Heritage Hill named one of America’s ’10 Great Neighborhoods’

Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill neighborhood has earned a spot on the list of 10 Great Neighborhoods of 2012 by the American Planning Association.

Heritage Hill was chosen based on its vast array of architectural styles, community engagement, rental and ownership options, character and historical preservation, according to an APA announcement. On display within the neighborhood are more than 60 architectural styles.

The APA’s Great Places in America program recognizes streets, neighborhoods and public spaces featuring unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners, according to the APA. It also looks at a list of features that Americans rank as important to their “ideal community,” including locally owned businesses, transit, neighborhood parks and sidewalks.

“I think it is a celebration of the past 40 years for the neighborhood,” said Suzanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids planning director. “Neighborhood residents have worked really hard to stabilize the neighborhood, to protect it from demolition, to enhance it by having new investments — like they are working on Pleasant Park right now, which would be a new park in the neighborhood.”

Schulz also pointed out that the 1963 master plan for the city called for demolishing the neighborhood. Instead, Heritage Hill has bounced back to once again be a vibrant neighborhood where people are eager to live.

“I think what we are seeing in Heritage Hill, especially in my conversations with the neighborhood association, rental rates are very robust, they are getting a lot of new renters that are interested in the area and the units fill up quickly, new homeowners moving into the neighborhood that are excited about being here,” she said. “It’s truly a neighborhood that is revitalizing, reenergizing and reinventing itself. I think the APA, when they were looking for those types of neighborhoods, was trying to find inspiration for other places, especially urban areas. There are a lot of urban neighborhoods in Michigan that don’t have a whole lot of hope, and I think Heritage Hill can be one of those shining stars.”

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell stressed that Heritage Hill is one of the city’s key neighborhoods.

“Heritage Hill exemplifies the importance of a sense of place and how preservation and incorporation of our heritage in community planning can create a desirable atmosphere and vibrant community,” Heartwell said in a statement. “Heritage Hill is the back bone to the revitalization of Grand Rapids, something that would not have been possible without the hard work and grassroots advocacy of the residents of Heritage Hill.”

Since 2007, when the APA launched its Great Places in America program, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets and 50 public spaces have been designated across the country, including four Michigan locations: East Park in Charlevoix as a 2009 Great Public Space; Front Street in Traverse City as a 2009 Great Street; South Main Street in Ann Arbor as a 2009 Great Street and Campus Martius Park in Detroit as a 2010 Great Public Space.

Nine other neighborhoods join Heritage Hill on this year’s list of Great Neighborhoods: Garden District, Baton Rouge, La.; Lower Highlands and Historic Downtown, Fall River, Mass.; Fells Point, Baltimore; Downtown Salisbury, N.C.; Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia; Cooper-Young, Memphis, Tenn.; Fairmont-Sugar House, Salt Lake City; Beacon Hill, Seattle and Downtown Walla Walla, Wash.

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