East Hills Council of Neighbors to unveil public space strategy

The Green Well patio
The East Hills Council of Neighbors will unveil how it is planning for people- instead of cars- when they present their public space strategy at a public meeting on Monday, June 23.

Join the East Hills Council of Neighbors as they present their public space strategy at a public meeting on June 23 from 6-8 p.m. at the Inner City Christian Federation. The strategy is broken down into four parts: Neighborhood Parks and Greenspaces, Streets as Public Space, Adaptive Reuse and New Construction and East Hills Loves Congress.

Since its start in the 1980’s, The East Hills Council of Neighbors (EHCN) has worked endlessly to ignite tools of placemaking, declaring East Hills as the most desirable neighborhood in Grand Rapids. An urban space with three healthy business districts, variety of residential options, preservation of historic buildings and a streetscape safe for every pedestrian, East Hills has a strict policy for planning for the people.

The year long process of the strategy was generously funded by the Dyer-Ives Foundation. The East Hills Council of Neighbors and over 100 residents developed the East Hills Public Space Strategy. The beginning stages called for a round of meetings with three EHCN committees: Greenspace, Complete Streets and East Hills Loves Congress. The second stage involved two public input meetings focusing on parks and greenspace and one regarding Complete Streets. Followed by one public meeting releasing the first draft of the document, gathering more input. Finally, the strategy was presented to three business districts, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, Planning Director Suzanne Schulz and Historic Preservation consultant Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, among other neighborhood stakeholders.

Focusing on the neighborhood parks and greenspace, East Hills wants to maximize the public space within the  ¼ square mile area of the neighborhood. In maximizing the amount of greenspace, they hope to encourage recreational activities and encourage more residents to use Cherry and Congress Park. Plans include making parks accessible during every season.

“We’re actively showcasing simple tools for making our community better. The idea is to make placemaking that much more accessible – cultivating a ‘Do-It-Together’ culture that makes good things happen today, not 10 or 20 years from now,” says Rachel Lee, Director of the East Hills Council of Neighbors.

Focusing on four-season parks will increase the quality and quantity of park space in the neighborhood.

“We are a compact community and we have to make the most of the greenspace that we have. Parks, yes, but also the streets and public spaces throughout the neighborhood, “ says Lee. Plans are set to increase the tree canopy, in conjuction with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. Emphasis will be placed on Congress Park that will make it a destination for the entire community to use.

As a part of Complete the Streets, East Hills will make every mode of transportation accessible to residents, with a complete street livability of a community. East Hills aims to be the most walkable, pedestrian/bicycle friendly and environmentally friendly neighborhood in Michigan.

From their beginnings with focus on neighborhood crime, East Hills has taken steps to ensure a strong unit within the city. A vision of a vibrant urban space, the council is serious about building the dynamics of a walkable community. With decisions made about street design that will work to slow traffic down and increase pedestrian movement, East Hills will collaborate with The Rapid on increasing ridership and marketing routes 4, 5, 6 and 14 that run throughout the neighborhood. Increasing the pedestrian traffic in East Hills will promote commerce throughout the diverse business districts, located along Cherry, Diamond, Lake Drive, East Fulton and Wealthy Street.

“Just walk down Cherry or Wealthy Street on a summer night and you’ll fall in love with what’s around you,” says Lee. With a pedestrian first policy, East Hills is creating a space for every resident.

Home to three historical districts, East Hills aims to characterize the neighborhood adaptive reuse and new construction which are contextual with the neighborhood scene based on a human scale design and character. Building editions will be consistent with already existing architecture and will follow historical guidelines.

“This neighborhood is beautiful, romantic. People fall in love with this neighborhood, they want to be a part of this community. We get emails and calls every week from people who want to buy here, rent here [or] start a business here,” explains Lee.

The East Hills Loves Congress initiative envisions a first rate school, serving as a seven day a week community center. Plans include expanding the K through fifth grade to pre-K through eighth grade.  With this expansion, a soccer field and track will be constructed at Congress School. All editions will adhere to the Historic Preservation guidelines.

“The strategy seeks to accentuate the historic character and public spaces of East Hills while balancing growth and development opportunities that will further invigorate a place where people can live, work, shop and play,” says Mark Miller, senior architect and planner at Nederveld.

The work of East Hills increases public safety while building neighborhood leadership. Slowing cars down makes our streets safer for pedestrians. Preserving the architecture in the historical districts protects the character and architectural integrity which attracts people to East Hills. Increasing the passive and active recreational opportunities in the parks and greenspaces promotes an active healthy community. Working towards a first rate neighborhood school keeps families in the neighborhood.

No more planning for cars, East Hills is planning for people.

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