The “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan’s coastal communities – Element 7: Develop inward not outward

Targeting development within existing communities and revitalizing waterfront areas with historical significance can improve the quality of life for residents, foster economic growth of local businesses and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Many waterfront communities have a rich history of how the community was founded and grew due to its proximity to water. However, many of these same histories have resulted in the industrial or transportation facilities in these areas becoming derelict or otherwise contributing to the blight of the area. Further, some of these areas may be highly polluted due to historical operations at the facility. Focusing revitalization efforts in these areas can assist with the removal of legacy pollution, and allow these areas to be used as public areas or even some sort of private mixed-use area that brings businesses and homes to an area that was once unusable. Focusing development in these areas can also reduce the need to develop the few existing natural shoreline areas remaining in many urban coastal communities.

Redeveloping these areas does more than reconnect a community with their water heritage and protect natural shoreline. In many cities, there is existing infrastructure – roads, electricity, sewer, etc. that costs communities money to build and maintain. When development occurs outside of city boundaries or in unincorporated areas, people who live work, and travel to these areas may end up using infrastructure that they do not pay for. By fostering development in areas with existing infrastructure, communities can recover costs for building and maintaining their infrastructure by ensuring support for their tax base, and the cost ends up being less because a higher number of users end up sharing the burden.

By reconnecting the community to the history of the area, a sense of place can be developed that will help a community grow by providing business opportunities and desirable housing. Developing inward and not outward provides a chance to upgrade existing infrastructure and increase the communities’ tax base that will further draw residents and business owners to the area that has existing and modern infrastructure.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively involved in projects that seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life and promote economic activity in Michigan’s coastal areas. This article was adapted from: Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a report created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant. The document can be accessed at:

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