MICHIGAN MODERN-DAY REGIONALISM

GOVERNORS’ REGIONAL PROSPERITY INITIATIVE TO REPURPOSE 40-YEAR OLD MICHIGAN REGIONALISM

Big changes in store for Southwest Michigan

Will Benton Harbor – St. Josephs’ future be a suburb of Kalamazoo or can Benton Harbor-St. Joseph rise to true metropolitan status?

Governing logo“Cities are going to be the engines of the future” announced Bill Rustem, Governor Snyder’s Director of Strategy, at the Governing magazine sponsored Michigan Leadership Form held in Lansing on April 2, 2014.

He announced’ “If Michigan is going to compete (globally) it needs cities that are competitive”

Under the Governors’ Regional Prosperity Initiative, “the state isn’t going to tell people what the state wants but defer to local decision makers and let them, as a region, tell the state what role in the State of Michigan they want to play in the future”, added Rustem

Region 10 mapThis challenges civic and governmental leaders in southwest Michigan to determine what the 10-county region wants to be and who it wants to identify with – Kalamazoo, South Bend or maybe Chicago & Northern Indiana.

Regionalism reinvention is upon us.

Underway are changes that will reorient nearly 40-years of regional planning history of Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties which in the early 1970’s, abet under duress of the loss of federal and state funding, and came together as Planning & Development Region 4, one of 14 regional planning agencies geographically defined by gubernatorial executive order.

Failure to reach consensus on a state and global identity for the newly designated 10-county region, means that communities without a regional and city identity could become a “suburban location of nowhere”, according to Rustem.

To me, this is history repeating itself.

Back in the 1970’s, the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph greater Twin-Cities area was considered rural, even though it was home base for seven national firms; Whirlpool and & Clark Equipment, being best known.

Local leaders at that time realized being rural meant being overlooked by industrial development scouts, regional shopping mall developers and many other businesses including the emerging fast-food franchise industry.

The effort to make Benton Harbor-St. Joseph a Metropolitan city was successful in 1980 after locally sponsored lobbying for federal census rule changes redefining population requirements for metropolitan central cites – ironically labeled “the Benton Harbor rule” by the Chairman of the federal rule making committee.

However 40-years of history have failed to produce a statewide and global metropolitan identity.

Absent from metropolitan growth research and pundit commentary about of central city place making is any mention of the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Twin Cities metropolitan area – it’s just not on these folks radar screens.

So here we have history repeating itself.

Back 40-years ago, the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Twin Cities Area was “just another undiscovered rural area”.

Today, the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Twin Cities Area again is an “unrecognized slow/no-growth small metropolitan area”.

The Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Twin Cites Metropolitan Area has failed to grow into a dominate “regionally recognized city center” that businesses and people, especially young talented people identify.

Truth is – change needs to happen for a successful growing population future.

It’s no longer acceptable to look at self-contained inward growth policies but to reach out and connect with others.

This is a “tough job” recognizing the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Twin Cities area is relatively self-contained economic market surrounding by smaller cities better connected to more vibrant larger central city markets, some in Michigan and some in Indiana.

This message is a wakeup call.

It’s time to begin a process of regional planning, to lock in some of the past success in collaboration and cooperation to forge a global regional identity, whether that be a stand-alone Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Twin City identity, a Kalamazoo suburban-based small metro identity, a South Bend suburban-based small metro identity or something different connecting with the Chicago multi-state metropolitan identity.

Bill Rustem is not only a good policy wonk but a strategist who can look through a clear-lens and see both long and short-term strategies that can be implemented to achieve public policy objectives.

His message at the Leadership Forum is quite clear, “the Governor is giving Michigan’s local leaders and the public an opportunity, to work with the public and business community to create Michigan’s Future”. 

The message is pretty clear, its central cities and regions that matter.

Failure to recognize and accept these changes, or resist them, means one, or both, will lose.

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