Friday, May 09, 2008

Leelanau Grand Vision

Anna, a few years ago, in the garden, eating peas and offering them to her dog
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I participated in the Leelanau Grand Vision workshop at Suttons Bay School last night. A lot of other people participated as well; the venue was packed and the presenters seemed a little overwhelmed by the crowd. The idea was to gather input from the community our how we would prefer to see our area grow, and then use that to formulate a coordinated plan for the Grand Traverse area. Our elected officials can then refer to this plan when they are making decisions about zoning, transportation, energy, and other infrastructure.

I found out that I'm not that much into scenery. Or maybe that my idea of scenery is a lot broader than other people's idea of scenery. They started out by giving us a score sheet and asking us to give our first reactions to a series of outdoor scenes. Much of the audience was murmuring in approval or tsking in disapproval at various pictures. I was in the back, and couldn't see that well, but all I saw was buildings, grass, and trees. Or sometimes grass, trees, and buildings. My responses were all in the middle range. There was one picture of a vineyard, but no gardens, no playgrounds, no livestock, no orchards, none of the scenes that I find pretty or restful. It was like they looked at Leelanau through the eyes of a suburbanite and couldn't see anything else. (The photo above is closer to my idea of nice looking scenery.)

But that was that. The next part was the part where we got together with the people at our table and plotted the next 50 year's growth on a giant map of the county. Or a giant map of most of the county, as our map did not have Peshawbestown, the National Lakeshore, or the gravel pits in Kasson denoted. The group at my table included three younger people, one full time farmer, one part time farmer, three people from Northport, two from Suttons Bay, two people who worked with the Leelanau Conservancy, and a master gardener. Our group spent a good deal of time plotting out the best farmland in the county, then plotting out the Lakeshore and Pere Marquette Forest, then the critical bird habitat on the tip of the penninsula. After that, we were supposed to figure out where 20,000 more people were going to live, and how to get them the goods, jobs and services they would need.

We started out brainstorming a list of what we wanted for the future. We wanted everything --a protected environment, vibrant villages, open shorelines, broadband access, local food chains. The younger people wanted to walk everywhere -- to work, to shop -- or they wanted to ride bikes. The lady next to me kept saying "Ban Cars! No Motorized Traffic!" and I couldn't tell if she was serious or sarcastic. I threw out my own far-fetched idea, calling for small scale alternative energy -- wind and solar -- with a smart grid so that households could sell excess power back and local electricity storage so that our county could be self sufficient in electricity.

The people of our future were at least going to eat. We were given stickers that represented one household for every five acres, and we could trade stickers in to get fewer stickers representing higher densities. It was clear that if we let everyone have the 5 acre mini-estate, we would end up cutting up farmland and crowding out critical habitats. We would also end up with a scattered population that would be far from the village centers and harder to serve. But it was hard to envision any of our current villages absorbing even one whole sticker's worth of people, so we took the higher density stickers, cut them up, and shoehorned them in around the existing villages. That all took a lot of time, especially the part where we debated the exact size of an economically viable farm. So we quickly sketched in some light rail transit lines to connect the villages and drew in a few (not enough) bikes trails and Table 19's contribution was complete.

I had to be the presenter. (I always have to be the presenter.) The various tables had a host of different problems that they were trying to solve. Some groups were trying to move cars -- several groups proposed a bridge across South Lake Leelanau from Hohnke Road to Bingham; one group wanted to make M-22 one way north and Center Highway one way south. Several groups were trying to move people, and were plotting ferry routes. One guy said that he had already located some vintage ferry boats in good condition and made an appeal for investors in a new ferry business. One group made a vastly expanded Suttons Bay village the focus of their planning. One group presented their map with a bunch of population stickers out in the Bay. When asked for an explanation, they said "We didn't know where to put them." A guy in the crowd said, "I guess they just have to sink or swim."

Since we were last (I wasn't going to wait in line) I talked about the things that the other groups hadn't mentioned. I said that we were interested in food first so we had plotted out farmland first and shoehorned the populations around that. I got applause by saying, "We need broadband access everywhere." and more applause talking about small scale alternative energy. So I went out on a limb and spoke about dark skies, my own favorite sort of scenery. Finally I said, "Our table, like everyone here, likes the county the way it is, but we're willing to be flexible, so that others can enjoy what we have."

I'm not sure if that last statement was exactly true, exactly yet, but it can't hurt to portray ourselves as less selfish and more interested in the common good. Sometimes people learn to live up to their reputations.

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