Urban chief outlines New normal for cities

2/29/2012, 8:09 p.m.
Harvey Hollins III is the director of the Michigan Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives and is a principal adviser ...

Q: And the overall goal of that?

A: It’s just to get a snapshot where the state has been playing in our cities. If I have foundations and businesses putting millions of dollars of resources in this particular area, and the state is playing over here on the other side of the fence. We want to maximize impact alongside with others who are investing in our cities.

Q: What do Michigan cities need to become more prosperous and reinvent themselves?

A: That’s a good question. I’m going to segment it in two sections. Internally, a city needs to have a guiding master plan. That is critical. The other internal thing they need is transparency and trust in how they dialogue. So, for example, you have Grand Rapids that’s doing a lot of this kind of investment. Government is talking to private, private is talking to philanthropic, they’re all talking. You go to other communities, you don’t have that conversation at all. And you have groups of interested organizations taking it upon themselves to move the needle somewhere, and it’s not a comprehensive approach, it’s a spot-check approach. The external part involves the state. If we are going to play a role in this, then the state has to be a lot more strategic in how it allocates dollars comprehensively. Comprehensively means, for example, not just where (the Michigan State Housing Development Authority) puts their funding, but where MSHDA and the (Michigan Economic Development Corp.) jointly put funding. Or where MEDC, Agriculture and Human Services (departments) put funding. So there needs to be multiple agencies engaged. We have to think more comprehensively outside of the silos, in terms of how the monies are being invested, and where. It has to have a benefit not only to business in the downtown, but it has to have benefit to neighborhoods.

Q: How do you define economic impact?

A: On one hand, jobs are critical to simulate an economy. But when you talk about impact to an urban center, that impact is not going to be felt unless the individuals who are working in these centers are also spending more time in those urban environments. If they’re not living in the urban centers, are they shopping there, are they spending time in museums, how is that time being used? How do we create opportunity for an employee or for a person to spend more time in that city. And where is the state’s role in that. That’s one of the questions that I’m going to put before my advisory board.

Q: Revenue sharing — and the decline of it — is a major issue that cities cite. So what do you say when it comes up in conversation?

A: The state has had to do things and restructure itself. As a result, the cities will have to do the same thing. We just don’t have the revenues that were coming in, in the heyday of the auto industry, and we just can’t do the same thing and expect different results. For the first time in years we’re not running a (projected) deficit. And the reforms that the governor led in 2011 manifested itself in a stable budget that’s in the black, and now we have something to build on. There is a 2 percent constitutional increase to revenue sharing in the budget. One factor of revenue sharing is funding that has been used by locals for public safety. There is an increase in the budget of $15 million for law enforcement; that’s in addition to the increase in statutory revenue sharing programs.