While many MSU students have been on study abroad programs, East Lansing City Manager Ted Staton has done some traveling of his own.
Staton returned June 15 from a nearly two-week adventure to East Lansing’s sister city, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The trip was a continuation of a project started about five years ago when Staton and former East Lansing Director of Planning and Community Development Jim van Ravensway traveled to Romania to begin the relationship between the two cities.
“I was there five years ago and made a series of recommendations — primarily around development kind of issues,” Staton said. “This time around, I got to see their reactions to those recommendations — and whether or not it was true or not. They gave me credit for a number of their approaches to redeveloping the city.”
Among the changes the city officials of Cluj-Napoca made were making the streets more pedestrian-friendly, adding bike lanes and moving many parking spots off the streets and into parking ramps, Staton said.
Van Ravensway said East Lansing officials have found it interesting to see the unique and creative ways Cluj-Napoca has been able to handle parking issues in regard to the many different variations of old architectural styles. Van Ravensway visited the city in April.
In Romania, Staton also participated in a two-day international conference with local government officials from across Europe.
“It dealt with social and human service gaps in response to the international economic crisis,” Staton said. “So I got there at 1 p.m. and by 3 (p.m.), I was on an international panel talking about these issues.”
The relationship with Cluj-Napoca started when MSU began working with Babes-Bolyai University, which is in the city, van Ravensway said.
“Michigan State University and Cluj have had a long-standing relationship,” he said. “The prime minister of Romania has spent a lot of time here. So the idea was to establish a sister city type of relationship.”
Five years ago, the first trip resulted in Staton and van Ravensway exchanging advice and experiences with city officials, van Ravensway said. This time, Staton’s visit took local administration expertise to the still relatively new democratic nation.
“Their expertise comes in part of a grassroots struggle to become a democracy,” van Ravensway said. “It’s barely 20 years old, so (the city is) relatively new when it comes to democracy. They’re trying to bring (democracy) to local levels and learning how to localize it and how to create a more fair local government.”
Van Ravensway said it’s important to recognize how large of a role MSU has played in transforming Romania from a communist nation to an Eastern European democracy.
The trip was a good event for East Lansing and was able to help the city be held high regards internationally, East Lansing City Councilmember Kevin Beard said.
“I think it’s good for the city to get this kind of recognition,” Beard said. “I think in the first place, that our city manager is held on such high regards to take part in international conferences speaks volumes to his reputation.”