Grassroots Effort Affords Firm Foundation

March 26, 2007
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The Brikyaat neighborhood, which comprises about 250 households in the city's 2nd Ward, is the latest example of uniqueness in this city. Brikyaat is part of the Midtown Neighborhood Association and also includes a dozen small businesses. Neighborhood residents were prompted to proactively develop their neighborhood after seeing the mixed-use MidTowneVillage development to their north replace a formerly residential area. They spent more than two years planning what they, as residents, wanted their neighborhood to become.

The emerging plan for the neighborhood is important to note for several reasons:

The neighborhood is exactly in the heart of the city.

The plan would amend the city's new master plan, but rather than bureaucratic stonewalling or nay saying, the city planning commission and city commission are giving the residents kudos and could approve the plan as soon as July.

The neighborhood association managed to win $70,000 in grants from community foundations, including Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Frey Foundation, Steelcase Foundation and Dyer Ives Foundation. That alone indicates the commendable work of the residents, but it also underscores the importance of community grant-making as seeds of opportunity for progress. Keeping the central city and older infrastructure viable and bankable makes the city unique from other urban area neighborhoods in Michigan, where one abandoned property leads to another.

The group used those funds to hire professional planners, and focused on economic development and residential housing improvements. The most significant business development in the area is the well-known Fulton Street Farmers Market, which draws customers from surrounding counties and is the first focus for expansion and new development. The housing portion of the plan offers a variety of options that includes all income levels, raises residential density and improves infrastructure.

The city of Grand Rapids undoubtedly has seen tremendous benefit from the neighborhood business associations, and residents foresee the East Fulton Business District being designated as a Traditional Business District, affording more possibilities.

The city's success with the Wealthy Street Business District and the massive visual and environmental improvements now underway in the West Grand Neighborhood as part of the Turner Gateway beautification project provide success stories upon which other neighborhoods can continue to evolve — and provide the guarantee of improved tax revenue for the city.

The city's two 2nd Ward commissioners noted the plan came to them "from the bottom up" as a grassroots effort. It is refreshing here, and in this state, that grandstanding and bureaucratic tangles did not impede process or progress, and that kudos rule.    

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