What makes Muskegon livable? Or hard to live in? What would make it a better, more equitable place? For you? For your neighbors? For your entire county?
What are the challenges you’d want to see government, businesses, nonprofits, and others address? Eviction? Affordable housing? Racism? Segregation? Public transportation? Education? Jobs?
These are the kinds of questions a group of business leaders, educators, health and human services organizations, government officials, and residents will tackle during the Sept. 10 “Livability Lab” event and a subsequent 100-day challenge to address making Muskegon County a place where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and prosper.
“What does a livable Muskegon County look like?” asked Mary McDonald, director of the Muskegon Community Health Innovation Region (CHIR), which is leading the Livability Lab and 100-day challenge. “What are the non-negotiables for you? Everybody has a house? A place to sleep? Everybody has a job or income? Everybody knows their neighbors? Every kid has daycare? This is your hometown. And it’s a good place to come home to, but it can be better.”
The Sept. 10 Livability Lab event will draw a couple hundred attendees to the Folkert Community Hub (640 Seminole Rd. in Norton Shores) from 7:30am to 4pm. Registration is free, and all are welcome to attend. You may register through Friday, Sept. 6. [To register, please click here.]
The one-day conference will include speakers, group conversations, community data, a showing of the South Heights Photovoice exhibition, reports about everything from local jobs to education and health, and even live jazz. During the day, teams will form to pursue “rapid, creative solutions to challenges that impede good health and prosperity in Muskegon County,” a press release about the event stated. Mickey Wallace, of 103.7 The Beat, and Liz Nolan, an actress and digital marketing and public relations specialist, will emcee the event.
Following the Sept. 10 conference, Livability Lab attendees will be charged with working to create the change discussed during the day-long conference. In mid-January, Livability Lab participants will reconvene to report on the change they enacted.
Next week’s summit and the 100-day challenge is a collaboration between the CHIR, Mercy Health, the United Way of the Lakeshore, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, Muskegon Community College, and the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District. Coordinated by Mercy Health’s Health Project, the Muskegon CHIR is a broad partnership of stakeholders that receives state funding that it uses to identify and address factors affecting residents’ health, such as housing, transportation, food, and much more.
Those behind the Livability Lab emphasize a major part of the change they hope will come is rooted in the ability to have conversations where all are invited, and heard, in the first place—to provide a platform that’s accessible, that’s open to everyone, that feels safe for people to express both inspiration and dissent. It will, McDonald hopes, be a place where individuals who have historically felt silenced or ignored will have the chance to speak, be heard, and connect with everyone from grassroots activists to lawmakers and business owners.
“We want to create a safe place where we can encourage people to talk to one another and understand others’ lenses,” McDonald said.
To prepare for the Livability Lab and 100-day challenge, CHIR has spent the last year gathering community input, from attending neighborhood association meetings and resident programs to conducting hundreds of in-person interviews. Michigan State University, which is partnering with CHIR for this process, used that information, as well as additional community data, to create data books that will be presented Sept. 10.
“The data and surveys tell us there’s an enormous level of commitment and pride in this county,” McDonald said. “There’s a stunning resiliency here. I hope at the end of these 100 days, there will be a renewed joy in the spirit of the community.”
To learn more about and register for the Livability Lab, please visit www.LivabilityLab.com. Registration must be completed by Friday, Sept. 6.