A City of Neighbors
Josh Brown, Sara Cosgrove, Emily Rattray
and Caitlan Spronk
Introduction by Anton Wishik
Photography by Michael Buck and Johnny Quirin
neighborhood associations in Grand Rapids
are working hard to improve their lot —
and here are profiles of each.
the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan,
but fewer may recall the reason it was told:
to define “neighbor,” not necessarily
as one who lives nearby but as one who is
willing to help — even if the helper
is a stranger traveling through the area
from a foreign land.
Of course, those who live nearby and also are
helpful meet the definition in more ways than
one. And that is one of the main goals leading
to the formation of the 32 neighborhoods in the
city of Grand Rapids: to bring residents together
to help one another.
This story profiles each of the Grand Rapids
neighborhoods, providing statistics, history,
description and quotes from residents. Together,
the profiles paint a picture of an incredibly
diverse city that cares.
“You’ll ask people where they live,
and as often as not, they won’t say, ‘I
live on X Street’; they’ll say, ‘I
live in Y neighborhood,’” said Mayor
George Heartwell, who raised his children in
Ottawa Hills and now lives in Heritage Hill. “… If
I feel connected to a neighborhood, I’m
more likely to be protective of it. I’m
watching for unusual things — people snooping
around a house, for instance. … I’m
more likely to feel some sense of responsibility
for my neighbors’ kids if I’m identified
with my neighborhood.”
Many local residents — and even professionals
who work with neighborhood associations — seem
surprised to hear that the city has so many official
neighborhoods. Still, not all of the city is
covered in these profiles: Significant parts
of downtown and the southwest side, and even
larger portions of the southeast side, are not
organized into neighborhoods. Additionally, neighborhoods
are not to be confused with business districts,
which have different boundaries, officers and
purposes but often similar names.
One key benefit of forming a neighborhood association
is economic — it potentially makes the
neighborhood eligible for grant money for all
types of projects, including federal block grants,
state revenue sharing, city funds and money from
“We look at neighborhoods as … an important component of an economically
viable urban city,” said Lee Nelson Weber, director of the neighborhood
initiative at the Dyer-Ives Foundation, a local private foundation that issues
many neighborhood grants. “There are a lot of good ideas in this town,
and people have a lot of energy to carry them out.”
The Dyer-Ives Foundation has funded everything from tree-planting to youth employment
to association staff training for writing grants.
Grand Rapids is one of 30 cities in the country
that are part of the National Neighborhoods Indicators
Partnership, a coalition designed to help obtain
data that can lead to grants and other benefits. The local data research — statistics
on population, housing, diversity, education, crime and other categories — is
done by the Community Research Institute of Grand Valley State University.
The institute, formed in 2001 by GVSU and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation,
is housed in the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit
Leadership and led by Associate Director Gustavo Rotondaro.
“Some are very active neighborhoods that have a full-time employee working,
some might have a part-time person, and others … we’ve never heard
of anybody representing that neighborhood,” Rotondaro said. “Some
are driven to realize urban markets, some are focused on crime prevention,
into developing new housing or housing rehab.”
Weber said that research conducted by the GVSU
institute — garnering neighborhood
data from the census, state, county, city, police department and other sources — puts
Grand Rapids on the “front wave.”
“Everybody has it at a city level and a county level,” she said. “Very
few places have it at a neighborhood level.”
Heartwell is trying to go even further, lobbying
the state for a new law that would allow for
the creation of “neighborhood improvement districts” that
could vote to assess themselves to further fund neighborhood improvements.
I think we have a stronger and chronologically deeper history of neighborhood
organizations in Grand Rapids than many other cities in our state,” Heartwell
said. “Mayors and commissioners here often get elected out of neighborhood
associations. That’s where activism often starts. …”
Rotondaro called neighborhood associations “the
most basic expression of democracy: to understand
local issues and bring
them up to local
“It’s not only about the central business districts, but creating
an identity for the city based on its neighborhoods,” he said. “What
would a city be without neighborhoods?”
HEIGHTS Bounded by Burton Street on the
north, Kalamazoo Avenue on the east, 28th Street
on the south, and Eastern Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 47%
Owner-occupied housing: 81%
17.6%; Asian 1.6%; Caucasian 73.2%; Hispanic
5.3%; Native-American 0.2%
Features: Cheseboro Park, MacKay-Jaycees Park,
Paris Park, Seymour Park. Alger Park Elementary
School. Alger Heights Business District, Seymour
Square Business District.
Alger Heights is the only neighborhood in Grand
Rapids built mostly during the Depression and
World War II. Lining Eastern Avenue are stately
oak trees that neighborhood residents have fought
A successful neighborhood watch group became
the Alger Heights Neighborhood Association in
the late 1970s. The association rallied the neighborhood
against a private softball complex that would
have had a liquor license. Members collected
2,800 signatures on a petition and the city stopped
Neighborhood residents helped raise money to
create what became MacKay/Grand Rapids Jaycees
Family Park at the intersection of 28th Street
and Kalamazoo Avenue, a free, public-access,
liquor-free, multi-use nature preserve.
Roosevelt Park The
Grandville Academy for the Arts, a centerpiece
of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, expanded
its mural with the help of students from the
Southwest Community Campus of Grand Rapids
AUBURN HILLS Bounded by Plum Hollow Lane
on the north, Auburn Avenue on the east, Sweet Street
on the south, and Fuller Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: Not available
Owner-occupied housing: 53.4%
Diversity: African-American 60.3%; Asian 3%; Caucasian
26.9%; Hispanic 7.7%; Native-American 0%
For African-Americans, the 1960s were all about
the fight for equality. Grand Rapids residents J.E.
Julius Franks, Joseph Lee and Samuel Triplett found
they were not welcome in Grand Rapids’ “white” middle-class
neighborhoods; many Realtors would not even show
In 1962, Adams found vacant land designated as
a potential park site on the City Master Plan.
to some friends and created a plan to purchase
the 20 acres and turn it into a neighborhood for
The plan’s announcement caused an uproar that
resulted in protests, lawsuits and threats. The men
were forced to jump through hoops to realize their
dream — many banks refused to fund the project,
and there was a battle before the city council.
The group of men finally purchased the land for $60,000
and started building. The first of 51 houses was
completed in 1965. Today, the second-smallest neighborhood
by population is thriving, with several of the original
residents still living there. It has the lowest crime
rate in the city.
BAXTER Bounded by Wealthy Street on the north,
Fuller Avenue on the east, Franklin Street on
the south, and Eastern Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 10%
Owner-occupied housing: 42.8%
Diversity: African-American 85.9%; Asian 0%;
Caucasian 3.8%; Hispanic 7.4%; Native-American
Features: Joe Taylor Park. Franklin/Eastern Business
District, Wealthy Business District.
Carolyn “Dee” Lucas has lived in
the Baxter neighborhood for more than 50 years.
She remembers her youth as a time when people
watched each other’s children and left
their doors unlocked.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said Lucas. “This
was a village. Times have changed, (but) it’s on its way back.”
One reason is the Baxter Community Center. Lucas
works in the center’s
Market Place, which provides food and clothing to residents. The center also
provides affordable day care, a health clinic, job assistance and a youth mentoring
program called Mizizi Maji — Swahili for “root” and “water.” The
program matches students ages 10 to 17 with adult mentors who can offer stable,
“We’re not a take-you-out-to-the-ballgame and see-you-next-year kind
of program,” said Melanie Beelen, the center’s executive director.
Beelen, a 28-year Baxter resident, is saddened
by misconceptions that “the
only people that live in our neighborhood are on drugs … that people don’t
care about the way their homes look. That’s not true; you can’t judge
a house by its front porch. Even if the house isn’t perfect, it doesn’t
mean the people inside aren’t looking for hope and giving hope.”
LOOKOUT Bounded by Leonard Street on the north, College Avenue on the
east, Crescent Street on the south, and the Grand
River on the west.
Two or more years of college: 22%
Owner-occupied housing: 29.9%
Diversity: African-American 23.2%;
Asian 1.7%; Caucasian 52.9%; Hispanic 15.6%; Native-American
Features: Belknap Park, Calder Plaza, Canal Street Park, Coit Park, Crescent
Park, Lookout Park, Mary Waters Park, Reservoir Park, Sixth Street Bridge
Park. Coit Arts Academy, East Leonard Academy. Michigan Street Business
North Business District.
Belknap Lookout has more parks than any other
neighborhood. Part of the neighborhood is constructed
on a high plateau above Michigan Street and
featuring spectacular views of the city. Crowded housing has led to
parking and traffic
problems. “There are two or three houses on lots designed for one,” said
Kristi DeKraker, executive director of the Belknap Lookout Neighborhood
Project MOBL NOBL, currently in the fundraising stage, is a plan to renovate
run-down parts of the neighborhood, including rebuilding the staircases
that lead down the steep slope to Division Avenue. A new addition is
a co-housing community of 20 families at Newberry and Coit, formed with
the goal to build neighborly connections and share resources.
A prominent feature of the community is the Michigan
Street “Medical Mile,” which
has brought easily accessible health care and more jobs to Belknap. But residents
lament the loss of the “community hub” on Michigan
Street that included a grocery store, restaurants and laundry.
“Everything that creates a good neighborhood was Michigan Street,” said
DeKraker, “Once Medical Mile emerged, we lost a lot of
Real estate values, though, are expected to go up because of the new
BLACK HILLS Bounded by the Grand River on the north, Godfrey Avenue on
the east, Hall Street on the south, and Freeman Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 10.2%
Owner-occupied housing: 54.9%
Diversity: African-American 27.3%; Asian
0.2%; Caucasian 26.7%; Hispanic 39.8%; Native-American 1.1%
Features: Kensington Park. Adelante High School.
Black Hills, named for the black walnut trees that once covered the hill
it sits on, is separated from other neighborhoods by a ring of factories.
War II, people moved to the neighborhood because they could walk to work
at the nearby factories. Since the 1950s, the minority population has
The neighborhood is home to one store, one church
and one school — all
of which make for obvious meeting spots. During the
summer, the community comes together for a block
party in the
of Adelante High
There are only three roads that allow access in
and out of the neighborhood. “I
think it protects us and enhances who we are,” said
Judy Rose, 48-year resident and president of the
Black Hills Neighborhood
CHERRY RUN Cherry Run is the only city neighborhood that has lots, rather
than streets or natural landmarks, for some of its boundaries. The north
just south of Westbrook Drive NW, the east border is just west of Oakleigh
Woods Drive NW, the south border is Highlands Golf Course, and the west
border is Elmridge
Two or more years of college: Not available
Owner-occupied housing: 98.7%
Diversity: African-American 0.2%;
Asian 0.2%; Caucasian 97%; Hispanic 0.5%; Native-American
Grand Rapids’ newest and smallest neighborhood group organized in 2004
when residents became concerned about developers building in the area. Led by
resident Phyllis Jennings, the group believed that the developers’ need
to connect to sewer lines would increase their
The mission of Cherry Run Area Neighbors is “to preserve and protect the
property of the neighborhood, and to proactively address and resolve all issues
that impact residents’ safety and overall
quality of life.”
Cherry Run, named for Cherry Run Drive at the center of the neighborhood,
was originally part of the Westside Connection Neighborhood.
CRESTON Bounded by Four Mile Road on the north, on the east by Fuller
Avenue up to Knapp Street and then along Knapp to the jagged line of
the eastern city
limits, by Leonard Street on the south, and the Grand River on the west.
In October 2003, Creston merged with the North End Neighborhood and the
North Park Neighborhood.
Two or more years of college: 33.9%
Owner-occupied housing: 69.6%
Diversity: African-American 5.6%;
Asian 1.1%; Caucasian 86.6%; Hispanic 4.1%; Native-American
Features: Riverside Park, Aberdeen Park, Huff Park, Briggs Park, Kent
County Country Club. Creston High School, Palmer Elementary, Aberdeen
Middle School, Wellerwood Early Child Development Center, Riverside Middle
School, Kent Hills Elementary. Cheshire Business District, Creston Business
St. Alphonsus Church, in the heart of Creston,
was founded by Irish and German Catholics in
1888, when the area was just beginning to bloom
as the highly diverse and populated area it is
today. Catherine’s Health Care Clinic,
dedicated to providing free health care for those
who can’t afford it, is located in the
back of the church.
The clinic is part of a history of activism in
the neighborhood. In 1977, the neighborhood came
together to prevent the closing of Riggs Park
Pool. In the 1990s, the neighborhood banded together
to stop a Meijer store from being built in the
business district, which consists almost exclusively
of small local businesses.
“We’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves
and get involved,” said Dave Mossburger,
community organizer of the Creston Neighborhood
The Creston Business District has resurged in
recent years. Creston is the largest neighborhood
in the city by population. It also stretches
the longest distance, from Leonard Street to
Four Mile Road.
EASTGATE Bounded on the north by Hall Street,
on the east by Laurel Avenue and Breton Road,
on the south by Burton Street, and on the west
by Plymouth Avenue.
Two or more years of college: 52.3%
Owner-occupied housing: 73.1%
11.1%; Asian 2.2%; Caucasian 82.9%; Hispanic
2.6%; Native-American 0.2%
Features: Metro Health Hospital
(moving this year).
Sycamores and old oaks line
the streets of Eastgate,
the “gateway” to East Grand Rapids.
Eastgate is a quiet, middle-income neighborhood
with three churches and four businesses, including
the expanded Andrea’s Pizza. While the
large majority of residents own their homes,
the aging neighborhood has been making a “gradual
evolution into rental and rent to own,” said
Hank Post of the Eastgate Community Foundation.
In response, the neighborhood has banded together,
said Post, and is working to ensure that landlords
keep up their properties.
Young families with children have recently moved
into the neighborhood, so one summer block party
will feature a carnival this year.
Eastgate has the second-highest percentage of
college-educated residents in the city.
EAST HILLS Bounded by Fulton Street on the north,
Fuller Avenue on the east, Wealthy Street on
the south, and Union Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 35.9%
Owner-occupied housing: 30.8%
30.2%; Asian 1.1%; Caucasian 49.1%; Hispanic
15.8%; Native-American 0.6%
Features: Baldwin Park, Cherry Park. Congress
Elementary School. Cherry/Lake/Diamond Business
District, East Fulton Business District, Wealthy
“East Hills Center of the Universe,” reads
the sign in front of Marie Catrib’s restaurant
in the building that also houses the West Michigan
Environmental Action Council at Diamond Avenue
and Lake Drive SE. East Hills has undergone a
green revolution, from organic food to fair trade
goods to the East Hills Center’s green
roof and rain garden.
One of the recent neighborhood beautification
projects was “Trees Please.” Neighborhood
residents planted 28 trees — Mayor Heartwell
planted the 29th — in Fairmont Square,
one of the neighborhood’s seven subdivisions.
The neighborhood has also drawn from its pool
of artists and children to create murals and
Cherry Hill, one of three historic districts
in the neighborhood, is home to 20-year resident
Gabriel Works. She says her neighbors are fans
of bird feeders, outdoor plants and recycling.
She also says there is no place like East Hills
for Saturday or Sunday brunch. “Gaia, Cherry
Inn, Marie Catrib’s — they’re
packed every weekend,” said Works.
East Hills is one of the most racially diverse
neighborhoods, most recently seeing an influx
of Guatemalan immigrants. There is also a significant
lesbian and gay population.
EASTOWN Bounded by Fulton Street on the north,
Plymouth Avenue on the east, Franklin Street
on the south, and Fuller Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 36.6%
Owner-occupied housing: 52%
25.7%; Asian 0.6%; Caucasian 68.4%; Hispanic
2.9%; Native-American 0.3%
Features: Wilcox Park. Aquinas College, Southeast
Academic Center, Campus Elementary School. East
Fulton Business District, Eastown Business District.
A streetcar route was created in the late 1800s
to provide access to Reeds Lake in East Grand
Rapids from downtown, and Eastown developed on
the route. Early homeowners were primarily affluent
professionals, but as time passed, the population
grew and changed. Now Eastown is an ideal spot
to find rental housing and something to do every
night of the week in the thriving business district.
That may explain why it’s a favorite hangout
for the city’s college students.
“It’s not pretentious,” said Jeff
Avink, a manager at Billy’s, a popular
Along the streets of Eastown one finds Greek,
Italian and Indian food to choose from … and
then there are those Yesterdog specialty hot
Avink says “really, really cool” people
create the Bohemian feel and inviting atmosphere
of the area. Eastown’s eclectic mix blends
age groups, ethnic groups and sexual orientations.
David Neven, minister at the Lesbian & Gay
Community Network of West Michigan, says that “for
it’s considered one of the most friendly
neighborhoods in Grand Rapids.”
AVENUE Bounded by Fisk Street on the
north, Giddings Avenue on the east, Boston Street
on the south, and Kalamazoo Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 28.2%
Owner-occupied housing: 60.2%
Diversity: African-American 58.3%;
Asian 1.2%; Caucasian 31.8%; Hispanic 5%; Native-American
Features: Park School. Boston Square Business
District, Franklin/Eastern Business District.
George Vander Weit became the pastor of the Fuller
Avenue Christian Reformed Church in June 2000.
By November he had brought together the neighbors
and local officials to form the Fuller Avenue
One example of the positive impact of the new
association occurred in spring 2001. Rather than
organize a neighborhood cleanup in the standard
manner in eight-block sections, the association
asked the Streets and Sanitation Department to
drop off 30-yard dumpsters in the church parking
lot. The neighbors brought their trash to the
church, and board members picked up items too
big for neighbors to transport.
“Dumpster Day” cost the city one-seventh
the cost of the traditional method. Two years
later, a booklet describing Dumpster Days was
mailed to every neighborhood association, and
the method has become the city standard.
FULTON HEIGHTS Bounded by Michigan Street on
the north, Plymouth Avenue on the east, Fulton
Street on the south, and Fuller Avenue on the
Two or more years of college: 51.1%
Owner-occupied housing: 86.3%
4.8%; Asian 1.1%; Caucasian 89.2%; Hispanic 3.5%;
Features: Fuller Park, Hillcrest Park, Hillcrest
Dog Park. Kent Education Center – Mayfield.
East Fulton Business District, Michigan Street
Fulton Heights is home to three churches and
one temple, along with several faith-based organizations,
including the Salvation Army, Holland Home’s
Fulton Manor and the Holland Home Brown Manor — once
the Women’s Home and Hospital.
The Fulton Heights Neighborhood Association formed
in 1989 to improve the appearance of the community
gardens, which have been across the street from
the former Hillcrest school for more than 30
years. The gardens are open to all residents
of Grand Rapids.
The neighborhood is home to the city’s
best-known deli — Schnitz Delicatessen.
The area has one of the highest voter participation
rates in the city and the fourth highest percentage
of college-educated residents.
GARFIELD PARK Bounded by Cottage Grove Street
on the north, Eastern Avenue on the east, 28th
Street on the south, and Division and Century
avenues on the west.
Two or more years of college: 21.9%
Owner-occupied housing: 64.8%
26.5%; Asian 1.6%; Caucasian 31.4%; Hispanic
38.2%; Native-American 0.5%
Features: Garfield Park, Dickinson Park, Burton
Woods, Plaster Creek Family Park, Ken-o-Sha Park,
Plaster Creek Trail. Elementary schools: Brookside,
Buchanan, Burton, Dickinson. Business districts:
Alger Heights, Burton Heights, Madison Square,
Garfield Park actually is several neighborhoods
under the umbrella of the Garfield Park Neighborhoods
Association. The largest are Garfield Park and
Burton Heights. The combined neighborhood is
the second largest by population in the city.
Garfield Park is truly diverse, with African-American,
Caucasian and Hispanic populations all between
26 percent and 38 percent.
The neighborhood features four elementary schools
and five parks, including Garfield Park, one
of the largest parks in the city and home to
an extensive arts and crafts fair each September.
The park’s history began in 1833, when
Barney Burton bought 320 acres of farmland from
the U.S. government, paying $1.25 an acre. A
short time later, Charles Garfield bought a portion
of the Burton farm, replanted six acres with
trees, and called it Burton Woods. In 1914, he
gave Burton Woods to the Grand Rapids Park and
Boulevard Association. Over the years there have
been efforts to convert the park into city lots,
but the neighbors have continually opposed the
The Garfield Park area is now seeing a renewal
with projects such as the Grand Rapids Health
HEARTSIDE Bounded by Lyon Street on the north,
Lafayette Avenue on the east, Wealthy Street
on the south, and Market Street on the west.
Two or more years of college: 24.3%
Owner-occupied housing: 8.5%
30%; Asian 1%; Caucasian 57.5%; Hispanic 6%;
Features: Rosa Parks Circle, Veterans Memorial
Park, Heartside Park. Heartside Business District,
Michigan Street Business District.
Heartside, named for its location near the “heart” of
Grand Rapids, has always been a transportation
hub, where 19th century wagon trails made way
for a railroad depot, which eventually made way
for a U.S. 131 exit ramp.
It is also home to many of the city’s
“This is a neighborhood anyone can live in — whether
they’re low-income or not,” said
Dennis Sturtevant, CEO of Dwelling Place. “It’s
not a neighborhood where everyone looks the same.”
Dwelling Place provides affordable housing for
mid- to low-income individuals and families — particularly
local artists — and is one of several nonprofits
devoted to aiding the city’s homeless population.
In this neighborhood of renters — it has
the lowest percentage of owner-occupied housing
in the city — expensive condominiums may
now be seen across the street from modest apartments.
An influx of college students complements the
rapidly changing landscape.
Walter Pinder, who works at the Heartside Ministry,
is one of the neighborhood’s artists. His
abstract paintings decorate the ministry walls,
and his music may be heard at Sunday worship,
when he plays piano and guitar. He has lived
in Heartside for the past 16 years, and there’s
something he wants more people to know about
“It’s an area that they shouldn’t
be afraid of,” he said. “There is
crime here, but the sense of community is so
HERITAGE HILL Bounded by Crescent Street on the
north, Union Avenue on the east, Pleasant Street
on the south, and Lafayette Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 41.7%
Owner-occupied housing: 20.8%
16.3%; Asian 2.2%; Caucasian 74.8%; Hispanic
4.4%; Native-American 0.4%
Features: Foster Park, Heritage Hill Park, Mooney
Park. Fountain Elementary School, Central High
School, Grand Rapids Montessori School, Heritage
Child Development Center. Business districts:
East Fulton, Heartside, Michigan Street.
Heritage Hill is one of the largest official
historic districts in the country, and has many
claims to fame, including President Gerald R.
Ford’s main boyhood home (also claimed
by two other neighborhoods), and the Frank Lloyd
Wright-designed Meyer May house. The majority
of the homes were built from the 1840s through
the 1920s, and many now are divided into rental
units. Heritage Hill has the second-lowest percentage
of owner-occupied houses in the city.
One of those homes belongs to Dave Robinson,
who has worked for the state police for 25 years.
He was raised in Heritage Hill. When his parents
retired and moved out-of-state, he bought their
“I was raised here and I wanted to come
Robinson. “My roots are here.”
to the exterior of neighborhood homes must
be pre-approved by the city's Historic Preservation
“There are a lot of restrictions, but we try to
comply with all of the restrictions,” Robinson
said. “Cosmetically, this is a beautiful
neighborhood. All of these houses have a lot
of character. As someone once said, ‘They
have good bones.’”
HIGHLAND PARK Bounded by Leonard Street on the
north, Fuller Avenue on the east, I-196 on the
south, and College Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 23.4%
Owner-occupied housing: 62.1%
14.4%; Asian 2%; Caucasian74.8%; Hispanic 5.6%;
Features: Highland Park. Eastern Elementary School.
Highland Park lies just northeast of downtown.
In the early 1900s, the residents were predominantly
of Polish descent and the neighborhood included
several Polish grocery stores. The neighborhood’s
Polish roots now center around St. Isidore Church
(established in 1897) and school, though the
Polish flavor of the neighborhood has faded over
the past 20 years.
The neighborhood suffered a blow when I-196 was
built straight through it, making it difficult
to walk to stores and community centers.
The neighborhood association formed in the 1990s
and has worked on renovation projects, including
a new pool built in 2000. The association hopes
to bring back the pedestrian lifestyle and promote
more of a sense of community.
BALL PARK Bounded by Bridge Street
on the north, Lane Avenue on the east, O’Brien
Street on the south, and Covell Avenue on the
Two or more years of college: 31.2%
Owner-occupied housing: 75.8%
2%; Asian 0.8%; Caucasian 84.8%; Hispanic 9.8%;
Features: Lincoln Park, John Ball Park and Zoo,
The Mines Golf Club. Sacred Heart School, Holy
Spirit School and Shawmut Hills, all elementary
schools. West Fulton Business District.
As its name suggests, this neighborhood is home
to John Ball Park and John Ball Zoo. The park
was a major draw for early settlers in the neighborhood.
Neighborhood Association President Peter Carlberg
said that, near the turn of the century, the
neighborhood became a “streetcar suburb” when
the addition of streetcar access enticed new
Today, the neighborhood boasts a mixture of
architectural styles — Craftsman, American Bungalow and
Victorian among them. Houses from the ’50s
and ’60s are scattered among older homes,
with most of the newer ones having been built
after Gunnison Swamp was drained.
Being home to John Ball Park, the neighborhood
sees a large number of festivals and special
events, including the John Ball Park Arts Fair
and the Sacred Heart Carnival in May, and the
Pulaski Days Parade in October.
MADISON AREA Bounded by Wealthy and Pleasant
streets on the north, Eastern Avenue on the east,
Cottage Grove Street on the south, and Madison
and Union avenues on the west.
Two or more years of college: 13.6%
Owner-occupied housing: 40.2%
78.1%; Asian 0.6%; Caucasian 7.3%; Hispanic 11.5%;
Features: Alexander Park, Paul T. Phillips Recreation
Center. Henry Park Paideia Academy. Business
districts: Franklin/Eastern, Madison Square,
On a warm day, Madison neighbors are outdoors,
working in their yards, washing cars, congregating
on porches, sidewalks and outside the corner
store. The corner of Hall Street and Madison
Avenue, once a crime-ridden spot reportedly called
the “killing corner,” is now a vibrant
grocery store and anchor for the Madison Square
Co-op, which succeeded in enticing other businesses
to resettle the area.
Madison’s landmarks include Gerald R. Ford’s
boyhood home (claimed by two other neighborhoods),
and the Paul I. Phillips Recreation Center, which
overlaps into the South Hill neighborhood and
is named for the man who led the civil rights
movement in Grand Rapids. Oakhill Cemetery, on
either side of Hall Street, features many mausoleums,
including several in the ancient Egyptian style.
In July of 2006, Madison Square Business District
received a $100,000 Cool Cities Grant administered
by Lighthouse Communities. The grant will update
the facade of the Hubb commercial building, and
fund streetscape improvements and other neighborhood
MICHIGAN OAKS Bounded on the north by Grand Trunk
Railroad right-of-way, Oak Industrial Drive and
I-196, by East Beltline on the east, Fulton Street
on the south, and Plymouth Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 60.8%
Owner-occupied housing: 69.4%
4.6%; Asian 0.8%; Caucasian 91.6%; Hispanic 2%;
Features: Westboro Lake, Middleboro Lake, Church
Lake. Oak Industrial Center (high school).
Head east on Michigan Street and it will be clear
when you have hit Michigan Oaks: when the sea
of businesses turns into rows of houses, and
oak trees tower overhead.
“We have worked hard to keep the neighborhood
completely residential,” said Dan Koorndyk,
neighborhood association president.
The beautiful homes and large yards testify to
the success of these efforts, even though the
neighborhood is surrounded by busy roads like
I-196 and East Beltline.
Michigan Oaks has the highest percentage of
college-educated residents in the city. It also
claims three of
the six lakes within city limits, so hidden away
that many city residents don’t know they’re
Oak Industrial Park includes a credit union,
a truck driving school, and Oak Industrial Center,
a high school attended by only 50 students.
Michigan Oaks started out as part of Paris Township.
It was first mapped as a residential area in
MIDTOWN Bounded by I-196 on the north, generally
by Fuller Avenue on the east, Fulton Street on
the south and Union Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 29.1%
Owner-occupied housing: 47.1%
13.2%; Asian 1.4%; Caucasian 67%; Hispanic 13.4%;
Features: Midtown Greens, Houseman Field, Fulton
Street Farmer’s Market. East Fulton Business
District, Michigan Street Business District.
Midtown is home to college students, young families
and elderly Polish people who still speak their
“I know everyone on my block,” said Jennifer
Gavin, an eight-year resident. “Our neighbors
on the left are college professors, and our neighbors
on the right are college students.”
Kelly Otto of the Midtown Neighborhood Association
says that many of the elderly residents live
in the Brikyaat, one of the neighborhood’s
seven subdivisions, and choose to be buried in
the nearby Fulton Street Cemetery — to
be among fellow Midtowners and Civil War veterans.
The neighborhood homes vary from 1920’s
and ’30’s Sears kit homes, to what
Otto calls “1950s and 1960s June Cleaver
homes” — huge yards, brick houses,
in-ground swimming pools. There are also small
houses, but almost all have one thing in common:
a front porch. Christine Helms-Maletic, Brikyaat
project director said, “It’s a communal
living room. In the winter I think to myself, ‘I
haven’t seen my neighbors in a long time.’ It’s
a front-porch neighborhood.”
MILLBROOK Bounded by 32nd Avenue
on the north, Breton Road on the east, 44th Street
on the south,
and Kalamazoo Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 40.7%
Owner-occupied housing: 59.9%
17.6%; Asian 3.8%; Caucasian 73.3%; Hispanic
2.8%; Native-American 0.3%
Features: Plaster Creek, Oxford Place. Sherwood
Park Elementary School.
Far to the southeast of the city and bordering
Kentwood, Millbrook could easily be mistaken
for the suburbs. The core of Millbrook consists
of residential houses, condos and apartments.
Young trees line the streets and playgrounds
can be found in the backyards. Two elementary
schools are within blocks of each other on Breton
Road, the neighborhood’s west border.
Residents of some streets have formed their own
“Weymouth has a feel of small-town America: block
parties, Christmas parties, and recently a progressive
dinner and wine-tasting party,” said 30-year
resident Mike Brady, who was president of the
neighborhood association before it disbanded
more than a decade ago.
Millbrook touches no other city neighborhoods.
The border streets of Millbrook have a smattering
of churches and businesses — including
grocery stores, restaurants, physicians and the
Kentwood Cat Clinic.
NECA (North East Citizens Action) Bounded by
Knapp Street on the north, East Beltline on the
east, I-196 on the south, and Fuller Avenue on
Two or more years of college: 29.1%
Owner-occupied housing: 49.1%
22.1%; Asian 2.3%; Caucasian 69%; Hispanic 3.7%;
Features: Ball-Perkins Park, Kent County Correctional
Facility. City High/Middle School, Kent Education
Center. Michigan Street Business District.
The Northeast Citizens Action neighborhood has
23 apartment complexes within its bounds. There
are also many modest homes near the Kent County
jail, owned or rented by lower-income families
and the retired. High-end condominiums can be
found in the neighborhood’s east end. Suburban-looking
side streets include homes valued up to $500,000.
Triggered by the proximity to the I-96 and I-196
expressway exits and the East Beltline, the variety
in housing options has drawn a mixture of socio-economic
classes, ethnicities, ages and lifestyles.
“It brings its share of challenges,” said
Lynn Rabaut, president of the NECA Neighborhood
Association. The greatest challenge is a battle
against drugs. Residents are actively working
with police to reduce crime and increase safety.
The business district along Leonard Street and
Fuller Avenue includes a movie theater, a hospital
and numerous restaurants. Competing gas stations
on three corners of the Leonard/ Fuller intersection
often mean the lowest prices in town.
“It’s got just about anything you could
want to do,” said Rabaut. “I don’t
like the crime, but they’re few and far
between. I love it here — we’ve been
here for 24 years and I don’t plan on moving.”
OAKDALE Bounded by Hall Street on the north,
Kalamazoo Avenue on the east, Griggs Street on
the south, and Eastern Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 22%
Owner-occupied housing: 60.5%
62.9%; Asian 1.7%; Caucasian 20.9%; Hispanic
10.6%; Native-American 0.5%
Features: Boston Square Business District, Madison
Square Business District.
Oakdale is a neighborhood based around a church:
Oakdale Park Christian Reformed. A Christian
community development organization, Oakdale Neighbors
works collaboratively with the South East End
“One advantage of a faith-based community organization
is we’re able to tap into several revenue
streams,” said Tom Bulten, executive director
of Oakdale Neighbors.
Individual, foundation and church money all
fund the Oakdale Neighbors’ many community
programs. One is the Mars-Bros youth mentoring
which provides male mentors for youths age 8-17.
Oakdale became an official neighborhood in 1996,
though the Oakdale Park church has served as
a hub for community activity for more than 100
years. When the church was formed, the neighborhood
was primarily Dutch. Now it is mostly African-American.
HILLS Bounded by Franklin Street on the
north, Grand Rapids city limits on the east (approximately
Cadillac Drive), Hall Street on the south, and
Giddings Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 45.5%
Owner-occupied housing: 98.4%
11.9%; Asian 0.8%; Caucasian 82.9%; Hispanic
2.3% Native-American 0%
Features: Iroquois Middle School, Ottawa Montessori
What was once a nine-hole golf course is now
a 285-home neighborhood with a middle school
right in the center. The small, residential neighborhood — third
smallest in the city — is made up of tall
oak trees and mid-priced homes. Ottawa Hills
has the second-highest percentage of owner-occupied
homes in the city.
The annual garden tour has blossomed over the
past 10 years. Ottawa Hills also offers plenty
to keep neighborhood kids occupied, including
Easter eggs hunts and the Hollyhock Lane parade
on the Fourth of July.
“Kids walk to the neighborhood schools,” said
George Heartwell, former Ottawa Hills resident
and mayor of Grand Rapids. “It’s
a very walkable neighborhood.”
RIDGEMOOR Bounded by Burton Street on the north,
Woodcliff on the east, 28th Street on the south,
and Breton Road on the west.
Two or more years of college: 51.6%
Owner-occupied housing: 63.9%
9.7%; Asian 1.8%; Caucasian 85.6%; Hispanic 1.2%;
Features: Ridgemoor Park Child Development Center.
Ridgemoor, on the far southeast side of the
city, is one of two neighborhoods that share
with other neighborhoods: It is surrounded by
portions of the city that have not organized
into neighborhoods. Ridgemoor contains newer
houses than its inner-city counterparts, built
in the ’60s and later. Winding residential
lanes and the occasional cul-de-sac characterize
this semi-suburban neighborhood.
In recent years there has been an increase in
rentals to college students due to the proximity
to Calvin College.
“It’s very friendly,” said Norma Carey,
who lives just outside the neighborhood boundaries
but attends church in Ridgemoor. “It’s
a nice area to live in.”
Residents have access to two churches within
the neighborhood — Our Savior Lutheran
and St. Paul the Apostle, which has an elementary
school. Businesses and offices occupy the northwest
corner of the neighborhood, at the intersection
of Burton and Breton.
ROOSEVELT PARK Bounded by Wealthy Street on the north, Century Avenue on the east, Burton Street on the south, and Clyde Park and Godfrey avenues on the west.
Two or more years of college: 5.7%
Owner-occupied housing: 45%
Diversity: African-American 11.3%; Asian 0.1%; Caucasian 13.8%; Hispanic 72.7%; Native-American 0.4%
Features: Clemente Park, Caufield Playground Park, Roosevelt Park. Hall Elementary School, Southwest Community Campus, Roosevelt Child Development Center. Grandville Business District.
Since the 1800s, Roosevelt Park has been a touchstone for the Grand Rapids immigrant population. Over the years, the immigrant population there has changed from primarily Dutch to primarily Hispanic.
ìIf you donít speak a word of English, you can get by because Spanish is spoken at all the shops, all the churches, all the schools,î said Mary Angelo, director of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association. ìFifty years ago, the exact same could be said for Dutch.î
The Hispanic culture is proudly displayed, from the restaurants to annual celebrations such as DÌa de los Muertos and DÌa del Sol.
Busy Grandville Avenue runs through most of this long neighborhood. The street has seen improvements in the last few years. Grandville Avenue Academy for the Arts has a mission of ìtransforming lives in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood through reading and the arts and by celebrating the communityís cultural richness.î The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan recently moved into a renovated fire station on Grandville Avenue.
ìHowever Grandville Avenue goes, so goes the neighborhood,î Angelo said.
SECA (South East Community Association) Bounded by Wealthy Street on the north, Lafayette and Madison avenues on the east, Cottage Grove Street on the south, and Buchanan and Division avenues on the west.
Two or more years of college: 13.8%
Owner-occupied housing: 33%
Diversity: African-American 69.2%; Asian 0.2%; Caucasian 7.3%; Hispanic 20.6%; Native-American 0.3%
Features: Campau Park. Elementary schools: Campau Park, Jefferson, Madison Park. Job Corps, Kentfields Community Youth Child Development Center. Division South Business District, Madison Square Business District.
Rodney Brown, teacher and president of SECA, grew up in the neighborhood, left to go to college and now heís back. ìI took so much,î he said ìI gotta give back.î
That seems to be the attitude among many young adults from this neighborhood, who want to help with improvements, including opening new businesses.
SECA has experienced significant changes in ethnic makeup over the years. Predominately Caucasian until the late í60s, during the í70s the neighborhood became predominately African-American. Then Hispanic families joined the neighborhood, and recently there has been a resurgence in the number of Caucasian families.
ìAnybodyís welcome. Itís how you come,î said Sarah Smith, who works for the association. ìAre you gonna be neighborly?î
There are thriving business districts on South Division Avenue (mostly Hispanic) and in the Madison Square business district, which has a new library.
Calvin College and SECA have partnered to create a documentary about the people of SECA called ìCommunity Voices.î The film will be screened mid-summer and in October at SECAís annual meeting.
SEENA (South East End Neighborhood Association) Generally bounded by Franklin Street on the north, Plymouth Avenue on the east, Burton Street on the south, and Eastern Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 24.8%
Owner-occupied housing: 70.1%
Diversity: African-American 53.8%; Asian 1.2%; Caucasian 35.1%; Hispanic 6.9%; Native-American 0.3%
Features: Cambridge Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Mulick Park. Alexander and Mulick Park elementary schools, Park Alternative School. Business districts: Boston, Franklin/Eastern, Madison Square, Seymour Square.
The South East End neighborhood features three parks, three schools and four business districts. Contained within its borders are two neighborhoods with separate associations: Oakdale and Fuller Avenue.
During the streetcar era, this was the southeastern corner of the city. In the late 1960s, the ethnicity of the neighborhood quickly began changing as the African-American population increased. Following Martin Luther King Jr.ís assassination in 1968, Franklin Park was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
SEENA was formed in 1977. Each summer, the association holds a National Night Out in King Park, bringing the whole community together. The association, with an office in King Park, provides access to resources such as free sidewalk repair, prescription assistance and protection from predatory lenders.
ìWe work with our residents. We educate and empower them,î said Sandy Latham, neighborhood improvement organizer.
SOUTH HILL Bounded by Pleasant Street on the north, Henry Avenue on the east, Franklin Street on the south and Lafayette Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 31.2%
Owner-occupied housing: 38.1%
Diversity: African-American 69.2%; Asian 0.6%; Caucasian 17.9%; Hispanic 9.1%; Native-American 0.4%
Features: Paul T. Phillips Recreation Center. Franklin/Eastern Business District.
South Hill has only been an official neighborhood since 2000, but within its borders is one of the oldest churches in Grand Rapids. First Christian Reformed Church celebrated its sesquicentennial in March. In 1857, this church was one of three founding Christian Reformed congregations in the U.S. First Church was pivotal in the establishment of Calvin College.
South Hill originally included President Gerald R. Fordís main boyhood home at 649 Union Ave., although that block has been added to the Heritage Hill neighborhood, and technically can be claimed by both of those neighborhoods along with the Madison Area neighborhood. The home is owned by Tim England and Rob Kent, who have extensively restored it. Their efforts have inspired other residents to restore their Victorian homes.
In 1993, the South Hill association began to help address neighborhood drug traffic. Grand Rapids police routinely arrested drug dealers ìno more than two houses, 80 feet, from the Ford home,î said Mayor George Heartwell. The police and neighborhood members worked together to improve the situation.
SOUTH WEST AREA NEIGHBORS Bounded by Bridge Street on the north, the Grand River on the east and the south, and Marion Avenue on the west.
Two or more years of college: 14.2%
Owner-occupied housing: 40.7%
Diversity: African-American 6.5%; Asian 0.6%; Caucasian 60.6%; Hispanic 26.7%; Native-American 2.3%
Features: Douglas Park, Ah-Nab-Awen Park, Westown Commons Park. Sibley and Straight elementary schools, Bimaadiziwn and West middle schools, Grand Valley State University. Heartside Business District, West Fulton Business District.
South West Area Neighbors, or SWAN, has roots reaching back to the 1820s, when the site was home to a Baptist mission, a blacksmith and cattle. Still-thriving business districts popped up on major roads such as Bridge Street and West Fulton. Entities such as The Other Way ministries, Frankís Meat Market, and the recently opened The Bitter End coffeehouse engender a sense of local community.
Dick Ter Maat, an RCA pastor and founder of The Other Way Ministries and Westown Jubilee Housing, has been part of the neighborhood for 43 years.
ìAt one time all the businesses were run by a ëgood-old-boysí club,î Ter Maat said. ìNow, itís much younger, visionary, diverse leadership, so people can have input into it. People can be authentic. They have a variety of lifestyles and language, different celebrations and festivals.î
The influence of Polish settlers can still be seen in local clubs such as The Lexicon Club, The Polish Falcon and St. Ladislaus Aid Society.
Much of Grand Valley State Universityís Pew campus is within the SWAN neighborhood. A new Sibley Elementary School building opened in the fall of 2006 and features advanced design elements such as a floor-to-ceiling glass wall and a rubber-floored gym.
WEST GRAND Bounded by the city limits on the north (just north of Richmond Park), the Grand River on the east, Bridge Street on the south, and Valley, Walker and Bristol Avenues on the west.
Two or more years of college: 15.7%
Owner-occupied housing: 53.6%
Diversity: African-American 3.5%; Asian 1.5%; Caucasian 72.8%; Hispanic 18.3%; Native-American 1.3%
Features: Fish Ladder Park, Mangold Park, Richmond Park, Sullivan Field. Harrison Park Elementary and Middle schools, West Leonard Early Childhood Center, Pine Academy, Stocking and Straight Elementary schools. Business districts: Creston, Stockbridge, West Leonard.
West Grand and its neighbor West Side Connection occupy the northwest corner of the city. West Grand started near the Grand River as a home for factory workers, mainly of Polish, Lithuanian, German and Irish descent. The advent of U.S. 131 and I-96 in the 1960s and í70s changed the look of the neighborhood. Numerous houses dating back to the cityís birth were lost.
ìIn the process they signed the death warrant for numerous river limestone buildings; it was not a good time for the preservation of history in the city,î said Father Dennis Morrow of St. Peter and Paul Church, who was born on the West Side.
Only one of the original houses built along the west side of the river remains: the Eliphalet H. Turner house at 731 Front Ave., built in 1846.
Some neighborhood residents say they are not as close as they once were.
ìPeople used to say, ëHey, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Jones are off on vacation or arenít feeling well, Iíll go mow their lawn,íî said Nola Steketee, neighborhood association president. ìNow, people call the city and say, ëThe Joneses arenít mowing their lawn.íî
Still, the neighborhood is beloved by many of its inhabitants: Two of Grand Rapidsí most flavorful shopping districts are part of West Grand: West Leonard and Stockbridge. Residents are also fond of the many restaurants and clubs.
WESTSIDE CONNECTION Bounded by the city limits on the north and west, by Bristol, Walker, and Valley Streets on the east, and by Bridge Street and the city limits on the south.
Two or more years of college: 36.2%
Owner-occupied housing: 80.3%
Diversity: African-American 0.7%; Asian 0.6%; Caucasian 96.1%; Hispanic 1.5%; Native-American 0.4%
Features: Blandford Nature Center, Fourth Street Woods, Highlands Golf Course. C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy, Covell and Shawmut Hills elementary schools, Kent Education Center (Oakleigh), Union High and West Middle School. West Leonard Business District.
Westside Connection was annexed to Grand Rapids from the city of Walker in the early 1960s. As one of Grand Rapidsí largest geographical neighborhoods, Westside Connection encompasses an array of housing, backgrounds and opportunities.
ìUp here on the northwest side Ö itís still growing, so weíre going through a lot of changes,î said Deacon Leo Ferguson of St. Anthony of Padua.
Blandford Nature Center, near the northwest corner of the neighborhood, is a major area attraction.
The neighborhood has a block captain on every street. The community comes together at events such as the St. Anthonyís summer and fall festivals, and polka dancing at Holy Spirit Church.
ìWeíre trying to keep the world dancing,î said Neighborhood Association President Barbara Sue Damore, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years.
This year the neighborhood held what it hopes will be an annual event at the Elks Club: a three-day garage sale, with proceeds benefiting the community. GR
This story was researched and written over a period of months by managing editor Anton Wishik, staff writer Curt Wozniak, and interns Josh Brown, Sara Cosgrove, Emily Rattray and Caitlan Spronk.
Many of the neighborhood histories were culled from the book ìHeart & Soul:
The Story of Grand Rapids Neighborhoods,î by Linda Samuelson. The neighborhood boundaries and statistics accompanying this story were provided by the Community
Research Institute of Grand Valley State University.