Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / News & Views / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / Acting As a Region to Tame Sprawl

Acting As a Region to Tame Sprawl

Grand Rapids leads the way in Michigan

April 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

In 1989 business and government leaders in Grand Rapids and its suburbs realized that sprawl was less an engine of economic growth than a vacuum draining vitality from communities. Putting aside conventional turf competitiveness, they decided it would be better to work together for their mutual interests.

The achievements of the regional "Metro Council," and the challenges it continues to face, are a beacon for other metropolitan areas in Michigan searching for smarter ways to govern in the next century.

The lunch rush at the Brittany Café, at the corner of Quimby Street and Plainfield Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids, is a thing to behold. In an atmosphere one part New York deli and two parts airy tea room patrons line up 10-deep to choose from 52 different sandwiches, homemade soups, fresh salads, juices, and an inviting display of pastries.

Six years ago, Lane McGinnes and Lynn Wilson turned this 110-year-old storefront into a thriving business that now anchors one of the busiest intersections in the Creston community, a working-class Grand Rapids neighborhood recovering from decades of neglect. Ms. McGinnes, whose career includes stints as a neighborhood activist and small business consultant, and Ms. Wilson, who is known for her no-nonsense work ethic, are two of the area's most admired personalities.

Along with good food, their formula for success is based in part on introducing customers — especially people from the suburbs — to the hopeful energy of an urban neighborhood that city leaders and residents brought back by working together. The city, guided by a regional initiative, reconstructed Plainfield Avenue — the neighborhood's lifeline — improved police protection, and hung colorful banners from lampposts to highlight the business district.

Metro Council, Regional Cooperation
This spring marks the tenth anniversary of a promising civic movement in Grand Rapids, coordinated by the Grand Valley Metro Council, to strengthen city neighborhoods, check the rampage of sprawl and traffic engulfing the suburbs, and solve both problems by governing collaboratively.

Grand Rapids is the only metropolitan area in the state to recognize that the central city and the suburbs are intimately bound, and to overcome differences and competitiveness to make decisions for the good of the region.

The Metro Council is made up of Grand Rapids, Kent, and Ottawa counties, and 26 other cities and townships. Now an organization with a 12-member staff and $1.3 million annual budget, Metro Council is able to show clear measures of success:

  • Downtown Grand Rapids is reviving.

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org