Planning DoneWell- We Are Newaygo
By Ken DeLaat
I AM NEWAYGO, an initiative aimed at developing a Master Plan for the future of this increasingly robust town along the banks of the Mighty Muskegon got some traction this past week with a pair of gatherings held in the building that once housed the museum.
Yes, the historic structure that looms over the fish sculptures and playground equipment at Riverfront Park was dusted off a bit and made into a makeshift meeting room as a way to connect the past of the city with a prospective vision created for the coming years.
The city and the Newaygo Economic Development Office developed this process to give community members input into the inevitable changes coming to Newaygo. Inevitable because growth begets the need for change and this is an area that is destined to continue its growth.
There is a youthful vibrancy to the downtown area with an array of businesses varied enough to suit the needs of nearly any browsers whether they be residents, part timers or travelers, but the hub is just a part of the story. An energy exists in Newaygo extending beyond the downtown area. You can see it in the optimism leading to additional businesses sprouting up or taking over previously abandoned sites along the M-37 corridor and beyond.
And with this spectre of change looming ahead comes the need for planning. A proactive not reactive response to needs.
The initial meetings focused on Walkability. In each session 3-4 dozen folks gathered to hear from Suzanne Schulz, Director of Planning for the City of Grand Rapids who led a series of interactive exercises aimed at developing ideas. If you’ve ever been through strategic planning with an organization and have a familiarity with the concept think of it in those terms. A group of individuals working toward developing a plan for moving forward. It can be best described as painstakingly rewarding because the process, while difficult at times, yields rewards from having each opinion and input valued. People may not have gotten what they wanted going in but they were listened to and became part of the decision making.
Like I said , not an easy task, even for an organization with some common interests.
Now expand it into an entire community.
This is a bold move by the folks behind this initiative because, in truth it can be a whole lot easier to allow those in leadership positions to make these kind of decisions. There would always be some backlash perhaps but change without a bit of backlash is a myth anyway.
The right way to do it? Absolutely.
Inclusiveness has been the message from the get-go and anyone who has not heard of this work being done might perhaps be a social (media and/or otherwise) recluse or simply possess no interest in the matter because, seriously, it is all over everywhere locally whether online or otherwise and seems to be a primary topic of conversation among many in pairs or groups.
All have been invited to chime in as organizers have made it clear that the participation they seek not be limited to city residents but include all who have connections through work, church, school, or business. There is an “I AM NEWAYGO facebook site that encourages input and draws a wide variety of comments (as fb posts seem predestined to do). If one wants to be an active participant in this process there are few if any roadblocks to doing so because access for community members is at its very cornerstone.
Because when you are part of the process you own a piece of it. Fact is, there will never be consensus but those capable of dialogue (as opposed to those merely seeking an audience) will find a way to compromise and come up with a plan of action that fits best for the city and the people who love it.
You just have to show up, my friend.
Thursday October 26th Jeff Speck a city planner, urban designer and advocate for walkable cities is being brought in for a presentation being held at the high school beginning at 6pm. If you’ve not seen the TED talk he does on walkability please give it a peek. If you don’t know what a TED talk is (because not that long ago I was among you) finding out will deliver untold future entertainment, awareness and enlightenment.
And now few words from folks about the meetings.
Scott Faulkner, Newaygo Economic Development Office
I Am Newaygo! is off to a great start for only one reason: People care enough about our city to show up and let their voices be heard.
These two kickoff meetings signal just the beginning of a larger and longer process that requires stakeholder input in order to be successful.
What we can and will end up with is a Master Plan designed with serious stakeholder input, making it much more likely to result in an even better Newaygo in the months and years ahead.
Jon Schneider Newaygo City Manager
I was pleased with the turnout and excited to see new faces. It's important to get input from the community. We are all members of the community and need to work together for the common good and a brighter future. There's a lot of momentum in Newaygo and it's exciting to be a part of it.
Kathy Misak Community Member
I appreciated the opportunity to gather and seek info from others. I especially enjoyed having a well versed facilitator.
Donna Friar Business Owner
I'm thrilled to be part of this amazing community that thinks and plans ahead. The meeting made me get excited all over again about having an interest in this town and even though I'm ready to retire, maybe I can convey that to someone new.
Elizabeth Pitzer Library Board Member
These are good first steps. It’s important for the community to have input if people are to be getting on board with changes.
There will have to be compromise. One person might want bike lanes and another may not want traffic slowed down by them. Both viewpoints are valid and need to be listened to.
I like what the city leaders are trying to do. If the walkability alone improves it will be a huge step…. no pun intended.
Rod Geers Community Member
It was wonderful to experience a community meeting that seemed to have a holistic approach to the issue of planning and development in respect to a master plan.
Eric Johnson City Council Member
It was great to see so many members of the community involved as we begin our master planning process. The plan from here is just that, to plan. It will be a process that can take upto a year or even longer. So we need all members of our community involved during this time. I am Newaygo! Is a platform we are using to help engage with community members. And it’s not just residents getting involved either. It’s everyone that enjoys Newaygo for various reasons. We will have many public events moving forward including the lecture by Jeff Speck at the High School so stay tuned and stay engaged!