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Grand Survey: In-Town Growth Is Best

Results to help shape ‘Vision Decision’ scorecard

August 28, 2008 | By Glenn Puit
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Residents of Lower Michigan’s Grand Traverse region strongly favor directing new growth toward established town centers, like Kalkaska.

TRAVERSE CITY—A scientific survey of residents living in the six-county Grand Traverse region has found widespread support for channeling the area’s rapid development into existing communities, rather than dispersing it across rural areas.

The survey, commissioned by The Grand Vision project, a unique, citizen-based, regional planning process, also revealed strong support for some several other "smart growth" approaches to development and transportation.

According to the Grand Vision’s consultants, the survey’s results will help them design a "scorecard" for the next phase of the project that asks participants questions about the things they actually do care about. The consultant say they hope thousands of people will use the scorecards to determine how they want their communities to develop over the next 50 years.

The survey results, based on in-depth phone interviews conducted in early July with 547 residents in the six counties around and near Grand Traverse Bay, were released last week. Those findings—and the scorecards they are helping to shape—will take center stage at the upcoming launch of a broad, three-week public campaign called the Grand Vision Decision.

That campaign, which will launch at Traverse City’s State Theater on Oct. 7, intends to persuade 15,000 local residents to help evaluate different "scenarios" for the region’s future growth by filling out the scorecards. The scenarios, which will also be unveiled that night, reflect the work that 3,000 area citizens did over the past 10 months at Grand Vision workshops around the entire region.

The community values that the survey revealed struck Dee Allsop, formerly of Harris Interactive Inc., the international firm that conducted it for The Grand Vision team, as unusual.

"[The region’s residents] want to protect what they have," said Mr. Allsop. "What really impresses me are the progressive attitudes toward growth and smart growth principles that exist in the region."

Sprawl Is the Loser
The survey, conducted in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford Counties, clearly indicates that most residents here dislike sprawling development, which paves over farmland and scenic vistas, drives up taxes and transportation costs, and forces many people to live far from their workplace, their children’s schools, and commercial and retail services.

According to the survey:

  • Two-thirds of the Grand Traverse region’s residents agree that growth should occur in existing communities.
  • A clear majority, 55 percent, supports clustering homes on smaller lots to preserve open space.
  • A narrow majority, 52 percent, would favor plans to build multi-family housing in their community.
  • A remarkable 90 percent of those surveyed said they strongly support neighborhoods that are convenient to walk or bike.
  • Eighty-eight percent wanted jobs closer to where they live, and 85 percent favored preserving agriculture even if it hindered economic development.

Marsha Smith, chairman of the Grand Vision Public Involvement Committee and the executive director of Rotary Charities of Traverse City, found the results of the survey refreshing and significant for the future of The Grand Vision.

"It made me feel great on a personal level," Ms. Smith said. "It validated a lot of work we’ve been doing in the community. I’ve always sensed that the environment and natural resources in our community…it is really important.

"The Grand Vision gives us (a strategy for) 50 years…and it has to be based on our community values," she added. "For us to all share these values is a real solid foundation for us to build on."

A Positive Future
Another finding of the Harris Interactive survey, one that the consultant team said was also unusual, was that Grand Traverse region residents favor economic growth over protecting the environment by a far smaller margin than in the rest of the United States. This finding, however, varies widely in the six-county region where the survey was conducted.

In Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Benzie counties, about half of those questioned favored protecting the environment over economic development. But in Antrim, Kalkaska and Wexford Counties, respondents favored economic development over protecting the environment by significant majorities.

In addition, compared to national figures, the Grand Traverse region’s residents are more positive that the direction their community is headed in is the right one. They are also more optimistic about their communities’ futures than other communities.

The one exception was Kalkaska County, where 63 percent of those surveyed felt their community was headed in the wrong direction.

A full power point presentation of the survey’s findings can be downloaded at the Grand Vision website.

Glenn Puit is a Michigan Land Use Institute county policy specialist. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org.

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