Uptown tree project forges powerful partnership

A new nonprofit established in 2018, Uptown Grand Rapids Inc. seeks to sustain vibrant urban districts in Midtown, Fulton Heights, East Hills, Baxter, and Eastown. Its executive director, Ingrid Miller, is excited to embark on its first project: a partnership with the Uptown Corridor Improvement Authority and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to grow Uptown's tree canopy.

“What I’m really excited about is the possibility of collaboration on all fronts … businesses, neighbors, the city, area nonprofits, and strategic partners,” Miller says. “We recognize that The Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has expert foresters and is good at engaging volunteers and getting a great level of community involvement. We both are willing to be game changers, explore, and try anything that benefits our constituents.”

Designated in 2009, Uptown was Grand Rapids' first Corridor Improvement Authority. Encompassing the Cherry, East Fulton, Eastown, and Wealthy Street business districts, its mission is to revitalize the commercial and mixed-use business corridors by making permanent, one-time improvements, hosting promotional activities, and providing a forum for discussions on investment and development projects.

Taking a new twist on tactics, Uptown’s tree planting project will not only benefit the area, but also help the City of Grand Rapids reach its 40 percent tree canopy goal. Street trees, in particular, enhance air quality, sequester carbon, increase property values, manage storm-water runoff, increase security, and boost business.Uptown's neighborhoods need more tree canopy but lack existing open spaces where new trees can be planted. Therefore, the project’s innovative initial inventory of existing trees will identify potential planting spaces that include currently paved areas. For example, many of the sidewalks in front of businesses are wide enough to excavate in order to plant trees while still accommodating plenty of foot traffic.

“We are working with Friends (of Grand Rapids Parks) to coordinate with volunteers who will do the tree inventory, tree planting, and maintenance,” says Christine Helms-Maletic, Uptown Corridor manager. “This partnership is the model we will choose to operate with from now on.”

This is not the first planting project that Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has undertaken in Uptown. Its Urban Forest Project volunteers planted 10 trees at Congress Elementary in 2015 and 63 trees throughout Uptown in 2016 and 2017.  More than 20 of its volunteer Neighborhood Foresters live in the Uptown and Eastown neighborhoods. As part of the project, Friends will host a Neighborhood Forester course in Uptown to recruit even more volunteers.

“Traditionally the (Corridor Improvement Authority) has worked to support small businesses ... This new Uptown INC includes neighborhood associations,” Helms-Maletic says. “We’ll be deploying projects that are of interest to the neighborhood residents, as well. That’s where Uptown Inc.’s work will broaden the scope.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Uptown Improvement Authority

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