The role transformative placemaking can take in building community

Grand Haven City Council Council Member Karen Lowe is among many in the Tri-Cities community coming together to learn about and tackle tough topics.

“There’s no secret that in today's environment, there's a lot of polarized thinking out there,” Lowe says, “So we've got to do a lot more talking and listening to one another if we're going to make progress and move ahead and position Grand Haven and our surrounding communities for the future.”
Jennifer Vey is a senior fellow with Brookings Metro and the director of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking. (Shandra Martinez)
She’s taking part in the Tuesday Forum Series, a collaboration of the Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg and the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.

The series was created to bring together area businesses, local leaders, and community members to learn about and discuss issues critical to Northwest Ottawa County and plan for a shared future through a six-part breakfast speaker series, “Envisioning Our Community’s Future.”

The most recent session, on April 11, welcomed the series’ third speaker, Jennifer S. Vey, who presented “Transformative Placemaking: Creating Vibrant, Connected & Inclusive Communities.” The breakfast session was sponsored by Grand Haven Board of Light & Power and Westwind Construction.⁠

Vey is a senior fellow with Brookings Metro and the director of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking. She's a co-editor of two books: “Hyperlocal: Place Governance In A Fragmented World,” and “Retooling for Growth: Building a 21st Century Economy in America's Older Industrial Areas.”

‘Stronger vision of community’

Vey spoke about the concept of transformative placemaking on the hyperlocal scale as a way to solve problems and create better communities. 
Jennifer Vey presents during the Tuesday Forum Series on April 11, 2023. (Shandra Martinez)
“I hope that people take away a message around the need to think about place and community and the kind of places they want to create, and for whom they want to create them,” she said after the session, “and look at how do we include people in a conversation, to invest in the kind of strategies to get us to a stronger vision of community.”.

During her two-day visit to the area, Vey says she was impressed with investments that have been made to increase access to the waterfront as well as other amenities such as decorative lights through downtown Spring Lake and its new farmers market building.

Grand Haven City Councilmember Karen Lowe (Shandra Martinez)“It's clear that people care deeply about the community and want to invest in the community,” Vey says. “I do think that because it's a pretty prosperous community, it does run the risk of complacency, and making sure that you continue not just to recognize the amenities that you have but think about how you want to continue to make those investments to create a welcoming atmosphere for diverse people in your community.”

 “Otherwise, you run the risk of stagnation and having young people and people of different races and ethnicities and income levels who don't feel welcome here. And then you have an aging community that was once great, and I think that's where you don't want to see yourself.”

Lowe agrees. 

“We're thinking a little bit more about the decisions that we're making at a local level and whether they are driven by complacency versus looking for future generations, and what future generations need from our community,” she says.

Peeling back the layers

Before retiring and settling in Grand Haven, Lowe had an extensive career in consulting and management experience in business strategy, process improvement and technology implementation as a former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and as a vice president and general manager with IBM. 
More than 150 people attended the Tuesday Forum Series on April 11, 2023. (Chamber)
Prior to her election to City Council, Lowe was a commissioner on the city’s Historic Conservation District Commission. An amateur historian, she published her first book on one of Grand Haven’s historic districts in 2019. 

“This is really a terrific series that looks at all these interconnected layers,” she says.

For example, businesses need a strong workforce so they and the community can grow. But as the price of real estate goes up – “which people think is really good” – younger families needing affordable starter homes are forced to look elsewhere.

“This affects our school enrollment and our workforce because we're no longer accessible,” Lowe says.

The next session is on April 25 with Norm Van Eeden Petersman, who will present “Strong Towns: Breaking Out of the Housing Trap.”

Read more:

Community conversation gives youth wider perspective

‘Real conversations’ part of Tuesday Forum series

Chamber, GHACF partner on ‘Envisioning Our Community’s Future’ series

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.