Midland and Flint develop placemaking plans

Midland and Flint are both among the Michigan communities moving forward with placemaking plans that can help guide improvement in their downtowns. 
Even if you haven't heard of the PlacePlans program, you've probably heard of placemaking. It's a new way of looking at urban development that focuses on how a community is used by its members and how to improve the sense of place and community.

Midland and Flint are both making efforts toward better placemaking with the help of the Michigan Municipal League and several other partners, as part of a program called PlacePlans. Recently, the League revealed the extensive plans that chart the course toward better communities for these cities, and the others using PlacePlans--Cadillac, Detroit, Holland, Jackson, Kalamazoo, and Marquette.

"These PlacePlans represent months of work by the League and our partners, but more importantly they attempt to reflect the needs and wants of the local community members," says MML CEO and executive director Dan Gilmartin. "We're excited about the opportunities and possibilities the plans represent in these communities."

In Midland, the PlacePlan focuses strongly on the Midland Farmers Market, in an effort to put the focus of economic development efforts on a walkable downtown area. The process began about a year ago, when the city of Midland was chosen to work with the League, faculty and students from Michigan State University's School of Planning, Design and Construction, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Together, they discussed how to take the market to a new level of opportunity, and expand it to better accommodate the rising demand from both vendors and customers, something the existing location has been having trouble handling. Concept drawings have been made to envision a bigger farmers market, possibly at a new site in Putnam Park.

Expansion at the Midland Farmers Market's current location, along the Tittabawasee River, is somewhat limited in the future, by soil condition and the possibility of flooding. The Putnam Park location, according to the report, would offer more space and also create a link between downtown Midland and the stadium and new East End development.

That's far from the only recommendation; the PlacePlan for Midland also includes ways to build on environmental, cultural and entrepreneurship resources that already exist in order to make connections and strengthen the downtown.

"For us, this PlacePlans work is really the first domino toward a larger downtown revitalization plan," says Brad Kaye, director of planning and community development for the City of Midland. "We intend to take this final report and use that as a springboard for further action and further review toward an overall downtown linkage plan. So this is the first step in the process for us. It's really a kick-start for things to come and we're excited about it."

Midland residents can check out the whole plan online here or, Kaye says a community presentation this month is planned.

In Flint, the conversation is a little bigger, at least geographically. The PlacePlan for Flint is about the Grand Traverse Greenway, a three-mile former railroad line. The city has been working on acquiring the land and creating a biking and walking trail, with Michigan DNR and DOT, which are helping with funding for the land purchase necessary. Flint city planner Kevin Schronce says that purchase is underway and should be wrapped up within a few months.

Community meetings and input were a big part of the beginning of the PlacePlan process here, which also was originally supported by Diplomat Pharmacy and the South Saginaw Task Force.

A design was created that would connect places along the trail, support recreational and safety needs, and best serve both residents and businesses in Flint. The report outlines ways for the Grand Traverse Greenway to intersect major streets, creating trailheads, while both providing access and preserving visibility and safety for walkers, bikers and drivers alike.

"The idea (of) connecting existing trails to the southern portion of the city is truly exciting for our community," says Schronce, who also says the trail plan fits right in with the city's master plan, which included improvements to local transportation, including work on the Grand Traverse Greenway.

"[T]his PlacePlan puts some implementation in place for it actually to happen. It won't be some document that just sits on a shelf somewhere. We'll actually move forward with it," he says. 

To see the whole Flint PlacePlan online, go here.

Gilmartin says another round of PlacePlans will soon be announced in a new group of Michigan communities. 

Kim Eggleston is a freelance writer and editor in Marquette, Michigan. You can find her on Twitter @magdalen13.
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