Abraham Lincoln said these simple, yet profound words 150 years ago, but they are just as true today especially right here, right now in northwest lower Michigan.
Citizens from across the area are participating in an historic public process to determine our shared future. Its called The Grand Vision and its the largest, most far-reaching future planning process the region has ever seen.
After four years of planning and preparation, now is the time for you and your neighbors to get involved. Its easy. All you need to do is grab a Grand Vision scorecard and register your views by October 28. The result of this massive public input process will be wide consensus on a blueprint for land use and transportation for the next 50 years.
Out of controversy, comes opportunity
The Grand Vision was born out of an intense dispute over a proposal to build a highway bypass around Traverse City that included a new bridge over the Boardman River.
On one side were the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and others who believed the road and bridge project would alleviate traffic congestion and strengthen the local economy.
On the other side were the Michigan Land Use Institute, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council and others who believed the project would harm the Boardman River and create a new corridor for sprawling development that, in turn, would pull more people and development away from our existing towns.
When President Lincoln made his memorable speech in 1858, the nation was on the brink of civil war. While no-one was threatening to take up arms over the Hartman-Hammond bridge, it was one of the most hotly contested and divisive issues the region had ever seen.
Even as we quarreled over a major transportation project without any sem-blance of a long-range plan for growth, we somehow knew that if we had the chance, we could find common ground. That came in 2004, when the opposing sides came together and worked with U.S. Senator Carl Levin and Congressman Dave Camp to direct $3.3 million of federal transportation dollars to launch The Grand Vision.
Since then dozens of organizations, businesses and local governments have designed and advanced a process that puts the publics voice first. Environmental advocates have joined with developers, homebuilders and realtors. Major
employers like Munson Healthcare, Elmers, Crystal Mountain, Interlochen Center for the Arts and Northwestern Michigan College are supporting the process and promoting public participation.
Local government officials are also deeply involved. In fact, the Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska, and Wexford county boards are not only lending their leadership to the project they are also helping to pay for it.
Its important to note that this type of regional collaboration rarely happens in Michigan. Thats sad, because acting as a region makes sense. First of all, our lives reach well beyond our local government borders. Many of us live in one county, work in another, and play in still a third. Acting as a region also saves badly
stretched taxpayer dollars. While we certainly want to be sure our local community is planning for our local future, the bottom line is this: A smart, cost-effective regional growth and transportation strategy fits with how people live.
Pathway to prosperity
With the countrys financial and housing markets teetering on collapse and Michigans economy continuing to struggle, theres no better time to invest in a homegrown strategy for the future. Our local economy is feeling the crunch to be sure, but people continue to come here and create jobs because northwest Michigan remains a great place to live and work.
In todays talent-driven economy, jobs are increasingly portable and employers choose their locations based on quality of life as much as anything else. College graduates are choosing where they want to live before, not after, launching a career search.
Thats good news for us, because we have so much to offer. Not too many places in America offer the same mix of stunning natural resources, vibrant downtowns, arts and culture, strong schools, and an underlying sense of community like our region.
But to achieve this economically resilient future, we must take care of this place. We need a clear blueprint created not by bureaucrats and planners, but by the people who are personally committed to the future of this place. The Grand Vision is our best chance to create this future.
While the level of support has been unprecedented, there are still naysayers who claim The Grand Vision will not amount to anything, or who say given the state of the economy, this is not the time for bold plans. Weve listened carefully to their concerns, but we remain convinced that President Lincoln was right a strategy based on the publics voice will succeed in the long run.
The Michigan Land Use Institute and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce along with everyone else involved are committed to doing what it takes to make sure that The Grand Vision plans are implemented and produce tangible value for generations to come. We will work to make sure state agencies like the Michigan Department of Transportation invest in the transportation strategies that the citizens actually want. Well help local government officials adapt their zoning to promote the development citizens actually want. And well continue to rally businesses and citizens to keep the pressure on until elected officials translate the vision into reality.
Its a once-in-a-generation oppor-tunity. Please, do your part as a citizen of the region and register your voice as part of the Grand Vision.
Doug Luciani is the President and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Hans Voss is the Executive Director of the Michigan Land Use Institute.