs for residents of all income levels, the project aims to incorporate the entire region’s concerns into its plans.

To achieve those goals, the Mid-Michigan Program holds two open meetings a year and invites people from across the tri-county area to participate. The meetings are held in locations and at times that will ensure a variety of feedback. In addition, the Program has a website to gather feedback on specific projects, and for local residents to provide their own opinions and submit information about additional concerns.

These efforts have paid off, says Harmony Gmazel, Land Use Coordinator for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. “Everyone is really willing and ready to talk about things and there has been a lot of energy from the get-go,” she says. “Turnout at our events is great, with a lot of people really wanting to get involved.”

Of particular interest to the region is the Michigan Avenue/Grand River Avenue corridor, the so-called “Main Street” of Michigan. Running from Lansing through a series of small towns, the corridor is an important route and the Mid-Michigan Program hopes to use it to tie together the region’s economies.

“We hosted a series of design charrettes, gathering recommendations for a 22-mile long corridor, how to make it better,” says Gmazel. “The region has invested millions of dollars into BRT [bus rapid transit] and we’re hoping to tie urban design strategies with transit.” The focus is on making the corridor economically successful. Towards this end, the Mid-Michigan Program has begun collecting master plans and transit plans along the route, with the goal of using the data to create a regional corridor plan.

This multi-faceted and interconnected approach to the region’s issues is precisely what makes the effort so groundbreaking. By using a holistic approach to planning and having discussions about how to work together for the prolonged success of the region, residents and planners alike can be confident in their future as they move forward.

And as in other regional planning efforts, it is the increased cooperation that will really allow mid-Michigan to thrive. “As a region, we need to create connections between housing, economic development, land use, and transit, what was previously siloed,” says Gmazel.

“The project is helping to break down walls and start conversations, with the discussion being framed around where connections can occur and how to get people to work together and that’s what’s making the difference.”

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