Visions for Sterling Heights’ future
With the 2019 election behind us, it’s time to turn our minds to the future of our city. I think the election was a referendum on the city’s progress during the twenty-teens, and the incumbents were rewarded for their work. While the progress of the city as it emerged from The Great Recession was admirable, we’re far from finished making needed improvements.
For one thing, the city’s infrastructure is not back to where it should be yet. As an example, the building shared by the Library and Police Department is in poor and worsening condition. Although our city’s infrastructure is receiving much needed roadway repairs, there are other problems that need attention.
Each weekday, Sterling Heights experiences serious problems with heavy traffic on its major thoroughfares. Not only does this result in accidents, injuries and property loss, it also reduces the quality of life within the city, makes living here more expensive, wastes fuel, and contributes to air pollution and poor health for residents.
Although I believe a regional transit system in the same vein of the ones in New York City and Chicago will forever remain out of reach for Metro Detroit, there is more than one approach to resolving the problem.
The city should encourage the development and use of co-working spaces within its borders. The commute and traffic would be far less of an issue if more of us only traveled a couple of miles each way to work instead of across the entire metro area each day. Atlanta demonstrated that encouraging this could make a big difference in the amount of traffic that area experienced during the 1996 Olympics,. It also reduced the number of emergency room visits resulting from childhood asthma symptoms. Vehicle exhaust is a major contributor to poor air quality, a problem that afflicts our region every summer.
With technology ever more pervasive today, we in Sterling Heights could easily encourage the private development of a telecommuting center and also foster the emergence of a remote working culture. Increasing road capacity is not the answer to traffic problems, it leads to larger traffic problems. Instead, reducing the need for long commutes could be part of the real solution, which leads me to…
Why we need more housing options
Sterling Heights is in the process of transforming from a suburban area to an urban area, characterized by high densities. I think it’s time to give consideration to allowing different forms of housing beyond the traditional single family homes, apartments, and condominiums the area already has. Although the mixed use district overlays along the Van Dyke and Mound corridors, as well as the P.U.D. for Lakeside are certainly good ideas, they don’t solve all of the problems.
Our city, despite its prosperity, has a large number of impoverished, lower income individuals and families who need well kept, yet affordable housing. There should be places for them in this town they can aspire to live in which do not require a six figure income to afford. Giving a boost to the market conditions that could make this possible through good urban planning and zoning decisions is a big part of how this is done.
There is an under-served market for smaller homes in this area. I think it’s time for the city to take a look at the tiny house movement. There is a big chunk of real estate south of Nelson Park which could be perfect for it. People with limited incomes might be very happy to live in a place with roughly 400-600 square feet to call their own. Pride of ownership is a real thing, and the availability of such places is a way of helping to give people a “hand up instead of a hand out.” I would advocate for permanently built structures on foundations, rather than abodes built on trailers.
Face it, the poor and low-income people are already among us; a quick check of the take rate on reduced cost school lunch programs as well as other programs in Macomb County for people stricken by poverty proves it. Improving their lot in life by intelligently addressing their need for safe, well-kept places to live is something the city could do without spending tax dollars on giving anything away for free. Building equity in their own home also helps them move up into the middle class. Speaking of which…
The Middle Class needs more places to live here too
Although the three and four hundred thousand dollar homes being built today are beautiful and a point of pride for our city, the fact is that people whose incomes are closer to the median cannot afford them. Middle income folks are the bread and butter of our city and our society at large. We need them around just as much as we need the affluent. Without them, who will work in our factories, repair the automobiles, keep our books, and maintain our infrastructure?
As it stands, a lot of these folks are commuting to their jobs in Sterling Heights from other cities on our overburdened roads. Wouldn’t it be far better for them to be able to afford to live in the city they work in?
Part of this could be done by giving some consideration to time-tested ideas like duplexes and flats, of which there are neither in the current zoning ordinances. Sterling Heights cannot be the inclusive, welcoming place it aspires to be unless there is always a place for honest, hard working people from all walks of life and socioeconomic levels to realize the American Dream here on modest incomes. It’s time to see to it there is a place secured for them in Sterling Heights.
Keeping the prosperous among us
None of this is to say that any of these things should come at the expense of the people who can afford the mortgage payment on a half million dollars or more. Just as there will always be poor people among us, there will always be the wealthy as well. Although their place in this town is already an important one, our existing residential density does not lend itself to the sort of mansions being built in places such as Birmingham, or the existing ones in the Grosse Pointes.
A lot of the upper class wouldn’t mind living in the sort of high density, upscale housing that can be found in high rise apartment or condominium buildings. Chicago provides an excellent example of this; there are many well-to-do people who live there in multiple-family residential buildings that are built upward, rather than outward. For some reason, there is an almost complete lack of this sort of development here, and as we progress from being the fourth largest city in the state to the third, that seems particularly strange.
If Michigan successfully transforms its economy, high-rise luxury living is going to be done someplace in the region, sooner or later. Making it possible for it to be done here ought to be given serious consideration. Wouldn’t the development of a beautiful, high class, well located sky scraper (or six) become a source of pride for this city? Developing a skyline in and of itself is something that creates a place. When you create a place, it becomes a destination. Global trends toward high rise construction appear to be increasing. We should consider allowing it to happen here.
These are just some of my dreams and visions for the city we live in. Chime in with your own thoughts in the comments below.