Creston: The next Eastown?

As long as it stays funky
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A funky mural in Creston. Photo by Tylee Shay.

Historic homes and in-progress apartments; pubs in place for generations and trendy new eateries; walking trails and playgrounds. The Creston Neighborhood, largest in Grand Rapids, is full to its edges with all this and more.

This vibrant section of the city borders the Grand River on the west, Leonard Street on the south and 4 Mile Road on the north, and a winding eastern edge, with Plainfield Avenue cutting diagonally through the middle. With 27,000 households and numerous businesses, Creston Neighborhood offers “a microcosm of the economy,” according to Gregg Hampshire, executive director of the Creston Neighborhood Association.

“Creston Neighborhood is kind of a comeback story after a number of development woes that took place about a decade ago,” said Hampshire, citing attempts to develop areas of the neighborhood that didn’t come to fruition. “Now the Creston Neighborhood is one of the most competitive housing markets in the area.”

The Creston Neighborhood Association incorporated in 1979, in part after neighbors fended off a proposal to develop Briggs Park, just west of Plainfield Avenue at Knapp Street. “We coalesced around Briggs Park,” said Hampshire, who has been with the CNA since April 2022 and has a long history of nonprofit work. “We now work with city government, other neighborhood associations, developers and business leaders. We are on the front line of community development.”

That means working with the 12-member volunteer CNA board, the land use committee made up of residents, organizing community events, developing green initiatives, and looking for ways to make the community better. For board member Kristina Colby, it means leading the Living Green in Creston initiative and organizing the Creston Garden Tour, which takes place July 15 (see below).

Living Green in Creston started as a group of neighbors who liked talking about plants. “Since then the group has evolved to include educational events such as the pollinator garden at Briggs Park, collaborating with other groups to offer workshops and webinars on topics such as rain-scaping and creating chemical free yards, and tours of places such as the waste energy facility,” said Colby.

For longtime Creston Neighborhood resident Tommy Allen, publisher at Rapid Growth Media, a relational aesthetics artist and instigator of the Keep Creston Funky (#KeepCrestonFunky) initiative, “Creston is an example of a do-it-together environment instead of do-it-yourself. Regardless of our differences, we’ve found opportunities to work together no matter the issue.”

He sees that spirit work out in community pubs, those tiny neighborhood pubs that “act as connectors,” he said. “The best place to be is a few steps off your front porch, whether that’s a pub or a park or someplace else. We create a neighborhood that starts with saying hello. That’s what makes Creston work.”

The neighborhood is also hard at work bringing in mid-market, market-rate housing. The Lofts on Grove, along Plainfield Avenue, will include 110 housing units and 3,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. The Hillcrest Apartments at 220 Quimby Street have 72 units. And there is optimism about the RiverNorth development on Monroe Avenue north of Leonard Street, which would add 526 housing units and retail space to the neighborhood.

Businesses also continue to move into Creston. Jon Benedict, with co-owners Kyle Warren and Sam Keuning, are opening Good Good Good, a retail wine and floral shop, in the dilapidated building at Sweet Street and Plainfield Avenue they are in the process of renovating. Benedict’s co-owners grew up in the area and all live in Creston; the trio purchased the building before area housing costs soared.

“We knew that Creston was growing in a positive direction,” said Benedict, who hopes to open Good Good Good before the Lights on Creston event in December. “Everyone is so engaged in the community.”

That engagement translates into long-term commitment and plans for the neighborhood. While a number of storefronts remain empty, Colby is optimistic about Creston’s future. “I envision people walking and riding their bikes all the time and every storefront full. And we are really having a movement toward native plantings; I envision a lot more of that,” she said, also highlighting weekly neighborhood walks, monthly evening walks, and group bike rides.

Allen also sees much potential for growth as the city welcomes more people. “Creston has the opportunity to become a business corridor, but I hope it remains funky. It’s an interesting community that acknowledges your ability to be you,” he said. “I see a lot of people accessing Creston from the inside and outside, but ultimately it’s a place to feel at home.”

Hampshire, the CNA executive director, dreams of increased accessibility for all to bus lines, bike trails, broadband, health care, and mental and behavioral health care resources. He dreams of a more equitable community as far as housing, food availability, and businesses. Hampshire is proud of Creston’s history of organizing based on advocacy instead of just safety concerns.

“I like to see Creston come from a mindset of how we can address the deficits, how we can collectively make the neighborhood more equitable and accessible,” he said. “I’ve heard folks say that Creston will be the next Eastown. Maybe, but we will always be uniquely Creston.”

Creston Garden Tour
July 15, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The annual Garden Tour features 13 gardens including 11 private residences, the community garden at the CNA headquarters on Carrier Street, and the urban farm New City Neighbors near Leonard Street and Fuller Avenue.

Check at the Community Garden for the free, self-guided tour (car or bike needed) that features kid-friendly games and diverse gardens that range from native grasses and plants to full-scale vegetable production with chickens and ducks

Visit crestongr.com/livinggreen.

Dine in Creston
Creston Brewery features Saugatuck Brewing beers, unique food, cocktails, and a range of events.
Café Mamo serves dinner Monday-Saturday based on locally-sourced food, and offers a wide range of beer and wine.
Gaia House Café serves vegetarian and vegan fare Wednesday-Sunday.
Lucy’s is open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday-Sunday and uses locally-sourced food.
River North Public House is a full-service restaurant and bar open Tuesday-Saturday.

Coffee in Creston
Switchback serves local coffee and beer, snacks and baked goods, as well as is a full-service bike shop. Live music, too.
Sparrows Coffee offers its own coffees, chocolate, treats, and easy access to Kingma’s Market.

Shop in Creston
Kingma’s Market—Locally-produced fruits, vegetables, meats, baked goods, and a wide variety of grocery items.
Renee Austin Wedding—Top designer wedding dresses and bridal accessories.
Kay Pharmacy—Locally owned and operated for generations.
Nantucket Baking Company—Cakes, pastries, artisan breads and rolls baked daily.

Outside in Creston
Huff Park—Walking trails, natural area, ball diamonds, playground, picnic area
Riverside Park—Walking and biking, ball fields, disc golf course
Aberdeen Park—Splash pad, tennis courts, playground, soccer/baseball/basketball
Briggs Park—Pool, waterslide, concessions, picnic area, playground
New City Farm—Urban farming, CSA program, seasonal café

Worship in Creston
St. Alphonsus Parish, in the Roman Catholic tradition, on Carrier Street.
Berean Baptist Church, at its present location at Coit and Sweet, since 1902.
Creston Church, at 238 Spencer, offers casual, Christian Reformed worship
New City Church, 214 Spencer, provides nondenominational Christian worship.

 

Fun in Creston
GRPL VanBelkum Branch—Permanent home for the branch finally created in 1999 at 1563 Plainfield.
Frosty Boy—Seasonal ice cream shop at Plainfield and Ann Street also offers vegan, no-dairy and gluten free treats.
Northfield Lanes—Bowl a few games or join a league at the alley on Plainfield Ave.

 

 

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