Hot Jobs Will Make Cool City

June 4, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although the breakfast forum didn’t come to a complete consensus on what a cool city actually is, the event did give two state representatives a chance to say what they felt would make a city the coolest of the cool.

“Good-paying jobs with good benefits will keep people here,” said Michael Sak, who represents the 76th district as a Democrat, in addressing the state’s loss of young workers

“We need to create high-wage jobs,” said Jerry Kooiman, a 75th District Republican.

Sak added that Lansing doesn’t need to pass more regulations that could tie a city’s hands as it tries to become cool. Instead of new laws, he felt diversity, tolerance and understanding would bring people together to make their city cool.

“I’m not so sure that a bunch of legislators can legislate cool,” said Sak.

Kooiman said focusing on entertainment districts, which have been held to be a crucial part of a cool city, can distract from job creation. He felt the Life Sciences Corridor, if done properly, could give a city the jobs it needs to be cool.

But he noted that Wisconsin has come up with $135 million to draw those types of jobs to the Badger state, while Michigan struggles to raise $35 million for the same effort.

“I think we’re forgetting to focus on the main ingredient: jobs,” said Kooiman.

Sak and Kooiman were part of a seven-member panel that discussed the Cool Cities Pilot Program, an initiative unveiled by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in April. The American Institute of Architects-Grand Valley Chapter (AIAGV) held the recent event at the WMU Graduate Center on Ionia Avenue.

Also on the forum panel were Robert Johnson of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, who heads the pilot program; Charlene Crowell, a policy specialist with the Michigan Land Use Institute; Bryan Gruesbeck, Greenville assistant city manager; David Pasquale, Lowell city manager; and GR Economic Development Director Susan Shannon.

Wayne Norlin, a partner at Design Plus Inc. and AIAGV director of government affairs, said a Cool Cities discussion was a natural topic for the chapter because it tied in with the issues of sustainability and livable communities, two areas that were featured at past forums.

Norlin said improving cities not only helps to slow suburban sprawl, it also helps to retain and attract young professionals, who Cool Cities advocates call the creative class, a term coined by Richard Florida in his book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” He added that these young, educated and mobile workers normally decide where they want to plant roots before they turn 30, and most never leave that place once they make that decision.

Ted Lott, a partner at Lott3-Metz Architecture, liked the governor’s initiative because it squarely placed attention on urban centers, something he felt state and federal governments hadn’t done for a very long time.

“As far as the terminology goes and the parsing of the issues — and, in my opinion, a lot of the splitting of hairs over political reasons — I don’t think we can expect too much from this. However, it’s great to have these things discussed; it’s great to have it in the lexicon again,” said Lott.

“These are heady times for designers when we have elected officials concerned about the urban environment, and it’s kind of up to us to take advantage of it,” he added.

Greg Metz, Lott’s partner in the architectural firm, also was pleased that cities were back on the agenda, and he hopes that all the talk turns out to be more than just rhetoric.

“Where the architects can come in is, we can then begin to influence zoning and density, the actual makeup of the neighborhoods. Legislatively, they can dictate certain things; maybe they might do a Band-Aid. But they can open doors for us to create this identity and build up this city,” said Metz.

“Jennifer Granholm, God love her, has started the ball rolling,” he added, “and now it’s our job to apply it — to give it that look, that feel.”    

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