Resources & Research

Redevelopment: Everything Old Is New Again

By Daniel P. Gilmartin


Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again

We might not have Hugh Jackman tap dancing across the state in a top hat and tails…but Michigan does have some promising ideas and initiatives that are helping our local communities to redevelop, revitalize, and reenergize for the 21st century. That’s what this issue of The Review is all about.

It starts with our cover story on Harvey Hollins, the head of the newly created Michigan Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives. Through a network of satellite offices, Hollins will facilitate and nurture local and regional economic initiatives that contribute to job growth and help revitalize our urban areas. The League is excited to see where those efforts will lead, and what role they will play in bringing our cities back to full and vibrant life.

When we talk about reinventing our cities for the future, we aren’t suggesting you toss out the old for the new. Quite the opposite. The best kind of sustainable growth embraces the past as the valuable bedrock and raw material for building the future. Adaptive reuse is all about looking deeper into what already exists and seeing it with fresh eyes, to find new ways to reuse and revitalize a community’s existing assets.

Once we see that vacant commercial center, contaminated industrial site, or historic structure as an asset instead of a negative, the possibilities are endless. Those greyfields and brownfields are fertile ground for building the quality places that attract people and their businesses.

But first and foremost, places must serve people. The urban planners of the past knew that, and they designed their buildings and streets accordingly. They built neighborhoods for walking, with parks and schools nearby. Stores were designed to add character to a downtown, and to entice pedestrians to linger and come inside—not windowless boxes whose only purpose is to move shoppers and inventory in and out the parking lot and door.

Thankfully, the bones of those old ideas still exist. It’s up to us to rediscover them, and rebuild on a more human scale. That’s when cities become communities. And communities are alive. But we need the support of visionary leaders at the state and federal level.

Late last year, the League scored a hard-won victory with the governor’s creation of the Community Revitalization Program and Business Development Program. Together the two programs promised to replace the repealed brownfield, historic, and MEGA tax credits. We had hoped that the state would continue these important redevelopment strategies. The governor once again proposed $100 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year, and proposed to move the money from one-time to recurring yearly, but both the House and Senate cut this fund when considering their appropriations bills—just one year after they were created. We are hopeful that the governor will prevail in final negotiations with the House and Senate when budgets are finalized.

Sure, that kind of slash-and-burn approach to budgeting cleans up the bottom line. But it can also leave a barren landscape of greyfields and brownfields. We’re not going to let that happen. Redevelopment is a grassroots effort that begins in our own backyards, as more and more people realize the power of placemaking. The vision of new urbanism has become a guiding force here in Michigan. And our local leaders can play a key role in keeping the momentum going.

We’ll show you how at the League’s 2012 Convention, “The Tools of Placemaking,” October 3-5 on Mackinac Island. We think it’s the perfect place to talk about building a sustainable future on the core values of the past. Come join us, and be a part of the new Michigan that’s straight ahead in plain sight—once we’ve opened our eyes.

The Economics of Place
We believe that our communities are at the core of our state’s economic turnaround, and that “place” is the huge economic driver. In 2011, the League published The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People, available at and

Daniel P. Gilmartin is executive director and CEO of the League. You may contact him at 734-669-6302 or [email protected].

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