Why Do Cities Matter to Michigan?

In the depths of the great recession, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. But it’s been encouraging to see how the crisis has prompted some reflection on the part of local leaders.

Lansing, Michigan. Image: Economics of Place

Michigan Municipal League Director Dan Gilmartin recently shared an editorial he wrote for the Lansing State Journal at his blog Economics of Place. The article, “Why Cities Matter in Michigan,” explains how the state’s neglected cities played a role in its decline, and how they may be the key to its revival:

How many of us know a young person—maybe even your own son or daughter—who has recently moved or is planning to move to Chicago, New York, Austin, Portland or another metropolitan area?

I’ve asked this in various speaking opportunities, and every time multiple hands go up. Then I’ll ask this follow-up question—how many of those young people left for one of these cities without having a job? Hands again go up.

Our most talented workers choose where they want to live first, and then get a job. They choose places where they can enjoy a particular lifestyle that’s built on the core assets they value, like downtowns and neighborhoods that are walkable and offer the opportunity to meet in places such as coffee shops, restaurants, clubs and public spaces. It means choices in getting around including available mass transit. And it means places that offer art and culture opportunities as well as green spaces and recreational advantages and are open to people of all backgrounds and lifestyles. The same core values are also held by the next generation of older Americans, retiring baby boomers.

Working to create a prosperous future in Michigan, where average incomes place us once again at the top, rather than at the bottom, depends on our ability to attract and retain knowledge-based workers, entrepreneurs and growing industries. To be successful we must invest in and effectively develop and leverage our key human, natural, cultural and structural assets and nurture them through enacting effective public policy. In Michigan, our cities are actually in prime position. They anchor regions across our state that have more than 80 percent of our population, jobs, exports, and higher education degrees.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Reconnecting America shares the T4A guide to making the most of the new transportation bill, MAP-21. Car Free USA shares a picture of Austin’s new two-way bike lane. And The Beat Bike Blog rallies its readers against a new law that would force cyclists to ride single file in Connecticut.