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Brian Beauchamp: Seeing the Big Picture—the Grand Vision Takes Off

Blog Archive | May 22, 2009 | By Brian Beauchamp

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Space Shuttle Discovery soars skyward from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Dr. Jerry Linenger--who lives in Sutton's Bay--was onboard this special space mission. He spoke this week at the State Theater in Traverse City to a captivated audience about the similarities between space travel and on-the-ground collaboration.

Although it was a regional event, Tuesday night’s rollout of The Grand Vision’s final draft plan at Traverse City’s State Theater was actually a watershed for the entire state.

The evening had real weight to it, and not only because it represented the work of more than 15,000 people across six counties who, as it turns out, largely share a surprising bold, unorthodox view of how this region should grow over the next half-century.

It was also a big deal because getting villages, townships, cities, and counties in this state to think in terms of regions is extraordinarily difficult-some would even say impossible. Think of Detroit and its suburbs-or the east and west sides of rural Benzie County, for that matter.

Yet, economists are clear that, in the new knowledge economy, which is not anchored to natural resource availability and other traditional job magnets, the regions with the most attractively designed communities-particularly vibrant downtowns-are headed for success.

So, now that The Grand Vision has laid out a clear vision for the Grand Traverse region, there’s a great opportunity to bring that model to other areas of the state where it can help communities strengthen their established towns and protect their land from unsightly, unwise kinds of growth.

It’s all about looking beyond yourself and seeing the big picture.

And, at Tuesday’s well-attended rollout, that is what U.S. astronaut Dr. Jerry Linenger, who lives in nearby Suttons Bay, told everyone.

But first, he launched the evening with fascinating observations about how this part of the world looks from space. When he saw the white sand dunes, turquoise waters, and deep-green forests, he knew he had to move here.

Then, Dr. Linenger turned his flight into a lesson: In order to travel safely to space and back, he had to rely on many people, and all of them had to follow careful, well thought-out plans. Just like a successful space flight, he concluded, The Grand Vision requires close collaboration among many individuals focused on common, albeit grand goals.

Doug Luciani, president and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, amplified Dr. Linenger’s theme: The region’s biggest asset is its people. Dreamers, people with high hopes and ambitions, people who struggle mightily to earn a living so they can live in a place they truly love-these are the folks who will make The Grand Vision a reality over the coming years.

“People who live in northwest Michigan are often looking for more than just a job,” Mr. Luciani said, “they are looking for a way of life.”

The Grand Vision stems directly from that quest. It demonstrates that most people here want their leaders to preserve that way of life, and that thousands of them were willing to get involved, at least initially, to make that happen.

But, as Rotary Charity of Traverse City’s Marcia Smith reminded the audience, the hard work of enacting The Grand Vision’s plan one village, township, city, and county at a time offers the truest test. If, as Dr. Linenger suggested, people work together on a common goal, they can do great things-from space flights to making a shared vision into a clear, collective voice that cannot be denied.

As a local resident, I’m proud to bear witness to what such collaboration is beginning to accomplish in these six counties I now call home. For the good of all of us, though, I hope it catches on across all of our great state!

Brian Beauchamp is a policy specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at brian@mlui.org.

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