The Rapidian

Red cedar sprouts from middle of Child Discovery Center parking lot

In the middle of the night, a tree was planted in the middle of a parking lot. The Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center used guerrilla tactic to spark conversation about projected greenspace.

/Eric Tank

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At the confluence of three neighborhoods- Heartside, South East Community and Heritage Hill- sits a brick building on three acres of concrete-dominated land. The building is the newest home, as of last year, to the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center (GRCDC). The K-5 Reggio Emilia school moved from their previous location on the west side annexed to the Basilica of St. Adalbert.

Upon entering the parking lot of the Child Discovery Center on Wealthy Street, it is hard not to notice the five foot tall red cedar breaking through a mound of concrete right smack in the middle of it. The project caught parents and children off guard and was a curious surprise, planted in stealth under the cover of darkness by Eric Doyle, who is a parent, school board member and project manager at Catalyst Partners.

The guerrilla placemaking effort was meant as a way to start dialog about the GRCDC's plans to repurpose the existing parking lot to a green space to the benefit of school children and the surrounding community. According to Principal Erin Melcher, 75% of the school property is currently "concrete, asphalt or building."

"Our primary objective is to reverse this fraction and restore the 'sea of asphalt' into an oasis of gardens, urban forest and natural play and learning areas for our students, families and neighbors to enjoy for years to come."

The project is in line with the school's philosophy which encourages its students to learn by fostering a creative approach and teaching about the importance of community awareness. The GRCDC shares the neighborhood with Mary Free Bed and Mercy Health, both of which are currently undergoing major upgrades and structural transformations.

Increasing tree canopy, creating an open grassy knoll, pedestrian friendly pathways and six children's play stations will be the realization of a vision set forth at the outset of the building's purchase.

The location on the corner of Wealthy Street and Lafayette has been home to educational institutions for nearly 150 years. The historic significance is worth noting as the CDC envisions the future of the space and how it can serve to enhance the quality of life in one of Grand Rapids' oldest neighborhoods.

The Reggio Emilia educational approach first emerged post WWII in norther Italy as an alternative method to education that focuses on individual needs and desires of the child by offering a variety of learning styles and catering to a child's curious nature. In practical terms this translates to hands-on experience using a variety of materials to build and create with, strong parental involvement and the cultivation of a sense of ownership by empowering students to solve problems and engage one another with confidence.

Family and community members, organizations and local businesses wishing to get involved can contact the school for more information.

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