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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Q&A: Home is what you make it

Chastity Pratt Dawsey of Bridge sat down recently with Gary Heidel of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to talk about how to improve connections among residents in Michigan communities.

Bridge: What does a chief placemaker do?

Heidel: The chief placemaking officer (CPO) oversees the community development, downtown and community services that includes the Michigan Main Street program, and historic preservation divisions within MSHDA. The Michigan Main Street program provides technical assistance and training to communities involved in downtown revitalization efforts.

The CPO also chairs the placemaking subcommittee (PPS) of the Governor’s Interagency Collaboration Committee that works in partnership with other agencies – Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the state land bank - to target state funding for strategic placemaking. The CPO also is co-chair along with Dan Gilmartin from the Michigan Municipal League (MML) of the Sense of Place Council. The council is a public private partnership that consists of 40 organizations that work on placemaking policy.

Where do residents and neighbors factor into placemaking?

Michigan State University has identified more than 100 cities in Michigan that could improve by attracting and retaining talent using targeted investment. Our regional prosperity teams will work with local leaders, stakeholders, and residents to develop and implement plans and strategies that create more walkability.

Where are some new cool places that under development or emerging as the new cool?

Many areas are emerging as places where people want to live, play and work. Downtown and Midtown Detroit is one of the best examples. Other up and coming areas are Michigan Ave in Corktown in Detroit, S. Saginaw and Saginaw St in Flint, Michigan street and downtown Grand Rapids along the river, Michigan Ave. in Lansing, downtown Kalamazoo, downtown Jackson. Downtown Marquette, and downtown Sault Ste Marie, and downtown Traverse City. It is amazing how placemaking is catching on.

Any new features that are making places new and different?

Both the PPS and the council work on tools that become part of the placemaking strategy. For example, MSHDA and MEDC are working on streamlining the process for mixed use development, MEDC and MML just created a new crowdfunding program for public spaces, and MSHDA is increasing the number of points in its tax credit program to encourage more downtown rental development. (To see some best practices and other ideas, go to

Ok, so what if I still don’t understand this placemaking stuff?

The idea behind placemaking is simple: By improving the quality of life in downtowns and neighborhoods you will create more walkability, which will attract talent, creating jobs and economic development. The entire state will benefit. Quality of life investments from both the public and private sectors focus on housing, mixed use, transportation, public spaces and recreation, entrepreneurialism, historic preservation, arts and culture. The MIplace Initiative educates people about placemaking as a key part of economic development.

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