Chris Knape's piece on the recently completed park at the corner of Division & Cherry in the Heartside District of downtown Grand Rapids sent me digging through my file cabinet for the December 2000 report from Dan Burden's Walkable Communities where the idea of aligning the West side of Cherry Street with its slightly offset eastern leg first saw the light of day.
I was on one of the committees that worked on this project in the concept phase. Initially, I was very excited about the project. As time went by my attitude changed.
Changed in part by one of our design meetings where some City Staff's breathless, desperate support for the project had me feeling a little queasy. I asked some questions to try to discern why the project was so critical to our neighborhood and I received platitudes and vagaries in return. Then I asked - in an effort to understand the import - if the realignment of Cherry was so important would we then be talking about realigning Weston (where a similar open lot still exists across from an unaligned street) as well? Of course not, that would be silly I was told.
Changed primarily by the idea of a city with declining tax rolls and a continual budget crisis spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees and land acquisition to permanently remove a prime piece of buildable, tax revenue generating real estate from the tax rolls in return for a small park and a street that will only cost us money to maintain as time goes by - it is absurd.
Today, the finished park is certainly lovely but ultimately fraught with unintended consequences. Chris describes the current conditions and the perceptions of the adjacent business owners well, but he fails to follow up with Jay Fowler and Denny Sturtevant as to why and how we got here. Jay's comments regarding the City "...working to address issues it can control," and business cycles are certainly valid and earnest but ultimately they are cold comfort. Denny, on the other hand, is allowed to both blame the DDA for an effort he helped champion and avoid citing any specific causes and solutions. I'm left asking who is responsible for the park and its problems and, more importantly, what can be done to improve the current conditions?
People who know us and this blog know that we are committed incrementalists who believe that its never one event that saves nor one that dooms any urban environment. The development and social problems on South Division in specific and in Heartside in general took years of action and inaction by both individuals and governments to actualize. Neither the aspirations nor the failings of the neighborhood will be met or corrected in the short term. So, while the progress of the past ten years has been significant, the area remains fragile. It is my hope that we can all focus more on directing and completing more for-profit, mixed use projects in the area immediately surrounding the intersection and focus less on questionable parks that look good but ultimately work against the neighborhood's immediate needs of old fashioned commerce and housing.
In the meantime, go down to Vertigo Music and buy some music - I highly recommend any of Oneida's offerings. I've known and loved Herm a long time. His stores have always been and still are the best.