The city has nowhere to grow but up, with taller buildings and higher-density housing — an inevitable outcome in Michigan’s fastest-growing county.
Many locals view this trend with panic. The city is already losing its small-town feel, they say, and can’t afford for apartment buildings and parking garages to crowd the sidewalks and block views of the water.
But Grand Haven’s housing future is not a ploy to destroy the city’s character. Increasing housing density can welcome a return to the past, when people lived closer to the products they consume, broke bread with their neighbors and relied less on cars for every transportation need.
Discussing the topic at a recent City Council meeting, Councilman Josh Brugger and Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Fritz each shared memories of their childhoods in Grand Haven, when a loaf of bread was a short walk away and single-family homes were smaller and affordable.
“The future looks something like the past,” Councilman Bob Monetza added. “People were more on foot. People lived in somewhat tighter neighborhoods.”
Residents have attended meetings in recent months to rail against proposed developments they view as “monolithic” and designs they’ve compared to the Soviet Bloc. But they’re missing the point.
Ryan Kilpatrick, executive director of Housing Next, showed the council how a city in the Netherlands transformed from a dangerously congested traffic hub to a city built around its pedestrians. Bike lanes were given ample space, as residences and retail were blended to put purchases a short distance from home.
It takes a little imagination, but Grand Haven is ripe for some of these features. As a state-designated Redevelopment Ready Community, the city is primed to attract developers who have the desires of modest renters and buyers in mind. The city is currently reworking its Zoning Ordinance to consider requiring fewer parking spaces for developments and allowing greater variety of housing types in neighborhoods.
It’s not such a scary future for Grand Haven. We have confidence that city leaders will keep the city’s character at the forefront of changes, while making it a more inclusive place to live. Affordable and high-density housing is not just a component of future planning: It’s a key part of returning Grand Haven to its humble roots.
Grand Haven is growing up. We hope residents prepare to do the same.
Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Matt DeYoung, Mark Brooky, Duncan MacLean and Alexander Sinn. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to email@example.com or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.