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A City of Neighbors

By Josh Brown, Sara Cosgrove, Emily Rattray
and Caitlan Spronk
Introduction by Anton Wishik
Photography by Michael Buck and Johnny Quirin

Thirty-two neighborhood associations in Grand Rapids are working hard to improve their lot —
and here are profiles of each.

Everyone knows 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 private foundations.

“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, some are 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 government for solving.”

“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?”

ALGER HEIGHTS Bounded by Burton Street on the north, Kalamazoo Avenue on the east, 28th Street on the south, and Eastern Avenue on the west.
Population: 4,343
Two or more years of college: 47%
Owner-occupied housing: 81%
Diversity: African-American 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 to keep.

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 the development.

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 Public Schools.

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.
Population: 542
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. Adams, 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 them houses.

In 1962, Adams found vacant land designated as a potential park site on the City Master Plan. He talked to some friends and created a plan to purchase the 20 acres and turn it into a neighborhood for African-Americans. 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.
Population: 2,606
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 0.3%
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, supportive relationships.

“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.”

BELKNAP 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.
Population: 4,234
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 1.3%
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 District, Monroe 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 Division Avenue, 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 Association.

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 Newberry Place, 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 our amenities.”

Real estate values, though, are expected to go up because of the new medical facilities.

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.
Population: 1,177
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. During World War II, people moved to the neighborhood because they could walk to work at the nearby factories. Since the 1950s, the minority population has grown.

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 parking lot of Adelante High School.

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 Association.

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 border is 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 Drive NW.
Population: 432
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 0.7%

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 taxes.

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.
Population: 25,517
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 0.6%
Features: Riverside Park, Aberdeen Park, Huff Park, Briggs Park, Kent County Country Club. Creston High School, Palmer Elementary, Aberdeen Elementary, Riverside Middle School, Wellerwood Early Child Development Center, Riverside Middle School, Kent Hills Elementary. Cheshire Business District, Creston Business District.

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 Association.

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.
Population: 1,627
Two or more years of college: 52.3%
Owner-occupied housing: 73.1%
Diversity: African-American 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.
Population: 4,320
Two or more years of college: 35.9%
Owner-occupied housing: 30.8%
Diversity: African-American 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 Business District.

“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 signs.

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.
Population: 5,956
Two or more years of college: 36.6%
Owner-occupied housing: 52%
Diversity: African-American 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 blues bar.

Along the streets of Eastown one finds Greek, Italian and Indian food to choose from … and then there are those Yesterdog specialty hot dogs.

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 the bisexual/transgender/
lesbian/gay community, it’s considered one of the most friendly neighborhoods in Grand Rapids.”

FULLER AVENUE Bounded by Fisk Street on the north, Giddings Avenue on the east, Boston Street on the south, and Kalamazoo Avenue on the west.
Population: 2,098
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 0.1%
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 Neighbors.

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 west.
Population: 1,911
Two or more years of college: 51.1%
Owner-occupied housing: 86.3%
Diversity: African-American 4.8%; Asian 1.1%; Caucasian 89.2%; Hispanic 3.5%; Native-American 0.1%
Features: Fuller Park, Hillcrest Park, Hillcrest Dog Park. Kent Education Center – Mayfield. East Fulton Business District, Michigan Street Business District.

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.
Population: 17,998
Two or more years of college: 21.9%
Owner-occupied housing: 64.8%
Diversity: African-American 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, Seymour 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 move.

The Garfield Park area is now seeing a renewal with projects such as the Grand Rapids Health Neighborhood Initiative.

HEARTSIDE Bounded by Lyon Street on the north, Lafayette Avenue on the east, Wealthy Street on the south, and Market Street on the west.
Population: 2,286
Two or more years of college: 24.3%
Owner-occupied housing: 8.5%
Diversity: African-American 30%; Asian 1%; Caucasian 57.5%; Hispanic 6%; Native-American 1.4%
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 low-income residents.

“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 his neighborhood.

“It’s an area that they shouldn’t be afraid of,” he said. “There is crime here, but the sense of community is so strong.”

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.
Population: 4,429
Two or more years of college: 41.7%
Owner-occupied housing: 20.8%
Diversity: African-American 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 house.

“I was raised here and I wanted to come here,” said Robinson. “My roots are here.”

Changes to the exterior of neighborhood homes must be pre-approved by the city's Historic Preservation Commission.

“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.
Population: 3,625
Two or more years of college: 23.4%
Owner-occupied housing: 62.1%
Diversity: African-American 14.4%; Asian 2%; Caucasian74.8%; Hispanic 5.6%; Native-American 0.6%
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.

JOHN 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 west.
Population: 4,939
Two or more years of college: 31.2%
Owner-occupied housing: 75.8%
Diversity: African-American 2%; Asian 0.8%; Caucasian 84.8%; Hispanic 9.8%; Native-American 0.9%
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 residents.

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.
Population: 4,621
Two or more years of college: 13.6%
Owner-occupied housing: 40.2%
Diversity: African-American 78.1%; Asian 0.6%; Caucasian 7.3%; Hispanic 11.5%; Native-American 0.2%
Features: Alexander Park, Paul T. Phillips Recreation Center. Henry Park Paideia Academy. Business districts: Franklin/Eastern, Madison Square, Wealthy.

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 projects.

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.
Population: 2,138
Two or more years of college: 60.8%
Owner-occupied housing: 69.4%
Diversity: African-American 4.6%; Asian 0.8%; Caucasian 91.6%; Hispanic 2%; Native-American 0.2%
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 there.
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 the ’20s.

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.
Population: 4,524
Two or more years of college: 29.1%
Owner-occupied housing: 47.1%
Diversity: African-American 13.2%; Asian 1.4%; Caucasian 67%; Hispanic 13.4%; Native-American 1%
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 native language.

“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.
Population: 5,516
Two or more years of college: 40.7%
Owner-occupied housing: 59.9%
Diversity: African-American 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 little communities.

“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 the west.
Population: 11,262
Two or more years of college: 29.1%
Owner-occupied housing: 49.1%
Diversity: African-American 22.1%; Asian 2.3%; Caucasian 69%; Hispanic 3.7%; Native-American 0.5%
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.
Population: 2,165
Two or more years of college: 22%
Owner-occupied housing: 60.5%
Diversity: African-American 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 Neighborhood Association.

“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 program, 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.

OTTAWA 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.
Population: 774
Two or more years of college: 45.5%
Owner-occupied housing: 98.4%
Diversity: African-American 11.9%; Asian 0.8%; Caucasian 82.9%; Hispanic 2.3% Native-American 0%
Features: Iroquois Middle School, Ottawa Montessori Academy.

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.
Population: 2,901
Two or more years of college: 51.6%
Owner-occupied housing: 63.9%
Diversity: African-American 9.7%; Asian 1.8%; Caucasian 85.6%; Hispanic 1.2%; Native-American 0.2%
Features: Ridgemoor Park Child Development Center.

Ridgemoor, on the far southeast side of the city, is one of two neighborhoods that share no boundaries 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.
Population:
6,461
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.

If you dont speak a word of English, you can get by because Spanish is spoken at all the shops, all the churches, all the schools, said Mary Angelo, director of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association. Fifty years ago, the exact same could be said for Dutch. The Hispanic culture is proudly displayed, from the restaurants to annual celebrations such as Da de los Muertos and Da 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 transforming lives in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood through reading and the arts and by celebrating the communitys cultural richness. The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan recently moved into a renovated fire station on Grandville Avenue.

However Grandville Avenue goes, so goes the neighborhood, 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. Population: 5,245
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 hes back. I took so much, he said I gotta give back. 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 60s, during the 70s 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.

Anybodys welcome. Its how you come, said Sarah Smith, who works for the association. Are you gonna be neighborly?

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 Community Voices. The film will be screened mid-summer and in October at SECAs 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.
Population: 12,537
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.s 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.

We work with our residents. We educate and empower them, 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.
Population: 1,083
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. Fords 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 no more than two houses, 80 feet, from the Ford home, 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.
Population: 6,837
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, Franks 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.

At one time all the businesses were run by a good-old-boys club, Ter Maat said. Now, its 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.

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 Universitys 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.
Population: 16,460
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 70s changed the look of the neighborhood. Numerous houses dating back to the citys birth were lost.

In 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, 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.

People used to say, Hey, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Jones are off on vacation or arent feeling well, Ill go mow their lawn, said Nola Steketee, neighborhood association president. Now, people call the city and say, The Joneses arent mowing their lawn.

Still, the neighborhood is beloved by many of its inhabitants: Two of Grand Rapids 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.
Population: 13,022
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 Rapids largest geographical neighborhoods, Westside Connection encompasses an array of housing, backgrounds and opportunities.

Up here on the northwest side its still growing, so were going through a lot of changes, 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. Anthonys summer and fall festivals, and polka dancing at Holy Spirit Church.

Were trying to keep the world dancing, 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 Heart & Soul: The Story of Grand Rapids Neighborhoods, by Linda Samuelson. The neighborhood boundaries and statistics accompanying this story were provided by the Community Research Institute of Grand Valley State University.

 

   
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