Unusual process leads to Grand Rapids endorsing a ‘green’ plan

Grand Rapids Press: Nate Reems

GRAND RAPIDS – There’s years of work ahead to accomplish the goals of Green Grand Rapids leaders who seek to add on-street bike lanes, activate the river that bore the city’s name, increase the tree canopy, build additional parks, promote local food and improve the regions water quality through stormwater runoff.

But so much has already been achieved, all while lacking official city endorsement.

“I’ve never heard of a planning process where implementation starts three years before being adopted,” Mayor George Heartwell said Tuesday before city commissioners signed off on making the plan part of the city master plan. “The community has taken ownership and has brought it to life.”

The process began in 2007 during discussions about the emerald ash borer and then took on a life of its own as residents seized the moment, said Suzanne Schulz, the city’s planning director.

“This is about the quality of life we can offer and adding to the vitality of our city,” Schulz said. “It will help us attract and retain talented people. It’s really an economic development strategy.”

Among early actions, Green Grand Rapids backers have expanded Joe Taylor Park in the Baxter Neighborhood, planned to add more than 100,000 trees around the city and laid the groundwork for the Grand River’s whitewater restoration. Bike lanes are now on city streets and the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market broke ground on a new facility.

All of it has been done largely without city money as the municipality has cut funding in many of the programs it supports. The city has helped with grant applications that have funded much of the work.

Steve Faber, who leads Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, said the goals are aggressive, but the groups have come together to leverage private investment and volunteer hours.

“We need to look for more solutions to get (where we want to be),” Faber said.

Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly is impressed with the work.

“There is incredible talent behind this,” Kelly said. “We are invigorating Grand Rapids.”

Back to Articles

Leave a Comment