By: Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue
Amid calls for his resignation, Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder issued repeated apologies this month for his administration’s role in transforming a plan to save money into one of the most dangerous drinking water emergencies in American history.
Yet even as the governor defends himself in the rising political heat of the Flint water crisis, a management fire rages at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency charged with overseeing municipal water quality and safety.
Since 1920, the United States has tracked instances of waterborne disease outbreaks in every state. In 1993, in the worst U.S. public drinking water supply emergency, 403,000 people were sickened and 54 people died following an outbreak of Cryptosporidium in Milwaukee’s water supply, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The source of the protozoan organism, which causes severe gastrointestinal distress, was never conclusively identified. A scientific consensus emerged that the contaminants were carried on melting Lake Michigan ice and livestock manure that flowed into a Milwaukee drinking water treatment plant.
No other instance since 1993 of a waterborne threat from a public drinking water system in the United States is as serious as what is occurring in Flint. The extent of lead contamination and its long-term consequences for Flint citizens, especially for children, are not known.
The contrast between the emergencies in Milwaukee and in Flint is striking. In Milwaukee, the disease-bearing organism slipped into the city’s water and was not recognized until hospitals, schools, employers, and pharmacies reported an unusual number of diarrhea cases. City officials reacted with a “boil water” alert, and changes in water quality monitoring and upstream management.
The Michigan Townships Association (MTA) hosted their annual conference Jan. 19-22, 2016, in Detroit. The 2016 Annual Educational Conference brought together about 1,000 officials for three days of educational and networking experiences. On Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, the MSU Land Policy Institute and MSU Extension partnered to deliver two separate extended sessions on placemaking. Both sessions introduced placemaking and quality places, and then explored the relationship between placemaking and economic development, and what makes quality places. Practical tips on how to apply placemaking in a community, and how to start the process were given along with helpful resources that are available.
The Land Policy Institute’s senior associate director Mark Wyckoff, and director of the Planning & Zoning Center at MSU; and Glenn Pape, extension educator for MSU Extension, presented Strategic Placemaking as an Economic Development Tool in Suburban Townships. The exercises that Wyckoff and Pape facilitated were used to help participants think about how to transform sometimes auto-centric suburbs into more walkable and people-oriented places.
Holly Madill, outreach specialist for LPI; and Dean Solomon, senior educator for MSU Extension, presented Placemaking Projects to Improve Quality of Life in Your Township. The exercises that Madill and Solomon facilitated helped participants think about the interdependence of urban and rural places, and sparked discussion about how to capitalize on unique assets to encourage placemaking projects and activities.
Demographics are changing, markets are changing and communities are changing. Talented workers have skills that are in high demand, and they can live anywhere they want. They will not choose your community unless it is a high-quality place with a lot of amenities. Jobs increasingly locate where there are an abundance of talented workers. Thus, creating a quality place is the first step to talent and job attraction and improved economic competitiveness. But, developers will not build what is needed unless the community makes it easy for them to do so.
Placemaking required to create quality places
Placemaking is the process of creating quality places where people want to live, work, play and learn. There needs to be several quality places in each region for the region to be economically competitive. Creating quality places is a constant process of placemaking that focuses on public spaces and the interface of private spaces with public spaces (building facades, “build-to lines,” height and parking especially).
Barriers: Limited master plans
Most master plans are old or outdated. They are not based on contemporary analysis of demographic changes or informed by recent market trends. They focus primarily on land use and infrastructure and fail to consider urban form and the value of amenities (parks, trails, entertainment venues, well-equipped public spaces, good transit, etc.). In addition, they have no section on placemaking or priorities for public investments, and no clear guidance on plan implementation.
Most of what professionals learn in their careers comes from experience A.K.A. trial and error, either their own or a predecessor. But, for many, this method of learning (although valuable) can have high costs and lasting impacts on their communities. Zoning Administrators (ZA) are the front line for new development or redevelopment in a community, and yet most receive no formal training.
The Zoning Administrator Certificate (ZAC) Program offered by the MSU Land Policy Institute’s Planning & Zoning Center (PZC) is the only course of its kind in Michigan. Designed specifically for all new and current Zoning Administrators, along with private consultants and county planners who consult with local ZAs, this intensive course teaches the fundamentals needed to improve performance, customer service, efficacy of processes and accuracy of information, thereby making the trial-and-error process of learning less burdensome on ZAs and their communities.
Registration for the training is available online, but you must also submit a completed form from the registration brochure to PZC. The course runs Feb. 23-25, 2016, at the Shoreline Inn & Conference Center in Muskegon. There are eight modules (about three hours of instruction, 24 hours total) included in each training program leading to a certificate of completion for those that pass an exam associated with each module.
- Job Description, Responsibilities and Basic Ethics;
- Legal Issues;
- Reviewing Applications: Common Procedures and Use of Forms;
- Reviewing Plot Plans and Site Plans;
- Inspections and Violations;
- Preparing Files, Reports and Record Keeping;
- Interactions with other Professionals and Agencies, and Departmental Duties; and
- Customer Service and Counter Behavior.