I attended the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City: Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit 2015 held March 13, 2015. It turned out to be other than I expected and I’ll provide a brief description of the day below.
The meeting started out with Police Chief David Rahinsky describing the state of the GRPD. He then had each of the captains in charge of the four service areas the city is divided into give a discussion with detailed crime statistics comparing 2014 to 2013. The takeaway from these presentations was that crime is decreasing overall, and that the force is maintaining a strong connection with Neighborhood Watch and various neighborhood associations. This segment of the meeting ended with a brief question and answer period.
We next adjourned to one of the five offered Break Out Sessions. These were:
- Neighborhood Marketing to Rebuild Demand
- Equity and Race: Rebuilding Neighborhoods
- Using Digital Tools to Drive Empowerment
- How to Walk to School: A Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance
- Interpreting and Effectively Using Neighborhood Data to Drive Community Success
I first attended Neighborhood Marketing to Rebuild Demand. The session was presented by Paul Singh, NeighborWorks (http://www.neighborworks.org/Home.aspx) senior manager, Washington DC. He described neighborhood branding and marketing which has been used in various cities around the country. He tied this in with efforts to entice residents to neighborhoods and communities based on various factors.
I was most impressed by the audience participation from many leaders of existing neighborhood associations. I sensed there were many strong networks that were already addressing most of the issues raised by the speaker. I questioned whether having someone from the outside come in to create logos and a range of ‘creative strategies’ would do much more than was already being done.
I believe the free market takes care of most of the issues raised by the speaker. When people are considering buying a home, for instance, they know where they want to locate, they know their budget, they determine what the area shopping choices are, they know where they work and understand the distances involved. So I left the meeting wondering if it was ‘presentation complete, subject closed’, or whether the city council has plans to tie in with NeighborWorks in some way in the future.
We then were treated to a free lunch and entertained by a talk given by Professor Jim Diers of Seattle Washington. This was also something different from what I expected, and basically consisted of a pep talk and showing projects neighborhoods around the country had undertaken complete with before and after pictures. I guess the message was, not surprisingly, neighbors with the drive to make things better can and do affect change. Although not included, I’m sure there are many stories of Grand Rapids residents affecting similar changes.
Also during lunch there was a presentation by Becky Jo Glover on the 311 system (http://grcity.us/administrative-services/customer-service/Pages/GRCity311.aspx), a ‘one-stop shopping’ system connecting the user to a variety of city services.
After lunch, I attended the Using Digital Tools to Drive Empowerment breakout session presented by Grand Rapids resident Jonathan Pichot. This was a technical and informative presentation describing various software tools that simplify tasks performed by neighborhood association leaders. Some of the tools discussed were Open Street Map (http://www.openstreetmap.org/), NationBuilder (http://nationbuilder.com/), and Grand Rapids Local Wiki (https://localwiki.org/gr/). I was again impressed by members of the community asking questions and determining whether some of these tools could more efficiently replace something they were already using.
In summary, I’ll once again say the summit was different than I expected. Other posts at this site under the Neighborhoods tab will alert you to events that have taken place in other cities, what happened there, what to be on the lookout for. Back to this event, I was impressed with the committed audience members that are participating in creating the vibrant communities of Grand Rapids. The summit seemed to be a good opportunity for all areas of the city to come together, learn new ideas, and communicate. How the summit will impact Grand Rapids in the future is yet to be seen.