GRAND RAPIDS — Sustainability, transportation and placemaking are top priorities for Grand Rapids residents as city officials prepare a 20-year master plan to guide future development.
Around 50 people attended a community master plan launch party that city officials hosted on March 15 at Harrison Park Academy. Attendees submitted ideas for the next master plan’s focus and offered feedback on improvements they want to see across the city.
The city’s current master plan was created in 2002 and addresses land use across the city with goals around housing, equity, environmental justice and economic development. The city will continue gathering feedback from the community on the next master plan throughout 2023.
City officials will compile the feedback before issuing a draft of the master plan early next year, said Grand Rapids Planning Director Kristin Turkelson.
“It’s easy to see this as this big visionary document, but it has so much importance in people’s day-to-day lives in terms of how we use and get around our city,” Turkelson said. “I can’t stress enough why it’s important.”
For the first time, the next master plan will create specific land use plans for the Creston neighborhood, a stretch of Butterworth Street on the city’s southwest side, and Southtown, which includes several business districts on the south side.
Creston neighborhood advocates have requested an area-specific plan for several years. Developments have stopped or stalled in recent years, but business owners and neighborhood leaders are hopeful that Creston’s business corridor will see a surge of investment now that several major mixed-use developments are getting off the ground.
“Right now, these three areas are covered by the general city master plan, which really doesn’t get as specific as maybe adjusting to some of the changes that are happening through the natural growth of the city,” Turkelson said. “The boundaries of these three areas still need to be defined. That’s part of this process.”
Some of the most common ideas submitted at Wednesday’s launch party involved creating more affordable housing, encouraging more environmental sustainability and improving public transportation and non-motorized travel throughout the city.
“As a resident of the first ward, I was excited to see (the city) come to our neighborhood and take note of our ideas,” said Denavvia Mojet. “I’m definitely interested to see what the implementation of these ideas looks like, because a lot of the ideas discussed at my table are not things that can happen overnight.”
Mojet, who also serves as the founder and executive director of the Black and Brown Cannabis Guild advocacy group, believes the city needs to focus on placemaking, especially when so many people are now able to work remotely, as well as long-term investments to address the housing shortage.
“The things we should have been doing in the last 10 years to avoid being in this position were not happening, and a lot of the times that is missed and people talk about their favorite housing ideas, not the most urgently needed and overdue ideas,” Mojet said.
Turkelson said that housing will indeed be a key focus of the forthcoming long-term plan.
“Housing is front and center for me from a planning perspective,” Turkelson said. “We’ve quantified and have a need for (housing) at all price points. So this process can help determine where that housing goes and where the community wants to put it. We need density, but what should that look like and where will the community accept more housing?”
Placemaking and public safety also are priorities for Mojet.
“So many people thought about placemaking as living wherever you work, but in a generation where you can work remotely and do anything, something else has to get you invested and rooted in your community,” Mojet said. “Grand Rapids hasn’t done a great job in making people feel like this is their home.”
Karen Dunnam, who rode her bike to the event on Wednesday from her home in the Creston neighborhood, wants to see more improvements at major intersections in the city to make traffic flow better with non-motorized travelers, she said.
“Vibrancy is getting people out of their cars and finding fun things to celebrate,” Dunnam said.
Feedback on the master plan can be submitted online through March 21 at bridgetoourfuture.com. The next in-person community input event is scheduled for mid-May.