Rebuilding Prosperous Places in Michigan - Full Report

June 20, 2014
by Mary Beth Graebert, Benjamin Calnin, Tyler Borowy, Mark Wyckoff, John Warbach, Lauren Bretz, Brianna Acker and Jonathan Dworin

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A report detailing the views and values of placemaking in Michigan, the Midwest and the Nation is now available from the MSU Land Policy Institute (LPI). Rebuilding Prosperous Places in Michigan brings together much of the findings from various studies on place-based development and digs even deeper into issues of demand and value. This is the second study that LPI has conducted as part of the “Rebuilding Prosperous Places” initiative. The first study was released in 2012, entitled Building Prosperous Places in Michigan.

This latest report addressed two major questions related to placemaking:

  1. How do citizens view placemaking, both in terms of what value it has for their communities, and what types of “place amenities” they like to have within their neighborhoods?

  2. What economic value does place-based development derive in a neighborhood, as measured by the change in housing prices in places that boast such characteristics as walkability, access to green space and mixed-use developments?

In order to address the first research question, two surveys were conducted. The first survey was conducted on a national scale to determine whether people viewed placemaking as a positive economic development tool, what amenities they currently have in their neighborhoods or communities, what they would like to have, and whether the type or quality of an amenity (such as a grocery store, restaurant or park) factored into their desire to have that amenity in their neighborhood. The second survey focused on households in Midwest cities to gather valuable information about what amenities Midwest urban residents want in their neighborhoods. The survey was conducted in six Michigan cities (Lansing, Royal Oak, Traverse City, Kalamazoo, Flint and Grand Rapids) and in five Midwest cities (Davenport, IA; Rochester, MN; Lakewood, OH; Madison, WI; and Manitowoc, WI). To address the second research question, a hedonic analysis of residential property prices was conducted to isolate the values of place-based characteristics.

The study found that, at the national level, people believe that there is a connection between placemaking and economic development, as well as between placemaking and quality of life. Their perceptions about whether their neighborhood and community are better places to live now than five years ago appears to be associated with place-based characteristics, such as visual appeal, mixed-use, shopping, social activities, bike lanes or paths/trails, arts and culture experiences and public transportation. People stated that they want a variety of amenities within a 10-minute walk of their home, including neighborhood grocery stores, farmers’ markets, independent local merchants, sandwich shops, coffee shops, parks with multiple uses, libraries, movie cinemas and art fairs.

Despite the apparent support for placemaking, there is still ambivalence about the pros and cons of living in denser, busier communities, particularly among the rural and suburban respondents. Many people indicated a preference for rural and suburban locations, larger lots, suburban parks and a separation of other types of land use from housing. Certain demographics, including young people (age 25 to 34), non-white households and low-income households, are more likely to live in urban areas, whether by choice or necessity. Results support the growing evidence that there are groups of people who prefer highly walkable, mixed-use, green developments with access to a variety of amenities. Because these demographic groups are large and growing, their desires are likely to be influential in downtown revitalization, assuming that they have access to planning and placemaking processes.

In the Midwest, walkability was noted as a preferred neighborhood feature. It is one of the factors that is often involved in people’s decisions to purchase or rent their homes. Many people in these 11 Midwest cities indicated that they walk often (most likely for recreation, as well as to reach destinations) and prefer to walk to destinations that are within a 15-minute walk of their home. Midwest respondents reported that their neighborhoods are fairly walkable for a number of amenities; a majority of people could walk to a school, park, transit stop, grocery store, convenience store, retail store, entertainment venue or eating/drinking establishment in 20 minutes or less.

Across the Midwest cities, close proximity to some amenities, like schools, theatres, bookstores and gift shops, appeared to be positively related to home sale price. In addition, some elements of place-based development, like parks and recreation, shade trees, having great neighbors and a high-quality look and feel of a walk in the neighborhood, also added to home prices in these 11 cities. However, proximity to other amenities, like grocery stores, restaurants, museums and department stores, appeared to be negatively related to home sale price. These results were somewhat surprising since a majority of people surveyed, at least at the national level, indicated a preference for grocery stores, restaurants and museums within walking distance. Altogether, these results suggest that there isn’t likely a “perfect mix” of place amenities that will lead to quality of life and economic improvement in every community.

Based on the results of this placemaking study there are six recommendations for further research, outreach and implementation are proposed:

  1. Move beyond Midwest boundaries to understand and model placemaking.

  2. Discover how form and sociability interact with function to create positive place-based development.

  3. Take a holistic view of the social, economic and environmental impacts of placemaking.

  4. Develop a comprehensive “place” metric or set of metrics.

  5. Conduct target market analysis for the residential and commercial aspects of place.

  6. Define best practices for including people (especially underrepresented populations) in the placemaking process.

While this study does suggest support for placemaking, and for certain place-based characteristics like walkability and green space, it is clear that there remains a need for education about the benefits and process of effective placemaking. The MIplace Partnership Initiative is helping to educate and train the myriad stakeholder groups in Michigan involved in placemaking at the local and regional level. It is also providing resources and technical assistance to Michigan communities to plan and implement placemaking projects, which in turn provides models to other communities. Through these efforts, Michigan can achieve downtown—or urban core—places that have good function and form, generate social activity, evoke positive feelings among residents and visitors, and attract and retain the knowledge and creative resources necessary to a thriving economy.

Questions regarding this study should be sent to Mary Beth Graebert, LPI’s Associate Director for Programs and Operations, at.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 517.355.3378.

This initiative was made possible by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Michigan Association of Realtors.