Vice-mayor Hannah McKinney on saving municipal budgets through smarter growth in Kalamazoo, MI

Hannah McKinney believes that to create strong metropolitan areas in this country we have to focus on creating strong neighborhoods. As Vice Mayor of Kalamazoo, MI, she’s working to make that happen in her region.

“That sense of being tied to a physical location is something that, for many people doesn’t exist anymore,” says McKinney, “We need to create neighborhoods that are unique, that are livable.”

An Advisory Board member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, McKinney has served on the Kalamazoo City Commission for 16 years and during that time has worked to make Kalamazoo a great place to live, work, and visit. In 2003, McKinney co-chaired the Convening our Community project, a community-building initiative focused on creating a smart growth report to guide land use decisions. McKinney worked on the city’s Comprehensive Plan update, its Downtown Plan and the 2010 Master Plan to guide future growth and development, all while protecting Kalamazoo’s unique character.

For McKinney, this work is about more than creating a plan for the future. It’s about having money in a municipal budget to carry out that plan, to provide services and to create a vibrant quality of life for residents. She implemented a five-year fiscal planning tool for the City and has been working to correct the City’s $6 million budget shortfall. As a Professor of Economics and Business at Kalamazoo College and former City Planning Commissioner, McKinney is uniquely equipped to understand both the challenges of cities in our 21st century economic climate and the opportunities that those challenges present to grow in a smarter way.

“To me, the biggest problem facing many America cities today is declining property tax revenue,” she says, “Real estate values in much of the country are still going down and even in those places where it has stabilized, it’s not going up the way it used to. That means public budgets have to be changing and that’s a huge opportunity for us because that means that there is a real reason to start consolidating and thinking more in terms of smart, urban areas.”

Linking the built environment to the social character of a community and economic development is what has led McKinney to champion smart growth policies in Kalamazoo.

“I do feel like this is an important moment,” she says, “That, for 20 years, it was a good idea that no one wanted to pay much attention to. But, now I think we have to. It’s really about quality of life for people…how do we live the kinds of lives that make us happy, make us complete. To me that’s what smart growth is.”

Local Leaders Council