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Parks with benefits: Rapid Growth Media

Parks With Benefits: How neighborhood identity factors into planning a socially productive park

"Who are you? What do you want to become? What do you want to preserve? What do you want to transform? What do you think will usher in who you want to be?"

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Executive Director Steve Faber knows these are big questions. However, although he says they are questions that admittedly sound a bit "metaphysical" for a conversation about parks, he also thinks they're the kind you find at the heart of most transformational public spaces. The kind that work in balance of research-based strategic planning, and the kind he, alongside the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department and Advisory Board, hopes to find some answers for through a series of eight neighborhood design workshops they will continue to host through Nov. 8.

These community forums will include the assistance of local design firms VIRIDIS and Progressive AE in verifying concept plans and identifying priority improvement projects for each park based on public comment and come nearly a year after 60 percent of voters approved a 0.98-mil, 7-year property tax expected to generate an estimated $4 million annually for city parks.

Water resources, Faber says, are one of the first things the city and friends of the community wanted to tackle after the tax millage was approved last November. Faber says Friends of Grand Rapids Parks intentionally selected the parks included in the workshop series largely based on lack of functional water resources.

"A lot of these parks have never been formally designed, or at least haven't had their designs revisited in decades, so instead of just putting in a splash pad we wanted to have a broader discussion with the community about what's working and what's not working," Faber says.

Neighborhood Planning Teams were established for each park at the beginning of the process to help consultants and community leaders better understand the parks and their surrounding neighborhoods. Faber says the neighborhood park design workshops are essentially designed to create a more cohesive level of understanding through the kind perspective only a neighborhood resident could offer.

"They're the ones who really see how that park gets used day in and day out, and they can to say to us, 'At 9 o'clock every Friday night, there's people using this basketball court,' or, 'Nobody ever uses that thing and we think it would be great to have this other thing,'" Faber says. "With the Cherry Park neighborhood, they want to preserve some of the best things about their park – the playground and things like that – but they also want more gathering spaces, places where they can throw events and come together, because that's kind of an extension of who they are right now and who they're becoming."

So, although understanding who Cherry Park neighbors are right now and who they are becoming may sound like a big, abstract undertaking, it has everything to do with how these revitalization projects can be a huge part of facilitating that positive transformation.

It creates intuitive concepts that can be implemented with realistic, existing parameters in mind and tailored to each neighborhood's unique context so that communities can build their own answers not only to abstract questions like collective identity, but also the more quantifiable ones like reduced crime rates, increased property values and cleaner air to breathe.

"Parks can work for a city," he says. "They can help us clean our water and keep our basements dry and clean out particular matter in the air…there's the really tangible stuff and there's the intangible."

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will unveil final plans to general public at a Plan Review Open House on Dec. 3 from 6-8 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Middle School gymnasium.

Times, dates and locations for the eight neighborhood park design workshops are included below, but for more specific details on each individual park plans, links to individual Facebook event pages, or to keep up with Master Plan's progress, visit www.friendsofgrparks.org.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

Roosevelt Park 
October 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Park Lodge Building
739 Van Raalte Drive SW

Cherry Park
October 20, 6:30-9 p.m.
Inner City Christian Federation
920 Cherry SE

Highland Park
October 25, 1-4 p.m.
East Leonard Elementary School
410 Barnett NE

Wilcox Park
October 27, 6-8 p.m.
Calvin Christian Reformed Church
700 Ethel SE

Lincoln Park
November 1, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Sibley Elementary School
943 Sibley NW

Westown Commons
November 1, 1-3 p.m.
The Other Way Ministries
710 W. Fulton

Fuller Park
November 6, 6-8:15 p.m.
Mayfair Christian Reformed Church
1736 Lyon NE

Garfield Park
November 8, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Garfield Park Gym

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