Friends in the news

Pleasant surprise result of years of neighborhood action

The creation of Pleasant Park took years of effort from a variety of concerned citizens and organizations. What resulted was more than a place, but the building up of community.
Kids playground

/Eric Tank

Installing the bike rackInstalling the bike rack /Eric Tank

Ground crew landscaping Ground crew landscaping  /Eric Tank
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On July 31 at 5 p.m., the City of Grand Rapids will hold a ribbon cutting for its first new park in roughly 20 years. Pleasant Park, on the corner of Madison Avenue and Pleasant Street, will be officially greeted by city leaders, community organizers and neighborhood residents as the newest addition to the network of city parks. The planning of this park has been in process for years on paper, and even longer in the vision of the surrounding neighborhoods. It is truly an exciting occasion for everyone involved.

While the end goal of this entire planning process was to have a park for our current and future neighborhood residents in lieu of a deteriorating parking lot, another truly unique and elusive byproduct was gladly accepted: connection.

There were several groups involved in this planning process: Heritage Hill Association, South Hill Neighborhood Association, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the City of Grand Rapids each had slightly differing opinions and desires for this park. Figuring out which details worked within the budget, timeframe and ordinances meant a lot of dialogue. There were impassioned discussions from residents, strategies from those who have worked with prior parks and guiding principles from funding sources and other leaders. Looking back at some moments, it almost felt as though this park may never become a reality.

Somewhere in the countless emails, night and weekend meetings, and neighborhood door knocking, a network of connections became apparent. Small hubs of information and belonging emerged- from informal sidewalk chats with neighbors to community representatives meeting with City leaders. Each person within this network found a place to have his or her opinions heard. Each one is now a part of this bond that is tied to a place, but it is so much more than that. The place is only a physical representation of the community force behind this project.

So, on July 31, numerous community stakeholders will be able to clap for the ribbon cutting and look each other in the eyes and smile. We’ll be able to recall a few years ago, sitting across the table from each other for the first time with perhaps widely different views on the outcome of Pleasant Park. We’ll remember what it felt like to discuss, disagree and yet finally come to a consensus over a piece of land that will be so valued in the future. We’ll feel powerfully connected to this park, this physical space. But it won’t be all because of the state-of-the-art playground, or the walking path. It will be because of the lifelong connections we made with each other.

This is a call to action. Find a project or a program within your community and become immersed in it. Give to it all you can. It will give back in many ways that may not become apparent until looking back at it from a future point in time. Every time you walk, drive or bike past a place you helped build, a network of community members with passion and vision will come to mind. You’ll be able to smile and know that through true connection and vision, a neighborhood is better off for generations to come.

And that will be a most pleasant surprise.

Author: Jessa Dutton is Treasurer and Pleasant Park Representative for the South Hill Neighborhood Association Board. Her community involvement outside of Neighborhood Ventures exemplifies the values and mission of the organization which seeks to improve the "quality of life and quality of place."

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