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New tools, planning help coastal communities strive and thrive in light of constant change

Public comments tabulated on City of Trenton zoning ordinance session. (Credit: Beckett Raeder Inc.)

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy hosts a webinar on coastal community resiliency later today. This article one the topic, by Andrea Brown of the Michigan Association of Planning, is from the recently released State of the Great Lakes Report.

Communities create master plans as a tool to use so they can thrive, both now and in the future. More and more, there is a sense that these plans should focus on making a community as resilient as possible. In the past year, the rising level of the Great Lakes and the COVID-19 pandemic are dramatic examples of the adversity communities are facing.

As the professional association for community planners and appointed land use officials in the state of Michigan, the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP) understands that community planning directly affects long-term community resiliency in a complex and changing world. Resilience is the ability of a community to recover or "bounce back" from adversity -- whether an economic downturn, extreme weather, environmental disaster or demographic shift.

Over the past six years, MAP has partnered with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's (EGLE) Coastal Management Program, the University of Michigan (U-M) and the Land Information Access Association (LIAA) to develop strategic approaches that increase the knowledge of municipal planners and officials about community resilience.

An early objective of the partnership was to introduce the idea of integrating coastal sustainability and resilience into municipal master plans. U-M and LIAA provided the technical expertise and science-based approaches, while MAP provided access to professional planners as well as appointed and elected municipal leaders. Together, we developed and delivered a master planning process for a community resilience workshop curriculum to prepare municipalities to create and adopt their own local resilience policies. Long-term resilience starts with adopted municipal plans and policies that establish the steps that are necessary to position a community for resilience success.

MAP also published an issue of our magazine on resilience planning best practices and hosted a daylong Resilience Summit, which highlighted national experts, our partners and local practitioners who are doing the work in Michigan.

Building on shared knowledge and experience, MAP's next round of EGLE funding provided a grant match for six coastal communities to hire planning consultants to assist in developing and adopting local resilience plans. This pilot project served to build the knowledge of private sector planners, enhancing their experience and positioning them to provide resilience planning services to municipalities throughout the state. MAP also developed and launched a workshop for planning consultants to ensure they possess the necessary skills to successfully work with local governments.

Once a plan is adopted, implementation is key. MAP has received additional funding from EGLE to assist communities seeking to implement resiliency policies and ordinance changes identified in their master plans. This would enable municipalities to take actions that might otherwise be delayed due to inertia, leadership changes or cost. Grand Haven is a successful example.

Educating local officials is an important first step, but even when equipped with tools and best practices for resiliency planning, there are barriers to moving from planning to implementation. To help coastal leaders understand the range of policies and solutions to prepare for and respond to high waters, MAP produced a publication, Survive and Thrive, which summarized lessons learned from the pilot communities.

Next up? MAP, in coordination with EGLE's Coastal Management Program, Michigan Sea Grant and U-M, will pilot a leadership academy for coastal communities. The academy will consist of a sequence of three intensive, peer-learning virtual workshops for local decision-makers dealing with coastal hazards. The approach is intended to build and nurture a cluster of 12-15 local community leaders from several jurisdictions who will forge the strong relationships necessary to carry forth strategies to respond to the impacts of rising Great Lakes water levels and the resolve to collectively work together going forward.

Participants in the academy will come away from this experience with the technical knowledge and local partnerships necessary to advance planning and zoning changes in their community that provide non-structural approaches to coastal shoreline protection. Participants will return to their communities and organizations as ambassadors for coastal resilience, to lead local efforts to educate the community and build on momentum acquired at the leadership academy.

Photo caption: Public comments tabulated on a sign after a City of Trenton zoning ordinance session. (Credit: Beckett Raeder Inc.)

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