Blog: Dan Gilmartin

Dan Gilmartin is our guest blogger this week. He is the youngest executive director in the 108 year history of the Michigan Municipal League. Dan previously served as the League's deputy director and as an advocate in Lansing and in Washington, where he concentrated on transportation, land use and urban redevelopment.

Check back here each week day to read Dan's thoughts on regionalism and how we can build the kind of community that attracts knowledge-based workers.

Post No. 4

There are some really great things happening in Michigan’s communities today, despite their uphill financial struggles. Their power to make positive things happen comes from a synergy that is unique to the cooperative spirit that occurs when groups of people work together to improve the places that they call home. If you have some spare time this summer, try venturing outside of your usual haunts to check out what makes the communities around you distinctive and often wonderful places.     

Have you been to Brighton lately? Or ever? If you go you will find a downtown art exhibit that features almost 30 outdoor sculptures sprinkled throughout the business district and along the public park shore. Some are the products of local artists while others are from nationally renowned sculptors. The whole event is the brainchild of Kate Lawrence, who as Mayor of Brighton attended a League sponsored event in Southwest Michigan in the city of Dowagiac and came away so impressed with their public art program that she immediately went home and formed the Mayor’s Commission on Art in Public Places. Once local artist John Sauve came on as volunteer curator the idea took off in the community.  

Another example of being surprised by what a community offers occurred a few years back when the League was hosting an event at the Renaissance Center for 700 local elected officials from across Michigan. Rather than keep them holed up in meeting rooms all day, we decided to put them on busses and show them around the city to see all of the positive change taking place. They got tours of the prominent spots like the DIA and the stadiums, but it was the unexpected discoveries that created the lasting impressions (and changed impressions too). We showed them some new loft developments in Midtown, took them through the Inn on Ferry Street and showed off some hugely successful brownfield projects that sprouted new, high-tech commercial development and created hundreds of new jobs.  

There are a number of other examples that I could use of communities that have crafted unique cut-outs for themselves in the region. Often times you just need to move past some outdated labels and find out for yourself what a community has to offer—just like those small town mayors who found progress in the big city or the art aficionados who have added a town in Livingston County to their list of places to visit.