Since beginning work at the MML some 8 years ago, I have always marked the official start of summer by the annual trip to visit members in the Upper Peninsula through our Region 7 meeting. Always an anticipated event not just because of the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the UP and the hospitality of local officials in the region, but also because it means a road trip with colleagues and an opportunity to relive such events of years gone by.
This year was no different as we rolled our way across the bridge to Bessemer in the far western UP. Ten hours in a car with family, let alone co-workers, is a challenge at any point in time, but this year was made easier by the outstanding weather, scenery and of course the company.
And as is the case with any of the League’s meetings, there was a lot of listening and learning from each other and presenters. I was even given the opportunity to present on the League’s place-based strategies with a focus on the MIPlace Partnership Initiative. However, what I hoped would be an uplifting session was in the end as challenging as any I’ve given, having forgotten the golden rule of presentations…know thy audience.
It hit me during the question and answers session. A councilman spoke to thank me for the session, since it made clear for him that he did not want his community becoming anything like those I had spoken of. Having lived in larger communities downstate, he was now very satisfied being in a small town that offered amenities more in tune with a family lifestyle than with that of attracting a young and talented workforce.
As we talked, I noted that at the end of the day it is up to the local community and its leaders to figure out who they are and what they want to be. And as I thought about our discussion later and talked with colleagues, I realized that what I should have been focusing on was the larger picture of what it means in 21st century terms for local officials to provide a high “quality of life”.
You see, my presentation focused on the latest demographics and market research showing the groups prevalent today and what they’re looking for in a community. And while that is all well and good, what got lost in translation is the fact that the amenities the two largest groups in society today (young people and empty nest baby boomers) are looking for relate back to quality of life not just for them but for all of us.
Attributes such as walkable downtowns and neighborhoods, quality public spaces such as parks, different housing options including mixed-use commercial residential in our downtowns, and transportation options like bike lanes are all part of a broader package of qualities that work to make a community vibrant and resilient, whether you are looking to attract young professionals, families, retirees or all three groups.
This has always been the point of the League’s emphasis on “place” and we are finding it to be true time and again as we uncover successes across the state in communities big and small, urban, rural and suburban. If nothing else, our trip not only again confirmed how geographically large and diverse our state is, it also confirmed that each and every community across the state has something to offer toward providing a high quality of life for residents and visitors alike.