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Grand Vision Draws Another Record Crowd

Officials roll out “scorecard,” aim for 15,000 responses by Oct. 28

October 13, 2008 | By Jim Dulzo
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  The Grand Vision’s latest milestone event attracted a standing-room-only crowd
TRAVERSE CITY—More than 500 people packed this town’s beautifully restored, historic State Theater last Tuesday night to mark another major milestone in The Grand Vision project—the largest citizen-based, regional planning project in Michigan history.

The project, which aims to guide growth in the six-county region surrounding Grand Traverse Bay, is the first in the state to combine innovative, computer-based technology with a large-scale, wide-open, citizen-based process. Together, the technology and public involvement are designed to produce a blueprint for the next 50 years of development around the bay that most citizens in the region can support—and will push local officials to enact, town by town and township by township.

Some land use experts say that they hope citizens throughout Michigan will learn from the Grand Vision and use a similar approach to plan growth in their own region. That, they say, could help the state as a whole by encouraging more carefully thought-out land use and transportation plans that promote residents' own quality of life measures and, with them, regional prosperity.

Tuesday evening’s event here, called the Grand Vision Decision Kickoff, drew a standing-room-only crowd. The big house munched on popcorn; listened to prominent business, political and civic leaders from the region, Lansing, and Washington; applauded a flashy “man on the street” video; watched time-tripping computer motion graphics projecting future growth in the Grand Traverse region; and asked lots of questions.

The message from the dignitaries onstage, including U.S. Senator Carl Levin, Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce President Doug Luciani, and one of the nation’s top leaders in community planning—Utah’s Robert Grow—was simple: There are 50,000 more people headed for the region in the coming decades, and for the region to maintain its quality of life, the Grand Vision project must continue to attract the kind of heavy public participation it has so far in order to convince local leaders to support a regional, people-powered plan.

Officials said their goal was to persuade10 percent of the six counties’ population, about 15,000 people, to fill out so-called Grand Vision Scorecards by Oct. 28.

The scorecards—actually small booklets—were unveiled at the event, and handed out by the hundreds to people as they left the theater. Project officials confirmed that the scorecards are now widely distributed throughout the region at public and retail locations, and are also posted online at the Grand Vision Web site, where they can be filled out electronically.

Grand Vision leaders also scheduled Kickoff events in the five other counties. Kalkaska County’s occurred last Thursday. Tonight, there are Kickoffs in Leelanau and Wexford; tomorrow night they are scheduled for Antrim and Benzie.

‘Never Seen Anything Like It’
The scorecards contain four different “future scenarios” reflecting the work of the 3,500 people who, over the past year, attended workshops and marked up Grand Vision maps with their ideas about future growth. The scorecards ask 12 questions about the scenarios; the consultants will use the answers to shape a regional growth plan that, they say, due to the way the entire process is designed, will attract strong support from most area residents.

That, the consultants say, will crystallize exactly what public opinion in the region says about future growth, and will make it hard for local officials to ignore.

The local and visiting officials onstage on Tuesday seemed optimistic about the project reaching its ambitious, 15,000-responses goal, and about the Vision’s future effect.

John Fregonese, who along with Mr. Grow leads the Grand Vision project, told the crowd that their region is on a roll: He said that, when it comes to citizen participation, he and Mr. Grow, who have co-led many similar projects elsewhere, “have never seen anything like this” when it comes to participation levels.

Senator Levin, who redirected federal road money away from a now-defunct highway bypass proposal to the Grand Vision project, said that he was confident of the project’s ultimate success.

“This one is built from the ground up,” said the senator. “It is an optimistic project, and it is the people that are being asked what they want their environment to look like.”

Mr. Levin added that the Grand Vision would work “because of its breadth—and by that I don’t just mean that it is public, and private, and philanthropic, but also because it is regional. That doesn’t come easy, and it is a very precious characteristic. This will give you power, just as the fact that it is coming from the people gives you power.”

A Lesson for Michigan
Observers noted that the evening’s attendance was yet another slam-dunk for the two-year Grand Vision project, which is now half completed—and which a number of expert observers clearly think could point other regions of the state toward a new, grassroots approach to a fledgling concept in Michigan: regional planning. The state has almost entirely conducted planning at the highly local township level, making regional approaches to land use and transportations both rare and difficult to accomplish.

In fact, the Grand Vision grew out of the decision four years ago to use a citizen-based, regional approach to settle a severe, very local dispute over a proposal to build a highway bypass through a wild river valley just south of Traverse City. That decision grew into the Grand Vision, which has, since its initial conception, engaged a remarkably broad cross-section of educational, business, governmental, and environmental institutions and groups.

The fact that the local leaders not only insisted on a group consensus before choosing consultants for the study, but also then chose highly innovative companies dedicated to regional planning to lead it, has clearly paid off.

Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, who attended the first, standing-room-only Grand Vision workshop a year ago, returned for last Tuesday’s gathering to both congratulate the community and promise that the Final Vision Decision—which will be released along with a great deal of technical information and guidance early next year—would guide his agency for generations to come.

“This is more participation than I have ever seen in my 25 years of experience in public planning projects,” Mr. Steudle said. “It has raised awareness about how transportation and land use can compliment each other.”

Dr. Soji Adelaja, director of the Land Policy Institute and Distinguished Hanna Professor at Michigan State University, said he’s tracked the Vision project with growing excitement and fascination from his post in Lansing.

“It’s an extremely innovative initiative that has brought this region together in an exciting way,” Dr. Adelaja said. “The leadership is there, and there is mutual respect for this as a vehicle promoting the region. In 30 years as a professional, this is one of the most fascinating processes I’ve seen. It’s not a planning process. It’s a visioning process with strong elements in place to guide the planning.”

Like Mr. Stuedle, Dr. Adelaja said he believes the project is now a model for how other parts of the state can figure out the best, most prosperity-building ways to grow that protect and improve residents’ quality of life, and make their communities more attractive to prospective employers who are looking for well-designed communities where their workers would like to live.

“It seems like it’s harder at the state level to move things forward,” he observed, “but I have faith that, as more and more of our regions learn from a process like this, they, too, can help define their own path, and at that point, we can begin to talk about the future of Michigan.”

Bill Rustem, president of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants, said he found the prospect of persuading other parts of the state to embrace the Grand Vision’s approach “very exciting.”

“It’s a model of what other regions of Michigan need to do,” Mr. Rustem said. “If you go back to the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council report, we created what I think there was a good vision, but there was no leadership ready to accept it, which was unfortunate. So, you’ve got to build from the ground up, on the basis of regions.”

And, according to the chamber’s Mr. Luciani, the Grand Vision is already changing how people in the six counties around Grand Traverse Bay are looking at themselves—and at each other.

“We really see the buy-in from the business community on this,” he said. “The young people have also responded; they are excited. We had three seventh-graders in our office this week talking to a panel about sustainability and what the Grand Vision means. In fact, we’ve seen a shift in regionalism that, to me, is much more genuine.”

To view the Grand Vision Scorecard online, click here. Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s managing editor. The Institute’s Glenn Puit contributed to this article. Reach Mr. Dulzo at jimdulzo@mlui.org; Mr. Puit is at glenn@mlui.org.

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