Guest Blogger: Erik Tungate

Erik Tungate is this week's guest blogger. He is the Director of Community & Economic Development for the city of Hamtramck and Executive Director of the Hamtramck Downtown Development Authority (HDDA). Erik will be writing on two issues near and dear to his heart: fixed mass transit and re-focused economic development in the central city area.

Check back here every weekday for Erik's thoughts.

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Post No. 5

Michigan from Coast to Underrated Coast

I was born in Kalamazoo and raised a short distance away in the small town of Plainwell. My childhood home was a short drive from Lake Michigan’s beautiful coastline. 

In grade school, I learned to memorize each of the lakes using the expression HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).  Sadly, it was not until I was an adult that I began to fully realize that our state is literally surrounded on all sides by these mammoth, natural wonders. 

It occurred to me that other states lacked what we had been given as I traveled the country more and more.  So often, Chicago gets described as the beautiful city on the big lake when that big lake is more ours than theirs. 

In fact, most of the nation either does not link Michigan with the lakes or does not realize their size and scope; not to mention their beautiful beaches.  A few years ago, a friend from California actually asked me if I had ever swam across the lake. 

In these tough economic times, perhaps we ought to rethink how we market our state by using the lakes to tell a story of who we are and where we are going.  Maybe we can finally figure out how to explain our relationship to them to the rest of this natural resource starved nation. 

There ought to be better economic development legislation that could spur more indirect investment in the nearby coastal cities. 

The good news is Detroit has started to transform its riverfront and Traverse City has marketed itself as a resort town for years with its bays.  Local tourism has become Michigan’s second largest industry, but maybe we can make coming to our state in summer a national tradition like visiting Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. 

The fact is, people are not going to figure us out on their own unless we tell them what we have to offer.  To do that, we must embrace our maritime roots from coast to underrated coast. 

Post No. 4

The English D

Baseball is Detroit’s greatest game and the English D is its most notable symbol.  It is known around the world and historically links us to our booming past. 

Baseball, more than other professional sports, is very closely associated with the state of the city for which it makes its home. 

With the recent success of the Tigers, it has become abundantly clear to me that this is a baseball town and probably always has been.

The buzz surrounding this spring training is already at a fever pitch and there is no doubt that getting regular season tickets will be harder to come by than it was even a year ago.

It also says that there is hope for this great city. Spring training is always a chance to make better on last year’s failures.

It always feels good to follow a winner, especially when it is so close to home both literally and figuratively. Welcome back, Detroit fans.

Tomorrow: Michigan from Coast to Underrated Coast

Post No. 3

What We Can Learn from Hamtramck

Some parts of Michigan are growing in population, but very few. Some of the places that are may surprise you. 

Southwest Detroit, Dearborn and most importantly Hamtramck, are three of the places in our great state that are growing. As a matter of fact, Hamtramck has grown almost 7,000 people since the 1990 census. That is an increase of nearly twenty eight percent.  Hamtramck’s growth, like its urban counterparts in southwest Detroit and Dearborn, has come mostly as a result of immigration.

There is a difference between population growth in Macomb and population growth in Hamtramck. Macomb population growth represents those people moving farther and farther from the core of the region.

They are not attracting new residents to southeast Michigan and they are a product of sprawl.

In contrast, Hamtramck population growth is almost exclusively because of new residents moving to the state from other countries or regions; twenty six to be exact. There are twenty six distinct nationalities--now nearly 25,000 people-- in Hamtramck. All residing inside 2.2 square miles.

Hamtramck is an immigration hotbed and should serve as a model for how diverse groups of people can live together in a structurally dense, urban area.

Tomorrow: The English D

Post No. 2

Hello to the Michigan Cities

Politics aside, Governor Granholm is right; our cities must be the bedrock of our state’s rebirth. 

We will not revive our state’s economy with a silver bullet approach, luring jobs away from places like Ohio or Indiana. It must be because we have the best cities and as you would expect, a better quality of life. 

As I look out over the way our state economy has bottomed out in the latter part of the 20th century and today, I see a place that has disinvested in its core communities by systematically allowing sprawl.  More importantly than our reliance on the auto industry, our cities have been assigned such a negative stigma over the last fifty years that, as they have suffered, so has the whole of our state. 

Without strong quality of life policies, we have not become the magnet for investment or population growth that others have. Years of shortsighted leadership have led us down the wrong path and into the mess we are in today. 

Luckily, just as there are problems, there are solutions. 

In particular, there are two major areas we should be focusing on today: (1) better land development policies and (2) a greater focus on quality of life indicators in cities across the state.

For those who define things in terms of the market, it is pretty simple; think of our cities as though we were running in direct competition with cities around the world.  The region’s businesses are already competing in the global marketplace, but our cities, measured by quality of life, are not.  Our cities should behave more like a business would and benchmark themselves against competing urban centers.

For example, if Chicago ranks higher on the quality of life index than Detroit, then Detroit should identify what they are doing right and duplicate it.  Mass transit is an obvious difference, but what about land use?  It just so happens that Chicago actively promotes building density while Detroit as a whole, does not.  We live in one of the most sprawling cities in the nation.  Maybe that is why you still hear people in the suburbs disavow any association with the city... as if it were a badge of honor. 

Take it from me, it is not productive to bash Detroit or brag to visitors that the most famous city in Michigan is an insignificant place.  It is certainly not in the best interest of the businesses we have competing for clients, talent and investment. 

Creative, entrepreneurial-minded people are the best asset any state has, but getting more of them to come to our state will not happen unless we create the kind of environment they want to live in. 

The framework for our state’s success has been laid out for us in places like Chicago.  We must now capitalize on the assets we already have and begin to invest in long-term strategies that change our land use methodologies and drastically improve the quality of life standards that everything is now measured by.  That should be a goal everyone strives for, regardless of where they live in our state.  

Monday: What We Can Learn from Hamtramck

Post No. 1

An Effective Mass Transit System for Detroit
is Plain and Simple Common Sense

For many in our region it is plain and simple common sense to believe like I do, that Detroit represents far more than most people realize to our state, region and country. It is the perfect example of potential unfulfilled.

The recent focus on new economic development projects addresses only half of the equation. The population of Metropolitan Detroit is the ninth largest in the nation and yet it is the largest city in the nation without an effective mass transit system.

Such a system must be a top priority because it can spur unprecedented growth and can promote and connect more significant redevelopment projects. It will also allow for greater access and circulation to downtown Detroit along with employment centers like Troy, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Southfield. 

Effective mass transit generates jobs and results in an economic return on the public’s investment. In other major metropolitan areas, spin off investments as a result of fixed mass transit far exceeded the cost.

St. Louis, a city once known for blight and crime, built a light rail system, turning itself into a magnet for new investment. Dallas, a city more sprawled than Detroit, built a light rail system in the late 1990’s despite the same criticisms we see here and has seen property within walking distance to the transit stations increase in value one hundred times over. 

Mass transit serves as a vital tool for getting people in need out of their unreliable or nonexistent cars and to their jobs in the city or suburbs. It reduces the fiscal burden on government by limiting the subsidy applied to building and maintaining roads (which, by the way, is far more expensive than any such system). It relieves traffic congestion and improves business productivity. 

And last, but not least, an effective mass transit system will help reduce the region’s energy consumption and ensure we meet clean air standards. 

The vast majority of us; rich and poor, black and white, city and suburb, are now ready for such a system. Sadly, very few of the region’s power brokers are on the same page.

In the Internet age, employees have the option to live and work anywhere. They make this decision based on quality of life factors. An effective mass transit system is one of the tools we can use to get back the college graduates we have been losing for the last thirty years to Chicago, New York and Boston.

Tomorrow: Hello to the Michigan Cities

Photograph by Dave Krieger - All Rights Reserved

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