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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Cool City? Tell that to Gaines

Sunday, Phil at West Michigan Rising wondered why all the smart kids were leaving Michigan. Picking up on a report from Michigan Future, Inc. reported in the Grand Rapids Press, he noted several factors that make a city “cool”, a place where young folks like to settle:

  • Mass transit and other alternatives to driving. Young workers who are creating the new prosperity want to get around town without having to drive.
  • “Walkable” neighborhoods — places where they can live, work and socialize within walking distance of each other.
  • Cafes, coffee houses, easy access to the Internet, and lots of cultural activities — music, museums, theaters.
  • Lots of rental housing
  • All this sounds like an extension of the ideas first introduced by Richard Florida in Rise of the Creative Class. Those ideas certainly have been debated in W. Michigan as it has struggled to keep its manufacturing base. Manufacturing is not especially cool. Sure it has a great job multiplier, but can it produce Coffee Houses like Four Friends? (Oops).

    The Envious Glance. The difficulty which Mayor Heartwell and the other folk from Michigan Future face, is that framed as a set of attributes, we will always be pursuing some ideal, alternate version of our self. Some body else has it better than us, and if we just “dressed” like them, we would be cool or rich, too. The envious glance is no different from that of conservatives who cast their longing eyes southward to low-tax Indiana: oh! if we had just been like them.

    The underlying difficulty with the entire Cool Cities approach is that it comes with lifestyle baggage that the surrounding community does not want to carry. Indeed, there is no clearer statement of that vision, than the self description of Gaines Township:

    Gaines Charter Township is a community which places a high value on family life, good moral standards, a sense of community, and a desire to enrich the lives of all its residents.

    Do You Want Benefits with that Coffee? The Cool City initiative is not about mass transit or more and better coffee houses.  Rather it is an invitation to negotiate the treacherous water of broadening the  work and social environment in the region to attract and retain employees.  Quality of life must be backed by quality of  schools, and quality of options.  Diversity is its hallmark.

    And as we know, that means repeated political conflict.  We already saw one of the first battles this spring in the school board elections, with reformers set against a more urban view.  It is the battle that Rosslyn Bliss fought for her City Commission seat; and a similar battle presently being waged between Jim Talen and Paul Mayhue for CC-16.  The rise of this more diverse community, fed by the downtown universities and the medical community will continue to push social conservatives to a resistance mode.

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