Regional planning commissions have been around in some parts of the country since near the start of the last century. Planning & Development Regions look at planning issues from a larger geography than that examined by counties or local units of government in the region. That allows them to identify issues and opportunities that are not apparent at a smaller geography. They also can help local governments resolve issues of overlapping services, help fill gaps in services through service sharing arrangements, and help find resources from the federal and state governments to address unmet needs.
Over the past 65 years the Michigan Legislature has created three separate, but different statutory approaches to addressing regional planning through voluntary substate units of government known variously as state planning and development regions, regional planning commissions, regional planning and development commissions, and councils of government (these terms are used interchangeably in this report). These Acts are:
- Regional Planning Act, 1945 PA 281.
- The regional planning portion of the County or Regional Economic Development Commission Act, 1966 PA 46.
- The regional planning portion of Metropolitan Councils Act, 1989 PA 292.
State Designated Planning and Development Regions are voluntary organizations comprised of local governments dedicated to serving the regional planning needs of multi-county areas in all parts of Michigan. They are a form of local government voluntarily created by their members, which are largely representative of local governments in the region; although membership also includes road authorities, nonprofit organizations and representatives of the business community in many regions.
The land area of Michigan is divided into 14 planning & development regions with counties as the organizing unit. They range widely in size. Five have only three counties, while one has fourteen counties. The two smallest are only 1,711-13 square miles each in size, while the largest is 8,735 square miles in size. Population served varies from 57,510 persons to 4,833,493 based on Census estimates in 2000. Population density ranges from under 14 persons/square mile in Region 13 (Western U.P.), to over 1,043 persons/square mile in Region 1 (Southeast Michigan). The oldest of today’s regions, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission (Region 6 in Lansing, formed in 1956), and the three county Detroit Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Commission (formed in 1947and subsequently replaced by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments in 1968 (SEMCOG, which covers seven counties in SE Michigan), originated out of a desire by local officials to coordinate transportation infrastructure planning and to serve as a forum for other regional issues.