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Belknap Lookout’s Community Voice in Grand Rapids, Michigan

19 Jan , 2015  

Many might’ve already read about this story, but here’s another way of looking at a vintage community in the Grand Rapids area and looking at what it means for an old neighborhood to break out of the mold and stigma of a supposed rundown apartment: Belknap Lookout, one of downtown’s oldest neighborhoods and quite possibly the future of the working class on the Medical Mile across the freeway of Grand Rapids. How so?

Redevelopment: That’s What It’s All About for Belknap Lookout

It’s a key piece of real estate and community, so much so that I’m going to get a bit personal here, not nearly as personal as this lip dub video: I know of one father who’s child goes to the community Grand Rapids Public School, Coit Creative Arts, and he’s at a crossroads about what to do regarding transportation. Car broke down, and now there’s a big question mark about whether or not to transfer out. It’s such a big question, and here’s why:

The community there at Belknap Lookout is so rich with culture. So defined. So real. So much history there, as well as a community caring enough to know the kids walking down those cobblestone streets built back in the mid-to-late 19th century right on Trowbridge. That father even walked off the city bus with his daughter down the bridge for two years just to get her to school and had her place some chewing gum on the pole one day.

That chewing gum’s actually still there — as a testament of a father who cared enough to bring his child to and from school via the Rapid.

Times Change, Jobs Show Up, Families Relocate — Community Stays the Same

It would only last so long before schedules wouldn’t work out, and the only way to get this honor student to and from is by vehicle. As typical, even vehicles can break down, and because there’s no school bus available, the family’s left with a question: what to do?

Belknap Lookout holds a lot of memories, not just of something underneath, lingering as a way to remember the walk toward the school playground, or running up and down the hill of the Coit park. Even back in 1963 when I-196 was constructed and the eroded hillside presented a problem, a remarkable “Earthwork” project known as “X” by one Robert Morris in 1974 ended up creating the first piece of artwork not done by canvas, paint or sculpture.

In effect, Belknap Lookout became the canvas, a masterpiece funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the first project of its kind supported by the government, all just to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood. That memory’s carried on by the fact that a family is seriously considering the emotional ramification of letting go of a testament to education, community, or even prospects of moving into a new home.

Belknap Lookout Will Always Be Remembered

Never overlook the vintage homes and neighborhoods, in other words. They’re up and coming. You can read about the new housing projects for Belknap Lookout all you want, and know that Grand Valley State University’s forking over the millions to bring up a community soaked in so much history.

You don’t know those neighborhoods until you look at the history behind them. The children who lived there. Those children who walk up and down those streets. When you do, you’ve witnessed the true history and can fully appreciate what is to come in the future. The power a community has can even affect just one family. That’s enough to make history, in my opinion.


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