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Cautionary signs foster well-being, unique identity of East Hills

In an effort to improve the safety and recognition of his community, Eric Tank started making hand-crafted “Slow Down” signs for his neighbors. To date he's made 19 signs, and the movement has since spread to other communities in Grand Rapids.

/Courtesy of Eric Tank

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Order your own “Drive Slow” sign from Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

/Rachel Lee

Finally fed up with inconsiderate motorists, East Hills resident Eric Tank began assembling “Drive Slow” signs for his community. He wanted to send a message for reckless drivers, but also sees the sign as a placemaking effort: a way to improve and unite his neighborhood.

“To me, placemaking has always been the tiny little things that almost border on the mundane,” Tank says. “It’s something so simple that you don’t have to be someone to do it. This is my neighborhood; this is where I’m invested.”

Tank, frustrated with yelling at drivers whipping down his street to avoid traffic on adjoining Fuller Avenue, made his first sign this June. He took some old wood he had lying around and built a sign for his front yard.

“Before I knew it, people started saying, ‘That’s a great idea, can you make signs for me?’” Tank says. “I was talking with my wife and I was like ‘That’d be really funny if we just littered the neighborhood with these crazy slow down signs.’”

After receiving requests from his fellow neighbors, Tank made two more signs before being approached by Rachel Lee, the director of the East Hills Council of Neighbors.

“I noticed he put them up on Hope Street and Fitzhugh, and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, these are beautiful,’” Lee says. “The message is nice. As a neighborhood we want to continue to have people slow down while they drive through.”

Lee asked Tank to make a sign for the “Diamond Gate Island,” the intersection of Diamond, Lake and Cherry. The intersection experiences a lot of traffic, making it a prime spot for drivers to see the message.

The sign stayed up for a week before Tank found it laying on the side of the bus stop located there.

“It stayed up longer than I thought it would,” Tank says. “After that, Rachel Lee must’ve found people in the neighborhood who wanted signs, so she put in an order for eight.”

At that point, Tank started to use his free time to make signs, not only for his neighbors but for others, too. Residents of Eastown put in an order of “Drive Slow” signs for their community and Urban Pharm, a property management company, asked for some “No Trespassing” signs.

“I notice a lot of people slow down,” Tank says. “Some people still don’t, but a lot people see it and you can tell right away they take their foot of the gas and they completely slow down.”

For the families and pedestrians of the area, this decrease in speed helps maintain a peace of mind. Slowing down also benefits the drivers, according to Lee.

“Drive slow and enjoy the view,” Lee says. “Enjoy the beautiful architecture of all the buildings around you and notice a business that you maybe haven’t noticed.”

While the message is for the drivers, the signs are really for the community.

“Our neighborhood is filled with all different kinds of people—people who care,” Lee says. “They don’t care just about their house; they care about the overall neighborhood and what’s happening. So it’s not go speed down another street and slow down on my street. It’s go slow through the neighborhood.”

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