The second annual Creative Placemaking Summit, which drew nearly 300 artists, entrepreneurs and community leaders to the Lansing Center last week, featured a diverse slate of presenters from a variety of backgrounds and professions. But from session to session, one topic came up over and over: millennials.
“Millennials are the first generation who will choose place over job,” said Katherine Loflin in the morning’s keynote address. “I don’t see how you could put a finer point on the importance of place for economic development.”
Loflin was lead consultant on the Knight Foundation’s Soul of a Community project, which studied place attachment — how much residents are connected to their community — in 26 cities, including Detroit. The study, which ran from 2008 to 2010, found “significant correlation between community attachment and economic growth.”
Place attachment, the study said, is driven by three elements: social offerings, aesthetics and openness, of which social thanks offerings is the most important factor. The summit’s breakout sessions, featuring local leaders and entrepreneurs, offered tactics for improving these three elements in Greater Lansing.
In a session addressing the Michigan Avenue corridor, Scott Witter of Michigan State University’s School of Planning, Design and Construction also drew attention to millennials. One key to improving the region’s economic future, he said, is keeping MSU’s graduating students in the Greater Lansing area by offering a vibrant community.
“Millennials will move somewhere because they want to live in that community,” he said. “It they don’t see that community, they’ll move away.”
Much of the day’s discussions focused on the urban cores of Lansing and East Lansing and the Michigan Avenue corridor that connects them. Chris Sell, director of alumni and entrepreneur engagement at MSU’s Innovation Center, explained that millennials — and, to a lesser extent, baby boomer empty nesters — are flocking to urban areas in search of lively, walkable communities.
“Our region is incredibly important,” Sell said, “but to get young people to commit to the area, the urban core matters.”
Sell is founder of Lansing 5:01, a group that connects Greater Lansing interns and young professionals with social events and opportunities. This summer, Lansing 5:01 debuted with a concert at Lansing City Market and also co-hosted events at Lansing Brewing Co. and the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum. The events drew local interns from 43 colleges and universities, including 24 out-of-state schools, hoping to convince them to stay in or return to Greater Lansing after graduation.
“We aim to be a resource for young adults to help them find things to do after 5 o’clock,” Sell said. “We’re not just selling the job; we’re selling the region.”
In another session, developers Nick Eyde, Scott Gillespie, Colin Cronin and Joel Ferguson described plans to revitalize the Michigan Avenue corridor with mixed-use buildings that offer greater population density and retail offerings along Michigan Avenue and into East Lansing along Grand River Avenue.
“We’re trying to provide density, but in a way that’s appropriate to the surrounding community,” Eyde said.
In the neighboring room, Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann laid out his ambitious Montgomery Drain project, which seeks to revamp the area around Frandor Shopping Center with a mix of pollution control, public art and economic development. In an afternoon session, MSU Federal Credit Union CEO April Clobes and Jackson National Life Director of Corporate Social Responsibility Danielle Robinson described the need for a vibrant, diverse community to attract and retain young talent.
In a closing keynote, Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, stressed the importance of working with the community on large projects and encouraged local leaders to be creative in getting community feedback. He cited one city that uses an ice cream truck that travels to different parts of the city and offers free popsicles in exchange for input on upcoming city projects. Another city solicited feedback at a popular outdoor concert. These efforts to get out in to the community, he argued, are much more valuable than a meeting at city hall.
“There are 12 people in the country who know what a charrette is,” he joked, invoking the new-urbanism name for a community planning session, “and fewer who want to go to one.”