Yay! Auburn Hills Wins Prestigious Urban Planning Award

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development and Karen Adcock, Director of Senior Services

We’re thrilled to report that the City of Auburn Hills has been selected to receive the 2017 Planning Excellence Award for Best Practice by the Michigan Association of Planning for its work on its Age Friendly Action Plan.

The nomination was reviewed by a jury of American Planning Association – Florida Chapter professionals who indicated that the Age Friendly Action Plan was an “exemplary, well-documented effort to provide an opportunity for the community to have conversations about the needs of an aging population.” 

Auburn Hills will receive the award at the Michigan Association of Planning’s annual conference on September 27, 2017 at the Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island.  

We’re grateful for the support of AARP, our City Council and Planning Commission, and the many volunteers and staff that assisted with this initiative.  Most importantly, we’re appreciative of all those who attended the community meetings and provided valuable input that went into the plan.

The Michigan Association of Planning also recognized the City of Auburn Hills last year for Best Practice for our Industrial Property Analysis and in 2013 for our Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Readiness Project. 

Auburn Hills plans to build on this recognition and incrementally improve the quality of life for our seniors over time, which will naturally make our community a friendlier and more accessible place for all.  That sounds like a really good plan.

Will Auburn Hills Be Ready For The Reality Of The New Normal?

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend professional certification training in Lansing organized by the Michigan Association of Planning.  The primary focus of the seminar, led by economists Dr. George Fulton, Lou Glazer, and Dr. Charles Ballard, was to educate city planners on the population, education, and economic trends that will impact local communities in the years ahead.

To summarize, the economists explained that Michigan is now considered a “Low Prosperity State,” in terms of household income, despite having a growing automotive sector.  Startlingly, despite our strong economy, they reported that 40% of Michigan households can’t afford basic necessities due to low wages.  The experts told us that 25% of households are experiencing increasing incomes, while 75% remain stagnant.  This shift is creating a new class divide in Michigan and America that is primarily defined by college education attainment.

Auburn Hills has been preparing for the aging population. This slide shows a demographic shift is coming.

Planners learned that the dramatic aging of the population will create a labor shortage down the road due to a lack of younger workers replacing those who retire.  Thus, people will need to develop skills that will mesh with the evolving knowledge and information based economy for the State to prosper economically.  If Michigan does not produce or attract skilled workers, then companies will decide to locate in other States that can attract such a workforce.  Occupations that will become increasing vulnerable will be those with routine tasks that can be automated such as retail and assembly/manufacturing.

21st Century job growth will occur in the medical and college educated professional fields

All three economists repeatedly told the audience that “you can’t turn the clock back and bring back low skill manufacturing jobs.”  Most of those jobs have been replaced by automation and other industrial efficiencies.  If Michigan does not proactively adapt to the new economy, municipalities – and ultimately their residents – will continue to struggle due to structural revenue declines and economic disparity.  This is the New Normal.

Five lessons from Dr. George Fulton, Professor of Economics, University of Michigan

The training was excellent in that it raised awareness of the role of city planners in preparing for the aging population, fostering an environment for high-skill job growth, and creating places where people of all ages will want to live and work.

The City of Auburn Hills recognizes these trends and will continue to proactively work to be ready for the New Normal, so that we can play a role in helping Michigan “win” in the 21st century economy.

Are We Broken? Some Think We Are

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.

Auburn Hills Selected for Planning Excellence Award

Posted by – Elizabeth Brennan, Executive Assistant

Yesterday afternoon, Community Development Director, Steve Cohen received word that Auburn Hills was selected to receive the Planning Excellence Award for the The Auburn Hills Electric Vehicle Ready Project for Best Practices by The Michigan Chapter of the American Planning Association.  To say that we are pleased is an understatement!

plug in

We are all very proud of Steve and the team which includes the Planning Commission, Ron Melchert and his Department of Public Works team, OHM Advisors and Clean Energy Coalition for their hard work and dedication to the project.

In response to the growing production of electric vehicles and the likely changes that will accompany that trend, the City initiated a collaborative effort with automotive manufacturers, suppliers, energy companies and local government entities to solicit input on the development of an EV infrastructure.  In July 2011, Auburn Hills became the first city in Michigan to introduce a comprehensive electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure ordinance that facilitates the installation of EV charging stations.  Auburn Hills has encouraged other communities to use the ordinance as a springboard for developing their own ordinances.

Also of significant note, the signage developed for EV recharging stations has been approved and adopted by the Michigan Department of Transportation and is now under consideration by the federal government for use as the national sign to identify parking spaces designed for EV charging.

A formal presentation of the award will be held during the Michigan Association of Planning Conference this fall in Kalamazoo.   We look forward to the expansion of this network to support current and future EV owner needs.

Oh Yeah, City Planning Is Cool!

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

Where can I learn more about city planning?  What books can I read on the subject?

Wow!  Let me tell you, it’s energizing when a group of people ask you those questions.  This past Saturday, I had the privilege to participate in a presentation about the extensive planning efforts behind the creation of Downtown Auburn Hills.

The workshop, which was sponsored by the Auburn Hills TIFA, hosted the “NextGen” group of the Michigan Local Government Management Association.  The participants consisted of college students studying public administration and early career professionals in communities across the region … the “next generation” of leaders.

Site of the $14 million Graduate Student Housing / Parking Garage project currently under construction near Squirrel and Auburn Roads. The project is one of three “anchors” planned to attract people to Downtown Auburn Hills.

They were impressed with Auburn Hills’ long-term effort to spur redevelopment in the former Auburn Heights Central Business District and create a special place where the community could gather.  The urban planning term for this is called “placemaking.”

Every community needs a “heart.” A place where people can gather for events.

How can you learn more about city planning?  Well, check out these great websites:  American Planning Association and Michigan Association of Planning.

Also, the books The Citizen’s Guide to Planning and Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World are good reads.  The second book is fascinating as it describes the urban planning behind and strategy used to obtain the approvals to build Walt Disney World.

So, if you are interested in pursuing a career in city planning or wish to learn more about what the Auburn Hills Planning Commission does, check out these resources and/or give me a call at 248-364-6941.  It’s a really cool field!

An Investment In Constant Learning

Posted by – VeRonica Mitchell, Auburn Hills Planning Commissioner

Late last week, I had the excellent opportunity to spend a few days with hundreds of community planners, engineers, and Planning Commissioners from all across the State.  I participated in the Annual Conference of the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP) in Traverse City.

Each day was filled with informative sessions highlighting changes in legislation and accomplishments from fellow Michigan communities who have successfully implemented a new practice or process.

I heard sessions on farmers markets, environmental practices that support local economies, transportation, walkable communities, and many other topics.  As I was absorbing this new information I had one continual thought … Could this be adopted in Auburn Hills?  How might this benefit me or my neighbors?

The City of Auburn Hills was even highlighted for its ground breaking efforts completed by the adoption of an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Ordinance; as well as for its progressive partnering with businesses to install charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles around the City.   Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development, along with our partners at OHM and the Clean Energy Coalition, presented to their peers in an excellent session on the topic this past Friday.

Auburn Hills Presented a Session at the MAP Conference on Preparing for Plug-In Electric Vehicles

It’s great to have been given an opportunity to learn new things, but more than that it’s a true blessing to be a part of a community that’s willing to invest in the education of its staff and local officials.

The leaders of Auburn Hills recognize that the more educated its representatives are the more likely they are to identify opportunities for improvement.  Also, the more we are informed the less likely we are to engage in missteps or mistakes that could negatively impact our residents, or damage relations with our developers and business partners.

We have successfully created an atmosphere of growth, cooperation, and continuous improvement within our community.  I am thankful there’s a determined commitment, even in these challenging financial times, to continue this important investment.

VeRonica Mitchell

Note: VeRonica Mitchell is a member of the award-winning Auburn Hills Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission is a nine member panel of residents appointed by the Mayor (and confirmed by the City Council), which is charged with guiding the City’s land use and development.  The Community Development Department provides expertise to the Board.