Grand Rapids Named “All-America City”
Concerted action by citizens of entire community wins national recognition
GRAND RAPIDS, MICH., has been judged one of 11 winners of the annual “All-America City” competition sponsored by the National Municipal League and Look Magazine, Inc. The Grand Rapids entry, one of 22 finalists, was presented by the Greater Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, with the support of the city council and city manager, to the judging jury, at the 66th National Conference on Government held at Phoenix, Ariz., November 13-16, 1960.
The award-winning presentation was based on the achievements by the community during the previous year.
Grand Rapids, located in the Michigan mitten formed by the Great Lakes, lies off the main stream of railroad traffic. The decline in passenger use of railroads made it apparent that freeways would aid this community. As early as 1954 discussions were held concerning this matter, but very little was done. Citizen interest and an aggressive city commission solved the problem of moving traffic, exploiting the St. Lawrence Seaway, and placing the city on the main line, by approval of financial participation in an eastwest and north-south freeway system. The Michigan State Highway Department has moved up contract dates, revised construction schedules and expressway construction is under way. This decision places Grand Rapids on limited-access expressways with direct connections to the Indiana Turnpike, the Great Lakes ports and the metropolitan areas of Chicago and Detroit.
It was apparent that something had to be done about the inadequate airport facilities. It is completely hemmed in by residential, commercial and industrial development and expansion is impractical, if not impossible. Nationally known airport consultants recommended that the County of Kent build a new airport to tie in with the expressway system and provide air facilities for present and future needs. With the aid of five organizations to overcome traditional political opposition, the new airport was overwhelmingly approved by the citizens and land acquisition has begun.
Keen community interest in other areas affected by the expressways resulted in the adoption by the city commission of the first of two urban renewal areas and the creation of a 44-acre industrial park.
A major decision facing Grand Rapids was what to do about the deterioration of some sections of the downtown area and the evacuation by business and commercial interests. The outmoded city hall, county building and police headquarters were located in this rundown area.
A citizens committee met the problem head on, and after studies and surveys, presented a very complete proposal. This, the second urban renewal project covering some 40 acres, received Federal approval. A vigorous campaign resulted in overwhelming support by the voters for the city’s financial participation. Plans for demolition and clearing are under way, investors are interested in building facilities, and the whole community is encouraged by the practical possibilities of this redevelopment program. This project enjoyed community-wide support with neighborhood business groups joining hand in hand with downtown groups to obtain voter approval.
The Grand Rapids Wholesale Market, long condemned for its inadequacies, is being relocated and a modem wholesale food terminal is under development.
In May of 1960, the city was informed that it had lost population in the last decade. Many attempts had been made to annex or to enlarge the central city with no success. On December 8, 1959, after months of gigantic effort, every annexation proposal was defeated by the suburban areas. The Chamber of Commerce, housewives, PTA groups and other groups in the areas surrounding the city again studied and worked on this problem. On August 2,1960, the City of Grand Rapids grew by 13 square miles with the overwhelming approval of the city as well as the suburban areas. This was the first major annexation to take place since 1927. On November 8 three additional areas joined the city. At the same election, the citizens kept faith with their new neighbors by voting for a uniform school district tax.
Due to annexation, expressways, etc., the city’ acquired two new fire stations, will build two more in 1961, and through a five-year program will relocate six other stations.
Increased car registration and other requirements for proper policing resulted in the creation of a second police court to handle the work load and speed up law enforcement. This was supported by the Grand Rapids Bar Association.
The adoption of a major off-street parking program with the slogan “a space a day” for five years, was implemented. Since May 1959, 774 parking spaces have been added to the central core area. A $2,300,000 parking program is now under way.
The League of Women Voters and PTA groups with their keen interest in juvenile problems, coupled with the impact of the expressway in rightof-way acquisition and fire marshal condemnation, resulted in a successful campaign for a new juvenile home now known as a children’s shelter, and the construction of a new psychiatric hospital.
After years of indecision, 5 acres of downtown property were made available for the construction of a new modern post office.
The cultural aspects of the community have not been overlooked. December I was the date of the opening of a planetarium, funds for which were raised by the Grand Rapids Museum Association, with the help of the Grand Rapids Foundation. A new sea lion pool and moated bear pit were added to the John Ball Park Zoo as the result of activities of the Zoological Society.
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The accomplishments in the past year have been the result of citizens’ concern for their community. Elected officials, the business community, the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Council, the League of Women Voters, and PTA groups have shown active initiative and the results have been amazing. The news media— press, radio and television — have dealt frankly with these programs and have given positive evaluation of the needs. Thousands of dollars were contributed by corporations, businesses and individuals to make possible the surveys and studies and to wage the voter campaigns.
Grand Rapids has broken through the “apathy barrier.” Today there is a new spirit of enthusiasm by the man on the street in the city. Now there is an active, interested citizenry, willing to support positive civic progress and aware, as never before, that Grand Rapids has a bright and prosperous future.