Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis
Note: This article originally appeared in The Carabiner (Issue 42, Nov 6, 2007). The Carabiner is a publication of Leadership Grand Rapids.
Recently I had the opportunity to talk to some young leaders in the community. Although they were very positive about most aspects of Grand Rapids and West Michigan such as new growth, trendy downtown nightlife, interesting neighborhoods and outdoor recreational abundance and beauty, two trends also arose. One was diversity - specifically those from diverse cultures often felt alienated from others, especially in a professional setting. And secondly, the lack of a suitable transportation system, which would help them go from where many of them live (outside of the central city in East Hills, East Town, and other neighborhoods that are more affordable) to the downtown hotspots. They also said that they like going into diverse neighborhoods to experience quaint coffee shops, cool restaurants, and trendy boutiques - in essence the beauty of storefronts with character and a local first flavor. Most don't want to drive and would use a "cool" alternative to transportation.
As they say, there are many cool places to go in the city of Chicago. There's not just one. And it's fun to visit and enjoy the ethnicity of a big city where you can experience the food, fun, and cultural richness using the EL (Chicago's public transit system.)
The most recent article written by Andy Guy (greatlakesguy.blogspot.com) for Rapid Growth media in the October 31st edition called "Strike up the Trolley Band" was very intriguing; he talked in this article about the recent controversy that's arisen about a new Trolley system that would initially run along the Grand River from Monroe North of the Central City to Wealthy Street. He likens this controversy to one that occurred in Portland, Oregon.
When Portland began their quest for a new transportation system via streetcars there were many naysayers. However, what the city has found is that the system itself has surpassed any earlier projections of ridership to the tune of 9000 riders per day (versus the 3500 they thought would ride per day) "improving mobility for residents and workers of all ages, income levels, and ability."
Not only has Portland's streetcar system done well in ridership, it's also enhanced the city economically, environmentally, and socially according to Portland's city commissioner Sam Adams.
Wouldn't it be great to see new area businesses start up along a needed transportation line that wouldn't have occurred without it? Like the spokes on a wheel, this line could eventually beckon people into our unique neighborhood business areas and spread the resurgence of our city beyond a few downtown streets and buildings
And, wouldn't it be nice to have our neighborhoods more formally connected? Maybe diversity wouldn't be such an issue to us anymore, as we'd have more of a reason to ride together into each other's space to explore the beauty and the culture that exists there.