In September of 2017, in an effort led by the City of Grand Rapids, the Heartside neighborhood began engagement in a Quality of Life Study. From September 2017 until January 2018, 200 of the community’s most involved residents and professionals participated in Quality of Life Listening Sessions where they were asked to voice their thoughts on the neighborhood’s strengths and opportunities for change. The purpose of the 14 listening sessions was to develop a unified voice for the vision of Heartside, a voice that represented all types of neighbors, not just those with traditional decision-making power.
Each listening session asked about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats posed to Heartside neighbors. Over 14 sessions, as many as 66 pages of individual comments were compiled by Dwelling Place staff, who have been active partners in supporting the Quality of Life Project. This valuable feedback was coded and sorted, making sure each theme was preserved and represented.“The challenge was to reduce the amount of total commentary while preserving each comment’s contribution to the conversation, ” said Jenn Schaub, Neighborhood Specialist at Dwelling Place. “We made sure that the essence of every comment we heard was represented in the report-out.”
Once the data had been coded, it was examined by the Quality of Life Committee, which is comprised of several Grand Rapids planners from The City of Grand Rapids, Dwelling Place, Downtown Grand Rapids Incorporated, the Heartside Neighborhood Association, and the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project. An even further distilled version of listening session data emerged, and was compiled by City of Grand Rapids Planning staff into several visual aid tools.
The Neighbor Knowledge Exchange was the next important step in the Quality of Life Study. This was a large, 2-day event designed by Dwelling Place and the City of Grand Rapids to report back to residents about Listening Session data. Over 180 residents and community stakeholders were asked to engage in the process by voting on the comments that they agreed the most with. These feedback opportunities were measured and influenced the third phase of the Quality of Life Study, the formulation of Work Groups.
This spring, seven work groups, each with 6-8 members, will tackle common themes that emerged from listening session data. Latesha Lipscomb, the Heartside Community Engagement Project Manager for the City of Grand Rapids Planning Department, has been the key facilitator in the Quality of Life Study. “The neighborhood self-selected the themes by providing feedback,” says Lipscomb. “Members of the work groups will be the change that they want to see. They will have the opportunity to come up with their own tactics to address the problem identified by their work group.” The seven work group themes are:
- At Home In Heartside
- Fresh Food Access
- Substance Support
- Public Restrooms
- Engaged and Employed
- Areas of Improvement
There are two final opportunities for the public to get involved in the Quality of Life Study before the workgroups launch. The first event, called the Work Group New Member Orientation, is on March 14th from 11:30 to 1:30 at the Herkimer Community Room located at 309 South Division. The second opportunity will be a two-day event on April 11th and 12th, and will be a formal introduction to the work group themes where community members will be asked to engage in solution-oriented conversations to kick off the work groups. It is vital that Heartside community members are active in this process. If you’re interested in being on a work group, contact Courtney Magaluk (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Latesha Lipscomb (email@example.com) from the City of Grand Rapids Planning Department.
Because Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Brian Molhoek for his contribution of this piece. Brian is an intern for the Learning Lab at the Avenue, Community Coordinator, musician, backcountry pack-mule and Hope College misfit.