A few months ago, Rumsey Street near the southwest end of Grandville Avenue in Grand Rapids looked like any other pocket of disinvestment in cities across the country. Situated in the dynamic neighborhood of Roosevelt Park, the site is surrounded by families, but here they encounter boarded up homes, waist-high thickets of weeds, and disintegrating sidewalks.
The neighborhood sees the potential, though. A small health clinic, Clinica Santa Maria, serves local residents and later this month the church a few blocks down will house entries in the 2017 ArtPrize competition. Together, a committed collation led by Habitat for Humanity of Kent County is working to turn this space into a hub for the neighborhood with housing and amenities that serve its existing residents and promote a healthier community.
This diverse, somewhat seemingly incongruous partnership stretching across sectors is working to transform the site. Last week Habitat Kent and eight partners announced their plans for Plaza Roosevelt, a new development set to include affordable housing, storefronts, public spaces, a new public high school, and an updated and expanded Clinica Santa Maria.
These changes are all key ingredients for creating a healthier, more successful neighborhood. We know lack of access to affordable housing can put families in the position of choosing between paying rent and paying for other essentials like food, heating and medical care. Transportation to school and other services can be a challenge for households without a car. By building housing that meets the needs of the community, families will be empowered to improve not only their financial stability, but their health, education and overall wellness.
Find more information about the importance of housing on communities in the MacArthur Foundation’s How Housing Matters report.
Plaza Roosevelt, as envisioned, will be more than the sum of its parts. Each element is an important aspect of a strong community, but together in close proximity they can transform the neighborhood’s function. Instead of walking past a blighted lot, residents can now choose from more housing options, walk to a public school, access health services, do some shopping, and enjoy new green spaces.
Just as the planning team considered health impacts at every stage of the project, collaboration was a critical cornerstone of the process. Habitat Kent went beyond merely consulting local community members, instead forging a meaningful partnership throughout the planning process. Along with health officials, funders, and universities, the neighborhood’s residents helped shape and drive the vision.
The focus on urban revitalization sometimes prioritizes profitable development over the people who already live in a place. Affordable housing is often an afterthought or concession made by developers in order to secure public financing or approval. In contrast, Habitat Kent’s approach to Plaza Roosevelt is not just responsive to community needs—it is rooted in them.
As Habitat Kent Executive Director BriAnne McKee remarked at last week’s announcement, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together.” This approach, cross-sector partnerships invested in a community-driven process and focused on holistic community health, represents a possible path forward for neighborhood revitalization projects.
Because the Plaza Roosevelt model requires significant partnership from multiple entities, part of the Health Fund’s support includes evaluation of the convener’s role and effectiveness, as well as the project’s health outcomes. Our hope, shared by all project partners and by the community, is that Plaza Roosevelt can not only have an impact on direct health outcomes but also on the social determinants of health. We know making housing available to community members and increasing ease at which they access health care creates positive impacts that ripple across the neighborhood. Together, we can strive to create communities where people work, live comfortably, enjoy the arts and ultimately settle roots to foster future of generations healthy, successful Michigan residents.