The state of Michigan is experiencing a
disconcerting “brain drain;” numerous educated young
people are fleeing the state for more cosmopolitan urban centers
such as New York or San Francisco. Governor Jennifer
Granholm’s Cool Cities initiative is meant to prevent this
flight of young professionals by fostering a more youth-friendly
environment in our state’s cities. The initiative recently
crossed a major milestone when it issued its first round of grants:
$100,000 to 17 Michigan communities. These grants will focus on
such projects as the renovation of dilapidated buildings and the
creation of mixed-use loft apartments in order to revitalize the
state’s urban centers and attract young professionals. The
flight of the educated is a serious concern, and the Cool Cities
grants are an important first step towards reversing the
frightening trend.

Mira Levitan

One of the biggest advantages of this initiative is its focus on
improving urban centers instead of expanding suburban development.
Projects like the renovation of Detroit’s Eastern Market and
improving Ypsilanti’s Riverside Arts Center will help to
attract people to the cities themselves, reviving Michigan’s
ailing downtowns. Downtowns, which maximize interpersonal
interaction by placing a diverse range of social activities in
close proximity, foster nightlife and other cultural activities
more than the sprawling residential complexes of suburbia ever
could. Significant nightlife — markedly absent from suburbs
with their tight noise regulations — is a sure way to attract
fresh college graduates to an area. One needs only to walk through
the more urbane Ann Arbor in order to realize how necessary an
active downtown is if young people are to flourish.

Yet the list of the grant recipients has a noticeable lack of
seemingly urban cities and a surprising number of moderately rural
ones. The 17 cities received their grants after submitting
proposals for specific projects fashioned by community leaders and
private investors. Although Lansing is to be commended for their
astonishing commitment to encouraging cultural magnets, if its wish
is to truly combat the brain drain, then it must work to reinforce
the already existing cultural hot-spots rather then floundering
funds across the state. Although the projects being pursued in such
cities as Alpena and Sault St. Marie are worthwhile, they will, by
no means, be on a par to compete with such cities as Boston or
Chicago. Michigan cities are not competing amongst themselves for
human resources, but with other cities across the country;
therefore Lansing must concentrate its efforts on nourishing
already culturally robust cities such as Royal Oak, Ferndale and
Ann Arbor. The state should take advantage of these already cool
cities and make them truly attractive enough to detract from other
cultural meccas nationwide. Michigan must adopt the mindset that
what is good for these few cities is good for the entire state as a
whole.

The growth of these urban centers benefits the entire state by
ameliorating the dearth of central cities in Michigan and stemming
the decay of the few already existing ones, most notably Detroit.
If these “cool” cities can become epicenters for young
professionals and obtain some gravity of their own, that will work
to impede sprawl and inherently benefit Detroit. The creation of
these cool cities will ultimately reverse the brain drain, keep
young, college-educated professionals within the state and
undoubtedly pay great economic dividends for the state at
large.

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