At the start of the 20th century, Grand Rapids’ Wealthy-Jefferson neighborhood was a thriving urban place. But by 2002, it had fallen into decay and disrepair. Its population had declined from 4,744 people in 1912 to just 946. The number of retail businesses had fallen from 43 in 1950 to just two: a liquor store and a tire store.
The Wealthy-Jefferson Development Initiative is reversing that trend. Empty lots and rundown buildings are being transformed into new homes, shops, cafés, and restaurants. To prepare the plan, the Inner City Christian Federation, a nonprofit community developer, engaged a design team led by Thursday Architects. Siegman and Associates led the transportation planning component of the project, designing streets, recommending bicycle, pedestrian, and transit improvements, and setting parking standards.
The plan has helped the neighborhood spring back to life. Wealthy Street, the district’s East-West commercial spine, has been completely rebuilt. In 1959, the street had been widened into a bleak, high-speed, five-lane arterial that locals described as a “drag strip”. Motorists routinely hit 50 mph. Today, two low-speed roundabouts act as gateways to the neighborhood, calming traffic and eliminating speeding. Two excess vehicle lanes have been replaced by wider sidewalks, trees, brick parkways, a landscaped median, and safer crossings. The renewed streetscape supports a new bus rapid transit line.
Nearby, Piazza Secchia, a newly expanded plaza, provides a gracious front door and play space for a high school and a cathedral.
To guarantee pedestrian-friendly buildings, the plan includes a Traditional Neighborhood Development ordinance and architecture code. The ordinance has reduced minimum parking regulations to levels more appropriate to a mixed-use urban neighborhood, helping spark new investment. Three to four story mixed-use buildings, with offices and residences over retail, now line Wealthy Street. Within the neighborhood, affordable apartments and townhomes front onto a new park. A new school, University Preparatory Academy, has also been completed. The neighborhood, once again, is becoming a tightly-woven, close-knit urban fabric.
Images courtesy of Seth Harry