Urban and Regional Planning students’ practicum project benefits city

Oftentimes, we work hard but successful outcomes to what we are trying to achieve are not always obvious. That was not the case when six Michigan State University Urban and Regional Planning (URP) students took part in a practicum project in Luna Pier, a city in Monroe County, in the 2011 spring semester.

 According to Eric Strauss, professor in the School of Planning, Design and Construction (SPDC), the city of Luna Pier staff members, the mayor and City Council members as well as Consumers Energy, the funding source, were very pleased with the final product.

 In summer 2011, the city hired an Eastern Michigan student as a summer intern to begin the process of selecting from the list of strategies proposed by the MSU students. She completed her work and the city has hired a planning consultant to complete the list of options.

 In December 2011, Consumers Energy announced the local power plant would close. There was no adverse reaction to this development. Part of the practicum project showed how the community could survive if it should lose a major taxpayer.

In March 2012, Luna Pier received a $500,000 grant from the State of Michigan to build a signature building on the beach, a lighthouse replica to serve as a visitors’ center. The MSU students put forth this recommendation.

In April 2012, the city received a $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to build a bio-retention pond to upgrade the sewage treatment plant. Again, the MSU students suggested this.

In summer 2012, the city will hold its first annual Blues and Bootleggers Festival to increase tourism in the town. The MSU students promoted tourism as one of the primary economic diversification strategies.

Finally, in fall 2012, the city will sell TIF (tax increment financing) bonds. TIF is a public financing method used for subsidizing redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects. A TIF analysis was one of the primary outputs of the MSU study.

With these actions, students saw that the city officials not only considered their ideas but also acted upon them. The practicum experience promoted the students’ learning as well as benefited the community. It will continue to benefit residents for years to come.

 Zenia Kotval, SPDC professor, and Rex LaMore, director of the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development, served as faculty supervisors. Eric Strauss worked with the community prior to the practicum project and acted as a student adviser for the project. He was instrumental in suggesting practicum as a viable vehicle to study the community constraints and opportunities. 

 MSU Extension supports students working in urban communities through the practicum program and through the Urban Collaborators Program, which places URP interns in urban communities in Michigan to help address needs in partnership with MSUE staff in the community. Practicum is a required capstone course of the URP program in the SPDC.

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