Sprucing Up Downtown Streets

February 23, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The study has a good chance of becoming the most-used reference guide for future streetscape design in the downtown district.

Prepared by the Streetscape Steering Committee of the Downtown Alliance, the 197-page report illustrates design guidelines for public property and private buildings.

And it covers just about everything that is designable — from entryways to sidewalk cafes to signs and awnings to the best landscaping plants to boxing up newspaper boxes.

"It contains the small ways that the city can be made more beautiful," said Kayem Dunn, chairwoman of the Downtown Development Authority and the Alliance committee that is responsible for the report.

"It should help property owners with specific advice," she added.

The DDA, Downtown Alliance, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Frey Foundation funded the effort. Progressive AE, Pollack Design Associates and Creekside Landscaping LLC made up the design team that wrote and illustrated the report.

The Grand River to the west, U.S. 131 to the southwest,

Wealthy Street
to the south,
Lafayette Avenue
to the east, and I-196 to the north enclose the project's study area. The purpose was to guide streetscape projects so all the individual efforts, whether public or private, would "create a more vibrant downtown" and would "work in harmony with each other."

The report defines streetscape mainly as the space between a building and a curb, but also includes parks and plazas. Following its guidelines would guarantee a level of quality in the streetscape and result in a coherent look for downtown, according to the report. It also identifies key locations for art and plants, and includes the types of trees, shrubs, flowers and ornamental grasses that should be planted in the urban core.

"I think there is something very important about introducing beauty into the city," said Mayor George Heartwell, who offered high praise for the report.

Although the study focuses on making downtown more attractive and welcoming, it also touches on making the sector more accessible. That challenge came from a report made last September by Disabilities Advocates of Kent County.

Funded by a DDA grant, that study listed quite a few barriers that physically impaired residents regularly face downtown. The Alliance report contains guidelines for sidewalks, parks, plazas and street corners that should make the Central Business District easier to navigate.

The Downtown Alliance has made the report available on its Web site at downtowngr.org for anyone who is interested in reading it.

"The future health of Grand Rapids will be based on many things, but perhaps most important is the attractiveness of the city and its desirability as a place to work, live and play," reads the report. "The downtown streetscape sets the stage for community life."      

Alliance Streetscape Steering Committee

Kayem Dunn, DDA chairwoman, committee chair

Shaun Biel, De Vries Properties

Ed De Vries, De Vries Properties

Rick DeVries, assistant city engineer

Sharon Evoy, Downtown Alliance executive director

Jay Fowler, DDA executive director

Kurt Hassberger, Rockford Co., Downtown Alliance chairman

Bob Herr, Crowe Chizek

Rob McCartney, FrederikMeijerGardens & SculpturePark

Dennis Sturtevant, Dwelling Place Inc.

Source: Downtown Alliance, Downtown Streetscape Design Guidelines, November 2006

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