Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development
I returned last night from the annual Michigan Association of Planning (MAP) conference in Kalamazoo. It was outstanding on so many levels. The folks that organized it did such a wonderful job giving us food for thought.
However, I found myself feeling like I work in a different world than some of the speakers. Many of the national experts MAP brought in did not mince words. In general, they said that suburban towns, like the City of Auburn Hills, are dinosaurs. That we’ll be extinct in a generation or two. Their message was change or die.
Why? The suburban model of development is dysfunctional. Its design is making people fat and sick. It’s sprawling infrastructure is bankrupting communities due to numerous inefficiencies and extensive maintenance costs. These highly intelligent and credentialed futurists said suburban residents have come to hate their towns because they can’t walk anywhere (they’re partially right) … that these residents keep to themselves and don’t engage in community … that it’s just a matter of time before people will leave us for urban centers to obtain that “sense of place” that’s lost in suburbia.
One speaker had the audacity to ask all the planners in the room to make a pledge to not approve another residential subdivision and only allow walkable, dense mixed use projects in their respective communities. Come on Dude. No way! He was thought-provoking and well-meaning, but totally off-base and out of touch with the reality of people’s desire for choice … the American Dream.
Let me tell you that I’m much more optimist about our town’s future. Perhaps I have been Auger-ized, but I see the world differently. I believe a great community offers choices in housing, employment opportunities, and lifestyle. Auburn Hills does these things like few others in the region and perhaps the State. Our City fathers and mothers believed in that philosophy since day one. The City’s current leaders have not strayed from that Grand Plan, which explains our community’s success as a global business address and excellent financial health.
But, I also believe that Auburn Hills must change with the times and offer more to remain desirable to all generations. We must continue to “retrofit” our community to meet the needs of all. How? Well, we plan to spend next year conducting a deep dive into that question. It will be the most intense and important study in our town’s history. It will involve an engagement with the community like we’ve never seen before. Our team is so excited. We will put our heart and soul into the endeavor.
If you would like to help the Planning Commission with this project as a volunteer please call me at 248-364-6941. We will add you to our team and put you to work. It’s a great chance to change the world, right where you’ve been placed.
Oh, by the way. We’re not broken. Auburn Hills is growing and very much alive. We plan to stay that way.