Street Talk: Save the planet


Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is upping the ante when it comes to sustainability.

The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) held its Sept. 16 luncheon at Meijer Gardens, and a pair of employees took the opportunity to describe the 23-year-old organization’s progress on the “planet” portion of the triple bottom line.

Meijer Gardens was founded with part of its mission being to care for the environment, according to Steve LaWarre, director of horticulture.

Its 158-acre grounds were designed to capture rainwater into the soil, preventing any of it from going into storm sewers and protecting the Plaster Creek Watershed, which feeds into the Grand River, which then flows into Lake Michigan.

Also, the Japanese Garden, which connects to the watershed, does not contain any non-native species of fish such as koi, so they don’t end up in the Great Lakes and disturb the ecosystem.

“We worked diligently as far as those things go,” LaWarre said. “And really, in the last couple of years, our thought process on what we do as far as sustainability has really jumped.”

He added this is in large part thanks to Angela Violet, director of human resources management at Meijer Gardens and leader of its “green team.”

During the past two years, Violet formed a waste-reduction taskforce that sought input on strategies across departments, completed the WMSBF waste audit, stepped up environmental education efforts for employees and guests, and began improving recycling bin sorting efforts at its amphitheater during both the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concert Series and the Tuesday Evening Music Club.

Volunteers manned the bins and helped attendees with sorting, and between 2018 and 2019, the venue so far has recycled about 50,000 returnable cans.

“Education was a really big piece of this because a lot of people just didn’t know what goes where,” Violet said. “The volunteers were stationed there, helping them sort things properly, and at the end of the night, the recycling was really recycling; it wasn’t a mix of nachos and plastic and everything else. We really have improved there.”

This year, Meijer Gardens replaced the cardboard sorting bins it used to use with permanent sorting bins.

Violet said the gardens recognizes when it comes to sustainability, “you’re never done.”

“We’re working on getting more sustainable items through our catering program and not having disposables that go in the landfill,” she said. “I’m also working on that in employee and volunteer areas. (We have) lots of ideas, and it just takes time to get through all of them.”

In May, Meijer Gardens opened the Stuart and Barbara Padnos Rooftop Sculpture Garden, which has sustainability features built-in.

“(It) is a garden that we’re really proud of that captures the rainwater that falls in that space, meters it through the garden, being absorbed by a lot of that plant material, and then anything that comes off the roof is then filtered and goes and perks in the landscape at the lower level,” LaWarre said.

During the next few years, as Meijer Gardens continues a multiphase expansion and renovation that’s set to conclude in 2023, LaWarre said the organization’s mission of sustainability will become even more apparent to guests in the ways it designs its buildings and gardens.

Traffic stop

A Grand Rapids mobility leader has been appointed to serve on a state-level traffic initiative.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Hank Kelley, transportation planning and programs supervisor for the city’s Mobile GR and Parking Services Department, to serve on the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission until May 27, 2021.

The Traffic Safety Advisory Commission identifies traffic safety challenges and develops strategies to address those challenges. The commission develops these solutions to traffic safety challenges through partnerships with all levels of government and the private sector, while maximizing and coordinating the use of existing financial resources.

Kelley said the appointment is a good opportunity for Grand Rapids to have representation at the state level on traffic safety. Kelley added the city’s approach to advancing a variety of issues will be shared, including equity in transportation solutions and focusing on safety for vulnerable road users.

Kelley’s work at Mobile GR over the past two years includes leading the city’s investment in public transit improvements, managing DASH Grand Rapids’ downtown circulator and playing a key role in new mobility projects like the Grand Rapids Autonomous Vehicle Initiative and Route 19-Michigan Street Rapid Transit Pilot.

Additionally, Kelley coordinates with the city’s planning department on transportation components of community plans. Prior to this position, Kelley worked for a large transit agency, a small city and in the private sector on projects ranging from active transportation plans to large-scale corridor studies.

Young architects

Students from Burton Elementary/Middle School were able to explore the nearly completed The Meadows playscape area they helped design during a preview event.

Leaders from the city of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Public Schools last week provided a sneak preview of the green schoolyard at Burton Elementary/Middle School and Plaster Creek Family Park.

“The outdoors and public parks offer many opportunities for hands-on learning and connecting children with nature,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “Projects such as these help us increase access to parks throughout our city. We are grateful for support from the Children & Nature Network, Wege Foundation and other partners for making this project a reality.”

The city and GRPS broke ground on The Nest and The Meadows, an outdoor classroom and natural playscape at Plaster Creek Family Park, in June. Burton students helped to create plans for The Nest and The Meadows, which will transform areas of the park with new nature and learning experiences.

The Nest will be an outdoor classroom overlooking the park near Burton School. The Meadows will feature a stump forest, log jam and other play features made from local trees harvested and stored by the city’s Forestry Division. It also will include a rain garden, native meadow planting and community picnic area.

“We are thrilled about the progress we’ve made on this project, and we look forward to seeing students, families, neighbors and the community use it,” said David Marquardt, the city’s parks and recreation director. “The Nest and The Meadows will offer a unique opportunity for students to immerse in nature and bring learning to life in a new way.”

Other features of the project include accessible pathways, a picnic area with tables and grills, athletic field improvements and restroom improvements.

The project is funded through a $317,500 grant from the Wege Foundation, $600,000 from the city’s 2013 parks millage and $100,000 from the city’s Environmental Services Department. Grand Rapids also was among seven U.S. cities to receive a $25,000 planning grant from National League of Cities.

The Burton site is one of four sites in park-deficient areas of the city that will benefit from green schoolyard projects over the next three years.

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