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Michigan is rooted in vehicle manufacturing. How do we break that deep-rooted need for a car that we grew up on & move to pedestrian-first?

I grew up in a community outside Flint with every family member working at The Shop. I moved to GR because it was a livable city.

Photo of Meagen Coburn
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I am a board member for East Hills Council of Neighbors, Uptown Business Committee and Cherry Hill Historic District. Our meetings many times open with asking the attendees what they love about living in our area. Without question, the #1 thing that everyone states is the walkability of our neighborhood. Every. Single. Time.

But have you ever stopped to think about how fast East Hills area turned into the walkable area everyone wanted it to be? Growing up in mid Michigan, Grand Rapids was never, ever a place that we ever visited. We went to Detroit, Saginaw and Traverse City (and other states) for dance competitions and soccer tournaments. But we never came to GR. The suburban sprawl and evacuation of downtown commercial real estate I guess had an impact farther reaching than just the county Grand Rapids resides in.

But when I came to Grand Valley, we wanted an affordable place to live downtown. We were drawn to the idea of living in crazy old houses with a small market on the corner in a duplex with our best friends and we could hop The Rapid to get to class. You could say we fell in love with the city at that point. But that was 2004 and our neighborhood has changed a lot since then. In good ways for some, but poorly for others (in terms of diversity and gentrification).

All that we all want is safety, stores that ALL can enjoy, and the ability to bike and walk there from home. Why don't we have a bike share yet? ZipCars? Better mass transit like trolleys?

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Photo of Idrees Mutahr

Hey Meagan, I am one of the facilitators for this challenge, thank you for your post! It seems that your neighborhood has made big strides to become more walkable, but could still benefit from some of the other mobility services you mentioned. You hinted at wondering how the neighborhood became walkable - do you have any ideas about how this happened?

Photo of Meagen Coburn

Absolutely. I think the neighbors who have been here long term downtown have done a lot of work to hold down the fort - so to speak. Meanwhile, a lot of us college students fell in love with our college homes and once we got our first jobs and could swing it post-recession, decided to move into this area. The return of commercial storefronts and restaurants has drawn people who may not typically come downtown to our neighborhoods - storefronts that sat vacant for decade(s). In 2004 when we lived where we do, there wasn't even a quarter of the options that we have today. This is not the forum to discuss diversity and inequality but I don't want to discount those major issues too - there's definitely a market that the renaissance has returned for and unfortunately it's resulted in us losing a lot of the neighbors that we had just 5 years ago. But regarding mobility: the storefronts have brightened sidewalk spaces day and night and allowed local neighbors and suburban visitors to come in and enjoy the area. Walking, running and biking neighbors are every 3 minutes or less when I sit on my front porch. But you know what else there is? Folks speeding down our street in vehicles from the speed bump to the corner. Speeding down streets that have parallel parking on both sides and children and dogs playing in front yards. I can't express enough how concerning it is. I'd love to see traffic calming solutions come to every street of downtown and remind people that we live here before someone is hurt.

Photo of Idrees Mutahr

Thanks for the response Meagen, with the growing amount of pedestrians it's important that your street is safe for all of it's users. If this is a frequent point of discomfort, perhaps that is another sign that the transportation has not caught up to the ongoing changes in your area.

Photo of Meagen Coburn

I think 100% of my neighbors would agree with that, as parking is the #1 concern every time a new business joins our growing area of downtown.