Members of the City of Grand Rapids Parks Department made big plans for the future of Grand Rapids’ parks. But implementing their plans, they wanted to hear what the city’s residents had to say.
On July 22, the Parks Department members hosted an open house at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, seeking feedback from the community about their Strategic Masterplan. The open house included booths with visuals highlighting recent park renovations and a timeline for further park development. A table covered with sticky notes was also available for people to write down their thoughts about Grand Rapids parks before catching the latest Movies in the Park feature film.
Property Millage Enables Park Expansion
The event was inspired by an annual property millage for park improvement, approved in 2013. Since its passage, the millage has generated $4 million annually. Officials allocated funds to five parks – $835,053 to Luther Park, $674,065 to Garfield Park, $601,168 to Roosevelt Park, $526,7770 to Wilcox Park, and $489,737 to Fuller Park, in order to upgrade outdated equipment and facilities.
With access to these new funds, the Parks Department started updating their Masterplan for 2017-2021. Once complete, the Masterplan will offer policy recommendations on how to use park funding for future land acquisitions, park improvements, and capital expenses.
Vision Planning Reveals New Development Focus Areas
From February to July, the Parks Department launched their campaign detailing the vision planning stage of their Masterplan. In order to gather ideas from Grand Rapids residents, the Parks Department set up workshops in each of Grand Rapids’ nine neighborhoods. They also launched a statistical survey collecting data from 2,500 participants.
“We’re taking this back to the community,” said Catherine Zietze, who works in the Planning and Community Relations office of the Parks Department. “We wanted to make sure we heard from everyone – every neighborhood, every demographic. The parks belong to the community, not us.”
The survey revealed many suggestions, which included expanding water recreation opportunities, adding new park amenities and renovating existing playground structures.
The Grand River featured heavily into residents’ ideas for parks. Survey data revealed that Riverside Park remains Grand Rapids’ most popular park, but also the park most in need of improvement. Surveyors called for educational programming and bike, kayak and canoe rentals.
Grand Rapids residents asked for the creation of signature parks as well. “Signature parks are big – the type of park you would drive all the way across the city to see,” said Zietze. “We would equip them with unique play structures and higher levels of wide open space than usual. This year, we want to fund bigger, bolder ideas.”
Accessibility, Natural Landscapes Pose Challenge
Survey data showed that park accessibility remains a major concern of Grand Rapids residents. Nearly 33% of Grand Rapids residents reported that they lack access to a park within a ten-minute walk from their home.
In addition, the Parks Department considered how to diversify the design of Grand Rapids’ parks. The Parks Department brought in Siqi Zhu, a consultant with the urban planning firm Sasaki Associates, from Boston to analyze Grand Rapids’ parks. Zhu found that Grand Rapids parks were often built with similar structures, despite being located in diverse environments.
“There are a range of geographical and ecological conditions that Grand Rapids’ parks don’t reflect,” said Zhu.
Zhu expressed his hope that future park improvements will make better use of their natural surroundings. He started researching how to make use of Riverside and Ab-Nab-Awen Park’s proximity to the Grand River. To promote greater awareness of sustainable practices, Zhu looked into the possibility of adding new walking paths, signage and interactive displays.
“The idea of experiential, environmental education is gaining currency. By interacting with nature, students can learn from it too,” said Zhu.
Next Steps: Moving from Vision Planning to Action
The vision planning stage of their Masterplan ends in August. Upon completion of the vision planning stage, the Parks Department plans to compile feedback and survey data and create an initial proposal.
The Parks Department will give residents the chance to evaluate its initial proposal through upcoming workshops in September. Laura Cleypool, Business Manager with the Parks Department, would like people visiting ArtPrize to stop by and give their opinion.
“The idea is to say ‘here’s what the Parks Department thinks so far. What do you think?’ We want to give the community one more opportunity to give us feedback,” said Cleypool.
The Parks Department will present the final Masterplan to the Grand Rapids City Commission in November. “The big thinking phase is almost done,” said Cleypool. “The pieces are falling into place.”
All photos courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department.