Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / From The Field

From The Field

The Fear Factor

July 7, 2004 | By Johanna Miller
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

MLUI/Gail Dennis

Johanna Miller

Last summer, when the Institute tapped Leelanau County as the first place it would organize a model citizen coalition to instill Smart Growth principles into local governance, I sighed in relief. Leelanau is my native home. It is also a magnificent place that requires people who love it to act now, not later, to manage its rapid growth. So launching the Leelanau Smart Growth Coalition in a community so committed to protecting its unparalleled beauty seemed an effort people would eagerly embrace.

In a recent article about the coalition in the local weekly paper, however, a county official compared our efforts to bring more people into the community development decision-making process to a form of socialism. Socialism? This, in fact, is democracy in action.

Such a misguided statement is mostly about fear; it shirks the duty people in such positions have to encourage civic, and civil, discourse between people and their government. Elected officials often make important decisions that leave the people most affected by them out of the loop. By bringing more people to the decision-making table, we can change that.

This makes some people very nervous. But not everyone.

More people are joining our effort because they understand that Leelanau County will continue to develop. How that development occurs, however, is the tough question.

Should the county uproot its offices and courts from a historic downtown and plop them into an empty field between two villages? Should townships routinely rezone large plots of agricultural land to allow large housing developments that will have long-term costs for both taxpayers and Leelanau’s rural character?

These are a few of the questions the coalition hopes to help hard-working local officials answer based on facts, Smart Growth planning principles, and community master plans advanced by citizens engaged in the democratic process.

As we begin demonstrating how well Smart Growth policies work, and as people stop reacting to our effort out of fear, I know people in Leelanau and across Michigan will come together to preserve the irreplaceable qualities that draw people to their communities. That is our goal.

Johanna Miller is an organizer for the Leelanau Smart Growth Coalition. You can reach her at joey@mlui.org. The coalition Web site is www.mlui.org/leelanau.

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org