In the spring of 2002, a group of city leaders representing a handful of southeast Michigan’s older suburbs gathered together to discuss the challenges their respective communities were facing. Deep concerns were expressed over crumbling infrastructure, declining populations, decreased state and federal funding, disadvantages in attracting developers and, of course, their struggles to make ends meet with the state’s municipal finance policy draining away their property tax revenue.
That day, a light bulb clicked on in metro Detroit. These leaders realized that as diverse as their cities were, they shared important characteristics. They were older, located in close proximity to a major city and had little to no undeveloped land. Many of these cities identified as “inner-ring” or “built-out” suburbs. More importantly, these leaders saw they were all struggling with losing residents to newer subdivisions in younger suburbs, developers that were passing them over because they did not want to deal with the complications of “redeveloping” already existing infrastructure and a deficient state finance system that was disproportionately hurting their aging communities. Working together – to share resources when providing services, to voice their collective concerns and to craft a survival strategy – was the answer to overcoming their challenges.
In June that year, representatives from 14 metro Detroit suburbs unanimously agreed to form the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. Together, they sought to harness the power of southeast Michigan’s 1.9 million inhabitants to demand an end to the systematic disinvestment in older cities. These mayors and city managers founded the Michigan Suburbs Alliance as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit coalition of southeast Michigan’s mature suburbs. They understood that finding solutions to their shared problems would require cooperation among similar communities across the region.
The Suburbs Alliance has since grown to encompass 31 of the region’s mature, inner-ring suburbs, representing more than 1,000,000 residents. With far-reaching partnerships and unexpected collaborations, the Suburbs Alliance facilitates local action that is shaped by the wisdom of many.
In our projects and policy work, we maintain the human center of our mission not just nominally, but in practice. Here, every voice matters.