Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. has recently completed a thorough, community based planning effort to shape a vision for the future development of downtown Grand Rapids, dubbed the “GR Forward Initiative”. The main goal of environmental protection efforts in West Michigan focuses on establishing downtown Grand Rapids as a thriving, growing, climate resilient city. Cities such as these create opportunities to protect open space and farmland, which is critical for the success of strong ecosystems and local communities.
This plan includes several goals aligned with the mission of WMEAC, which most notably include the restoration of the Grand Rivers’ rapids, and the potential for river access and flood reduction support along the river banks.
Below are recommendations WMEAC has assembled which we feel help improve the GR Forward plan draft:
Goal I – Restore the River as the Draw & Create a Connected and Equitable River Corridor
1.1 – Integrate Art, Education, Infrastructure and Ecology
Recommendation 1 – Elevate the foundational priority of water quality for healthy use and access to its own section (ie: Section 1.2) to ensure that this fundamental set of goals and objectives is given proper attention and priority.
Recommendation 2 – Add the WMEAC as a responsible partner in delivering this effort as we have been a key partner in water quality protection and low impact development innovation in West Michigan for over 45 years and plan to continue our role in local and regional watershed protection.
Recommendation 3 – Add our partners at the State of Michigan to the list of responsible partners in water quality (Governor’s Administration, Office of the Great Lakes, MDEQ, MDNR).
Recommendation 4 – Initial Action Steps: “Encourage local policies and incentives that favor low impact development” – add, “regional and state” to read: Encourage local, regional and state policies and incentives that favor low impact development.
Recommendation 5 – Add the following to the list of initial action steps under the section, “Focus on improving water quality…”: “Recruit a leadership team and embed this team in the GRForward and river restoration processes to achieve the water quality agenda with the region and the state.”
Recommendation 6 – Add the following to the list of initial action steps under the section, “Focus on improving water quality…”: “Prioritize addressing pathogen pollutants contributed to the Grand River watershed by failing septic systems by advocating for statewide septics rules and improved septics regulation practices in counties (initially prioritizing Kent County) within the Grand River Watershed.” WMEAC suggest this discrete water quality recommendation be specifically highlighted to the initial goals because it is particularly timely, following recent data on septics contribution to water quality by Michigan State University, as well as current interest in the issue in the Snyder administration and current legislature.
Recommendation 7 – Institutionalize and prioritize the use of native plants. Native plants are an important component of efforts to, ‘Enhance Ecological Systems’. While native plants may be mentioned in the GRForward document, it is not readily visible. WMEAC suggests adding a phrase about native plants to Goal 1.1, Page 15. In addition, we suggesting adding and/or refining an initial action step under “Enhance ecological systems” on p.61 that reads, “Outline guidelines for trail development, including: riparian buffer zone recommendations, native plant recommendations, and habitat restoration concepts. Identify 5 priority opportunities and design concepts that support ecosystem and habitat restoration at these locations. Finally, we suggest linking incentives for the use of native plants into related efforts to incentivize the use of low impact development practices throughout downtown.
1.2 Reinforce the Grand Rapids Whitewater Initiative
Recommendation 1 – Add an ‘Initial Action’ focused on planning for daily operations, ecosystem protection, competing recreational interests, and long-term maintenance of the proposed replacement dam.
1.3 Make Grand Rapids a hub in a regional trail system while creating universal access along the river on both the east and west sides.
Recommendation 1 – “Create a robust trail system on both sides of the river” – Add WMEAC to the list of responsible partners. WMEAC has expertise in water trail development and has recently won a grant from the MDEQ Office of Coastal Zone Management to complete water trail planning in Ottawa County. It is our intention to contribute our leadership to the development of a water trail that extends into Kent and Ionia counties to meet up with the establish water trail in the Middle Grand River.
1.4 Create the outdoor adventure city
Recommendation 1 – Add an ‘Initial Action’ focused on planning for increased public safety investments in the river corridor, particularly in proximity to the rapids and key river activation sites.
Goal 2 – Create a True Downtown Neighborhood that is Home to a Diverse Population
2.5 Require energy efficiency, green building practices and universal design principles in projects with local subsidy.
Recommendation 1 – Add “clean energy” to read, “Require clean and efficient energy, green building practices and universal design principles in projects with local subsidy.” Solar energy is now an accessible and affordable tool for developers and it should be encouraged heavily in Grand Rapids downtown.
Recommendation 2 – Add WMEAC as a responsible partner to the recommendation “Manage stormwater at the micro level”.
Recommendation 3 – Add an additional action step under “Embrace sustainable site design principles, “Establish a document outlining guidelines for site development that includes Low Impact Development, native habitat for ecosystem benefits (see goal 1.1, recommendation 7).
Goal 3 – Expand Job Opportunities & Ensure Continued Vitality of the Local Economy
3.6 Promote Inclusion and Equal Participation in the Local Economy
Recommendation 1 – WMEAC recommends adding an initial action step under the recommendation “Formalize a leadership team among City decision makers and major employers to ensure equal access to opportunities.” The additional action step could read, “Create intentional linkages between green infrastructure installation/maintenance and job skill development in the river corridor and downtown Grand Rapids. Establish partnerships to engage local, disconnected youth between the ages of 16 & 26, in training and jobs with living wages to ensure the long-term maintenance of new green and blue infrastructure installations.”