Seeking Regions Hidden Assets

February 15, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — More than 40 architects and planners participated in a recent three-day charette to encourage regional planning and find assets in the region that could encourage future developments.

Sponsored by the Grand Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, the meetings picked up where Public Act 226 left off.

The new state law gives municipalities the authority to make land-use plans together and to establish joint planning commissions.

The act’s aim is to persuade cities and townships to cooperate on land-use issues and make planning decisions clearer for developers whose projects could affect more than one municipality.

“Our purpose was to allow for that to take place in an environment of creativity, and to create an outcome, a document, that could be used to allow further community dialogue,” said Robert Daverman, AIA Michigan regional director and charette organizer.

“The document is actually a PowerPoint that captures the three charette areas,” he added.

“We also wanted to use the charettes as a very strong background for the grants that are out there in various categories. There are some that are already designed for joint municipal planning, just having gone on the street this past fall,” he added.

Officials from Grand Rapids, Holland and Muskegon took part in charettes designed for their jurisdictions. The state, federal government, private organizations and foundations are offering those planning and green infrastructure grants. The AIA Regional Urban Design Assistance Team is a group that offers grants and also gives municipal planners and business leaders an opportunity to speak with architects.

“These areas could be very good candidates for that. All they have to do is apply for it,” said Daverman, who designs professionally for Progressive AE.

Daverman said he was happy with the outcome of the charettes, calling the environment that surrounded the event “fascinating and energetic.” He said there was a nice mix of planners, architects, municipal leaders and landscape architects on hand throughout the three days.

The charettes drew architects from across the Grand Valley AIA Chapter and from Ann Arbor, Detroit, Battle Creek, Lansing and Kalamazoo. Daverman said having architects from outside the region, along with guests from other professions, gave the charettes more creativity.

“We had a broad base of professional planners and designers there that helped provide a little more unbiased point of view about areas. They don’t know the histories of why things are a certain way, other than what they see on maps, and they can ask some interesting questions,” said Daverman, who presented the charette results at a national AIA leadership and legislative conference last week.

One area looked at closely during the meetings is a sector of Walker on the northwest side of Grand Rapids.

Known as Grandwalk and bounded by I-96 to the north,

Richmond Street
to the south, the Grand River to the east, and
Bristol Avenue
to the west, the area has active industrial plants, empty factories, auto-parts sellers, and railroad tracks dotting much of its landscape. Homes, stores, parks, restaurants, good roads, two trails and a little-known creek are also present.

“This Grandwalk area is fundamentally a major connection point, a junction if you will, for a lot of systems,” said Daverman. “It’s a very energetic area.”

That stream, called Indian Mill Creek, is one of the hidden assets that the charettes were charged to find.

“It’s a beautiful looking creek,” said Daverman.

AIAGrandValley has produced a compact disc of the charettes and wants designers and planners throughout the region to get a copy and share it with others. For more information, go to the chapter’s Web site at www.aiami.com

“It was fascinating. Each area came up with a lot of ideas of how each could be positively influenced in different ways,” Daverman said.

“To do that we really looked at what the hidden assets of an area were and tried to have those described on the document. A lot weren’t necessarily all that hidden — some were pretty obvious, but sometimes they get overlooked,” he added.

“Who would know that Indian Mill Creek is coming through the Grandwalk area? You barely notice it, so it can be hidden to a lot of people.

“And it is an asset.”    

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