Remarks, Land Use Council Meeting
March 24, 2003
Thank you. I want to start by thanking you all for lending us your time, your minds, and your passion on this issue, with special thanks, of course, to our co-chairs - the great defenders of Michigan's natural resources - Governor Milliken and Attorney General Kelley.
Let me also thank Senators Emerson and Sikkema, Speaker Johnson and Representative Byrum for their participation and support of this process. And also to Michigan's foundation community which has rallied around this project - specifically Rob Collier of the Council of Michigan Foundations, and the Americana, Dow, Fry, Kellogg and Mott Foundations - your support is really incalculable. Thank you.
I'm pleased to be able to introduce to you all this morning - for the first time - the state's first ever full-time Foundation Liaison - Ms. Karen Aldridge-Eason. Karen comes to us from the Mott Foundation, and the position she will hold beginning April 1 is made possible completely by our foundation partners.
The position is so exciting to me, not just because of what Karen will be doing - building the bridge between the foundation community and the Governor's office for land use planning projects and early childhood development initiatives, in particular - but really because of the creative direction we're signaling that work in this administration will be done.
We don't have the public dollars we've had in the past to do all the things we want to do. But we won't let our budget hold us back. We're finding new and creative ways to get our most important work done. We're using our tax dollars to do the necessary, the critical…we're fixing the roads and putting police officers on them; we're educating our children and making sure that our families have the food and medicine they need to nourish their bodies. But with our formal partnership with the foundation community, we are finding ways to nourish our souls…to add depth and color and richness to our lives.
I am so pleased to introduce Kim to you all this morning.
So let me turn, for a moment, to you and what you're all here to do. No one in this room would disagree that this council has a difficult assignment. This issue of our land and how we best use it has been sitting on the shelf for far too long. And every hour that it sits, ten more acres of our land disappears. Every year that it sits, sprawl and land consumption win. With the creation of this commission - with you - the shelf life on wise land use has finally expired. We are getting to real work.
It's not the non-use of our land. It's the wise use of it.
It will require cooperation and results - which is why we are calling on the expertise of so many from so many diverse sectors of our community. Let me thank you - on behalf of the families whose summer playgrounds you will preserve, and the communities whose character you will maintain, and the farmers whose heritage you will preserve, and the cities whose economies you will help fuel - thank you for leaving the labels and borders of your day jobs at the door for this; thank you. Thank you for lending us your expertise. Please be willing to step back from your particular interest to exercise leadership for the whole.
Someone once wisely said, "we all live downstream." Especially on this issue, all of our neighborhoods, all of our communities, all of our families are affected. So, I'm truly inspired by the partnership here. We are all downstream; we are all in the same boat. It's so great to sense the spirit of cooperation that your very presence signals.
This process deserves support from all vantage points because, frankly, in Michigan, our land resources are why we are here and they are who we are. Our forests, fauna, and farmland have defined our way of life for hundreds of years, and in doing so, they have defined our identity as a state.
Fewer things really get my blood boiling than when people - people who have never seen Michigan outside a conference room in one of our hotels - ask me: "Why in the world do you live in Michigan?"
They don't know, because they've never seen this amazing state! They have never seen the soul of Michigan. They have not dug their feet into the warm sand of our silver dunes, or gotten their shoes muddy in an apple orchard on a crisp fall day. You need to stand on the rocks up north, on the shore of Lake Superior and let that huge expanse of blue make you feel infinitesimally small. You need to gape at the beauty of our Michigan homeland, not the sprawl of our cities, to really understand. California, eat your heart out!
And it's part of our history. Michiganians have for centuries bent their backs and brought out of our land the resources that helped to, literally, build this great state from the ground up. Michigan's land is a bloodline that feeds our heart and our muscle and our future.
So, what we are doing here is fighting for the preservation of that bloodline - the 3,228 miles of beaches and sand dunes and waterfront, the 300,000 acres of farmland that have been sacrificed to sprawl in the last ten years.
The question on the table for me, and for all of you, is really: "What kind of Michigan do I want my grandchildren to know?" Do we want them to know clear lakes and green forest light of your childhood?
The cricket songs and lapping waves and squeaky sandy porches of our summers? The tulips and soft petals of trilliums of our spring? The lake breezes and pine-scented air of our North?
Or will they only know something else? Something concrete and dressed in grey pavement, adorned with strip malls?
The answer, of course, is that we must protect and preserve this amazing land entrusted to us which calls our hearts to find a home in Michigan.
This critical issue isn't the product of just another "ism" - conservationism, liberalism, or Republicanism. It's the product of this fundamental question of whether or not we want to save the splendor of our state for our grandchildren's generation and beyond, while still permitting wise economic growth.
And this is about saving our cities and communities. We've spent years and billions of dollars to build up the infrastructure of our older urban areas, but the more we grow, the less we put back into our cities. The population loss of our major urban areas is staggering. And the infrastructures built to service these depleted populations now sit, yet still must be maintained with tax dollars.
The resulting impact on our land base is significant. Millions of square feet of commercial space have been closed down, with replacements being constructed in new communities. We are gobbling up land at a rate that our population won't support, the land base won't maintain and that we can no longer tolerate.
The issues surrounding land use in Michigan do not lend themselves to delay or pause. You are here to work quickly - before the problem is outside our scope of influence. Whether it's a local public official trying to attract and keep new jobs downtown or a farmer faced with selling the family land to a developer - please remember as you work that everyone, every family and community, is affected.
"Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice." If our children are to find a pleasant peninsula when they look about them…they need you to seek the answers to this challenge today.
We're putting in your hands every tool we can muster to chart a new map for our state - extensive background, the collective mind power around this table and experts from six state departments that directly affect land use. Every tool in our tool box is at your disposal.
As you work to blaze a new path, I leave you with these words from our own Gwen Frostic, who still reminds us of why we must divert from our old one:
and life itself
Will go on beyond time
only if man comes to
understanding the urgency
and the very air
Only if he finds a way
of correlating his needs
with those of the universe
Will there be
In this council, as we partner and work together, I know you'll remember that we are truly, in Gwen Frostic's words, preserving the Michigan we know for a "time beyond now."
Thank you, fellow stewards, for your commitment to serve.