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Economic comeback tied to sustainable communities

June 6, 2011
By YANAN CHEN , Special to the Journal

LANSING-Sustainable communities will be a hot topic in the next 50 years, according to a coalition of environmental groups.

That movement will include activities such as the East Stadium Bridges Improvement Project in Ann Arbor, a new master plan in Grand Traverse County and a job training plan in Southeast Michigan.

The long-term vision outlined by the Michigan Environmental Council includes energy, water, great cities, sustainable communities, transportation, agriculture and natural resources.

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Sustainable communities are designed to minimize transportation costs, support local businesses and schools, eliminate waste and produce more local food and renewable energy, said Hugh McDiarmid, the council's communications director.

Different regions will pursue their own ways to reach those goals, he said.

In Ann Arbor, the replacement of two East Stadium Boulevard bridges is the city's priority project to build a sustainable community, according to Michael Nearing, the senior project manager.

The bridges, built in 1928, are one-quarter mile from University of Michigan's football stadium and Crisler Arena and near a high school and two middle schools.

"The bridges are functionally obsolete and structurally deficient," Nearing, a city engineer said. "They only have one lane in each direction."

After replacement, the new bridges will have two lanes in each direction, plus bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

Construction of the $23 million project is scheduled to begin in October and be completed by November 2012, Nearing said. The project will help local business and better connect U-M and other schools with residential and commercial areas.

In Grand Traverse County, the sustainable community plan has four parts: a housing information inventory and analysis, a new county master plan, revitalization plans for five corridors and development of an affordable housing trust fund.

John Sych, the director of the county's Planning and Development Department, said, "People want development to occur in rural places, so this project makes that happened. And this plan will provide affordable housing for people to live and work.

"The biggest challenge we face is to get support from everybody," Sych said, because the citizens need to be convinced of the program's value.

The project will be done within two years, he said.

Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties, which belong to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), will implement a three-year sustainable community project.

Jennifer Evans, a senior planner with SEMCOG, said, "This project has three comprehensive issues, which focus on educating the workforce, stabilizing neighborhoods and providing livable communities, as well as protecting and restoring the environment."

Components include job training for workers to transition to new jobs and careers, safe streets for all users pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and motorists, more use of green resources and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, according to Evans.

As for difficulties of facing the project, she said, "Getting local communities to focus on the long view is an issue. What we need to do is bring people together."

Elsewhere in the state, the Community Sustainability Partnership in Grand Rapids aims to restore environmental integrity, improve economic prosperity and promote social equity, according to the partnership.

In Marquette, the Sustainable Community Ad-Hoc Committee says it focuses on preserving the environment and cutting energy consumption.

In Muskegon, the sustainability of community is embodied in controlling urban sprawl, revitalizing urban centers and strengthening population centers, according to Muskegon Sustainability Coalition.

 
 

 

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