Architecture & Design and Real Estate

What's the state of urban dwelling?

February 28, 2014
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Developer plans $16.2M lofts in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids-based 616 Development has built several urban-loft developments in the region. Photo via fb.com

If you happen to belong to the masses who are searching for a home in downtown Grand Rapids right now, you’re probably well aware that demand is overpowering supply.

The last five years have brought a flood of urban dwellers pouring into our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. It’s exciting to see this influx as it builds towards critical mass, but the growing pains are real. In my work at 616, recognizing and working to mitigate these pains is a high priority.

Who

Even before I spent my day to day in the world of residential property management, I was very aware of who lived downtown.

This was mostly because there were few places to live, and the majority were condominiums. The market was sparse. I saw downtown not as a place for all demographics to live work and play, but for the elite. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then.

Interacting with prospective and current tenants has provided encouraging proof that people of all ages are interested in living downtown, and many are making sacrifices in other life areas to do so. Quite honestly, I think it’s easy to understand why: our city is in the midst of an urban renaissance.

Across the board, urban dwellers consist of a range of demographics, from recent college grads to successful business people to empty nesters.

I have seen a growing number of males, baby boomers and out-of-state residents moving downtown in the last 12 months, giving Grand Rapids’ core a more well- rounded demographic.

The urban environment has something to offer everyone, and with the continuing development our city is experiencing, we’re only going to continue to draw more diversity in.

Wants

There are a few key elements new urbanites have their hearts set on, based on their feedback after looking at rental options.

High-priority items

Open floor plans with natural light and/or higher ceilings

Updated kitchens, preferably with a dishwasher

Washer and dryer located in the apartment

Outdoor space or common areas, such as rooftop decks, balconies or community rooms

Interior character: wood floors, exposed brick and unique architectural details

Sustainability and energy efficiency are also at the forefront of demand. This is more important to some than others, but it’s a consistent inquiry. Furnace efficiency, water consumption, window and building insulation, types of light bulbs used, recycling options — these are things urbanites want to know about.

Overall, people want to get back to traditional neighborhood developments: new urbanism, sustainable communities, placemaking. Call it what you will. It all leads back to community.

People want to put down roots in a place they’re proud to call home. A place that's designed and developed for people. Residents want green space, attractive community areas, walkability and local business and retail. Because when you live in the city, it’s an extension of your living room.

Challenges

Living in downtown Grand Rapids does not come without its challenges.

The search for housing in and of itself is incredibly competitive and can be frustrating for new urbanites. With limited vacancies and ever-growing prospective tenants, apartments everywhere are being leased within hours of becoming vacant.

Once you find your dream apartment downtown, there is still much to learn. Living urban is not always easy in a transitioning city. There are amenities we don’t have available (yet). We need more green spaces, improved walkability, more user-friendly public transportation, etc.

But as with all things, when it comes to living in our rapidly growing city, you take the bad with the good. Grand Rapids is a thriving city with a lot to offer, beginning with low housing costs, high job growth and easy access to decision makers and investors. Looking at the big picture, why wouldn’t people want to live here?

Just imagine what Grand Rapids will look like five years from now. 

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