Sunday, July 12, 2015

The best laid master plans

We have some really amazing municipal plans in this region. So why do we have such crappy municipal planning?

As part of my job I've been reading the master plans for several of the region's townships and cities (I have the coolest job), and I had to do some double takes when I first ran into talk of sustainability and New Urbanism and multimodal transportation. Was this the same metro Detroit that I live in, where I take my life into my hands every time I ride a bike and have to drive forty minutes to and from work every day? Exurb after exurb after exurb, master plans expressed desires to preserve open space and protect natural features, to work collaboratively with regional governments, and to invest in nonmotorized transportation infrastructure - even occasionally in public transit. A couple weeks of this led me to the original question: if the plans are cool, why does reality still stink?

I'm open to answers. Here's what I've thought of so far:

1. Some of the plans are a little older, 2009 or 2010, but some are very recent, even 2014 and 2015. If  a township supervisor just read Suburban Nation, we won't see change overnight.

2. Ideas are great, but money is scarce. The planning departments and commissions, and the consultants who usually help out, are supposed to think big. But even a few miles of paved bike path requires a lot of cash, and there are only so many TAP funds to go around.

3. On a related note, I haven't checked to see how many of the zoning changes suggested in these plans were actually implemented, and in terms of changing land use patterns, that's where it actually matters.

4. A township can't produce a thriving mixed-use village center through sheer force of will. Developers and tenants have to play along, and it might be hard to communicate major policy changes to the market.

5. I was mostly looking at the farther-out suburbs - the White Lake and Ray Townships. These places are in many cases still really trying to fight suburbanization (whether effectively or not), and hang on to their rural character, that ubiquitous phrase. As many regionalists have suggested, they have a natural alliance with cities and inner-ring suburbs who fear sprawling development for its hollowing-out tendencies.

The Southfields and Bloomfields and Troys, however, are deep in their suburban nature and are largely still profiting from it. What's more, they still feel some of the legendary city/suburb tension that more distant areas avoid. Who has city parks restricted to resident use only? It's not Milford, it's Grosse Pointe Park.

Because this is so interesting, I'm going to start a new page here with links to all the most recent municipal master plans that I can find. Feel free to help out!

This was a true conversation between my SO and the attendant at Matthew C. Patterson Park in Grosse Pointe Park:

SO: Hey, we don't have a park permit, is there a way we can still get in?
Park guy: No, you need to have a permit or at least be a resident of Grosse Pointe Park.
SO: Oh...well how can we get a permit?
Park guy: You need to be a resident of Grosse Pointe Park.
SO: Oh.....

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