Live his name by bringing people together
Beautiful urban projects can happen in the most unexpected places. Abandoned lots become gardens, dilapidated buildings give way to new commercial spaces, and even parking lots can become parks. In the South Hill neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Pleasant park is a surprising gem that brought community members together in its development, making it at the time the only park in the state of Michigan funded by a citizen assessment and not by a city milage. This unique leisure space showcases neighbors’ commitment to the region and the possibilities of unused spaces.
Before being a parking lot, the Pleasant Park site at the corner of Madison and Franklin was the Grand Rapids Christian High School track. When the school was no longer using the site, the property and old school building became part of the Kent County Human Services Department. After decades at this location, in 2009 the town agreed to a “swap” with Kent County for the property with plans to build a new facility at another park further down the road. It was also around the time the city was approaching the Friends of the GR parks (FGRP).
Steve Faber, Executive Director of FGRP from 2009 to 2015, has been heavily involved in all aspects of Pleasant Park development, from design and fundraising to troubleshooting construction issues and planting trees. There were many partners who played an important role in the project, but the contributions and strong support from the residents of the neighborhood were evident.
In line with general best practice, with the recommendation to make parks within a quarter of a mile walk of all households, the process included discussions with city commissioners to discuss the feasibility of transform the car park into a park to meet these recommendations; one of the biggest supporters then was Commissioner Rosalyn Bliss, now Mayor of Grand Rapids. Ultimately, the purpose of the design was achieved, ensuring functionality and uniqueness, as well as the beauty of the space.
A large-scale project that lasted three years, the construction of Pleasant Park required a significant effort to finance the project. It was partly funded by a special assessment district made up of the neighbors, as there was no designated stream of park funding available. Funding came from grants (including the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city-designated Community Development Block Grant), private fundraisers organized by neighbors, and a special tax assessment.
“Because they were so involved in the development of the park, there is also a huge share of ownership in the park,” says Faber. Having lived in the city for over 20 years, Faber adds: “People fought for it, so they really care.”
Once the park was designed, there was still approximately $ 800,000 needed to complete the project. The city agreed to apply for a grant of $ 300,000 from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund in 2011, which was ultimately awarded to them. After working to reduce the total cost through fundraising, around $ 300,000 was still needed. The project received federal funds and funds from a private foundation, and the local neighborhood contributed by raising funds.
Mark Miller, a resident who also helped establish the park, says his three children sold lemonade in the parking lot at a Heritage Hill Home Tour event and the local neighborhood association sold bricks from donors and gave neighbors the opportunity to purchase a bench, tree or bicycle rack. Still short of about $ 200,000 after these fundraising efforts, a special evaluation district was finally set up; the neighborhood contained around 400 properties surrounding the park, with each owner paying $ 500 per plot or $ 50 per year for 10 years. With this step, enough money was raised to build the park, which was finally built in 2014.
Miller points out that a small group of individuals brought together two neighborhoods, Heritage Hill (HH), one of the largest urban historic neighborhoods in the country near downtown Grand Rapids, and South Hill (SH), located in Kent County and considered one of the best places to live in Michigan with its urban-suburban appeal. “It has helped bring these two neighborhoods together, both as a physical location and as a place to organize and gather,” says Miller, who lives a few houses away from Pleasant Park.
Katy Tigchelaar, member of the board of directors of the South Hill Neighborhood Association (SHNA), also appreciates the unity of the neighborhoods as well as meeting people from inside and outside the neighborhood. “We have a gem that serves so much more than neighbors HH and SH, and personally it makes me proud to know the neighbors are working hard to make Pleasant Park such a great place to be. Tigchelaar says many neighborhood associations do not oversee the maintenance and planning of a park, while SHNA has played a proactive role in the process of bringing together a stronger, more connected community.
The spatial and clean aspects stayed close to the original design concept, which matched the simple theme favored by those who wanted something spacious and green. In addition, the necessary effort and money was invested to build the official entrance to the park on the corner of Pleasant and Madison, intended to connect the iconic architecture to the park. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture down the street from the site, key touches at the entrance to the park include the entrance pillars, selection of bricks, horizontally accented mortar joints, and large planters that embellish them. overcome.
Security also plays a big role in this development, according to Faber, who explains that neighbors lining the park have paid to have added gates allowing direct access to the park. Joshlyn Litzenberg is one of those people who invested in the park and the neighborhood in this way, explaining that his family bought the house next to the house that they currently own since 2009, in part because they wanted to direct access to the park after learning. of the project. Now a mother of a 19-month-old daughter and with binoculars on the way, Litzenberg shares that as long as their children use the park, they never move; She adds that the openness of the space makes everyone feel safe, allowing children to play and run around without worrying about passing cars.
The goal has been achieved, with a park that not only enhances the beauty of the community, but also its appeal to potential new residents. The area has become a destination for many families in the neighborhood, especially those with young children. According to Miller, he met a couple from Minneapolis who made the decision to buy their home in the neighborhood primarily because of the park. Unprogrammed green space is another key design feature, and a big draw.
“When we designed this park 10 years ago, the residents of the neighborhood worked diligently to create a unique, functional and beautiful space,” says Litzenberg, who coordinates the annual clean-up and communicates with the parks department about the improvements. required. “I believe this effort was a success.”
To stay on top of the upkeep of Pleasant Park, local residents have set up a maintenance fund. Local children even helped with fundraising. Litzenberg says the young people were also instrumental in volunteering their time for the annual cleanup, which helped when there was a shortage of volunteers during the months of May through September of last year. She found herself tending to different sections as needed, but the contributions of the neighborhood and supporters of the project were appreciated and inspiring.
As part of Pleasant Park’s long-term support and maintenance success, Miller says that each spring a group of individuals are proactive to come in to clean up, prepare the flower beds for the season, and maintain the landscaping. landscaped all summer. “The neighbors have made an investment in Pleasant Park, and they know you need to keep that kind of investment going to keep it vibrant and green.
Photos courtesy of Steve Faber
Southeast Strong is a City of Grand Rapids-funded series that focuses on the multi-faceted neighborhoods of the city’s Southeast Corridor. Through exploring entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and neighborhood community members, local storytellers in the series will highlight the resilience of residents’ voices and projects, especially during recovery from COVID- 19.
Shanika P. Carter is an author, freelance writer, editor and lecturer in communications. She is also the senior consultant for The Write Flow & Vibe, LLC (www.writeflowandvibe.com), offering writing, editing and content development services to a diverse clientele, including fellow authors and businesses. Shanika is the author of the book To Lead or Not to Lead, released in 2019.