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Michigan’s Awakening Regionalism

Smart Talk

October 27, 2006 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Brian Confer

Hans Voss is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s executive director. Reach him at hans@mlui.org.

Many people in Benzie County are not too fond of tax increases. And they mostly have just one way to get to work or a doctor’s appointment: They get in their car and drive.

But something has changed in Benzie: This August, 58 percent of its voters approved a new tax to launch a new bus service. Rising gas prices, an aging population, and business leaders’ support were keys to this striking victory.

But there was a more subtle motivator: Benzie folks see their breakneck growth (a 31 percent population increase in 10 years) as part of a regional trend and are realizing that managing it requires collaboration. As traffic between Benzie and Traverse City has steadily thickened with people driving to work, stores, schools, doctors, and the great outdoors, support for linking up with Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties’ shared bus system has grown. 

Here’s another example of this awakening: Grand Traverse area leaders are launching a first-ever regional planning process. They intend to develop a far-reaching plan to coordinate growth and transportation systems for a big chunk of northwest Michigan.

And here’s a few more: A decade ago, Grand Rapids’ community leaders began collaborating with neighboring communities on a water and sewer plan; now that cooperative spirit is tackling regional rapid transit. And metro Detroit, long known for urban-suburban acrimony, now sees regionalism as crucial to economic competitiveness.

The Institute does all it can to encourage this awakening. We strengthened the Benzie bus campaign with expert communications and organizing. We’re playing a key role in the Grand Traverse planning process. And we’re supporting regionalism in Grand Rapids and Detroit in many ways—publicly and behind the scenes.

Researching, reporting, organizing, advocating: That’s how we make Smart Growth a reality in Michigan. Township by township, city by city, and increasingly, region by region—it’s the necessary other side of our fulltime advocacy in Lansing.

Michigan’s 21st-century success depends on protecting our environment and stopping sprawl by building strong downtowns and thriving regions. Powerful organizations like the Institute and dedicated supporters like you help make it happen. Thanks so much for lending a hand.

Hans Voss is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s executive director. Reach him at hans@mlui.org
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