How Marquette became the livable, walkable city to follow

Marquette may not be the first place you think of when it comes to sustainability and placemaking, but you should reconsider. In terms of small cities, it really stands out above the crowd. 
Marquette might not be the go-to example of a sustainable city. That fame is typically reserved for cities like Minneapolis and Boulder, Colorado. But in reality, Marquette has arguably been just as ahead of the game when compared to other American cities, especially of similar size.
Whereas the picturesque image of the small American town has since been bombed out by gas stations, drug stores and obscenely wide thoroughfares that mainly serve to shoo people out of the city, Marquette has managed to mostly maintain its historic character through preservation efforts and strategic placemaking. Today we have a Marquette that continues to redefine itself, creating a new sense of place for its residents and businesses.
Liveable and Walkable
Dennis Stachewicz serves as the Director of Planning and Community Development for the City of Marquette. He walks us through how the Upper Peninsula's most populous city has been able to redefine itself over the years.
"It all started with a comprehensive rewrite of the Community Master Plan in 2004," Stachewicz explains. "At that time, the city was considered to be at a crossroads due to a lengthened shift in the local economy from one primarily of industry to services, such as healthcare and education."
The vision was to make Marquette "the premier livable/walkable winter city in North America."
Their goals included creating and preserving viable and livable neighborhoods, developing a historic and diverse downtown, creating an efficient, functional and connected transportation system, develop a walkable community, foster economic diversity, and promote Marquette's different seasons and natural resources.
For a specific example, Stachewicz turns to infrastructure.
"One early example was the development of a linear parkway along an abandoned rail line that bisects the city," he says. "As simple as it may sound, that linear park became the spine of and the impetus for a walkable community movement, of sorts."
Mona Lang, Executive Director of the Marquette Downtown Development Authority, agrees and offers her own example.
"The tipping point was the redevelopment of the coal yards into the Lower Harbor Park," says Lang. "This began the reorientation of the city and its downtown to the lakefront." She says the city had historically turned its back to the waterfront until the Lower Harbor Park project.
Engaging The Citizenry
While many cities would be happy to return to even a semblance of the walkability displayed in Marquette, Stachewicz has the city marching forward by embracing land use policies that help the creation of a place. That is, someplace people want to be rather than someplace they have to be for work.
"Specific sub area planning efforts have been done for Downtown, South Marquette, and most recently, the Third Street Corridor," he explains. "These planning efforts have led to the development of some progressive land use codes within the zoning ordinance." The land use policies Stachewicz is referring to prioritize the enhancement of public space in business districts and provides a "permissive environment based upon a very hands-on, charrette style planning process that involves the community on the front end."
The result is a transparent, fair process that gives residents and developers what they want. And Lang believes the City of Marquette was ahead of the curve in engaging citizens before "placemaking" and "sense of place" became the model to follow.
"Marquette's vision was and is based on input from its very engaged citizens," she explains. "The community is explicit in how they want their community to look."
Helping along the way have been anchor institutions, like Northern Michigan University and Marquette General Health – institutions that provide sustainable employment and create economic development opportunities. Including these institutions in the City of Marquette's plan has proved instrumental in the city's success. Stachewicz is proud to call them "partners" and asks readers to "stay tuned" for more plans surrounding these anchor institutions.
"In addition, Marquette's downtown has played a significant role in assisting in overall placemaking," Stachewicz continues. "The amenities and variety, coupled with aesthetic and walkable public spaces provides an opportunity not found in many other communities."
Ultimately, Lang believes, success will be measured by "Marquette's ability to continue and sustain the elements that make the community unique and attractive to developers, businesses and residents." That means maintaining relationships with the citizenry and the aforementioned anchor institutions.
But outside cities looking toward Marquette might be curious just how they can achieve Marquette's level of success themselves. Stachewicz offers some insight.
"Embrace community engagement and collaboration," Stachewicz says. "It all starts with discussion. Identify yourself and your strengths. What is your community? How can you leverage existing assets? Identify some goals and recognize that small goals that are achievable, such as benches and lighting in the downtown and along pathways, are sometimes more important in terms of building momentum. They require less effort and are something that the public can see."

Joe Baur is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Cleveland. He's also the Sections Editor of hiVelocity. You can contact him at
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