The 2021 Resiliency Planning Webinar Series: Programs, Tools and Research for Resilient Regions and Communities in Michigan

Harmony Fierke-Gmazel, AICP, MSUE Educator  

For six weeks during the Spring of 2021, the Michigan State University Extension and MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction (MSUE/SPDC) Land Use Team hosted an engaging series of live webinars about the meaning and implementation of Resiliency Planning. Thanks to a new partnership with the Comprehensive Economic Recovery Initiative (CERI) at MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development, the Land Use Team hosted more than 300 community and economic development officials from across Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes to learn what it means to achieve socio-environmental and economic resiliency; how to utilize innovative approaches to planning and public engagement while also hearing about key state/federal programs to help achieve success.  

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Description automatically generated with low confidenceThis webinar series was the first of its kind to be hosted by the MSUE/SPDC Land Use team, highlighting the programs and research of 19 panelists, including MSU faculty members within Community Sustainability, Forestry, SPDC and MSUE.  The panelists also included officials from federal, state, regional and city agencies who work directly with resilience research, programming, hazard mitigation planning, infrastructure planning and climate adaptation across Michigan. Each session was moderated by MSU Extension Educators from across Michigan who are focused on land use and community development issues. The overall effort was supported by a partnership of CERI interns from the Urban and Regional Planning program at SPDC.  

The series began with a look at research projects related to one century of epidemics and hazards and how they have changed our personal behavior and the design of our infrastructure & communities. As a local example, the City of Grand Rapids MI shared the journey it took to finally develop its own Emergency Management Department and shared projects and improvements that have been implemented since the emergence of the department.  The first session ended with a highlight of the events, legislation and hazards of the past 120 years that led to the development of the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Past and present FEMA programs and outcomes were shared, leading to a call for applications in the BRIC program (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities).  


Description automatically generatedIn addition, the series focused on current theories and methods of economic recovery and vitality in response to an emergency, or as preventive measures. It highlighted the theory and practice of ‘Doughnut Economics’, detailing the cyclical relationship between social, economic and environmental elements of society and the shortfalls or windfalls that impact each during a disaster. The concept of a CEDS+ (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy) was introduced as a regional economic plan that focuses on resiliency as a core objective. Attendees also learned how to prepare their communities for response to changes. Examples of current research related to city and regional resiliency were shared, along with highlights of placemaking, entrepreneurship and  local tools and programs for diversifying our economies.  

Social, health, & environmental equity planning also played a key role in the series, showcasing proven planning tools that increase equitable outcomes.  A new ‘Climate Adaption Guidebook’, developed thru a partnership between the Marquette County Climate Adaption Taskforce, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Climate and Health Tracking Program, and Michigan State University's School of Planning, Design and Construction was highlighted. In addition, an in-depth case study of resiliency planning efforts in Marquette County, MI was included. The mission, programs, tools and outcomes of the DHHS ‘Climate and Health Tracking Program’ were discussed at length with a call-to-action for attendees to better understand data trends and the intersections between health and climate change.  

When it comes to natural infrastructure, greenways or environmental assets, the series recognized the mechanisms and value of planning for large, medium and small-scale natural infrastructure systems across Michigan.  Significant shoreline areas, national parks, state forests, watershed areas and more require planning and analysis to not only preserve valuable habitats and viewsheds but to also protect adjacent communities facing climate adaption issues. Design tools , low impact development (LID) projects, and capital improvement projects at a community-scale were also highlighted. At the small-scale, the benefits of urban tree canopy preservation and design were discussed as important resiliency tools related to stormwater management, climate change mitigation and social/emotional health.   Tools for the economic analysis of urban tree canopies were also shared and discussed.  

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Description automatically generatedNo discussion of resiliency planning would be complete without an understanding of Michigan's statewide infrastructure assets and the policies and programming of the Michigan Infrastructure Council (MIC). Asset management is a key planning and budgeting tool for the MIC, a governor-appointed entity that is currently promoting its Asset Management Readiness Assessment Tool for local communities.  Aside from utilities, roads, bridges, renewables, dams and other important assets, the series took a look at the expansive assets and built infrastructure managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the plans in place to make existing paths, roads, bridges, dams and boat launches more resilient in the face of extreme weather events. Domicology, the study of policies and impacts of structural abandonment, was showcased as a tool to address the life-cycle of building materials and aid in the resiliency of Michigan’s built structures. Other best practices included LEED and mass timber construction projects as pathways towards true resiliency in construction.  

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Description automatically generatedThe series ended with a clear look at the hazards that face the nation and Michigan, showing an indication that although Michigan faces a lower incident rate of hazards, either man-made, technological or natural, as compared to the rest of the nation, we must still plan for and mitigate localized hazards. According to the Michigan Hazard Mitigation Plan, flooding and public health epidemics have historically been placed at the top of the long hazards list- a trend that may continue for a while. A key takeaway from the series is that there are no unknown hazards – that community and economic development officials at all levels have access to data, reports, tools and support programs that offer strategies for mitigation and recovery in the face of many types of hazards. Commitment is key: Commitment in the shape of planning, public engagement and funding. Resiliency planning is most effective when the public is engaged and provided with key information. The public can also help to shape resiliency planning efforts by providing context for issues in communities. A unique example of such engagement is CHARM (Community Health And Resource Management tool). CHARM is a mapping tool that allows for citizens to create scenarios shape the future of their communities. The audience was then provided with an overview of a key state-level program called ‘Redevelopment Ready Communities’ (RRC). The RRC program values transparency, master planning, innovative zoning and engagement within local communities, while offering resources and guidance for an improved level of governance, investment and service provision. This program is accepting applications and communities are encouraged to participate.  

In conclusion, when resiliency is understood as an ongoing adaptation cycle in response to a changing climate, changing social structure, changing economy and changing landscape, flexibility is key.  Governmental policies, plans, engagement efforts and budgeting processes are typically defined by statute or by-laws, yet within that rigid framework there is flexibility in the ultimate shape of goals, objectives, capital improvement prioritizations, and budgeting considerations. Local and regional entities also have great flexibility in creating new partnerships, in applying for grants and in seeking out innovative tools that lead to resiliency. As each session in the 2021 Resiliency Planning Webinar Series brings to our attention, hazard identification, mitigation, response, recovery, impactful public/private partnerships and exceptional public engagement inches us towards a higher level of economic, environmental and social resiliency. As community and economic development officials, planners and residents across Michigan, we are ready to leverage our assets and do our part for an equitable, resilient future.  

For more information on the series, the topics presented and the panelists, please contact Harmony Gmazel, AICP, MSUE Educator and Land Use Team Leader at 

To view recordings of  Series sessions, please visit the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development Youtube Channel.   

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