Planning for the City of Midland's future

When delving into the reams of information included in the City of Midland Comprehensive Master Plan web site, one quickly sees that planning for the future is really gaining a vision from lessons in history, a repackaging of good ideas in a new way so that they work in a modern world.
Jacob Kain is the City of Midland's Planning and Community Development director.
So believes Jacob Kain, Midland’s new Planning and Community Development director, spirited away from Mt. Pleasant seven months ago when he heard about the “clever” way the city was marketing its history, and the enthusiasm with which its residents began working toward the plan goals.

No stranger to comprehensive plans, Kain worked previously on ones in Mount Pleasant and in Gainesville, Fla., where he attended college. He saw opportunity in Midland.

City officials wrote when the current plan was launched, “The city has a rich history of mid-twentieth-century modernism in architecture, culture, and design. While mid-twentieth century modernism provided this name, this new comprehensive master planning process provides an opportunity for the community to determine what the modern vision will be for the middle part of the current century.”

Hence, the brand “City Modern” brand Kain noticed, and which hopefully will be the city the  “City of Modern Explorers” sought in parts of two centuries, and is still seeking in a third - a city that works in its time. 

“I saw it as an opportunity,” he said as we sat down over coffee Tuesday morning as the rain threatened outside Espresso Milano downtown. Initially planned for a launch in 2021, the master plan’s movement fell victim to the twin plagues of pandemic and the bursting of the Tittabawassee River dam system. “It is an opportunity to get things rolling again,… and crystallize the priorities of the community to benefit residents.”

With an outline in place, city staff and the Midland Planning Commission are now engaging  citizens, gaining ideas from all ages and walks of life.

The last master plan, with input from 2006’s “Meeting in a Box” concept, was adopted in 2007.  It was developed just as Dow Diamond took the place of the 47 Building, The Dow Chemical Co.’s main employee clock room, at the end of Main Street. The City Center concept has replaced, for all intents and purposes, the Circle as a linear business area.

The City Modern plan will rely on input from last year’s and the next six months of  meetings, and city staff will meet Midlanders, as Kain says, “where people are, neutral ground, where the best conservations occur.”

Pop-Up Studios have and will continue to take place, Kain says, to discuss transportation, neighborhoods and sustainability and all the disciplines that overlap the three main areas. A listing of events already planned for the next two weeks  can be found at The next Pop-Up Studio is Friday, Jan. 20, from noon until 1 p.m. at Senior Services of Midland County, 4700 Dublin Avenue. An Open House will be held on Thursday, Feb. 2, at the Greater Midland Community Center.

In addition, there are numerous reports on land values, housing, transportation plans, mobility plans for recreational users and disability services alike on the web site for what Kain refers to as “shallow divers and deep divers” alike.

Kain notes that ideas are welcomed from as many places as possible, including school students,  and the city is excited about reviving the “Meeting in a Box” concept so that all will have information on how they can contribute from where they are. To find information on the concept, contact the city 989 837-3374, or Email:

Kain says that ideas brought forth in this plan are extremely timely. Although, as the Urban 3 Analysis, an economic report contracted by the city,  has shown, Midland’s population has remained relatively constant over the last two decades, compared to its neighbors.

It has the potential, however,  to become the most-populous city in the Great Lakes Bay region and the fifth largest city in land area in the state.

He says these facts have their own set of positives and negatives, but are due to two main factors - steady population growth over time and the city’s unique land annexation process, or Midland Urban Growth Area, which basically states that adjacent land in need of services must annex or negotiate with the City to obtain  city services. 

Urban3 notes since the city was founded in  1887, development was sporadic, creating “neighborhoods, business districts, and industrial areas being spread out far from one another.”

A takeaway from the analysis is that the City Modern has the ability to use its history to “Continue working towards future visions. "Urban3’s projections were built off the themes identified in the early work of the City Modern master planning process, which included mixed use neighborhoods, improved corridor development, and equitable development in historically under-invested areas of the city. Our analysis shows that even small scale changes could add significant value to Midland. These projections will help city planners understand how different developments impact a city’s ability to generate revenueUrban3’s projections were built off the themes identified in the early work of the City Modern master planning process, which included mixed use neighborhoods, improved corridor development, and equitable development in historically under-invested areas of the city’s ability to generate revenue.

This plan, Kain says, will look at integrated systems, and how best this living planning can serve residents of the mid-21st century, “using what we are learning today to produce a city that is as vibrant and vital as the Midland we know today.”

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Read more articles by Ralph E. Wirtz.

Ralph E. Wirtz is a native Midlander who retired from the Midland Daily News as a managing editor in 2015. He has been freelancing since then in between traveling and volunteering. He has four adult children, all who graduated from Bullock Creek High School as he did. He is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a Central Michigan University grad. He can be reached at