Friday, April 29, 2011

2011-04-29 News


America's transport infrastructure: Life in the slow lane

Turning a Layoff into 'Lemonade' and Now, 'Lemonade: Detroit'

Transportation / Transit / Aerotropolis

Woodward Light Rail: As debate continues, case for center-run rapid transit system remains clear

State Legislature should not cut mass transit (Milwaukee Aerotropolis)

Missouri Senate advances cargo hub incentives

Midwest High Speed Rail Network Could Bring 43 Million Annual Riders, 104,000 New Jobs and Nearly $300 Billion in New Business Sales Over 30 Years

Officials scoff at threat of a toll rate war if 2nd bridge is built

Moroun-commissioned report points to negative impact of a second bridge


U-M economists: Oakland Co. job outlook is looking bright (Video)

Northville and Wayne County's near-$1 million trail to link town and country

Orion supervisor named Oakland County deputy executive for economic development

Detroit / Urban Revitalization

Dave Bing: If the unions don't conceed, he'll request an emergency financial manager|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Why locate your business in core cities like Detroit? 3 Questions backstage with Dan Gilbert

Community Legal Resources expands neighborhood program

Corktown is template for plodding, sustained revitalization in Detroit

Bing initiative tears down 3,000th Detroit vacant home

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing goes to Lansing, asks legislators to revisit laws, raise casino tax

Two-mile extension to Conner Creek Greenway opens

State Policy & Politics

Editorial: No new taxes

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's tax changes pass state House, headed to Senate|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Reactions mixed to state House approval of tax reform package

Fiscal 'radar' helps cities chart finances

Michigan House passes business tax cut, levy on pensions

Business / Energy / Auto 2.0

Michigan's small businesses growing and earning praise|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

Technology Puts Detroit Back on Top

MEDC solicits proposals for helping entrepreneurs

Smart Growth / Sustainability

Home tweet home: Twitter chooses the city over sprawl

Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America

How Not to Plan for the Future

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Regionalism - Open Source Food for Thought

I developed this schematic to outline all the regional players in economic development and planning in Metro Detroit. While the Governor may have his own idea for how to bring the many entities in our region together behind a comprehensive plan for economic growth and sustainability, I thought I would take a shot at it anyway. Of course not every stakeholder is captured in this schematic, so I apologize and encourage you to speak up in the comments area if you see a group that is missing.

2011-04-28 News


In Defense of Robust Cities

Transportation / Transit / Aerotropolis

Woodward rail project held up because of usage disputes|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Michigan can build on new bridge deal

Guest commentary: New public Detroit River bridge would be unconstitutional|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

Atlanta's International Arbitration Initiative (Aerotropolis)

Troy to rework plans after Birmingham kills decade-old idea to build $10M transit station

Aerotropolis China air cargo plan (St. Louis)

Cargo hub tax credits stirring debate (St. Louis)

Estimate of Potential Economic Impact Associated with“Aerotropolis” Legislation and an International FreightHub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport

Collaboration is Key for Memphis to Remain Competitive

Business / Energy / Auto 2.0

Small firms are growing for Michigan|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

Startups stirring in Corktown

Hope for Michigan businesses? One word: Exports

Obama: Investing in Detroit automotive industry, advanced battery technology can lower gas prices

For solar, ‘Ontario is the California of Canada’

Ford brings hybrid technology in-house

A Second Life for the Electric Car Battery

Forecast: Green car sales face limits

GM Could Produce Volt Hybrid Car In S Korea If Demand Surges

Calif. highways could be source of green energy

Corporate America's Relationship With China Worries Small Business

State / National Policy & Politics

IMF Bombshell: Age of America Nears End

How Do You Fix the Hollowing Out of America’s Middle Class?

Former Mich. gov encourages Ohio leaders to push clean energy agenda as way to boost economy

Editorial: Why Michigan shouldn't prohibit off-shore wind farms

Snyder's tax plan for Michigan clears first hurdle

President Obama Faces Questions From Michigan

Statewide Initiative Enlists Legislators to Boost Support for Affordable Housing and Community Development Projects

Tap natural gas for energy

Phil Power: Handle political conflict like adults

Detroit / Urban Revitalization

Will Detroit use vacant lots to grow weeds for biofuel?

Don't count on $85 million revenue, Detroit City Council is told

Detroit adds two neighborhoods to program that will put officers in renovated homes|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Students fight to save innovative garden-based public school in Detroit


Metro Detroit's Institutes Of Greener Learning

Locals lobby hard in D.C.

Revamped Detroit water board gets down to business today|head

Macomb County's chief grapples with $13.5M deficit$13.5M-deficit

Editorial: Lawmakers for sale, and Matty Moroun is buying too many too easily|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

Solar-powered: Novi business' transformation has it thriving despite tough economic times

‘Dining in the D’ films 10 episodes

Ex-assistant says Wayne County clerk fired him over gun permit questions|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

Sustainability / Smart Growth

At Oregon gym, you burn calories, move electrons

County Executive extols importance of light-rail in county's future vision

Don't send runoff down the storm drain

What Does Public Transportation Say About The Community It Serves?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2011-04-26 News


If you make it here, you can make it anywhere: Detroit creates new ways to live large

PBS examines Detroit's right-sizing efforts

There's Something For Everyone in Downtown Detroit

Transportation / Transit

Tax-free fuel sales are bonanza for Ambassador Bridge owners|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

There are big names on both sides of the bridge debate

After years of planning, Birmingham pulls out of transit plan with Troy|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

OTHER VOICES: Michigan can build on new bridge deal

A historical look at subsidizing railroads

Bullet trains
Time to enter 21st century

Greg Lindsay - Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next

AATA Speaks Volumes on Draft Transit Plan

People Mover steps up advertising presence

Detroit / Urban Development

Detroit overstaffed compared to other cities

World's Most Underrated Cities - Detroit

Detroit council invites public to speak on mayor Dave Bing's budget plan

Bing's bet on casino tax hike: Win for state, win for Detroit

The word is getting out: Arts can help cities climb back|newswell|text|Home|p

"Subtracted Cities"

Detroit council members oppose giving Bing more power

Taking root: Just in time for growing season, we begin series on urban farming in the D

Who "allegedly" owns the Packard Plant?

Business / Energy / Auto 2.0

Five business models to boost electric cars

Revitalizing Innovation in Michigan for Clean Energy Manufacturing

Trust responsible for abandoned GM properties makes redevelopment of the sites a priority

Most powerful millimeter-scale energy harvester generates electricity from vibrations

Human Capital Follows the Thermometer

Sachse Construction to open office in downtown Detroit, where it has lots of work

'Value cars' replace bare-bones bottom-feeders

Wanted: Young commercial real estate brokers in Detroit area

Invest Detroit's First Step Fund invests in 9 more start-ups

Venture for America to launch out of Detroit this summer


Harper Woods proposal seeks to merge police, fire

Public Pensions, Once Off Limits, Face Budget Cuts

Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac conference to be broadcast

Orion Township supervisor gets new county executive post|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

State / Policy / Politics

Snyder urges lawmakers to wait on expected revenue surplus

Editorial: Amend emergency manager law to ease bond sales

Muskegon County Airport land to be used to grow bioenergy crops

DTE wins $107M electricity rate hike

Electric-car fee points up road-funding dilemma|newswell|text|Frontpage|s

Sustainability / Smart Growth

The collapse of the "key assumptions" of sprawl

Shaping the City: Seeking a new template for truly smart growth

The decline of the tacky strip mall

While Congress Stalls, New York City Pushes Sustainability

How History Killed the Suburb

What America Looks Like

Open letter to a conservative climate change convert

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reacting to the Governor’s Government Reform Proposals (Part 2)

Even though Michiganders had the opportunity to reverse the legacy of home rule by rewriting the Constitution last fall, the measure did not pass, and the job of mitigating these consequences have now fallen into the hands of Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature. On March 21st, 2011, the Governor outlined some of his proposals in a special message to the Michigan Legislature. The reforms outlined by the governor include:
  • Greater regional and public-private cooperation in economic and community development.
  • Incentivizing local government transparency, performance measurement, and intergovernmental cooperation through State revenue sharing mechanisms.
  • Local government coordination and cooperation through existing Michigan statutes like the Urban Cooperation Act, the Intergovernmental Transfer of Functions and Responsibilities Act, the Metropolitan Councils Act and the Emergency Services to Municipalities Act.
  • Government consolidation through legislation that leads to the formation of Metropolitan government.
  • Provisions that will eliminate barriers in renegotiating collective bargaining agreements with government workers, and eliminating minimum staffing requirements.
In this author’s opinion, all of these measures make sense given the severity of the financial situation that our region faces. Our state must reform itself or we will all suffer. Greater public-private cooperation is absolutely necessary and should be institutionalized further through incentives to private companies that deliver public services in an open and transparent manner.

The Governor’s reform proposals may mitigate many of the effects of home rule outlined above, however it’s not clear that these reforms will completely eliminate the ongoing negative effects of home rule. While it may be difficult to think of empowering our state to force government consolidation upon our local units, particularly in light of our state government’s in ability to address its own financial issues, this may be necessary if several local governments fall into financial receivership. Our state may event want to take away the power for local governments to form on their own without approval by the Michigan Legislature or the Governor.

And while it may frighten some to think about creating a Metropolitan government that supercedes or replaces our county or local units, this may be the only way we are able to deliver services efficiently and compete as a region with other regions. At the very least, it will force our region’s elected leaders to think regionally instead of looking at their neighboring governments as competitors for jobs and residents. The cities of Louisville, Indianapolis, and Denver have shown that it can be done, and while it may take a lot of time and exploration, we cannot simply reject the idea as politically unfeasible. We already act regionally in how we commute to jobs and access shopping and entertainment, so why not explore ways to truly institutionalize our regionalism? No matter what, we owe it to the future residents of this state to explore this idea.

Regional, not Local, Self-Determination

Governor Snyder was smart to incentivize intergovernmental cooperation with the promise of enhanced revenue sharing from the State of Michigan, but he should consider taking these incentives a step further. For example, the city-county of Denver and its neighboring counties are raising a .4 cent sales tax (that’s 5 cents for every $10 dollars spent) to build a mass transit system that will serve as a regional asset for decades to come. The sales tax was approved through a referendum and will only remain as long as it takes to complete and sustain the project.

What if, in return for meaningful reform and government consolidation in Michigan, our state would allow two counties to partner to raise a tax to build a shared asset? (For those of you who fear more taxes, just ask yourselves if the City of Chicago’s huge sales tax is discouraging people from shopping on Michigan Avenue, or if it is discouraging young people from flocking there after college).

As individual consumers, we already spend money on a regional level when we go to a sporting event, concert, or go shopping or to dinner. Why not have some of the tax revenue that is already levied on us stay here in this region instead of going up to Lansing? Why should our region (or the Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor regions for that matter) be dependent on the state to finance the assets we need to compete on a national and global level?

The ability to raise a tax other than property taxes on a regional level is the incentive or “carrot” missing from the Governor’s plan. It is the incentive needed to encourage governments to go beyond identifying ways to manage their current assets, by having them focus on building shared assets.

Showing the way

The Governor’s initial government reform proposal is above and beyond anything his predecessors have done so far. He cites several examples of where intergovernmental cooperation has worked, and local governments need to learn from those cases in evaluating their own plan of action. Still, the governor has a long way to go in getting more specific about what locally provided services can and should be consolidated, and what services are better managed the way they are. He must also answer the following:
  • What becomes the role of local councils and mayors if certain services are to be delivered through a merged government structure or metropolitan authority?
  • How will these reforms lead to better land use and transportation decisions?
  • Following the “open source” model promoted so heavily by Mike Finney while at Ann Arbor Spark, how can local governments easily plug into performance measurement, transparency, and learn from best practices of other governments?
  • What kind of grassroots support will the Governor provide to communities who want to explore service sharing and/or merging / consolidation? Will the Governor’s Office publish a guide for local governments to follow when exploring and evaluating the feasibility of consolidation?
  • What is the role of the Michigan Municipal League, Citizens Research Council of Michigan, Center for Michigan, and Michigan Association of Counties in this process?
The Governor’s task isn’t too dissimilar to Mayor Dave Bing’s task of developing a comprehensive plan for Detroit through the Detroit Works Project. Snyder must engage communities at the grassroots level in order to gain the trust of the citizens and their elected officials. Without such engagement and without providing answers to the pressing questions above, he will continue to receive reactions like those from Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano who called the suggestion of metropolitan government “unreasonable” (Detroit News, March 28th, 2011).

At the same time, Snyder needs champions at the local and county level who will be bold and act with a sense of urgency. Instead of discounting the political feasibility of government transformation, locally elected leaders need to take the issue seriously and reach out to their neighboring communities. Our region has waited too long to come together while other regions move forward. A legacy of inaction is an opportunity for bold leadership, and our elected leaders owe it to our citizens to put past political differences and failures behind them for the sake of the future of our region and state.

Ending on a personal note…

I turned 31 years old the other day. I chose to stay here in Michigan after graduate school to make a difference in the public arena, and I hope that during my career transition, I have left something of value in that arena. I still feel a sense of obligation to do more than just write about policy, and I hope that I will someday make an impact in the policy arena again. In the meantime, this blog will be my periodic outlet for staying in the game.

A few months ago, I saw a friend who has moved to California but whose heart remains here. Like many of my friends who have moved away, I asked him when he’s coming back. The usual response is “when Michigan gets it [bleep] together.”

Well, here’s a chance. Let’s not waste it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Home Rule and Governor Snyder’s Monumental Challenge (Part 1)

When the average Michigan citizen hears the term “home rule,” they probably think you are talking about a method of raising and educating your children. Yet, if you are a local mayor or supervisor, or sit on a city council or board of commissioners, you know a lot more about what “home rule” means than the average citizen.

“Home rule” is term used to describe the strong powers of local units of government vis-à-vis the State of Michigan as outlined in Public Act 279 of 1909. In essence, the act empowers local self-determination in the formation of government instead of the Michigan Legislature playing the primary role in creating subunits of government. This means that if you and the folks on your block wanted to create your own unit of local government, you essentially could as long as you met certain criteria.

Home rule not only entails the delegation of functions like law enforcement and education to local units of governments, but it also means that zoning and planning (what land can be used for and where development should go) are all performed at the local level. In the past, “home rule” has taken almost a corporate governance model, most notably when Henry Ford incorporated the City of Highland Park to protect the interests of his automobile plant. Surrounded entirely by the City of Detroit, Highland Park formed its own government structures, educational systems, and police forces.

In general, home rule translates into decentralized government within Michigan. The logic behind decentralization it isn’t too dissimilar to when our nation’s founding fathers wrote the Articles of Confederation. Not long after their adoption, our founding fathers realized that too much decentralization put the nation as a whole at risk, particularly when it came to raising funds for a national army. The Articles were eventually replaced by the U.S. Constitution, which enhanced the powers of the federal government vis-à-vis the states.

While Michigan doesn’t have to worry about raising a standing army to defend itself against other states, there are parallels between the failures of the Articles of Confederation and the negative impact of unchecked home rule in Michigan. While we certainly should be skeptical of too much centralized power within Lansing, particularly given our elected leader’s inability to handle the many booms and busts of our state’s economy, we cannot place the blame solely on our elected leaders. Instead, it is important to look at the specific negative consequences of home rule (unchecked government decentralization) in Michigan.

The Consequences of Home Rule

  • Too many local units of government. Wayne County has 43 cities and townships, all with their own mayors and supervisors and their own boards or councils. Many also have their own educational boards. Macomb County has 27 cities, townships, and villages. Oakland County has more than 60 cities, townships, and villages. The amount of bureaucracy, duplication, and overlap of services and infrastructure is economically inefficient. While some regions in the U.S. have simply absorbed their suburbs and expanded the geographic scope of their central cities, Detroit did not, and it’s pretty clear that most suburbs in Metro Detroit are not about to take on Detroit’s huge challenges. Governor Snyder has suggested merging local governments, and he has even offered enhanced State revenue sharing as an incentive to do so. Yet, it is difficult to undo what has already been done in terms of local government formation under home rule, and it may be especially unattractive if you are a locally-elected official or worker at risk of losing your position of authority.

  • Relatively weak county government when compared to counties or parishes in other states. While some might view this as a good thing, weak county government can hinder the organic development of dynamic urban-suburban / metropolitan regions like Metro Detroit. While some cities like Louisville, Indianapolis, and Denver have remedied this by forming combined city-county governments, it’s not clear that there is a political will to do this in Wayne, Oakland, or Macomb Counties. It will probably take a combination of rock-bottom financial conditions and a bold leader who can transcend geopolitical boundaries to make this a reality. In the meantime, county government in Michigan remains little more than super local governments with specific responsibilities but limited powers.

  • Uncoordinated land use and transportation planning. Home rule institutionalizes planning and zoning as a function performed at the local level. This means you can build what you want within the boundaries of your city without really having to consult with your neighboring city. So even if one city has upscale homes on one side of a street, another city could build a factory on the other side of the street. Uncoordinated planning has resulted in inefficient use of land, equalized property values (instead of property values that reflect proximity to things like jobs, shopping and services), and urban sprawl.

  • Urban Sprawl. Urban sprawl entails low-density development and an excess amount of infrastructure to support our population. We have too many 4 and 6 lane roads, many of which are underutilized, and we have large tracts of land that have been abandoned, particularly in the City of Detroit. We have a lot of one-story strip malls, road corridors that are not designated for either commercial use (slower traffic) or simply for the just the movement of people (thru traffic), and we have no real fixed right-of –way transit system that operates on a regional level. Only federally mandated legislation, which led to the formation of SEMCOG, has acted with any check on urban sprawl in our region.

Put together, these individual effects of Michigan home rule have resulted in a collective challenge of finding a way to financially support our region and its economy. Our local governments and our counties are struggling to maintain services for their citizens. If you take it a step further, when there are so few resources to support what we already created (like our crumbling roads), how are we going to build the assets needed to compete on a national or global level?

My reactions to the Governor’s specific reform proposals can be found in Part 2.