River Corridor panel engages public voices
Many see vast potential for Grand River in downtown.
What one word would you use to describe the current state of the Grand River?
About 73 individuals representing the business, educational, political, industrial, governmental and environmental sectors of the Grand Rapids community answered that question recently at the first meeting of the River Corridor Plan Steering Committee, hosted at the DeVos Place, downtown Grand Rapids.
The professionally diverse attendees produced words like, “promising,” “untapped,” “challenging,” “historic,” “restorable,” “photographic,” “dynamic,” “iconic,” “awesome,” “grand,” and “brown,” but the most repeated word was “potential.”
This was one of a number of interactive planning exercises that Suzanne Schulz, managing director of design, development and community engagement for the city of Grand Rapids, led the audience through in order to engage community thoughts, interests and concerns regarding the city’s intentions to improve the Grand River and make it more economically viable and recreationally accessible to the community.
The River Corridor Plan is a partnership between the city of Grand Rapids planning department and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Schulz said. The plan is currently in the data-collection phase, which includes gathering the perspectives of the 73 individuals representing the different Grand Rapids sectors, after which the planning committee will come out with recommendations based on the public input.
“Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. wanted to update their downtown plan, but we also knew, based on the work from Grand Rapids Whitewater and their efforts to restore the river, we needed to address not just the water, but also the banks of the water, and how the community interacts with the river,” she said.
“This is about restoring the rapids and activating the riverfront, making it a key to the community.”
Members of the committee are posting about the plan and their perspectives online through a number of different social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This was to reach a larger group of people in the community to gather as much feedback as possible, Schulz said.
“I think what’s so great about social media is that it’s real time. When people post something, you can see it and get an immediate reaction to it,” she said. “It also provides a different forum for people to provide input.”
The River Corridor Plan, which includes a river plan, a downtown plan and a central campus plan, is being designed as a solution to multiple systemic and ecological problems with the current river use, said Grand Rapids native Scott Bishop, principal at Stoss Landscape Urbanism.
“Our approach is about understanding the 21stcentury idea of infrastructure and how it connects the downtown to the river,” he said. “It’s about thinking of our place within the environment and how we create an environment around us.”
Bishop spoke about how the city needs to start looking at the river as a product, destination and investment opportunity. Planners are hoping to develop the river as a mode of transportation, boosting the idea of water trails and creating a more robust system, he said.
“You could potentially go from Grand Rapids to the state of the New York. That’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about,” he said. “We are asking, ‘how are we thinking about Grand Rapids’ position in that type of transportation system?’”
The plan’s Facebook site can be accessed at www.facebook.com/grfwd.