(Photo Courtesy Michigan Municipal League)

A new study by Michigan State University finds that “walkability” is among the top factors that influence home purchase decisions, along with safety, short commute times to jobs, and affordability.  However, according to Mary Beth Graebert, Michigan State University Land Policy Institute’s associate director for Programs and Operations and co-author of the study, the results suggest that there isn’t a perfect mix of amenities that will lead to economic improvement in every community.

mary beth graebert

“Communities in Michigan have become especially interested in ‘placemaking’ as a way to achieve economic development,” explains Graebert. “Having attractive places that offer more choices in housing and transportation; opportunities for improved social interaction; more variety in entertainment, cultural offerings, green space and recreation; more diversity in ages, races, sexual orientation, ethnicity and cultural heritage; and more business and entrepreneurial opportunities — these are all magnets for talented workers. In the New Economy, where talented workers go, economic prosperity follows.” 

The report was the second phase of the “Rebuilding prosperous places” study, in which Michigan State University researchers worked with several partners, including the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Michigan Association of Realtors, as well as others. In this latest initiative, “Views and Values of Placemaking in Michigan, the Midwest and the Nation,” a team of researchers led by Graebert probed the following questions:

  1. How do people view “placemaking,” that is, the process of creating spaces where people want to live and businesses want to locate, due to the perceived quality of life the location provides, including green areas and easy access to amenities?
  1. What economic value does place-based development bring to neighborhoods, as measured by the change in housing prices in places that have such characteristics as walkability, access to green space and mixed-use developments?
chart of home and neighborhood purchase decision statement

In order to address the first research question, two surveys were conducted. One survey was sent to property owners, whose homes had sold between 2000 and 2012, in six Michigan cities (Lansing, Royal Oak, Traverse City, Kalamazoo, Flint and Grand Rapids) and five Midwest cities (Davenport, Iowa; Rochester, Minn.; Lakewood, Ohio; Madison, Wis.; and Manitowoc, Wis.). 

The second survey was conducted on a national scale to determine whether people viewed placemaking as a positive economic development tool, whether they were considering moving to a new location (or making other lifestyle changes, like walking more, to mitigate higher gas prices), and whether the type or quality of an amenity (such as a grocery store, restaurant or park) factored into their desire to have that amenity in their neighborhood.

“This study was unique in that the surveys made a connection between ‘place’ and the economy, and included pictures to help respondents visualize the neighborhood options and indicate their preferences,” says Graebert. “This project also included a nationwide survey, whereas other visual preference studies have been conducted on a more localized basis.”

As a result of the surveys, researchers found that residents in these locations do believe that there is a connection between placemaking and economic development, as well as between placemaking and quality of life. Their perceptions about whether their neighborhood and community are better places to live now than five years ago appears to be associated with place-based characteristics, such as visual appeal, mixed-use, shopping, social activities, bike lanes or paths/trails, arts and culture experiences and public transportation.

“Our hope is that by having a better understanding of what people value in a particular community, Michigan can plan more effectively for urban core places that have good function and form, generate social activity, evoke positive feelings among residents and visitors, and attract and retain the knowledge and creative resources necessary to a thriving economy,” explains Graebert.

Questions regarding “Rebuilding Prosperous Places in Michigan: Views and Values of Placemaking in Michigan, the Midwest and the Nation,” should be sent to Mary Beth Graebert, lakemary@landpolicy.msu.edu, or call (517) 355-3378.