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Traverse City Neighborhoods Get Local, Vocal

When contentious issues come before the Traverse City Commission – be they granny flats, street repairs or urban beekeeping – commissioners often rely on public input to guide their approach in shaping new city policy.

But in recent years, some voices have become particularly influential in the local political process: Those belonging to Traverse City's numerous neighborhood associations. These volunteer groups – comprised of residents in such districts as Central Neighborhood, Old Town, Boardman, Kids Creek, Slabtown and Traverse Heights – meet on a regular basis to discuss neighborhood needs and concerns, socialize, and advocate on behalf of local homeowners to the Commission.

Seamus Shinners, a long-time area music promoter, is president of the Central Neighborhood Association. The group, which holds quarterly meetings at the History Center of Traverse City and averages attendance of 30-40 members, has over the years negotiated with Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) to mitigate noise volume from Thirlby Field (as well as advocated for the continued operation of Central Grade School), raised funds to sponsor a chair at the renovated Lars Hockstad Auditorium, and worked with the Traverse City Film Festival to reduce neighborhood concerns about the festival's summer presence.

“We get involved when necessary with the City on matters that impact the quality of life within Central Neighborhood,” Shinners explains, noting that traffic issues are also a top priority for residents. Current projects for the association include developing a tree-planting program for Hannah Park, working with TCAPS on a landscaping project for Thirlby Field, and building Little Free Libraries throughout Central Neighborhood.

Elizabeth Whelan, president of the Boardman Neighborhood Association, oversees the city's oldest “official” historic district. For 34 years running, the group has hosted the public “Boardman Neighborhood Lights the Way” event on Christmas Eve, in which sidewalks are lined with luminaria to commemorate the holiday.

The group also publishes a quarterly newsletter disseminating crucial city information to residents, establishes dedicated block captains, plans annual block parties and events, and maintains an association Facebook page to keep residents apprised of important neighborhood developments.

“Having an active neighborhood association allows us to be proactive in situations that might impact our residents,” Whelan says. “We have met with City officials to address concerns...and we have more influence than individuals might in seeking assistance with issues of interest to our neighborhood.”

Of equal importance, says Whelan, is providing residents with “a sense of place and historical perspective in these rather impersonal times.” That mission – to foster a sense of connection and community among residents – is one shared by many other other neighborhood association presidents, including Old Town Neighborhood president Janet Fleshman.

“People are becoming more and more isolated. I think it's a positive thing to reduce that alienation,” Fleshman says. “We diligently try to engage both homeowners and renters to get their input and ideas...and to give people a stake in what happens here.”

Traverse City Commissioner Jim Carruthers, himself a member of the Central Neighborhood Association, affirms that neighborhood associations that are well-organized and active “do have an influence on decision-making at the City Commission level.”

“They have louder voices and get issues moved forward faster,” he observes. “I feel they are important. They are the beginning – the first level – of citizen involvement.”

Interested in becoming involved with a local neighborhood association?A complete list of active associations is available here on the City of Traverse City website.


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