Reflecting on a year’s worth of accomplishments for an organization of community organizers and policy advocates reminds me of the challenge of measuring our progress.
The Michigan Land Use Institute strives to make systemic changes within very complex systems – community growth and development, food and farming, and energy – so it is not surprising that progress can be difficult to measure within the span of a single year.
Building community support for policy reform within bureaucracies is long-term work. Our strategy is to both create conditions for success through education, partnering and community organizing, and seize opportunities that come along. And while we realize that most community goals will take many years to realize, at our core MLUI is about the business of accelerating that timeline.
With that long view in mind, here are some key highlights from our three program areas in 2011:
Nearly six years ago MLUI transitioned from successfully fighting to stop a new bridge over the Boardman River south of Traverse City to organizing a Grand Vision process that allowed citizens to select a preferred regional growth strategy. Those investments are beginning to pay off with impressive evidence of the institutional change that citizens want to see.
MLUI is partnering directly with two of the region’s most important institutions to help administer Grand Vision implementation activities. Rotary Charities of Traverse City is managing Grand Vision outreach, communications and events to ensure that citizens are able to track progress toward their vision.
The regional planning division of the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments is now working to increase investment and development in the region’s cities and villages, and transportation options by providing mini-grants for placemaking activities with funds that MLUI helped secure. Recently the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments leveraged a three-year federal Sustainable Communities grant that will help local governments adopt local master plans and zoning ordinances that align with the citizen’s Grand Vision – thus making the Vision for smarter growth the official land use policy.
MLUI has remained highly focused on introducing transportation options to the old-school solutions of simply building more roads. Our 2009 report, titled, “Expanding Transportation Options of the Grand Traverse Region,” introduced recommendations that have recently been endorsed by the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) in a transit service improvement study.
Newest MLUI employee James Bruckbauer brings tremendous enthusiasm for all public transportation options, including walking, biking, public buses and passenger rail to the region. He is actively engaged in statewide transportation policy advocacy through a new coalition that MLUI has helped launch called Trans4M – Transportation for Michigan.
Journalist Glenn Puit and senior editor Jim Dulzo did a remarkable job describing how low-income Families on the Edge will benefit from policy recommendations that align with Grand Vision principles around food, transportation, housing and energy policies. These efforts also highlight the good work of the regional Traverse Bay Poverty Reduction Initiative.
Food & Farming
Launched nearly a decade ago, this flagship program continues to generate overwhelming community support for a goal of doubling the value of the region’s food system and increasing its resilience. This past year we saw tangible evidence of that support when more than 500 people packed Traverse City’s State Theatre to hear author Oran Hesterman speak about his book Fair Food.
Similarly, we catalyzed an outpouring of community support for the Double Up Food Bucks program goal to raise $50,000 locally to match Fair Food Foundation funding that will allow low-income families to double the value of their Bridge Card (food stamps) when purchasing fresh, local food at area farmers markets.
We continue to enhance our broadly supported Taste the Local Difference food marketing program that includes a regional food guide and summer food celebration. This year we are adding a winter food celebration, and biographies of area farmers to help market the appeal of getting to know the people who are growing our food.
And, we are expanding efforts to bring healthy, local food into school cafeterias by bringing two Food Corps volunteers to the region. Both of these dynamic, dedicated young activists are creating curricula and programming to increase awareness and demand for food in area schools.
This year we began efforts to scale up the infrastructure necessary to support larger food buyers and growers. By convening the Grand Vision’s Food & Farming Network we continue to advance programs that will rebuild the local food system, including training farmers through our Get Farming Workshops.
MLUI was founded on the principle that if land use policy were aimed at sustainability, the environment would be better protected. While we support and work with our strong environmental partners, MLUI is now highly focused on moving Michigan into a green energy future. And while stopping dirty coal plants and supporting clean energy alternatives are all a part of the equation, are all part of the equation, we are determined to put our primary focus on increasing energy efficiency.
This past year we demonstrated that commitment by partnering with SEEDS and the City of Traverse City on a Better Buildings for Michigan project. Called “TC Saves,” this campaign is targeting 200 homeowners in two Traverse City neighborhoods, encouraging them to invest in energy efficiency. The project will extend well beyond the two neighborhoods by establishing an enduring core of private-sector efficiency experts that can assist homeowners with efficiency decisions.
We are thrilled with the early results, and will be leveraging this work in 2012 with a broader public campaign and new tools to support both residential and commercial efficiency projects.
Jim Lively is the program director for The Michigan Land Use Institute.