DGRI Website Reboot


  • 769 Survey Respondents

  • 8 Integral Data Providers

  • 9 Months From Research to Beta

The Ultimate Downtown Website

We're building a new DGRI web platform and we're excited to share this new design. Your feedback is important.

This is a powerful new tool to reach and serve you - the resident, worker, student, visitor, developer, business owner, entrepreneur and others - who hold an interest and a stake in all Downtown offers.

This site currently is in the "beta" phase of development. That means DGRI and our partners at Mighty in the Midwest have done research to better understand our audience needs. Based on that information we've completed extensive planning and design work to establish the foundation for a good user experience. We've also developed a great deal of new content and many innovative technical features to deliver a site truly unique to Downtown Grand Rapids. (Be sure to play with our interactive map of businesses, car and bike parking, transit stops, street closures and more.)

But we're not done yet. We continue, for example, to refine and add content, work out bugs and do user testing. We invite your feedback as we work through this beta phase and gear up to launch the real deal later this summer. So please click around the site and send feedback to info@downtowngr.org or click the question mark at the bottom left of the page.

Open Data & Community Collaboration

To provide the most up-to-date Downtown business, event, and transportation information, the new downtowngr.org pulls data from a collection of different data sources. These sources–including social media platforms, local calendars, the City of Grand Rapids, the Rapid transit system, and crowd-sourced maps–provide the freshest information possible.

Two primary features of downtowngr.org are its directory of Downtown businesses, and its calendar of Downtown events. Both of these functions are important services downtowngr.org should provide, but would take a significant amount of time to maintain were staff required to do so. To build these tools while using staff time most effectively,

As we spoke to Downtown business owners at the start of the project, we discovered that around seventy-five percent of them maintain a Facebook page as their most accurate source of business information. Because of this, our website pulls business attributes, including hours of operation, phone number, website, and address, from Facebook and Foursquare. These attributes are updated daily. In other words, if a Downtown business owner with a Facebook page changes her business hours, that change is reflected on our site within 24 hours.

Event calendars are a hard problem to solve. Most successful calendars require dedicated staff collecting, curating, and entering event information. Locally, we already have several successful services doing this already, including Experience Grand Rapids and GRNow. But even with the efforts of their staff, there are still smaller events that slip through the cracks.

In an attempt to list as many Downtown events as possible, both large and small, and do so without significant staff time, we built downtowngr.org to collect events from Facebook and our community partners Experience Grand Rapids and GRNow. But to make sure we curate only Downtown events, and to reduce the likelihood of duplicate events, we choose to collect events from one of those three sources, per venue. This allows us to decide which of the three sources provides the best event listing per location. In other words, if a small local pub meticulously maintains their Facebook events, we use that data source. For larger civic organizations, like the museums and Symphony, we collect the data from our community partners. The only work for our staff is deciding which source to use.

Throughout our design process, we focused on features that would be unique to us, where DGRI could provide the most value for its investment. There are many fantastic tools for navigating a city funded by much larger companies. There is no reason we should compete with these tools. Instead, we found that our value was in providing hyperlocal transit information in Downtown, particularly for cyclists, motorists, and transit riders.

  • We built a comprehensive parking data layer that includes the location and cost of all parking lots, both public and private, as well as parking meters. We also display all current and upcoming street closures maintained by the City's Department of Traffic Safety. This is just one example where the work the City is already doing can provide even more value to citizens through open data.
  • We trained volunteers for the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition to map bicycle infrastructure on OpenStreetMap, a crowd-sourced map of the world. The result is the most comprehensive map of bicycle parking in Downtown that has ever been created. And anyone can make it better. Our next step is to map all bike lanes.
  • The Rapid shares their route and schedule data in GTFS, the open format for transit data. We query this data to provide a layer of all Downtown bus stops and their associated routes.

By leveraging the power of open data, and the prevalence of social media, the new downtowngr.org provides dynamic, relevant, and up-to-date information, with very little staff time. No other "Downtown" website we're aware of combines these elements.

We open-source as much code as we can. (Our website is powered by a proprietary CMS, so there is still some work to be done to extract the front-end code that is unique to us.) The code for Mantle–our data collection API–and all transit data layers can be found on our Github account.