Spruce-up pays off: Placemaking can create economic development

Vanessa Dietz/Daily Mining Gazette L’Anse Village Manager Bob LaFave talked about some of the placemaking activities going on at a regional roundtable hosted by the Baraga County Chamber of Commerce.

L’ANSE — Finding ways to make your town more attractive is a new economic innovation known as placemaking.

“Placemaking is the process of creating quality space,” said Brad Neumann, MSU Extension Government and Public Policy educator. “If things are right, you come out with a positive response.”

Getting there doesn’t have to take a large, coordinated effort to have an immediate effect.

“Small, little projects can really turn a community around,” said Scott MacInnes, Michigan Municipal League Upper Peninsula field representative. “It inspires people.”

MacInnes, the former Houghton city manager, said continued efforts to spruce up the waterfront, downtown businesses and public spaces have been key to luring people to town.

“We think that’s the best way to attract people to your community,” he said.

Neumann said the effort pays off.

“Talented people are mobile,” Neumann said. “They will go where they can have a high quality of life. Creative placemaking…brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire and be inspired.”

Neumann said the process is a recipe for a whirlwind of growth: talented people will move to town to live and work, businesses need talented people, and a community needs businesses.

“Sense of place is really a regional concept,” he said.

Neumann was the moderator of the Regional Roundtable — a quarterly collaborative event of the Western U.P. Chamber Alliance — hosted this time by the Baraga County Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to MacInnes, other speakers were L’Anse Village Manager Bob LaFave and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Assistant CEO Sarah Maki at the roundtable held Thursday at the American Legion in L’Anse.

Both described some promising projects they’ve worked on.

LaFave described downtown developments, including a splash pad that has been a big success, in addition to pocket parks, murals and wi-fi.

“The goal is to get people off the highway and into downtown,” LaFave said, crediting the village council and others who serve on village committees for working together. “It’s definitely been a collaborative effort to get these projects done.”

Maki talked about the new 1.5-mile walking path the tribe is building this year from the Sand Point Lighthouse near the Ojibwa Campground to the Baraga Village Marina, and her hopes it will continue around Keweenaw Bay to L’Anse and beyond, joining the communities where so many tribal members live.

“I could see people out walking, jogging, riding their bikes,” Maki said of the tribe’s collaborative effort with both villages and state agencies, noting the trail could also head out from Assinins to Houghton someday. “Some people go just for trails. I can see that as being a really strong tourism drive.”

In addition to MML publications, the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute offers a guide for anyone interested in finding out more about the intricacies of placemaking.