Kalamazoo is a community on the rise. We are the educational, cultural, arts and governmental epicenter of the region. The Foundation for Excellence (FFE) provides an unparalleled opportunity to devote $10 million per year to aspirational projects similar cities to ours could only wish to attain. The FFE also seeks to align with the community vision established by the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Master Plan and Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo (SPK) Plan. These are both community-driven roadmaps for the future. The FFE will be the fuel to set these long-term plans into motion.
Chris feels it is imperative those elected to the 53rd City Commission remain committed to the work outlined in these two Kalamazoo 2025 and SPK community plans. He also feels it is important the 53rd City Commission is bold enough to use this financial gateway as a chance to be a national and state leader in tackling some of the most pressing issues our community faces. When people Google search ‘who does it better than anywhere else’, he hopes they consistently find Kalamazoo high on their query.
As we raise steel beams to reshape our skyline, we should likewise place equal resolve to addressing the challenges of our most vulnerable citizens. We have to remain people-centered.
The five “Get at the Root” platform topics of our campaign aim to provide more equitable, systemic and generational change. These aren’t intended to be temporary patches or quick fixes.
What guided Chris to select these five (5) issues? He met one-on-one with over 220 area residents in the first half of 2019. He attended every single City Commission meeting so far this calendar year. Chris has and continues to host listening tour events to discuss each of these topics. He’s listening. He’s taking the time to learn as much as he can.
The deck is stacked against too many of our residents. Whether an individual is unable to work or working three part-time jobs, a safe or affordable place to rest their head at night is too often out of reach. Area housing values are on an upward trajectory and will continue to rise in the foreseeable future. According to the most recent FFE report, housing values increased 4% in 2017-18. As housing values and population growth both increase, housing for our most vulnerable citizens will become even further out of reach. The city can put targeted FFE dollars, city policy, and bold leadership to work to keep residents in homes, provide greater stock of affordable options in each neighborhood, and minimize unnecessary barriers to access. This important work is already happening but will need to continue and further accelerate in the years to come. Chris is an ardent believer in the housing first model.
Small business ownership is a generational game-changer. The City’s Economic Development Staff and partnerships can leverage incentives and resources to invest in new and first-time small businesses and startups. The city can use these tools and expertise to expand small business ownership within our neighborhoods. Small businesses will serve to diversify our local economy to better withstand industry-centric downturns, creates jobs in the neighborhoods where they exist, instills the entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation, and serves to reduce wealth gaps. Chris would like to see more resources devoted to “small mom and pop shops” through increased expert staffing levels and financial tools.
In 2017, only 13.1% of city residents voted to elect their next mayor and city commissioners. We can do much better. Local government has the greatest impact on our daily lives yet sees the lowest voter turnout. From the roads we drive on to the clean water from our tap. The demographic makeup of the 13.1% who voted does not reflect the demographic makeup of the entire community. Using FFE dollars, Chris would like to see resources devoted to awareness campaigns and voter engagement initiatives.
Youth Employment and Training
Investment in our young people is an investment in our future. The city serves a vital role in supporting youth when school is not in session.
Thanks to FFE dollars, significant increases in funding will be devoted to the MyCITY (Career Introduction and Training for Youth) employment and training program in Summer 2019. According to the City’s website, MyCITY “offers youth age 14-21 summer employment opportunities, career introduction, and skills training.” Chris would like to see this commitment to youth employment maintained and even more dollars devoted to year-round youth employment opportunities and initiatives.
Studies consistently show those who participate in similar programs are less likely to be involved in violent crimes and are more equipped for success in the workforce.
Our 22 neighborhoods give our city its character. Like strands of interconnected DNA, they collectively make Kalamazoo a special place to live, work, and play. The range of unique neighborhood settings make it so each resident can find a place within the city that feels like home. From murals to neighborhood gardens, those special features are what will draw people and families to our city. These features are what people remember and talk about when they visit. Chris would like to see even higher investment in these neighborhood projects and initiatives, especially continued FFE investment in our parks. Parks are instrumental to health equity and a high quality of life.