On May 23, residents of the Martin Luther King Jr. Park neighborhood gathered to celebrate their shared vision for improving their own hyper-local community via a quality of life study initiated by the City of Grand Rapids. Their City’s lead neighborhood connector, Jordoun Eatman, grew up in the neighborhood — and is excited about the action steps that residents shared during the celebration. According to Eatman, the study was initiated as part of the City of Grand Rapids' commitment to improving the quality of life for all residents. He notes that the study process was developed to foster participation in urban planning and design with the goal of creating equitable outcomes for all.
“We are making sure that those neighborhoods that don’t have any representation get caught up to speed. They had no formal nonprofit, resident-based organization to speak on their behalf … It’s about quality of life for all,” Eatman says. “It’s important to make sure that we hear them and make sure that we continue to honor resident voice and leadership.”
Initial input led to creating two workgroups: Parks Improvements and Activation and Neighborhood Building. The workgroups will rely on continued community input as they put together short- and long-term goals.
A main focus of the study, century-old MLK Park is a busy neighborhood destination in great need of basic upgrades. The Parks workgroup's short-term goals for the park include ensuring neighborhood involvement in the park’s planned improvements, which include new signage, picnic shelters, lighting, playground upgrades, and ADA accessible tables.
“[The workgroup recommended] that the City of Grand Rapids Parks Department in conjunction with the Neighborhood Association, resident volunteers, and other community stakeholders implement a series of immediate park maintenance programs like pulling weeds, tree trimming, painting pergolas at the pool, and laying down mulch in flower beds to help beautify the park and build relationships between neighbors,” Eatman says.
For the long- term, the Park workgroup is asking the City and other stakeholders to activate the park with year-round, monthly events; renovate the lodge as a safe and affordable community and rental venue; and invest in the park to create a place of pride that inspires larger neighborhood improvements. Specific requests include upgrades to the pool locker room and fencing, parking lot, and electrical. The group also requested underground sprinkling, outdoor exercise equipment, and a bike repair station.
The second workgroup addressed building neighborhood. Short-term, they want to establish the new neighborhood association with a name, logo, board of directors, communication plan, and website. An annual calendar will inform and engage residents in events and meetings hosted by the park and community partners. In addition, they are requesting a street tree study to identify problem trees for replacement.
Long-term, the workgroup’s overarching goals address elders, youth, rapport with police, housing, and parking issues. Comprehensive Age In Place resources would assist all elder neighbors. A summer youth employment program would engage the neighborhood’s teenagers in work for local landscapers, the Parks Department, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, and others to beautify streetscapes, maintain residents’ yards, and create a positive narrative about the neighborhood’s youth.
The workgroup seeks to build positive relationships with neighborhood police via MLK Park events and by looking at how other urban areas have succeeded in doing so.
As far as housing, they hope to hire an architect to create two blueprint options for home additions that neighbors can use for free, as well as connect with community resources that provide home building services and home improvement loans.
Because parking and costly towing have become an issue, the workgroup is asking for new ordinances that ease street parking, allow residents to park overnight in the park parking lot when streets need plowing, and better outreach so neighbors are aware of plowing and street cleaning regulations
“All of these recommendations were presented to the community at large by the residents. This entire process was and continues to be resident-driven and resident-led,” Eatman concludes. “Our goals were derived out of the desire to empower the community and lift up resident voice.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids and Jourdan Eatman