Students’ policy analysis skills to help Detroit-area agency

December 23, 2003

ANN ARBOR—Some graduate students at the University of Michigan will use their policy-analysis skills to try to improve the quality of life for many Detroit residents.

These students are enrolled in U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and will participate in an intensive, one-week policy simulation beginning Jan. 5, 2004. The program, Integrated Policy Exercise (IPE), teaches students to implement the skills and theories they have learned in public policy courses and to work together across classes and concentrations.

This year’s IPE project involves studying four alternative potential Detroit Metropark sites for the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority (HCMA), a five-county regional parks agency in southeastern Michigan. Each site—Belle Isle, Fort Wayne, State Fairgrounds, and the west Detroit Riverfront—poses unique development challenges and entails significant direct and indirect costs.

The development of a Detroit Metropark could produce significant benefits for both the local community and the region, enhancing residents’ quality of life by drawing people into the city, spurring economic activity, reducing crime and potentially increasing local property values.

Since HCMA is a regional entity funded through a regional tax levy and governed by state and county representatives, the governance of the proposed park would likely combine both local and regional elements. Student participants will analyze and evaluate the wide range of economic, social and political costs and benefits associated with the four proposals.

“The IPE provides an opportunity for students to grapple with a real-world problem under a time deadline and to write positions, negotiate them and face compromises. This particular project in Detroit should be a great exercise in hands-on learning that may also have lessons for policymakers.” said Rebecca Blank, Ford School dean.

All Ford School classes will be cancelled Jan. 5-8, allowing students and faculty to devote their full attention to the simulation. With faculty and outside experts offering guidance, students will produce position papers analyzing the alternative proposals from their group’s perspective and a final set of policy recommendations.

Alexa Shore, a second-year master’s student at the Ford School, said IPE fosters teamwork among the Ford School community and gives students unique perspectives from the stakeholders and interest groups involved in a project.

“IPE forces students to think about and articulate opinions and arguments that are not their own, since they are assigned to simulated roles for the entire week,” said Shore, an Ann Arbor resident whose studies involve education, children and youth policy. “This is important because it is crucial to understand what motivates different stakeholders and how to best reach an agreement among parties with very different policy interests.”

HCMA Commissioner Robert W. Marans, who represents Washtenaw County, said a comprehensive study for a new Metropark has never been done, and the Ford School’s participation could help Detroit’s revitalization.

“This is a valuable opportunity in helping the commissioners’ decision making,” said Marans, an U-M professor of urban planning. He didn’t know how long it would be before a new park is built, in part, because funding isn’t available.

IPE began in 1999 because students wanted to put into practice what they learned in class, said Elisabeth Gerber, this year’s IPE coordinator and director of the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP).

Founded in 1914 as the Institute of Public Administration—the first of its kind nationwide—the Ford School ranks among the top 10 schools nationwide in public administration/public policy by U.S. News & World Report.

HCMA is a five-county parks district including the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Livingston. The system maintains and operates 24,000 acres of recreational land within 13 Metroparks.

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