Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. Planning Manager Tim Kelly emails a weekly GR Forward update to the project Steering Committee. Here's this week's communication:

Greetings Downtown Plan Steering Committee and Community Partners:


We are wrapping up an extremely productive week for the Downtown Plan. Our consultant team arrived on Tuesday, and by the end of today will have completed interviews with more than 20 community and business leaders. A sincere thank you to all those that participated.

Before leaving, our team will also be more than 90% complete with a survey of every building and parcel in Downtown. The data gathered from the survey will be extremely important to help identify our existing land use conditions and inform recommendations going forward.

In addition to the interviews and survey, we also held our first Steering Committee meeting on Thursday at DGRI offices (see attached photo). The agenda included an exercise for Committee members to introduce themselves, as well as an activity designed to identify focus areas and question types for future community outreach events. In between the activities, the consultants gave an overview of their approach to the planning process and how they expect to implement it in Downtown Grand Rapids. The consultants will return to Downtown the week of May 5, and we are already in the process of planning activities and meetings that week.

Thanks again to all the Committee members for participating at yesterday’s meeting. While this is only the beginning of our journey, I think we are off to a great start.


I have two informational resources for you this week.

First is a link to one of my favorite articles about downtowns, Downtown is for People, that was published in 1958 by Jane Jacobs (throwback Friday anyone?).

For those of you not familiar with Jane Jacobs, she wrote what is considered to be the seminal work in urban planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Even more remarkable, she had no formal training in planning, just an innate ability to observe her surroundings and to understand the impact that urban policies have on shaping the built environment.

While there are a number of instructive observations in the article, my favorite is the following:

“It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic than can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present, downtown does need an overhaul… But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.”

It is interesting to see the similar challenges facing downtowns more than 50 years ago. The article is a bit long, but full of great insights (Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination!). For those going on Spring Break you may want to print it out for reading on the beach.

Second is a profile our very own Downtown Grand Rapids, which received recognition as the “Downtown of the Month” from the International Downtown Association (IDA): The profile is a great overview of Downtown, and is great national press for our community as we prepare to host the IDA’s Midwestern Urban District Forum starting on May 5.

For anyone travelling this week, have a safe trip and enjoy your vacation. To everyone else, enjoy your weekend and I will be in touch next week.