GR City is learning how to listen before development

Nov 13, 2017

Map of South Division's possible redevelopment area
Credit Mariano Avila / WGVU

Engaging Community. It may sound simple, but it’s the question as development in Grand Rapids continues to boom. Recently, community members who didn’t agree with Amplify GR’s community engagement tactics shut down a meeting. Now, we’ll get to what some community organizations are doing to influence this conversation. But let’s start with the city.

“Tonight we wanted to hear from people who attended—the residents of the neighborhood, business owners, property owners—to get their input on how they want to be engaged in this process.”

That’s City Planner Suzanne Schultz, and The process she’s talking about is creating what’s known as an “Area Specific Plan,” for new development along S. Division. Now, the reason stakes are high is because once an Area Specific Plan is adopted, everyone has to stick to that plan.

“The many, many different voices that are going to have to be at the table to make this successful is, I think, the biggest challenge with this.”

Bringing folks together is certainly a big challenge, but Sergio Cira, from the Urban Core Collective, says his group is trying to change how the city does community engagement.

“So we’ve been meeting for over a year to look at these policies and the strategies that the city’s been using to engage residents and we’ve come up with a list to implement good changes in the way that residents are engaged.

A couple of these steps include creating a toolkit that tracks people’s race and ethnicity and a list of terms so folks in the community understand lingo coming at them from developers and city officials.

“The next event is ‘development without displacement,” so everyone is going to be interested in this topic I think.”

If you want to know what the next development conversation is, show up on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. at the Kroc Center. The city invited five experts for these weekly meetings which end on Dec. 12. The Urban Core Collective’s two meetings will be this Thursday, Nov 16, at 6 p.m. at Cesar Chavez Elementary and on Nov. 28th when they will present their proposal to the city commission.