What turns out a crowd of more than 60 on a frigid snowy night in Flint? People of all ages, backgrounds, and interests ventured out when most people would just want to be snuggled up on the couch (even a number of students who had a snow-day that day!) The allure is the prospect of having a voice in turning a challenged three-mile stretch into a true community asset, real Placemaking in action. The Grand Traverse Greenway project, underway through our PlacePlans program, has the potential to bring so much to the community…it will be a key north/south trail that provides a real alternative for pedestrians and bicyclists. It will connect large employers and commercial areas to the downtown district, university corridor, medical centers, and riverfront. It runs near schools and parks and other existing assets in the area.
During the first visioning session voices were raised in hope, expressing what could be–families using the greenway for healthy recreation, students and young professionals biking it as an alternative to a car commute, the community enjoying it as a platform for activities and events, to connect to area parks, lakes and wetlands, and even to spark entrepreneurship (there were several suggestions for bike rentals, ice cream, food trucks, and community gardens on or near the Greenway.) Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy, a generous corporate partner supporting this project, envision their employees walking or biking on breaks, using the Greenway to access all that the area has to offer. They view the quality of place in Flint as key to attracting and retaining the right people, and believe the Greenway can have a very positive impact. Similarly, the colleges and universities that host over 30,000 students (yes, you read correctly, Flint is home to more than 30,000 college/university students attending Kettering University, University of Michigan-Flint, Baker College, Mott Community College…) share the conviction that excellent place is key to attracting and retaining students and staff. Students from the International Academy were excited to share their dreams for the Greenway too, and the ways this asset could engage youth within the community.
The project leaders from MSU talked about the ways good design can promote safe and appropriate use of public space. After all, people are good stewards of public space when the design and maintenance of the area signals it is a respected and valued asset. And the best way to feel secure is to activate the space, with lots of people using it in a responsible way–during all seasons and at all times of day. It was so wonderful to hear from students, neighbors, families, bike enthusiasts, bird watchers, and the myriad perspectives and personalities that will help shape the Grand Traverse Greenway. If the first meeting was any indication, this is a project destined for success!