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Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC)

Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC) is an initiative exploring the benefits of multi-disciplinary teams at UM working on stakeholder-based community engagement efforts. During the semester-long process, students from different disciplines learn from each other as they collaborate on complex projects.

MECC Process

Featured Projects

Traverse City Region Workforce Housing Crisis:

Traverse City has the rare combination of a charming, historic downtown filled with restaurants, specialty stores and two active theaters, a thriving food scene, a working bus system connecting to a regional airport with direct flights to Dallas, Chicago and NY, and a spectacular waterfront setting near a National Lakeshore. It’s not surprising that it has been the hottest real estate market in Michigan for the past decade as retirees and professional continue to come and build new houses, townhomes and high rise developments.

With its success in attracting newcomers, Traverse City has experienced a host of related issues: creeping urban sprawl, congested regional arterial roads, and the displacement of working class residents. The shortage of affordable housing is so acute in the region that many stores can not find qualified workers to remain open throughout the day and local hospitals can not attract necessary specialists to relocate. Successfully attacking the issue requires a coordination of many voices, ideas and expertises.

Over a two-semester period, the MECC worked with a coalition of five local entities to explore ways the Traverse City region could make progress on the workforce housing issue. Seven different UM Ann Arbor units (Urban Planning, Law, Engineering, Public Policy, Social Work, Business, and Information) worked together on the following:

  • Benchmarking of other US small cities that have faced similar challenges
  • A Memo of Understanding designed to allow local institutions to share resources
  • Co- housing connector, a tool to encourage individuals to share the costs of a residential unit
  • Customized computer tool demonstrating how cost of driving impacts housing affordability
  • Redevelopment case scenarios
  • Five focus groups to gain a better understanding of the range of views about workforce housing and specific language used in conversations.

It’s a start. It has taken more than two decades for this issue to arise and will take a long term, regional-backed commitment to significant and lasting progress, but change is already underway. The co-housing tool has already seen success and the very first focus group “changed the way the community frames the issue”  according to Sarah Locus, Director of Community Development at Networks Northwest.

Detroit Data Utility:

It all started with a question. “ How many people live in Downtown Detroit?” Two years ago, an investor could ask five different Detroit based institutions that question, and get five very different answers. Civic leaders realized if Detroit was going to maintain its economic momentum and spread it beyond the downtown core to underserved neighborhoods, the region would have to provide better, more reliable and updated data.

Realizing many institutions are already collecting a variety of different data sets, a coalition led by University of Michigan was created. Its goal: create a user-friendly data utility that was available to all stakeholders and residents in SE Michigan that would aid in making important decisions, from where to invest the next housing development to which neighborhood and school system is best for one’s family.  

Refugee Ready Region:

Few regions in the United States receive more refugees than SE Michigan. It is our area’s long connection to Iraq, Syria and other middle eastern nations (thanks in great part to the automobile industry) that has kept a steady flow coming to Michigan. Once here, refugees have helped revitalize many inner ring neighborhoods including Dearborn, Warren, Hamtramck and neighborhoods in Detroit.

Working in concert with Samaritas (one of the largest service providers to Refugee families in the nation), Wayne County Economic Development, the City of Detroit, the City of Hamtramck, and Global Detroit (a local NGO addressing policy issues relating to immigration and refugee resettlement) the MECC initiative has been creating a housing plan for the next 100 refugee families. The plan seeks to not only focus on locating new housing development to augment existing efforts already underway, but to partner with local schools, stores and neighborhood groups to improve living conditions for all residents. To date, MECC has helped secure $1.2 M for the development of seven large format houses in Detroit scheduled for completion in 2018.

Previous Projects

Envision Willow Run  Winter 2013, Summer 2013, Fall 2013
Washtenaw County Dashboard Assessment Fall 2014
Connor Creek Redevelopment Strategy: Completing the Circuit, Winter 2015
Osborn Redevelopment Goals Winter 2015
DTE Marina District Riverfront Access Plan Winter 2016
Next Generation UM North Campus Winter 2016
Traverse City Affordable Housing, Fall 2016 and Winter 2017
600 Randolph: Smithsonian Museum  / Detroit Fall 2016, Winter 2017
Refugee Ready Region, Winter 2017, Summer 2017, Fall 2017
Detroit Data Utility, Fall 2017

Potential Partners

Are you a community member looking for assistance with a complex project?  Are you a faculty member who is interested in collaborating with faculty and students from other disciplines on complex community projects?  Reach out to us to find out what projects are in the pipeline, or to pitch new projects!

MECC Contacts

Paul Fontaine, Program Manager/Lecturer