Friends of Grand Rapids Parks Recommendations for City of Grand Rapids

The Big Picture

Leading cities around the world invest in parks and trees because these assets enrich much more than property values. They help improve citizen health and well-being, provide kids places to play, build up civic pride, promote environmental stewardship, and make the community a more appealing place.

The Current Situation

As the City of Grand Rapids grows, citizens recognize these values. Indeed, they now demand more from their public spaces than ever before. Complicating matters, poorly planned development, disinvestment in neighborhood school grounds, climate change, and invasive pests increasingly threaten our parks and urban forest assets. Unfortunately, local public investment in parks and trees is not sufficient to confront the threats, or keep pace with community demand. Without a renewed City commitment, our parks, water resources, and urban forest will never achieve the goals outlined in Green Grand Rapids and the City’s Sustainability Plan.

Our Position on the FY2014 Preliminary Fiscal Plan

Growing public-private partnerships and increasingly robust citizen support have brought about some timely and creative solutions to the City’s fiscal challenges. But now is not the time to place additional burdens on the community. This is the time to invest in and build on partnerships that drive steady improvement in our parks assets and tree canopy. City leaders must define and choose a budget that commits the appropriate management structure and resources necessary to address backlog maintenance needs and ultimately support the rehabilitation of our parks system and urban forest. The alternative is to preside over the ongoing decline of these valuable assets. Therefore Friends of Grand Rapids Parks recommends the following short-term actions:


Hold the line. Parks are a community asset, and like all assets, require investment. City leaders must reject further cuts to the parks budget, continue basic maintenance operations, and renew their commitment to the community’s diverse portfolio of recreational facilities which includes playgrounds, pools, trails, shelters, and fields. This requires more aggressive pursuit of new opportunities to stabilize and diversify parks funding streams. We cannot cut our way to sustainability; we must grow our way to a more sustainable park system supported by all.

Stay involved. Parks and neighborhoods support one another; they are undeniably linked. Therefore, it is imperative that our City operations continue to engage communities at a local level. Disinvestment in staffing and programming will only deepen the divide between City leadership and local citizens. The City Manager’s recommendation to establish a Parks Manager position is potentially a step in a positive direction toward reestablishing identifiable, accountable leadership for parks at City Hall.

Don’t end play. If City Leaders adopt the Preliminary FY2014 Fiscal Plan as proposed, this will be the first time in generations that kids won’t have consistent neighborhood recreation activities in city parks. City Leaders must ensure that current funding challenges do not lead to a full abandonment of recreational programming for youth and adults and dwindling opportunities for people seeking to improve their quality of life.


Protect the asset. Since it will allow more flexibility in forestry operations, we commend the budgetary move of forestry from streets to parks. However, the dangerously-low $1.3 million forestry budget is now expected to cover forestry operations for both parks and streets forestry. This funding level seriously jeopardizes the City’s ability to provide even minimal maintenance of the existing trees that contribute significantly to our City’s 26.9% tree canopy. Therefore, we recommend that City leaders commit to finding additional resources and diversifying forestry funding to maintain and protect our existing canopy.

Support strategic management. Maximizing the benefits of trees requires strategic investment and operations. City leaders must find creative solutions to fund the appropriate staffing levels to support strategic management and planning that will maximize unique funding and programming opportunities, implement needed changes to the City ordinances and policies, improve community relations, and maintain public-private partnerships to achieve the 40% canopy goal.

City of Grand Rapids FY2014 Preliminary Fiscal Plan

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