GR forward-future of downtown and river

Photo+Courtesy+John+Eisenschenk

Photo Courtesy John Eisenschenk

Downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River are undergoing a revitalization. GR Forward, a local campaign dedicated to renewing the city center through urban development and river care and action, is coming up with innovative solutions to downtown’s challenges.

The campaign had weekly open houses downtown during October and November allowing citizens to participate in the campaign in creative ways.

At the open houses, interactive stations included a game that revealed an individual’s opinions about different projects that GR Forward is working on, a survey and a map where visitors could add ideas to specific locations.

Senior Joel Betts attended one of the open houses and was impressed with the organization.

“I really like their holistic mission and how innovative they are,” he said. “It’s a fun way to interact with the community and get their opinion. I think they’ve done a good job of seeking a variety of voices in the process.”

The ideas GR Forward is considering are numerous and diverse. Increasing residents and businesses downtown is a focus. The campaign hopes to accomplish that by creating spaces that are conducive to these groups. Creating more downtown bike lanes and public transportation, coupled with real estate development could make this possible.

One of the campaign’s goals is to make downtown more walkable. Currently, much of downtown’s space is dedicated to streets, highways and parking lots, which makes walking difficult. Planting more trees and opening welcoming storefronts is a priority for encouraging pedestrian traffic.

Reinventing how the city utilizes the Grand River is also a top priority. Almost 40 percent of Grand Rapids riverfront is industrial and river access is minimal in most areas.

The city is considering removing the dam on the Grand River and instead putting in a flow controller to control flooding.

“This would give the positive impact of a dam without negative effects,” Joel Betts said.

Access to the river is important for city leaders, and part of the project will include innovative ways for people to utilize the riverfront area.

The GR Whitewater initiative is promoting restoration of rapids in the river for recreational whitewater kayaking.

Joel Betts emphasized the importance of student action in this project.

“We all live in this place, and our learning at Calvin can be very broad and not place-based,” he said. “We learn a lot of theory, but don’t necessarily connect it to a context of place. this project can be a great place to learn how theoretical things we learn come into action.”

On the GR Forward website, citizens can add ideas for improvement by dropping a pin on a map of downtown and writing their vision for the area.

This winter, following the open houses and focus groups, neighborhood meetings and discussions with local organizations are planned.

For off-campus students, the opportunity to attend a GR Forward meeting in a local neighborhood enables individuals to share their big ideas and wishes for the future of the neighborhood.

For more information about the campaign and how to get involved in city and riverfront planning, check out grforward.org.