Prosper Q&A: Placemaking with Larry Falardeau

Question: As the principal planner and program coordinator for Oakland County, what are some of the things you do?

Answer: Oakland County Planning & Economic Development Services (PEDS) is a division within the Economic Development and Community Affairs Department of Oakland County, Michigan. PEDS assists in preserving and strengthening the economic base and natural environment in order to maintain and create sustainable and distinctive communities for the present and future citizens of Oakland County. As one of four principal planners I Identify and analyze issues affecting Oakland County’s sustainability, develop divisional programs to meet current & future challenges, and implement related objectives and partnership action strategies.

Previously I have had the opportunity to initiate and coordinate Oakland County’s Environmental Stewardship Program. The program has three targets; Implementation of a countywide trail system, establishing a green infrastructure natural area system to compliment development; advance the stewardship and promotion of our abundant water resources.

Currently I am leading an initiative we have termed “Placemaking for Prosperity” an initiative designed to promote greater coordination and integration of the economic, community, and environmental assets within Oakland County and beyond.

Q: What is place making and what does it mean to Oakland County?

A: Oakland County’s newest initiative, “Placemaking for Prosperity” is designed to allow greater coordination and integration of the economic, community, and environmental specialties within the Planning and Economic Development Services Division (PEDS) by identifying and advancing collaborative Place Based initiatives with our program partners. Given Oakland County’s natural, historic, cultural, and economic assets, there exists a great opportunity to tell a story that sets the County apart and promotes Oakland County, the region, and Michigan as a place in which to do business, reside, and invest. “Place” makes a difference in the Knowledge Economy; therefore, Place Based Initiatives are critical to attracting and retaining a skilled workforce and sustaining the County’s Quality of Life.

Due to the growing importance of “A Sense of Place” as an element of competition in a world economy, tourism provides a vehicle for organizing, communicating, and
promoting the County’s unique and rich diversity of place. As a result of its natural amenities, Eco Tourism is already present in Oakland County. There are many interests conducting outdoor events, tours, and stewardship activities. Challenges remain however in realizing the full potential of Oakland County’s tourism/ecotourism opportunities.

One of the guiding principles of this initiative is that a sense of locality (local identity) transcends local jurisdictional boundaries. Instead, a locality is defined by the unique interplay of natural resource, historic, and cultural features within a certain geography that people experience. In Oakland County, several localities are being identified to broadly market the County and develop different “Ecotourism” opportunities.

PEDS has started the research phase of this initiative by identifying a pilot demonstration area in the western part of Oakland County. Working with the Downtown Development Authorities in Milford Village and Highland Township, the land conservancies operating in the area, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Oakland County Parks, and other partners, a poster/brochure has been developed for the “Huron River Valley”. The poster indicates the myriad activities available in this part of the County that are available to visitors and residents alike. Capitalizing on the large recreation sites and the small downtowns, the heading A World of
Outdoor Adventure and Small Town Charm marries activities together and blends community boundaries.

Focusing on the Sense of Place rather than individual community boundaries helps brand the area and distinguish it from other parts of the County. The intent is to prepare similar posters for other distinct areas in Oakland County so their unique personalities and activities can be communicated.

Another guiding principle is the use of partners to advance the initiative. The goal is to develop partnerships with non-traditional tourism support interests (restaurants, transportation, overnight accommodations, local story tellers, etc.) in the development and promotion of tourism packages. As the pilot demonstration continues to unfold, the County will be identifying additional partners to involve in this endeavor.

Cross marketing efforts with other agencies involved in ecotourism also will be undertaken to broaden the reach of this initiative. Ultimately, the goal is to coordinate the county district framework with regional district branding and marketing initiatives such as “One D”, being developed by the Detroit Regional Convention and Tourism Bureau.

Q: Oakland County has a lot of assets, from downtowns to lakes to its vast acreage of parks. How do these assets grow and develop Oakland County’s sense of place?

A: Oakland County is fortunate to have a distinct and varied landform left by retreating glaciers some 10-12,000 years ago. Southeast Oakland has a relatively flat glacial lake bottom while the area from Birmingham north is the rolling lake filled remains of retreating ice sheets. Along with our over 1400 bodies of fresh water are the headwaters of five major river systems. These rivers provided power to mill centers which evolved into our 32 well dispersed historic town centers each with their own rich history and character identity (see Oakland County Main Street Program for more information). This resultant diversity of place lives on today in place districts each branded by natural landforms, water resources, and the unique cultural heritage of our built environment. Our unique variety of local place settings can be defined, marketed, and experienced as something which sets us apart as a county and region.

Where else can you go from the “UP North” experience of Oakland County’s natural woodlands and lakes to historic and cosmopolitan town centers within a 30 Mile radius and 45 minute drive not to mention the ocean like experiences of the Great Lakes a step beyond?

Q: What are some of the key projects you’ve been working on lately? Talk about what the Rails and Trails project is and what the Friends of the Highland State Recreation Area have been doing?

A:Our very capable staff in the Environmental Stewardship Program continues to support the implementation of a countywide trail/path network through support services to the Oakland Trails Advisory Council (OTAC) and the multi-jurisdictional trail/path councils and trail interests in Oakland County. A key segment of the system currently under consideration for a trail conversion is the Coe Railroad corridor running from West Bloomfield to Wixom in West Oakland. The county Oak Routes Trail Directory is in it’s 4th edition of printing and is available through our One Stop Shop or Oakland County Parks. Also nearing completion is Oakland County’s Green Infrastructure Vision Document – a county composite vision of a community based natural areas network for Oakland County. The county’s Oak Rivers initiative has multiple partnership initiatives along select river corridor segments throughout Oakland County.

Another project which is part of our “Placemaking For Prosperity Initiative” that we are supporting is the restoration stewardship of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford – Haven Hill Farm Retreat found in Highland State Recreation Area. This project integrates aspects of community, history, environment, and economy. Here you have special spaces, special places, and special stories to tell of the Edsel & Eleanor Ford family outdoors from mid 1920’s to the mid 1930’s. Not only where the estate’s structures such as lodge, sheep barn, and horse stables of unique character but Ford family friends and visitors to the site included such noted international figures as Thomas Edison, Charles Lindberg, and Admiral Perry. This site is an Oakland County landmark which can potentially compliment to the tourist attractions of The Henry Ford in Dearborn and the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Point. The site, if stewarded properly, can become part of the international tourism draw for the county, state, and region as well as augment the local economies of park gateway communities and town centers in West Oakland.

Q: Is Oakland County partnering up with any local, state, or federal organizations?

A: All of our initiatives involve partnerships with community and related interests. This is important both from the standpoint of local ownership and direction as well as fiscal responsibility and effectiveness. For example our trail/path initiative which unites multiple communities and their features is a model in multi-jurisdictional/multi interest cooperation and coordination. The Oakland Trail Advisory Council is composed of membership and advisors from all levels of government and many associated interests. Trail, Water and Green space networks are all systems that transcend jurisdictional boundaries.

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