Sustainable development: Much is made of those words in the Grand Rapids metro area and the subject has more often dominated discussion in the past year. The phrase is used in regard to the surge of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (especially last week as several area businesses were presented with plaques commemorating LEED-certified buildings in the area) and most especially for the GrandWalk project. GrandWalk is a partnership between the cities of Grand Rapids and Walker, developers and economic development agencies, which targets the old and now vacant, mammoth Lear plant and the surrounding 41 acres straddling the boundaries of the two cities.
While that project draws media attention and all the right leaders to create a national model of GrandWalk, it must be said that the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Business Alliance has more quietly continued one of the oldest programs aimed at sustainability. Its record — during the past 17 years — is no less than the success of 20 separate neighborhood business districts in the urban area. Neighborhood Business Alliance has helped mostly small businesses in those neighborhoods create partnerships that restore buildings and boost property values, revitalizing not just blocks of a specific area, but whole neighborhoods. The success is obvious as one walks or drives up North Monroe, through East Hills, West Grand or Leonard, to name just four of the 20.
What is puzzling is the lack of support shown for the program. Once housed as a Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce community program, the group found itself orphaned a year ago and struggling with far less funding from the revenue-strapped city. Has it been so successful that it is taken for granted?
The Business Journal lauds the Grand Rapids Community Foundation for its recent grant to the Creston Business District for its pending revitalization effort, likely to include 10 blocks of the area. Such intelligent economic development investment is absolutely fundamental, and should be extended to the entire Neighborhood Business Alliance, buttressing such efforts throughout the city. The Alliance will laud new development and projects during its annual awards program the evening of Nov. 16 at Loosemore Auditorium in the DeVos Center of Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus.
Even the Grand Rapids Chamber two years ago noted, when the program remained housed with the agency, neighborhood business districts “often serve as incubators for small businesses. The economic health of these districts has a direct impact on the economic health of the city, and they are an essential piece of the economic machinery of the region.”
Suburban communities are beginning to build new “neighborhood lifestyle centers,” but the Neighborhood Business Alliance represents the original models: models that have evolved with the passing of time and that still provide unique and valuable experiences in the city, and preserve not just the buildings but the entire neighborhood and quality of life therein.
That’s what we call sustainable.