Thursday, December 1, 2011

Michigan: A Demographic and Political Analysis in Three Parts

Part I: Introduction and General Population Trends, 1960-2010

Easily lost in all the hand wringing following last February’s announcement that Michigan was the only state in the Union to lose population over the past decade was the broader implications of the 2010 decennial census data. Michigan has experienced significant population transition within its borders over the past decades, and to better understand the impact of this shift I spent some time over the past few months reviewing census data for units of governments on the county subdivision level between 1960 and 2010.

I chose to analyze county subdivision level data for a number of reasons. First, county subdivisions, which are defined in Michigan as municipalities or townships, have largely had stable boundaries since 1960, thanks to the 1963 state constitution which limited physical growth by municipalities by placing high barriers against annexation by granting townships the ability to become charter townships. A township must have a population 2,000 to become a charter township, and under state statue charter townships that have a population density of greater than 150 people per square mile (along with a few other conditions) are protected from annexation by other municipalities. With the exception of Oakland County, there have been relatively few border changes and mergers of county subdivisions in the past 50 years. Secondly, census demographic and economic data is readily available starting with the 1970 census, and there is some racial data available from the 1960 census. This makes a longitudinal study of demographic changes in Michigan’s communities possible, and sheds light on changes that occurred following 1960. Finally, partisan electoral data that is available for county subdivisions shows the impact of these population and demographic changes.

Just a small note: some of the population numbers and demographic data to not add up to 100 percent, particularly for the 1980 census data. For example, in Burton City, the 1980 total population was 29,976, while the population total for the racial identification question was 29,929, a sum larger by 47 people. In this sort of instance I used the racial data to provide a demographic percentage for analysis, but kept the total population number given the 1980 census. All total population data from the 1960 to 1990 censuses were obtained from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget, while racial data for this time period were obtained from the National Historical Geographic Information System. Total population and racial data from the 2000 and 2010 census were obtained from the US Census website. Some municipalities are split between two counties, and tabulated as separate entities

General Population Trends, 1960-2010

Michigan’s population increased rapidly between 1960 and 1970, but grew at a much slower rate in the forty years that followed as shown in Figure 1. 7,823,194 residents lived in Michigan in 1960, a figure that climbed by more than a million ten years later to 8,875,083, a 13.4% increase. By 1980 the population increased to 9,262,078, a gain of 386,995 more residents. A modest growth in population followed in 1990 giving Michigan a population of 9,295,297 residents, and the economic growth during the following decade resulted in a total population of 9,938,444 and gain of 643,147 people. The economic malaise over the most recent decade dropped Michigan’s population by 54,804 residents.



As Figure 1 shows, Michigan’s population has become more diverse over the past fifty years. Racial and ethnic data gathered in 1960 asked respondents whether they were White or non-White, the later numbered 737,329, constituting 9.4% of the total population. By 2010 Michigan’s non-White population had more than doubled, reaching 21.1%. Michigan’s 2010 White population of 7,803,120 is smaller than its 1970 population (7,833,473), while the state’s Black population increased from 991,067 to 1,400,362 during the same time period. While the state’s Black and White population stagnated over the past decade, the number of Hispanic residents increased significantly, rising from 323,877 to 436,358. Asians also account for a growing share of Michigan’s population, growing from 175,311 to 238,199 over the past decade.

While Michigan’s was becoming more diverse, it was also becoming more dispersed. In 1960, Michigan’s 20 largest communities were home to more than 3,309,313 people, or 42% of the state’s total population, but 2010 these same 20 communities only were residences to 22.3% or 2,208,322. Figure 2 shows just how drastic the population decline was. Detroit accounts for 86.8% of the total population loss, but only six of the 20 subdivisions gained residents and of these only Ann Arbor and Warren added more than 40,000 residents. With the exception of Detroit and Flint, communities that lost residents overwhelmingly did so between 1960 and 1980, and stabilized somewhat in the thirty years that followed.

Communities that gained the most residents between 1960 and 2010 tended to be communities in metropolitan southeast Michigan that captured Detroit’s fleeing residents. Only two communities outside of metropolitan Detroit were among the top twenty (Georgetown Township in Ottawa County and Kentwood in Kent County).



Michigan’s population dispersal has reduced the state’s population density. While Michigan’s overall population density increased slightly from 138 persons per square mile in 1960 to 174 by 2010, the addition of 2,115,250 new residents during the same time period meant that much of the population growth went into new development on the outskirts of the urban fringe. The table below shows communities with the highest population density back in 1960. When viewed next to the 2010 population density figures, you can see what a beating the urban core of Michigan took in the past fifty years. While the Detroit metropolitan region could arguably supported a dense commuter rail network in 1960, as numerous communities had population densities greater than 4,000 people per square mile that is thought as the minimal density needed for effective mass transit, the de-densification of communities such as Detroit and Highland Park makes the implementation of mass transit much less cost-effective.



Of course the movement of people from central cities to suburbs is nothing new in Michigan, let alone the United States. However, the dispersal of Michigan’s White population from urban areas was matched by two smaller-sized migrations of Black residents. The first relatively minuscule migration was from historic rural Black areas of western Michigan (such as Lake, Van Buren, and Cass Counties) into other urban centers in Michigan, especially Benton Harbor, Flint, and Detroit. The second and larger migration was the movement away from core urban centers, especially in Detroit and Flint, to the surrounding suburbs. Most of the Black population movement has flown to working class suburbs on the periphery of established urban centers. Suburbs such as Harper Woods and Eastpointe literally changed overnight, while other communities such as Oak Park and Lathrup Village have steadily attracted new Black residents over decades.



In contrast to the movement of Black Michiganders, Hispanics have concentrated outside of Southeast Michigan and are spread throughout Michigan. Only 10% of the total Hispanic population resides Detroit and only make up 6.8% of the city’s total population. While county subdivisions with the greatest increase in the Hispanic share of the total population are listed below. Interestingly, rural communities in western Michigan are home to large sizable Hispanic populations, largely due to the reliance farming communities have on migrant workers who have historically been Hispanic. However, large Hispanic communities have moved to urban centers and suburbs in western Michigan, including Grand Rapids and Holland. Kent County in particular has a large Hispanic population that is just under 10% of the total population.

Monday, October 17, 2011

First Presbyterian Church Dallas Report

First PresbyterIan Church of Dallas Report Another busy few weeks, that resulted in no postings. However, my Presbyterian friends might be interested in this report I did for a congregation in Dallas over the past few months.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kent County redistricting plan violates long-standing principles- GR Press Editorial

(Published in the Grand Rapids Press Saturday August 20, 2011-pb)

In Michigan, the seasons inevitably follow one another, although sometimes winter seems to last forever. In the same manner, partisan battles over redistricting assuredly follow the decennial census.

The redistricting rancor following the 2010 census, particularly in Michigan, has a special flavor; as congressional districts resembling a cross (State House District 32), the letter E (Senate District 1), and an indescribable district that snakes from the Del Ray neighborhood in Detroit to Pontiac in Oakland County (Congressional District 14) are now part of the state’s political geography for the next 10 years, should court challenges fail.

Unfortunately, cartographic oddities to create partisan gain clutter the new map approved for the Kent County Board of Commissioners. The Republican-drawn map violates long-standing principles of compactness and preserving communities of interest that had guided redistricting at the county level in the past three cycles.


The population deviation between the largest and smallest districts is 10.87 percent, a deviation that remains acceptable under state law based on dated case law (Abate v. Mundt) that could be open to a federal court challenge since the courts ruled in Larios v. Cox that population deviations larger than 10 percent are susceptible and not considered a “safe harbor.”

Similarly, the map violates the portions of Michigan law guiding county level redistricting and the “Apol Standards” which guide state and congressional redistricting by unnecessarily breaking municipal lines in the creation of districts. Finally, the map seeks to punish a number of supporters of the PDR movement in Kent County, forcing incumbents Stan Ponstein and Jack Boelema into a Republican primary, incumbents Jim Talen and Candace Chivis into a Democratic primary, and incumbent Republican Michael Wawee and Democrat Carol Hennessy into a general election matchup. Any map which sees to eliminate six incumbents who have long-standing ties with their districts deserves strict scrutiny.

A map which avoids the mistakes listed above is achievable and shown in the included maps and tables. This “rational” plan reduces the population deviation, creates two compact minority majority total population districts, reduces the number of municipal breaks, and preserves existing incumbent-district relationships.



Population Equality

I kept the population deviation percentage below 10 percent, with a total range of 9.1 percent that is smaller than the 10.87 percent population deviation in the accepted map. The largest district is District 9 (Grandville and southern Wyoming) with 33,181 people, while District 5 (Ada and Cascade) has the smallest population of 30,276 residents for a total deviation in population of 2,905, a figure which is smaller than the approved map and the Democratic plan.



Compact Minority-Majority Districts

This plan creates two minority majority districts in total population. The 14th District is a compact district consisting of the Black Hills and Roosevelt Park neighborhoods of Grand Rapids and the northeast portion of Wyoming that has served as the core Hispanic neighborhoods in the region for the past thirty years.

Similarly, the 16th District includes the core African American neighborhoods bounded by Wealthy Street, Fuller Avenue, Burton Street, and Jefferson Avenue, and also includes the growing African American presence south of 28th Street and west of Kalamazoo Avenue.

The 14th District has a Hispanic percentage of 53 percent and a voting age population percentage of 46 percent, while the 16th District has a African American population of 53 percent and a Voting Age Population of 52%.



Preserving Communities of Interest

The plan also minimizes the number of municipality breaks. The adopted plan has six municipalities broken into different districts, and 10 districts include split municipalities. This plan splits only four municipalities (Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, and Gaines Township), and follows the requests of Plainfield Township and East Grand Rapids to each be kept in one county commission district. Similarly, in this plan there are seven districts that contain a split municipality (Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 14), which is largely due to the fact that Grand Rapids, Wyoming, and Kentwood are too large to contain in a single commission seat.

The Board of Commissioners map adopted by the Kent County Redistricting Commission is one that will not serve the metropolitan Grand Rapids region well for the next 10 years. Representative democracy works best when ties between legislators and their constituents are visible both in common sense and on a map.

As James Madison once noted in Federalist 10, “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” This statement has not historically applied to those who have led Kent County since 1831, although the adopted map certainly does.

A former resident of Grand Rapids, Peter Bratt is redistricting coordinator for the City of Dallas, Texas, and writes frequently on Michigan history and politics at peterabratt.blogspot.com. E-mail: peterbratt@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Other Part of the Story

(photo credit Tyler Wright)

For those not familiar with recent American historical scholarship on urban history over the past two decades, the book that defined the field was Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crsis: Race and Inequity in Postwar Detroit. Sugrue’s Origins launched a reconsideration of the standard narrative of America’s post-war urban decline. In this influential work, Sugrue documents the spatial and racial tensions within Detroit after 1945 that created fierce battles over housing, employment, and space, which led to a white conservative city leadership that drew support from white neighborhood groups and downtown business interests. However, the city’s leadership was unable to stem the massive deindustrialization that occurred within Detroit over the next twenty years, as manufacturing firms moved to modern facilities in the suburbs smaller cities, laying off numerous workers whom were predominately African American. As city residents adjusted to rising economic insecurity, residents struggled to define spatial boundaries of race, leading to ferocious grassroots activism from white neighborhood associations against African American residents seeking residential and social mobility.

By pushing the start date of “discontent” with growth liberalism back to 1945, Origins allows for a broad understanding of growth liberalism’s tensions, especially between African Americans seeking economic security and whites seeking property security within the confines of the New Deal coalition.

The ideologies of grassroots racial and individual liberalism formulated in Origins remains somewhat incomplete. Were members of these coalitions motivated by economic and property interests alone? Such a limited definition reduces the powerful role that religious conservatism played in developing the rise of individual liberalism in Michigan, especially amongst white ethnics whose sense of place was dominated by spatial religious boundaries. At the same time, racial liberalism was also strongly influenced by a rising religious ideology of liberation and social justice theology that replaced the cautious religious conservatism that marked much of the African American leadership.

If Origins focused on the dismantling of “growth liberalism” (ie New Deal liberalism) through the forces of spatial segregation, deindustrialization, and political fracturing in places like Detroit, Suleiman Osman’s The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York looks at another story that began in the midst of the old order shattering. Osman’s work, which came out in March, provides a stunning addition to the literature on post-war urban America and fully deserves the status acclaimed to Sugrue’s work. Both Origins of the Urban Crisis and Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn are books well worth adding to your summer reading list.

As its title suggests, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn looks at the gentrification of the brownstone neighborhoods in Brooklyn that were largely built between 1830 and 1910. These neighborhoods are now familiar to a generation of hipsters, as places such as Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Fort Greene seem to provide a level of urban authenticity that may children of a suburban nation seek to reshape their identity. Yet this present day understanding of Brooklyn as a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods is largely a creation of the new residents who arrived in the post-industrialization of Brooklyn, residents who were overwhelmingly whiter, wealthier, better educated, and closely identified with the grassroots urban rebellion best exemplified by Jane Jacobs. In order to create a sense of place, both to establish their communities and identify their neighborhoods as marketable places for other potential likeminded homebuyers, these residents researched their neighborhoods, using history to create an identity in the urban wilderness, often using geographic identifications that predated the industrial metropolis.

A resurgent localism is a hallmark of The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn. The local neighborhood, having been freed from being part of the working class urban wilderness, was reclaimed as an organic and authentic neighborhood that rested in historical value. The new residents rejected the growth liberalism of Robert Moses that stressed new highways, new buildings, and the Corbusian model for the city in the garden, and instead pushed for “the ballet of the street” that Jane Jacobs spoke elegantly about in The Death and Life of American Cities. This localism was also expressed in political identity, as the new residents rejected the ethnic Democratic “machine” politics and instead joined reform Democratic organizations that eventually gained political prominence.

If Origins of the Urban Crisis focused on the conflict between ethnic white and African Americans, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn finds that a three-way battle occurred between the white-collar whites, the ethnic whites, and African Americans. Much as in Anthony Lucas’ Common Ground, the bitterest conflict was often between the ethnic and white collar whites, the latter who tried to identify and work with African Americans, but at the same time helped bring an economic revitalization of neighborhoods that pushed out these residents with high real estate prices.

Does Osman’s case study of Brooklyn fit in the larger context of urban America? In certain other northeast metropolitan regions like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and even Chicago, what happened in Brooklyn is similar. On a much smaller scale, this is what happened in Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill and Wealthy Street neighborhoods. However, the post-industrial centers such as metropolitan Detroit and many other declining Midwestern regions, it would be hard to a similar situation unfolding. While the Midwest as a whole has struggled economically, I would think that the twin factors of economic decentralization and the resulting job sprawl limits the possibility the feasibility a Brooklyn-like revitalization occurring.

That is not to say that such an urban reinvention could not occur in the Midwest. Given the incredibly low cost of housing, one would think that regional or state-wide policies would be helpfully ingredients to add to the revitalization toolkit, including college tuition support, consolidation of duplicative governmental services, and increasing the costs of greenfield development while encouraging urban redevelopment to reduce job sprawl. Given the important of regional economic and housing strategies today, policymakers would be well advised to consider creating additional tools to ensure that both the local neighborhoods and regional employment base can thrive in a world ironically closer to the brownstone than to the assembly line.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

First thoughts on the new 3rd District


(Photo Credit T.J. Hamilton)

Lost in the middle of the extended Memorial Day weekend was the leaking of a draft Congressional District map drawn by the Redistricting Committee Republicans in the State House and Senate. Since the Detroit News and Grand Rapids Press have covered this story within their pages, I won’t go into greater detail about how the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was deeply involved with drawing the map. This map was confirmed when the Republican members of the Redistricting Committees in the State House and Senate released their maps last week Friday morning.

However, the newly drawn 3rd District deserves a closer look. While Terri Land thought otherwise in the Grand Rapids Press article (stating “we really have dodged a bullet for a long time here by not having Kent County split”), Kent County is split under the existing map, with the 3rd District encompassing the whole of Ionia and Barry Counties, and includes all of Kent County with the exception of Alpine, Solon, Sparta, and Tyrone Townships (which are in the 2nd District). Under the proposed map, the new 3rd District would include the entirety of Barry, Calhoun, and Ionia Counties, and portions of Kent and Montcalm Counties. Only a small part of Montcalm County containing portion Greenville City and Eureka Township would be in the 3rd, while all of Kent County with the exception of part of Byron Township, Walker, Grandville, Wyoming, and Kentwood would be in the new district.

The breaking up of metropolitan Grand Rapids into two Congressional Districts is a first-time occurrence since Michigan gained statehood in 1837. I consider metropolitan Grand Rapids to consist of Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, Grand Rapids Township, East Grand Rapids, Grandville, and Walker. While moving the suburbs of Walker, Grandville, Wyoming, and Kentwood into the 2nd District might have been due to Republican leaders in Kent County wanting a member of Congress who actually represented his constituents, the new map also removes some portions of the metropolitan region that became increasingly Democratic over the past decade. In particular, Kentwood moved from being a Republican stronghold to a competitive (if Republican leaning) municipality. With the new 3rd District population at 714, 539 residents, this proposed district is 8,565 over the 705,974 congressional district size, meaning that a portion of Kentwood or Wyoming is likely to be assigned to District 3.

From a review of election data between 1998 and 2010 (as well as the 2010 census data), it doesn’t appear that the new map helps current Republican Congressman Justin Amash with reelection in 2012. The new 3rd District was made more Democratic to help preserve the seats of Republicans Tim Walberg (District 7) and Thad McCotter (District 11). 25% of the new 3rd District will have not been previously represented by Amash in Congress, while 24% Amash’s current district will move to the 2nd District. An overwhelming percentage of these new residents in the 3rd District will hail from Calhoun County, which has historically been a Democratic stronghold. Calhoun County had a population of 136,146 in 2010, with half of its population living in Democratic strongholds of Battle Creek (52,347), Springfield (5,189), and Albion (8,616), where the Democratic baseline has not fallen below 60% in the past five election cycles.

Looking at the new 3rd District from the past six election cycles, the data shows that it will take the right Democratic candidate to win this seat. Only two Democratic candidates have won the new 3rd District: Barack Obama with 50.4%, and Carl Levin with 54.2% in 2008. Granholm came close to winning the district in 2006 with 49.4%, and Stabenow received 48.9%. Democrats further down the ticket tended to under-perform, although the Democratic baseline for the district was 46.7% in 2008 and 44.3% in 2006. Democrats throughout the 3rd District did far poorer in 2010, and the Democratic baseline dropped to 42.3%

The Democratic strategy for within the new 3rd District would be as follows: Have at least a 25,000 vote edge from the city of Grand Rapids, win a majority in Kent County, win Battle Creek, Springfield, and Albion with a 7,000 vote margin, carry Calhoun County with at least 55% of the vote, and get at least 45% of the vote in Barry and Ionia Counties. A tall order, but certainly doable.

The great challenge for a Democratic candidate would be to find money to advertise in the two media markets of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Will the impact of television advertising is, at best, minimal on getting voters to the voting booth, it is still a required part of any effective campaign. A Democratic would also benefit from having a number of urban areas in the district (Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Albion, and Greenville) that are strong Democratic centers and also eminently walkable by canvassers. In order to have a candidate make a strong effort at cutting the GOP margin in rural Kent, Ionia, and Barry Counties, there needs to be a revitalization of the Democratic County parties to build a presence in these areas.

Given that Amash underperformed the Republican baseline by 3% in 2010, this district should be a potential opportunity for the Democrats to challenge again in 2012. Having a candidate like Mark Schauer would be a big coup for the Democrats, given that Schauer has consistently overperformed the Democratic baseline in every race he's been in since winning election to the State House in 1996. I've averaged the last six races Schauer ran, and it averages to about 4%. While this wasn't enough to save Schauer in the 2010 GOP wave, I wouldn't under estimate his ability to win in a new district. In many respects, the new GOP congressional map had to make the decision whether to through Schauer's home county of Calhoun in Walberg or Amash's district. It shows the State Republicans' dislike for the 3rd District Representative when they deliver him the unwanted gift of a potential Schauer challenge.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Where Things Went Wrong 50 Years Ago

(Photo Credit: PhotoLab507)

Since I have been very busy with work over the past few months, I have neglect writing on the blog. However, I had a GR Press reporter ask me a few months ago about my article about planning in Grand Rapids between 1949 and 1959. In particular, he asked what I thought would have worked better than the reformers' strategy to work with the business coalition and pursue downtown urban renewal.

As far as specific decisions go, the rejection of the 1959 consolidation measure by the voters was a blow, but I don't think it would have changed the underlying development of the GR region. If I were among the powers that be back in 1961 (and I'm not among them even in 2011), I certainly would have focused more on neighborhood revitalization strategies earlier than working on downtown renewal. The city lost almost 20,000 people between 1970 and 1980, although some of the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown were already losing people by 1960. However, the two biggest blunders that occurred this time period was 1) the siting of Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, and 2) the locating of GR Airport southeast of Grand Rapids.

(Photo Credit: Tyler Vogt)

GVSU was located in the farmland of west Michigan largely because the land was available and it was the policy of the state of Michigan to locate new campuses in greenfield developments. GR could have done something similar to what was done in Chicago with the University of Illinois-Chicago campus-put a new large institution on the edge of downtown to shore of the business district. I think locating the school somewhere on the existing GRCC campus, or to the west of Downtown where the Pew campus is now located, would have done a lot of creating a commercial base so needed in downtown. A thoughtful acknowledgment of the role a community college has in the region would move GRCC from its downtown campus to Calvin's old campus at Franklin and Fuller, and the creating of a new branch campus in Wyoming near the city's commercial core. Putting four different GRCC campuses in the larger metropolitan region (one in the urban core, one in "downtown" Wyoming, one on the west side of Grand Rapids, and a final campus in Kentwood) could have tied the metropolitan core closer together along educational and institutional lines.

The other single pressing mistake was the location of the airport in its current placement on the far edge of southeast Kentwood. The metropolitan region of west Michigan is the Holland/Muskegon/Grand Rapids triangle, and by all accounts the airport should have been located at some point on the west side of the Grand, most likely in Walker near the intersection of 96, Kinney, and Richmond. the later addition of Interstate 196 could have been easily moved Wilson Road to M-45, and then cut to downtown. This relocation would have made the west Michigan much more of a unified economic region and the west side of Grand Rapids would have been easily available for zoning as industrial, thus preserving the city's industrial fabric.

Finally, while highways are necessary but often done in a poorly designed fashion, I am a big fan of parks. The city had a master plan drawn up in 1917 that has some beautiful sketches of parkways along Plaster and Silver Creeks, as well as the Grand and Thornapple River. If we had developed a parkway system, as well as creating a greenbelt park system around the metro region as proposed by Fred Meijer in 2004 (before it was voted down). The broader Grand Rapids needs to have a land use policy that makes it stand out among other Midwestern communities. Right now it does not.

In his new book The Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser argues that the American city, long the whipping child for ever failing in American social policy since the Revolution, is much more environmentally sustainable and the hotbed of American economic innovation in the revitalizing economy. To continue pushing federal policies that subsidize sprawl, underwrites mortgages for large homes built in greenfield developments, and enforce euclidean zoning as opposed to form-based zoning is a recipe for doom.

Monday, May 2, 2011

RAPID Sprawl



No pun intended, but there is an election in various communities across Michigan tomorrow that deserves your attention. Unlike last year, I won’t go into detail on what the end result will be, but I do expect the Rapid millage to pass by a more comfortable margin than the Grand Rapids property tax millage did a year ago. The supporters of the Rapid millage are much better organized, willing to contest the ITP Watch folks aggressively online, and have effectively mobilized the GOTV efforts. I’d put the margin at 54% in favor, give or take 2% (A full and frank disclosure notice: I have advised the Friends of Transit for this millage issue-PB).

The bigger question that needs to be answered on Wednesday morning after the election results come in. Three stories from today’s Grand Rapids Press tell the tale of continued sprawl; the relocation of the regional Social Security office from downtown Grand Rapids to Celebration Village, the continued attempts to develop an urban lifestyle center at East Beltline and Knapp Avenue, and the continued rise in gasoline prices in the region and the United States. The United States in many ways is like a gambler who placed all his bets on one chip, and in this case the gambler placed the chips on the automobile at the expense of other transportation options, whether it be rail transit, buses, biking, or walking. The American way of life that became a natural birthright after 1945 has tied this nation to the path of continued sprawl, whether in terms of employment or housing that is largely inaccessible without an automobile. While gas prices might go down slightly in the next few years, it only buys this nation some more time to put some long-needed land use and transit policies into place. Americans love to mock Europeans for their high gas taxes and mass transit, but the bet European nations made to rebuilt their mass transit systems in the aftermath of World War Two is a bet that surely looks better than the one the United States made.

The successful passage of the Rapid measure will help metropolitan Grand Rapids better address the needs of serving a largely metropolitan region. However, the answer to limiting regional employment and housing sprawl lies with all the communities within Kent County, especially those on the outlying fringe of the urban core. There is a role for government in reforming our current land use policies, and that is to diminish the incentives for sprawl that redirect development to the existing core and to reduce the strain of providing infrastructure to new green field developments. The City of Grand Rapids recently adopted a form-based zoning code that restores traditional land use planning that existed before the 1920s, and I encourage all communities within metropolitan Grand Rapids to consider following this path. The Rapid millage in not a silver bullet for long-standing problems facing metropolitan Grand Rapids, but it is certainly a start.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mark your calendars


Photo credit Brian Kelly

Folks in Texas have a saying about the summer. Summer lasts from Memorial Day to October, and it is best enjoyed in Colorado. Now, since this year will be my first summer in Texas, Susan and I have decided to avoid it for a bit longer by heading to Michigan for Memorial Day week. Colorado will have to wait another year.

Every time we visit west Michigan is wonderful, but we often are so caught up meeting with family that we miss our friends. Or, getting together with friends is a last minute event that is very hard to fit in everyone's schedule. So, this time I'm going to do things a bit differently. If you are interested in hanging out for dinner, or drinks, or just catching up, level a comment on this post, or give me an email at peterbratt at gmail.com. It would be great to see you all again, and I hope that you feel the same way.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2010 Recap Part III: A Polarized Electorate



While Michigan was among the last states to have its 2010 Census data released, the wait was well worth it. The story that the media covered was Detroit’s 26% population loss since the 2000 Census. As I mentioned in an earlier post, in 1950 Detroit was home to 29% of the state’s population, a figure that has since dropped to 7% by the 2010 Census. The story of Michigan since then end of the era of “Grand Expectations” between 1945 and 1974 is one of painful economic restructuring from a industrial to a service-based economy, population dispersal (whether from core cities to suburbs or to other states), and growing income/economic inequity within the state.

Michigan’s story since 1974 also must be understood as one with continued voter polarization by race and location. As always, this story is best told with a mixture of data and narrative, and this post try to provide both. Tables One and Two, shows the Michigan’s population by current state house and state senate districts in both 2000 and 2010. As you can see, in 2000 Michigan had 9,938,444 residents, with 80% of the state’s population White, 14% African American, 3% Hispanic, 2% Asian, and 2% Other. By 2010 the state’s population declined to 9,883,640, and the White share of the population dropped to 77%, the African American share remained around 14%, the Hispanic percentage increased to 4%, while the Asian share of the population remained at 2%. To put the story in numbers, the state lost 54,804 residents over the past decade. The White population dropped by almost 400,000 (396,114 residents to be precise), 28,986 African Americans were lost, while the Hispanic and Asian population increased by 112,481 and 59,980 respectively.

Table Three shows that this population decline was not evenly dispersed between amongst the state’s legislative districts. Among both the State House and Senate seats, districts experiencing the greatest population loss were concentrated within the city of Detroit, as well as urban core districts throughout the state. In contrast, districts representing outlying portions of metropolitan Detroit and western Michigan experienced growth. At the same time, the racial composition of these districts changed over the decade. For example, the Hispanic population grew by more than 7,000 in the 77th State House seat (Wyoming and Byron Township), so that now it is has the third largest Hispanic population percentage in the state (training districts 76 (Grand Rapids) and 12 (southeast Detroit). At the same time, the dispersal of African Americans from the City of Detroit shows in its growing population share in various suburban districts. District 1 (Grosse Points, Harper Woods, Far East Detroit) had its African American share of the population increase from 21% to 35% in a decade, which somewhat explains the seat’s trending to the Democratic column. Likewise, in District 12 (southeast Detroit), the White share of the population dropped from 44% in 2000 to 20% in 2010, while the Hispanic share jumped from 42% to 55%.

Table Four is perhaps the table of most immediate interest for mapmakers and strategists within the state. This table shows the Voting Age Population (VAP), which consists of residents over the age of 18, for the current state house and senate districts. A careful review of the data shows that the VAP tends to be slightly more White than the total population, largely because the Hispanic population is younger than White and African Americans.

Back in November I did a bit of regression analysis to see what impact race had the 2010 elections. I looked at 55 state house seats, and found that the Democratic baseline average from 2004-2008 largely predicted the 2010 result. Since I have the average Democratic baseline for the past four election cycles by Senate and House district, I decided to run another regression test to if a district’s Democratic baseline could be a predictor for the same district’s racial breakdown, and expanded it to the state senate seats as well.

The result is shown in Tables Five and Tables Six(all in the same Google Spreadsheet linked above) shows that racial voting polarization is alive and well in Michigan. In state house seats, the White VAP% and the Democratic baseline explained 77% of the variation, and is significant well beyond the .05 level, while the African American VAP% had a r-squared score of .751, and was likewise significant beyond the .05 level. Both tests also had significant T-scores. In looking at the data, with just one exception, every state house or senate district with an African American population share of greater than 10% received a Democratic baseline percentage above 50%. Similarly, one a district’s White VAP dropped below 74% of the total population, the Democratic baseline never fell below 53%. In contrast, Table Seven shows that the Hispanic VAP% does not have significance on the Democratic baseline percentage.

The state senate results were similar to the state house data. Table Eight shows the White VAP% and the Democratic baseline with a r-squared score of .79 and is significant well beyond the .05 level. The African VAP% in Table Nine has a r-square score of .81 and was likewise significant beyond the .05 level. The Hispanic VAP% in Table Ten did not have significance in the state senate. Like the state house, any district with a White VAP% below 72% or an African American VAP% above 19% gave a Democratic baseline score above 51%.

What does this all mean as 2012 nears? While elections are about candidates, political parties, and voter mobilization, the way the 38 State Senate and 110 State House seats are drawn to protect the current GOP majorities in each chamber will need to also take into consideration the continual dispersal of African Americans into suburban communities. Likewise, the growth of Hispanic communities in various districts (Senate Senate District 29 and State House Districts 77 and 90) might cause future problems for the GOP if the Democratic Party can ever get around to mobilizing these voters. However, perhaps the most interesting story is whether another GOP drawn map can withstand long-term demographic trends in Michigan. The 2001 map, which was perhaps the best drawn GOP plan outside of Texas, collapsed in 2006 on the state level, and fell on the national level in 2008. While the GOP gained back all these losses and some in 2010, the sheer number of GOP legislatures might force the map makers in each chamber to draw aggressive maps to protect their enlarged ranks. That could spell trouble in a bad election year.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Michigan in 2010


I'll be posting a lot on the 2010 data for Michigan, but let's start with a depressing post on Michigan's ten largest cities. These cities tell a depressing tell a depressing tale in 2010. Check out this Google document for the ten largest cities in the State of Michigan as of 2010:

https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AtAGGuZPwuifdHBkLXVaaUZxcXA3cUN1X2xCcXZIbHc&hl=en&authkey=COKg_OcC

You can see a slow but steady drop in population among all of Michigan's core cities (Detroit, GR, Flint and Lansing), while the core suburbs (Warren, Sterling Heights, Dearborn, and Livonia pretty much peaked in 1980, and have seen their population remain static or decline. Only Ann Arbor has seen its population increase, although it too has remained static since 1990.

I could pull the records back further, but I think that the last two rows tell the larger story of Michigan's decline. The population of its large cities/suburbs, have dropped from being 39% of the population in 1950 to 17% today. Detroit in follows this decline, falling from containing 29% of Michigan's total population in 1950 to 7% in 2010. Until Michigan's core cities, including Detroit, start growing again, I can't see an easy way to improve the state.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Excellent Post from Rustwire

I read an excellent post from Rustwire.com by Andrew Basile, Jr., a CEO of a company based in Troy, Michigan. I've posted the post in full-below, in part because I think it is important for people to realize that a good business environment is more than just low taxes. Enjoy and discuss.

From: Andrew Basile, Jr
Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 12:16 PM
Subject: Why our growing firm may have to leave Michigan.

All,

I hope you find this essay of interest/value. It’s probably something you’ve heard a million times but I thought I ought to at least try to vocalize it rather than silently surrender.

We have a patent law firm in Troy. In 2006, our firm’s legacy domestic automotive business collapsed. We rebuilt our practice with out-of-state clients in a range of industries, including clients like Google, Nissan and Abbott Labs, located in the US, Japan, Europe and China.

Today, we have 40 highly-paid employees and much of our work now comes from out of state. This makes us a service exporter. We are very proud of the contribution our firm makes to the local economy. We also created a not-for-profit incubator using excess space in our office. The incubator is home to 4 start-ups, all of which are generating revenue and two of which have started employing people. This is something we do without charge as a charity to help the state.

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem. It’s not taxes or regulations. There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no impact on our business. We spend more on copiers and toner than we do on state taxes.

Our problem is access to talent. We have high-paying positions open for patent attorneys in the software and semiconductor space. Even though it is one of the best hiring environments for IP firms in 40 years, we cannot fill these positions. Most qualified candidates live out of state and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate to other cities. Our recruiters are very blunt. They say it is almost impossible to recruit to Michigan without paying big premiums above competitive salaries on the coasts.

It’s nearly a certainty that we will have to relocate (or at a minimum expand) our business out of Michigan if we want to grow. People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to live here. For example, below are charts of migration patterns based on IRS data Black is inbound, red is outbound. Even though the CA economy is in very bad shape, there is still a mass migration to San Francisco vs. mass outbound migration from Oakland County (most notably to cities like SF, LA, Dallas, Atlanta, NY, DC, Boston, and Philly) San Fran only seems to be losing people to Portland, a place with even more open space and higher quality urban environments.

Recession or no, isn’t it screamingly obvious that people with choices in life – i.e. people with money and education – choose not to live here? We are becoming a place where people without resources are grudgingly forced to live. A place without youth, prospects, respect, money or influence.

There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some might call this poor “quality of life.” A better term might be poor “quality of place.” In Metro Detroit, we have built a very bad physical place. We don’t have charming, vibrant cities and we don’t have open space.

Having moved here from California five years ago, I will testify that Metro Detroit is a very hard place to live. Ask any former Detroiter in California, and you will hear a consistent recital of the flaws that make Metro Detroit so unattractive. Things are spread too far apart. You have to drive everywhere. There’s no mass transit. There are no viable cities. Lots of it is really ugly, especially the mile after mile of sterile and often dingy suburban strip shopping and utility wires that line our dilapidated roads (note above). There’s no nearby open space for most people (living in Birmingham, it’s 45 minutes in traffic to places like Proud Lake or Kensington). It’s impossible to get around by bike without taking your life in your hands. Most people lead sedentary lifestyles. There’s a grating “car culture” that is really off-putting to many people from outside of Michigan. I heard these same complaints when I left 25 years ago. In a quarter century, things have only gotten considerably worse.

Ironically, California is supposed to be a sprawling place. In my experience they are pikers compared to us. Did you know that Metro Detroit is one half the density of Los Angeles County? The fundamental problem it seems to me is that our region as gone berserk on suburbia to the expense of having any type of nearby open space or viable urban communities, which are the two primary spatial assets that attract and retain the best human capital. For example, I noted sadly the other day that the entire Oakland Country government complex was built in a field 5 miles outside of downtown Pontiac. I find that decision shocking. What a wasted opportunity for maintaining a viable downtown Pontiac, not to mention the open space now consumed by the existing complex. What possibly could have been going through their minds? Happily, most of the men who made those foolish decisions 30 or 40 years ago are no longer in policy-making roles. A younger generation needs to recognize the immense folly that they perpetrated and begin the costly, decades long task of cleaning up the wreckage.

These are problems, sure, but they could be easily overcome, especially in Oakland County which is widely recognized as one of the best-run large counties in the country. But despite our talents and resources, the region’s problem of place may be intractable for one simple, sorry reason: our political and business leadership does not view poor quality of place as a problem and certainly lacks motivation to address the issue.

Indeed, Brooks Patterson — an otherwise extraordinary leader — claims to love sprawl and says Oakland Country can’t get enough of it. These leaders presume that the region has “great” quality of life (apparently defined as big yards, cull de sacs and a nearby Home Depot). In their minds, we just need to reopen a few more factories and all will be well. The cherished corollary to this is that Michigan and Metro Detroit have an “image” problem and that if only people knew great things were
they would consider living or investing here. The attitude of many in our region is that our problems are confined to Detroit city while the suburbs are thought to be lovely.

We don’t have a perception problem, we have a reality problem. Most young, highly talented knowledge workers from places like Seattle or San Francisco or Chicago find the even the upper end suburbs of Metro Detroit to be unappealing. I think long term residents including many leaders are simply so used to the dreary physical environment of Southeast Michigan that it has come to seem normal, comfortable and maybe even attractive. Which is fine so long as we have no aspiration to attract talent and capital from outside our region.

My fears were confirmed when I began trying to gather local economic development literature to use as a recruiting tool. The deficits which so dog our region are sometimes heralded by this literature as assets. For example, some boosters trumpet our “unrivaled” freeway system as if freeways and sprawl they engender are “quality of life” assets. In San Francisco, the place sucking up all the talent and money, they have removed — literally torn out of the ground — two freeways because people prefer not to have them. I noted one “Quality of Life” page of a Detroit area economic development website featured a prominent picture of an enclosed regional shopping mall! Yuck. It’s theater of the absurd.

The people who put together that website must live in a different cultural universe from the high income/high education people streaming out of Michigan for New York, Chicago, and California. Not only is there no plan to address these issues, I fear that the public and their elected leaders in Michigan don’t even recognize the problem or want change. We have at least one bright spot in the nascent urban corridor between Pontiac, and Ferndale, which is slowly building a critical mass of
walkable urban assets. At the same time, there’s no coordinated effort to develop this. Indeed, MDOT officials lie awake at night thinking of ways to thwart the efforts of local communities along Woodward to become more walkable. Another symptom the region’s peculiar and self-destructive adoration of the automobile. Even though the Big Three are a tiny shadow of their former selves, Michigan is still locked
in the iron grip of their toxic cultural legacy.

I’d like to hang on another five years. I feel like we’re making a difference. But by the same token, I don’t see any forward progress or even an meaningful attempt at forward progress. It’s almost like the people running things are profoundly disconnected from the reality that many if not most talented knowledge workers find our region’s paradigm of extreme suburbanization to be highly unattractive. It seems
to me that we are halfway through a 100 year death spiral in which the forces in support of the status quo become relatively stronger as people with vision and ambition just give up and leave. As we descend this death spiral, we must in my mind be approaching the point of no return, where the constituency for reform dwindles below a critical threshold and the region’s path of self destruction becomes unalterable.

Thank you for considering my views. I welcome any opportunity to be of help to any efforts you may have to fix this.
Andrew Basile, Jr.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

2010 Recap Part III: Recalling the Past


I have put off writing the two remaining sections of analysis of the 2010 election in Michigan in part because I am still waiting on voter file data to arrive from the Secretary of State, as well as receiving corrected voter tallies from November. When that does arrive I will do a final write up on results.

However, the political events of the past few weeks in Wisconsin, as well as the forthcoming school district elections in early May in Michigan (along with the municipal general election for blog readers in Texas), have motivated me to write a third post on a rather timely topic: field operations. With labor confident of recalling a number of Republican state senators in Wisconsin, and local campaigns making promises to bring an unprecedented number of voters to the polls in many states, any realistic campaigner needs to throw the old campaign playbook out the window.

In 2004 Donald Green and Alan Gerber came out with a great little book entitled Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. The book was significantly updated in 2008 with additional case studies, but the basic message remained the same: traditional campaign methods that have developed over the past thirty years are rather worthless. Green and Gerber scientifically analyzed turnout measures used by over 75 campaigns between 1998 and 2007, and determined the cost effectiveness of various turnout methods. Think sending a robocall with Bill Clinton reminding your base voters to vote will increase turnout? Green and Gerber find that robocalls have no effect on increasing turnout. Does doing three hits of direct mail to flood voters’ mailboxes in the last weekend of the campaign send people flying to vote? Once again, there is no evidence of any effect. In the same way, television ads, direct mail, and commercial phone banking has a minimal impact on increasing voter turnout. Give that the television market is very fragmented among basic and cable channels, the impact of advertisement on the airwaves is lost in a world of information overload. Similarly, Facebook and other social media is an excellent way to repeat your campaign message ad nauseam, but this is not going to do anything to increase turnout.

What does seem to work, and is rather cost effective at that, is extensive door-to-door canvassing. The authors calculate that door-to-door canvassing results in one vote per 14 contacts, which averages a voter contact cost of $29. Many campaigns use direct mail to bring the election bell, and this was certainly the case in 2010. For example, in the 2010 general election, State Senate candidate David Hildenbrand spent almost $23,000 on a mass mailing (which included paying for literature, mailing costs, and developing a voter list). If Hidlenbrand had spent this money on door-to-door canvassing, he would have likely would have gained about 650 more votes on Election Day. Given that Hildenbrand narrowly won on November 2, this decision did not adversely impact his efforts. However, for the five Democratic State House candidates who lost by less than 500 votes on the same day, the redirecting of $25,000 to a more effective ground game would have carried them over the top, resulting in a much smaller GOP edge in the State House of 58-52 (as opposed to the current 63 to 49 edge).

If there was any one candidate in particular who took the lessons outlined in the first edition of Get Out the Vote, it was Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry. This article in the Texas Observer is an excellent piece on his campaign’s efforts to develop an extremely effective turnout machine over the past four years, and I recommend that you read it in full. As much as one might disagree with Perry’s priorities and secessionist tendencies, his reelection after thumping his opponents in the Republican primary in June and besting Democrat Bill White in November 2010 is nothing short of amazing after being declared dead by most observers in late 2009. While Perry spent heavily on the airwaves and direct mail, his campaign also invested handsomely in developing a very strong door-to-door campaign game.

The lessons from Get Out the Vote are even more important for races with low turnout that require careful voter targeting. A school board election in Michigan, for example, will, at best, get 20% turnout, with turnout around 15% much more likely. When you run television ads and other paid media, only 20% of the voting population will really be interested. Likewise, direct mail has a horrible record of increasing voter turnout for small turnout campaigns. In the end, through careful use of voter files, a campaign should stick to door-to-door contacting, volunteer phone banking, and run a vigorous absentee voter contact operation. In the potential recall elections in Wisconsin, it is especially important to reach out to voters who typically do not show up at special elections. While I’m not certain that the Democrats will be able to get the needed number signatures to recall the eight Wisconsin State Senators, but if the recall elections do occur, I seriously hope that the state Democratic Party will read Get Out the Vote before wasting much needed funds on television advertising and direct mail and instead resort to old fashion door-to-door campaign. Also, you might want to call someone who does political number crunching and mapping. Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The American Mind, 150 Years Later



With the 150th anniversary of the shelling of Fort Sumter is fast approaching, I’m reminded how the 150 years since the American Civil war is not really all that long ago. Only five generations stand between this current age and the fire-eaters, although some might say particular figures from 1861 have mistakenly been seen in 2011 (such as Texas Governor Rick Perry). There are a number of media sources, particularly the New York Times, that are doing an excellent job covering the Civil War and its impact on American life and memory, and we should be thankful for this.

For those of you who do not know, my childhood love was the American Civil War. My parents did not believe that the summer months of vacation were a respite from school; far from it. We had math problems to do, summer sports camps and tennis lessons to attend, and chores to perform at the collective farm at 2321 Everest SE. However, I was lucky that my Dad was (and still is) a college professor and he often brought back books from the school library for me to read and write essays to improve my writing. While I first enjoyed the pictures from the books most of all (especially those of Braxton Bragg, a real piece of work), the twisted trail of the conflict was fascinating. Who can forget reading for the first time some of the speeches from the 1850s such as Steward’s “Irrepressible Conflict” or slogging through Bruce Catton’s trilogy at the age of ten?

Perhaps one of my favorite books on the American Civil War is George Fredrickson’s The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I’d recommend taking a look. I came across this book in college after reading one of my all time favorite books The Education of Henry Adams, an autobiography that really provides an insightful look at the evolving intellectual ethos of the American ruling class between 1868 and 1914. Fredrickson work, published in 1965, looks at the intellectual struggles among the elites during the conflict. Fredrickson wrote his work in response to Stanley Elkins’ assertion in Slavery that intellectual life in the North centered on Concord, Massachusetts, meaning Emerson and others in his circle. Fredrickson uses an array of intellectual sources, including William James, George Templeton Strong, and Josephine Shaw Lovell, to convey the war’s impact on that was felt far beyond the battlefield. Indeed, The Inner Civil War persuasively argues that the war led many northern thinkers to turn away from questions on egalitarianism and individualism run amok towards a developing ideology promoting voluntary social organizations, the rise of the institutional state, and the role of citizens in a rapidly industrializing republic. While sometimes dry, The Inner Civil War is worth your time. In fact, I’d recommend that next time you take a vacation, take The Education of Henry Adams, The Inner Civil War, and Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club, and you will come back with a much better understanding of American intellectual thought from 1850 to 1914.

Perhaps one of the tragedies of modern American intellectual life is the lack of time for thought and introspection in our public discourse. While we have a feast of information, we have very little time to digest the bounty before us. Responses on detailed political questions are given the twitter treatment within a 24 hour news cycle, and I can’t help but think that our minds and our public institutions have not yet adapted to such a breathtaking speed. Can you imagine John Calhoun theorizing about states’ rights on twitter? I can hardly think that he’d be able to explain defense of slavery as a positive good in 144 characters or less, although he might be able to better defend his changing political views from 1809 to 1850. However, Calhoun’s evolution reflects the second great failing in modern American politics, which is vies any change in thinking or belief as hypocrisy. We have talented people in every generation of American political life, but we don’t have the time and working out the complexities of dealing with the American democracy that earlier generations did. The enormous change in American life between 1815 and 1860 was perhaps the undoing of the American political process that led to the Civil War finally coming 150 years ago; the technologies that gave folks like Alexander Stephens and Benjamin Wade the telegraph, the penny newspaper and instant public contact to the institutions of government led to the political process becoming rather inflexible during the 1850s (along with a host of other problems). While the issues of the mind that battered the Northern intellectuals 150 years ago might have been as demanding as those facing our thinkers today, hopefully we can learn to use the new social media to carefully think and process challenges to the same degree in this present age.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking Backwards: Grand Rapids in 2026



(I found this remarkable document while walking in downtown Grand Rapids near the statue of Lucius Lyon at the intersection of Lyon Street and Monroe Avenue. I have posted here the document unaltered.-PB)

As we celebrate the past two centuries since Grand Rapids’ founding in 1826, it is helpful that we take a moment to reflect on the enormous changes that occurred in Grand Rapids in the past twenty five years. Indeed, some might say that the changes from 2011 to 2026 were as monumental as all the changes that occurred in the 175 years prior. But, then as editors of the Grand Rapids Press, we should let our readers decide.

We all remember the dire situation that Michigan found itself twenty five years ago. A decade of economic decline between 2001 and 2011 which was brought about by the changing of state’s economy from one of manufacturing to one of services, education, and health care, made Michigan the laughing stock of the United States. Indeed, the Wolverine state was the only one in the union which lost population between 2000 and 2010, a truly humbling statistic. While Governor Granholm tried to promote the necessary changes that would improve the state’s tax structure, the constant battling between the Republicans and Democrats limited the state’s ability to respond to a dreadful economic climate. Indeed, efforts by Republicans in the Michigan legislature to repeal the Single Business Tax without developing a mechanism to replace revenues led to a poorly designed replacement tax (the Michigan Business Tax) that caused a great deal of uncertainty in the business community of the state.

With the election of Rick Snyder as Governor in 2010 and large Republican majorities in the State House and Senate, the Republicans were poised to govern. Since the readers know what happened next, we will not go into detail. However, the overhauling of Michigan between 2011 and 2017 was truly a bipartisan achievement. Snyder forged a governing majority with Democrats on some issues (increasing funding for the MTF to improve Michigan’s long-depleted infrastructure and to developing a ten-year plan to reduce the costs of local public sector pensions) and with Republicans on others (repealing Public Act 312 which mandated binding arbitration for Michigan’s public sector workers, ruthlessly promoting governmental consolidating, and developing a new business tax system), causing anger among the Republican base. Republican activists were happy with the new 6% corporate income tax, but were angered by the sales tax being expanded to cover all services (despite being lowered to 5%) as well as the state income tax being stabilized at 4%. At the same time many Democrats base voters were angered at the taxation of retired citizens’ income, and with strong Democratic turnout in 2012, the Democrats retook control of the State House, and held a 5 to 2 majority on the Supreme Court. This resulted in Snyder working closely with Democrats in the State House, which confirmed the worst fears among Republican Tea Party activists. Activists were successful in getting a recall of Snyder put on the ballot in 2013, but failed to boot him from office in November 2013. Snyder quickly announced that he was running as a Democrat in 2014, and his coattails led to the Democrats taking over the State Senate in November 2014. Snyder’s partnership with the Democrats, while never warm, resulted in a productive second term. Democrat Dan Kildee succeeded Snyder in 2018, and is in the last year of his second term. We will soon see whether US Senator Buzz Thomas or Representative Justin Amash will test the waters on a gubernatorial bid.


Lucius Lyon

The structural changes in Michigan’s government aided Grand Rapids’ spectacular recovery during the same time period. With the removal of PA 312, city officials from Grand Rapids City, East Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, Grandville, Walker, and Grand Rapids Township decided to consolidate their fire, police, planning, regulatory, and sanitation services, as these services would thus be delivered much more cost-effectively. While they grumbled at first, the public sector workers forged a union contract that changed their pension system by participating in social security and gradually transforming to defined contributions (such as 401(k)) that were met with a generous employer match of 3 to 1. The communities agreed to consolidate their essential public services in 2012, and following the success of this decision, they moved to consolidate into one unit of government after three years of discussion. This decision was motivated in part by the incentives provided by the state, which had promised to return statutory revenue sharing funding to 1998 levels for the next ten years after a consolidation. The six communities, each which had lost more than 40% of their statutory revenue between 1998 and 2010, saw the promise of an additional $40 million in funding from the state each year for next decade as one too good to pass up. The consolidation vote was put on the ballot in November 2015, and was passed in all six communities, although narrowly in Grandville and Grand Rapids Township. What enabled the passage of the measure was the assurance that school district boundaries would remain untouched for ten years, and that Grand Rapids and Walker’s income tax would be eliminated. The combined communities had a population of 376,000 at the time of consolidation, which rose to 391,000 by the 2020 Census.

While opponents of the consolidation had warned about how citizens in the smaller suburbs would lose their autonomy after the annexation, these fears were unrealized. In fact, localism flourished, as the new city charter called for the establishment of community governing boards, which were created for each of the city’s 13 police precincts and council districts. Citizens were nominated by their fellow residents to serve on these advisory committees, which worked closely with city government and staff. Likewise, a reformed city government had an active council of 13 commissioners, each which served 29,000 residents and provided greater representation than had previously existed. David LaGrand was elected as the first full-time Mayor in 2017, and worked well with the non-partisan council, which had a nominal Republican-lean. At the same time, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce (headed by Richard DeVos III) and The Right Place were more effectively able to promote Grand Rapids as an attractive place to do business following the consolidation, and the city’s delegation of 4 State Representatives and State Senator Brandon Dillon were crucial in securing additional state leverage and infrastructure spending after years of deferred maintenance.

Residents’ fears of consolidation were also soothed by the key role that the region’s business community played in promoting the consolidation. An anonymous group of donors (although many believe that the DeVos, Frey, Meijier, and Van Andel Families were the leading funders) offered to pay for the equivalent cost of in-state tuition at the University of Michigan for any student who attended a public or private school in Grand Rapids if consolidation was approved. Apparently, this was done to ensure the elimination of the income tax, as well as the replacement of a use-based zoning code with a form-based zoning code that allowed for more business flexibility in the new city. At the same time, wealthy donors Peter Secchia and Hank Meijer promised to provide $75 million in matching funds to create a new park system for the city provided that the consolidation vote passed. The new park system was similar to the one proposed by Harlow Bartholomew in 1909, and also enabled the Millennium Park system to expanded to a new greenbelt that preserved natural corridors along the Grand and Thornapple Rivers, and also created a new park system that was connected by parkways and bike trails. With this vast infusion of funds a new zoo was created in Johnson Park, while the existing John Ball Park Zoo was converted into a migratory bird center and popular arboretum.

Emboldened by the success of Grand Rapids’ consolidation, Kent County officials also reorganized their government. In a successful charter commission measure passed in November 2019, voters elected Stan Ponstein as their first County Executive, approved the consolidation of Grand Rapids’ library system into the Kent Intermediate Library System, adopted a countywide master planning process, and created a countywide sales tax of 1%. The reorganized county government soon enacted strict transparency standards for future road building projects, and increased building permit costs to reflect the true cost of greenfield developments. The county also used half of the sales tax increase to build a countywide park system that also helped revitalize the stalled Purchase Development Right program. Ponstein was crucial in getting a County Land Bank Program created that sought to combat property abandonment within portions of Grand Rapids and other communities throughout the county. The county government also worked to expand the Grand Rapids Community College system, creating a branch campus in the former Studio 28 complex in Wyoming that opened in 2021, and is currently examining whether to open additional campuses.



So as we celebrate Grand Rapids’ past two hundred years, we argue that the decisions made in the past twenty five years will help position the city for the next two hundred years. This transformation was a close collaboration between business leaders, public officials, and citizens that allowed for a greater Grand Rapids to truly emerge. And, after all, isn’t this what Lucius Lyon and Louis Campau would have thought back in 1826?