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Building four-season neighborhoods: Snowmen, skating rinks, safe roads, sidewalks for everyone

Creating a neighborhood that brings neighbors together year round includes many elements- from safety to fun activities- and can be achieved through large organized efforts as well as by you and your neighbors.
The Cherry Park Ice Rink regularly is open February and March

The Cherry Park Ice Rink regularly is open February and March /Courtesy of East Hills Council of Neighbors

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Clear sidewalks make for safe ways to enjoy your neighborhood in winter

Clear sidewalks make for safe ways to enjoy your neighborhood in winter /Rachel Lee

Winter is the season to enjoy our neighborhoods in different ways. We like to call East Hills a four-season neighborhood. What does it mean to be a four-season neighborhood?

Four-season neighborhoods are active year-long; they are neighborhoods that still offer a variety of options for residents regardless of the weather. The East Hills neighborhood is a four-season neighborhood due to our residents and visitors enjoying the neighborhood even in the heart of winter. Snow on the ground doesn’t mean we have to say inside- we just need to be better prepared for the elements.

Our winter pedestrian traffic around our neighborhood grows every year. It's not just foot traffic: more and more people still ride their bicycle around East Hills in the winter.

You know what helps foster community in these snowy months? Snow shoveling! We need the help of you, our property owners, residents and businesses to help keep our sidewalks clear of snow and ice to keep us walkable. Do you live near a school or on a route to school? Then it's even more important to make sure the sidewalks are cleared for the children walking to school. If you rent, please talk to your landlord about who is responsible to clear the walks. If you know someone that needs help clearing their sidewalks, help them or call 211 to help find them resources. Our community is a wonderful place to live and visit, especially when it's a winter wonderland. 

But being a four-season neighborhood doesn't just mean walking and biking your neighborhood year round. It also means joining in community spaces, outdoors, year round.

A focus on activities in public spaces to join neighborhoods together on a larger scale takes planning and a belief that the outdoor activities will be used. In East Hills, we've done just that. At the end of this month, the East Hills Council of Neighbors along with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and City of Grand Rapids will once again host a free neighborhood ice rink in Cherry Park from February to March.

But outdoor activities and placemaking in the winter can be done by neighbors as well. Who says block parties need to happen in only in warmer weather? Organize a block gathering around a snowman building contest. Plan your next play date in one of our parks. Take the kids on a root beer tour using The Rapid. Go on a picture taking tour of some of our neighborhood’s architectural gems: everybody loves a snowy background.

Every day of the year, the East Hills neighborhood strives to be the most transit-oriented, walkable and bicycle-friendly safe neighborhood in Michigan. Since the opening of Marie Catrib’s in 2004, East Hills has experienced tremendous growth as new shops, restaurants, breweries, bars and coffee shops have opened within its three business districts.

In addition, housing is in great demand. Single family houses in East Hills, on average, are sold within one week of being listed for sale. The rental market in East Hills is highly competitive. Our office receives calls and emails every week with people looking for a place to rent or a building/home to purchase. Over the next two years, over 80 new living units are proposed to be added to our neighborhood along the Cherry Street and Wealthy Street corridor. Foot and bicycle traffic along our three business districts and connector residential streets has increased 100% every year. The Rapid covers the East Hills area with five routes: Route 4, 5, 6, 9 and 14. The streets in East Hills are not just busy with people on weekends; it’s every day of the year regardless of the weather.

In order to foster a culture of being welcoming, walkable and bicycle-friendly, we need public streets which are easy and safe to navigate for all ages year-round. In response to our East Hills Public Space Strategy that was developed in 2014, our neighborhood is working on developing a neighborhood mobility plan that puts people first. We still have issues of vehicles speeding down our streets, adults on bicycles riding on sidewalks in our business districts, zero protected bike lanes and not enough marked crosswalks to safely cross our streets. Our “Let’s Go East Hills! Neighborhood Mobility Plan” addresses these issues and is moving forward on making our neighborhood a better place to live. The East Hills Council of Neighbors is working towards that goal by working with the City of Grand Rapids, residents, businesses and stakeholders. 

As we move towards that welcoming, walkable culture year round, we can start by just getting outside and saying hello to our neighbors- even in the middle of a snowy landscape. For now, let's get out and shovel walks together, make snowmen together and appreciate what winter has to offer us. Later this month, we'll see you at the rink!

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