We Must Protect That Which Makes Us Different
To the Editor:
These comments support historic design guidelines downtown to ensure that Mackinac remains an enjoyable tourist destination and a wonderful place to live. Mackinac’s essence, and the ways it is different from other places, are vital to recognize. Like each person strives to realize their core values, this Island has key values that deserve fulfilling. Historic designation can help us recognize, treasure, and protect its special features, its distinctions from everywhere else.
In America, we hear about the expansion of the global economy and that the world has flattened such that products, knowledge, pricing and formulas span the globe. We observe the similarities that evolve from this trend — when you go to a shopping mall, it doesn’t matter where you are — it could be Alaska, Florida, or Mexico City — the stores and buildings look and feel the same. This is because the mall is a highly effective model — it produces reliable income based on specific equations. Going there might not be a great experience for you or for me, but it works for the bottom line.
Also the fast-food restaurant structure has been refined so that a Burger King resembles a McDonald’s, and they function in duplicate manner whether located in Michigan or Paris, France. Likewise theme parks are strikingly similar from place to place, and the list goes on. Homogeneity is spreading. Attention to place and local distinctions are slipping out of sight.
This kind of shift is also happening on Mackinac. The blend of activities and land-uses downtown is changing. With the addition of hotel rooms, summer employees have been relocated to housing operations rather distant from the businesses they serve. Given the infill construction downtown, green space and views of the Lake are hard to find. A formula driven by revenue production can lead to one outcome, one appearance, or blandness and inattention to the human experience. On Mackinac this is evident with the newer businesses downtown, the artificial grass, the franchises, and condos popping up here and there.
Recalling the shopping mall experience, we know what happens when revenue drives decisions in a commercial zone. Replication takes over. Owners are content and do well, but the experience may not be great for you or me, for the tourist or for the shopper.
Homogeneity is a risk to Mackinac. For every operation across the world, identity is crucial. Visitors to Mackinac must sense that it not a carbon copy. The Island’s identity also is precious to those of us who live here. There is an intangible quality that words cannot describe. This rapture exists for people like me, whose family has been here for generations, and for newcomers. The attraction to this special Island is based on its appearance, its location, its geography. It not does come from Mackinac’s sameness with anything.
When historic designations are being considered, there naturally can be uncertainty among business people. Property owners may think that additional architectural review will create financial drawbacks. Yet in every case of objective analysis, that perception has not been accurate. Increased historic status has yielded higher property values.
Others deem that since downtown Mackinac has a variety of land uses, it is not appropriate to have a historic district. That stance suggests that if the area was devoted to a just single landuse, for example, retail, then a historic district would be appropriate.
Actually, a rich combination of land-uses has existed downtown for centuries and is exactly what needs protecting. Among town planning experts, having a blend of events in a commercial vicinity is the goal . It is self-sustaining and economically viable. Each respective land-use has reciprocal relationships with their neighbors, building mutual reliance, leading to financial growth. This normalcy as a community is perceptible and highly valued by the tourists. In contrast, nobody lives in Disney World, Busch Gardens, or King’s Dominion – their gates are locked at night.
The buildings downtown reflect a variety of architectural styles. This fascinating array of construction styles needs protection so that the Island does not morph into a trite amalgamation, and look like so many other tourist attractions.
Our decision-makers will need exceptional vision to see past the immediate demands of short term financial growth and realize that Mackinac must be different. It will not be easy, because great decisions never are simple.
Moira Blodgett Croghan