Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s (DGRI) Streetspace Guidelines will receive the Urban Design Award for Planning Excellence by the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP).

The guidelines support efforts to build safer streets while also growing a Downtown that’s more attractive, comfortable and inviting for people.

“Everyone is a pedestrian at some point - whether they arrive Downtown via car, transit, or bicycle,” said Mark Miller, DGRI’s Managing Director of Planning & Design.

“As we embark on building a 21st-century city - a city for everyone - the pedestrian experience becomes critical in rethinking, redesigning, rebuilding, and re-balancing our largest public space: The streetspaces of our Downtown.”

The Downtown Streetspace Guidelines will be a useful tool to support “bold placemaking and sustainable design features that contribute to the overall experience of otherwise neglected places of importance in the Downtown,” according to the jury of MAP professionals who reviewed and selected the Guidelines for the Award.

Downtown Grand Rapids leaders last adopted "streetscape" guidelines in 2006. Since then, local citizens and stakeholders have gained considerable knowledge about the complexity of building high-quality urban places. As a result, several community planning processes called for new strategies and interventions to build safer, more walkable and welcoming neighborhoods - including Green Grand Rapids, Viva La Avenida Area Specific Plan, the citywide Vital Streets, and Design guidelines, the River for All revitalization plan and GR Forward.

The 2019 Downtown Grand Rapids Streetspace Design Guidelines were developed through extensive outreach with citizens, public officials and private interests. The process was led in close coordination with a 100 percent local consultant team of professionals who work Downtown and walk, bike, drive and use transit daily.

The guidelines provide a framework to design Downtown streetspaces that:

  • Put people first by optimizing the public space for a human experience with good urban design, cultivating grand street trees and building for safety and accessibility.
  • Deliver inviting places that are visually interesting, prioritize equitable access and encourage people to linger.
  • Deliver enduring places built to last, serve multiple purposes and creatively maximize investment.

"Many cities, and specifically Downtowns, have "streetscape" guidelines, and some have building or architectural guidelines that address some of these concerns," Miller said.

"What separates the Downtown Grand Rapids Streetspace Guidelines is that they provide guidance for all of the various activity zones, elements and considerations that must work together to deliver high-quality street spaces - all in one document and under a comprehensive philosophy. The goal is to think beyond where we plant the tree and what type of bench to buy - which is what traditional streetscape guidelines typically offer - and reframe the conversation about what's required to truly build successful urban places in our Downtown environment."

MAP, the state chapter of the American Planning Association, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sound community land-use planning that benefits the residents of Michigan. They will recognize the Downtown Grand Rapids’ Streetspace Guidelines during their Annual Meeting on September 25, 2019, in Downtown Kalamazoo.