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Culture, commerce and natural resources pay no heed to municipal boundaries

Report says cross-jurisdictional cooperation is key to good planning, land use

Communities are defined by where people work, shop and play—and where their natural assets are—not by municipal boundaries, according to a new report, Breaking Down Barriers to Cooperative Land Use Planning. The report was recently released by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA) in Traverse City.

It provides a thorough and inspiring summary of the group’s efforts in coaching local officials and leaders from around the state to tackle the sticky challenges—and timely opportunities—of regional land use planning.

“My sense is that communities are defined more organically than what’s suggested by survey lines,” says Joe VanderMeulen, LIAA’s CEO. “People move about freely and use resources within some pattern or network. Their community is defined by where they shop and work and play. If we think about planning and think about community-centered planning, we don’t think about jurisdictional lines so much.”

Environmentally, says VanderMeulen, “we have been challenged in this state by the impacts of developments that are not coordinated between local governments.”

In the words of the LIAA report, “The benefits of culture and commerce, as well as the bounty of natural resources, are shared without regard to municipal boundaries. And so are the problems of pollution, traffic congestion and troubled economies.”

Accomplishing better multi-jurisdictional planning and resource protection in Michigan is really about “trying to coordinate the way we manage resources, both cultural and natural,” says VanderMeulen, who has taken to calling the improved process “community-centered planning.”

The first big step in getting there is building the relationships and trust necessary to work across the somewhat arbitrary lines separating communities. As part of the process, communities often work together to identify the shared assets that together make them whole and unique.

The report is part of LIAA’s multi-year effort called “Partnerships for Change.” The initiative, with the support of Michigan foundations, is working to create models of cooperation between cities, townships and villages, and offer professional planning support and technical assistance to communities.

The report can be found online at http://www.partnershipsforchange.cc/.

More about the Land Information Access Association is available at: www.liaa.org.

-Brad Garmon, Michigan Environmental Council
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