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Five Reasons to be Optimistic About Growth: A Look Ahead

'There's something happening here'

Great Towns | January 5, 2012 | By James Bruckbauer

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My wife and I agree with Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here.”

The Grand Vision was one of the reasons James and his wife wanted to live in Traverse City.

Since we moved Up North last summer, I’ve watched this economy become more sustainable, resilient, and attractive to young people.

Yes, this region has a long way to go.

Still, developers, public officials, non-profits, and volunteers are starting to work together to grow in ways that align with citizen’s values.

Here are five examples:

1. Citizen-led planning: Suttons Bay residents turned a $20,000 grant into a $1 million community facelift that will make their downtown more attractive and people-friendly. Honor and Interlochen also embraced forward-thinking citizen planning projects that will reap dividends for years to come.

2. Housing that works: New housing in the Village of Grand Traverse Commons, and soon the Depot property in Traverse City, will give families, students, nurses, and young professionals the choice to live within a walk or bike ride from shops and grocery stores.

3. Huge transit wins: To support future growth, citizens backed up their transportation vision with their hard-earned cash. In fact, about 75% of voters in Benzie, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Grand Traverse Counties  voted to keep investing in our bus systems through local millages.

4. BATA’s new direction: Charged by the Grand Vision, the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) unveiled much-needed changes that will help folks in Leelanau county, Interlochen and Acme get into Traverse City conveniently and reliably.

5. Better streets: Last Spring, TART Trails and local advocates fought hard to make sure that the new Silver Drive was not only made for cars, but also for cyclists, pedestrians, and those who may use a wheelchair. Buckley, too, embraced bikes and pedestrians in its new street design.

The future looks bright. So what’s ahead?

In 2008, citizens were clear: our cities and villages should grow and prosper, and be connected by a public transit system that can be easily accessed by sidewalk or bicycle.

To me, that means someone in Bellaire can jump on a bus that will take them to downtown Traverse City to shop, then jump on another bus out to Frankfort to spend the day at the beach, all without needing a car. Through my assignment at MLUI, I will be working hard to make that a reality.

This year, we’re focused on building a marketing program around transportation choices. The campaign will give people information they need to get from place to place without a car, as well as helping people get engaged in making our streets safer and better.

Through our blog, we’ll track stories and report on progress toward the transportation vision mentioned above. We’ll also help readers understand this region’s housing and transportation costs and the impact that those costs have on families and our local economy. (And believe me, it’s not a pretty picture. We have a long way to go.)

We’ll draw from our extensive research on transportation best practices around the country to offer perspectives and recommendations that build on this region’s assets.

Through Transportation for Michigan (Trans4M), we’ll build a coalition that pushes for statewide transportation policy that makes the best use of our hard-earned tax dollars.

And, of course, we’ll continue our push to make train travel to northern Michigan a reality. After all, considering the staggering costs of highways, passenger rail is becoming more and more attractive.

My wife and I moved here because this region can compete with great towns out West.

With the vision and commitment of the citizens of this region, we’re optimistic that other young couples will bring their talents to add to our region’s economy.

James Bruckbauer is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s transportation policy specialist. Reach him at james@mlui.org. Follow him @jimbruckb.


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