American Planning Association Designates Heritage Hill a Top 10 Great Neighborhood for 2012
The American Planning Association (APA) today announced
the designation of Heritage Hill as one of 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2012 under
the organization's Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify
exceptional character and highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value
to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs.
APA singled out Heritage Hill for its vast array of architectural styles, community
engagement, rental and ownership options, and character. Heritage Hill, founded in the
1840s, is not only Grand Rapids' oldest neighborhood, it is the city's first preservation
district and one of the largest historic districts in the nation.
"Heritage Hill exemplifies the importance of a sense of place and how preservation and
incorporation of our heritage in community planning can create a desirable atmosphere
and vibrant community. Heritage Hill is the back bone to the revitalization of Grand
Rapids, something that would not have been possible without the hard work and grass
roots advocacy of the residents of Heritage Hill." Mayor George K. Heartwell
Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes streets, neighborhoods, and public
spaces featuring unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of
thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners. The
2012 Great Places have many of the features Americans say are important to their "ideal
community" including locally owned businesses, transit, neighborhood parks, and
sidewalks. They illustrate how the foresight of planning fosters tomorrow's communities.
Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets and
50 public spaces have been designated in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"Heritage Hill is a great neighborhood not only to Grand Rapids, but to the country
given the national precedent for historic preservation residents set in 1970," said APA
Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. "Because citizens here were engaged, the
neighborhood's exquisite 19th and early-20th century homes still stand today. I can think
of no better proof of how planning and citizen participation help bring lasting value to
communities," he said.
While the character of this initially affluent neighborhood began to change in the 1940s
– grand homes were divided into apartments to accommodate a post-World War II
population surge – it was an urban renewal proposal, a plan to raze three quarters of
the neighborhood that galvanized residents and led to the formation of the Heritage Hill
Association (HHA) in 1968. The group successfully lobbied for a city moratorium on
construction and demolition projects on the hill and then turned its attention to securing
historic district status. Three days after being listed on the National Register, the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development approved a plan that would have
changed the face of Heritage Hill.
HHA used the district's new status to invoke a section of the National Historic
Preservation Act of 1966 prohibiting federal funds from being used to the detriment of
any site, landmark or district listed on the National Register. The subsequent compliance
conference stopped the urban renewal project at the district's door and established a
new legal standard.
As the redlining by banks abated and land speculators began looking elsewhere, HHA
instituted several programs – including a home tour, which dates to 1969 – to raise
its profile. Revitalization began in earnest when Heritage Hill started its own urban
homesteading project and wrote a citywide urban homesteading ordinance. Slowly, new
residents – both renters and homeowners – moved to the area, fixing up properties. Still,
the neighborhood suffered from a high rate of absentee landlords.
To stem neglect, the city's 1992 plan for the area offered guidance and helped establish
a grant/loan program for property improvements. It built upon the residents' own 1988
master plan. While Heritage Hill still has one of the lowest percentages of owner-
occupied houses in Grand Rapids and several homes in need of some TLC, it contains
some of the most stunning and well-preserved architectural treasures in Michigan. The
meticulously restored Meyer May House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909, is
known as "Michigan's prairie masterpiece."
More than 60 architectural styles are represented among the neighborhood's 1,300
houses, many featuring well-manicured lawns and gardens. A lack of public green space
on the hill has residents engaged in an effort to convert a 2.3-acre parking lot into a
This pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, replete with sidewalks, features bike lanes on
several main roadways. Bus service will be enhanced when the new Silver Line bus
rapid transit begins operations along the neighborhood's western boundary, which sits
adjacent to Grand Rapids' downtown. The city also is studying streetcar options.
For more information about these public spaces, as well as APA's top 10 Great
Streets and top 10 Great Places for 2012 and previous years, visit www.planning.org/
greatplaces. This year's Great Places in America are being celebrated as part of APA's
National Community Planning Month during October; for more about the special month,
The City of Grand Rapids Planning Department invites to join Mayor Heartwell
and other dignitaries in celebrating the NATIONAL RECOGNTION of HERITAGE HILL.
This is an invitation-only event to celebrate a special announcement (the details
of which will be announced on October 3rd).
Grand Rapids Community College
White Hall – Fulton Street Campus
Wednesday, October 3, 2012 – 2pm to 3pm