It’s an occupational hazard for planners— when we travel, we can’t help but analyze the places we visit from a planning perspective. My family and I recently went on our annual summer vacation near Holland, Michigan (my kids are the fifth generation in my family to do so). Downtown Holland is doing a lot of things right and this is evident to casual visitors and planners alike. Holland has the benefit of amazing water resources (Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa) and a small college (Hope College) but I suspect that good, old-fashioned planning is behind a lot of downtown Holland’s appeal which means that similar results are possible for most any small or mid-sized city. My observations are below.
An emphasis on the authentic
Eighth Street is the heart of downtown and has a concentration of locally owned restaurants and retail shops. While a few chains do exist, it is clear that local ownership is valued and strong. Many shops cater to the “lake life” of visitors and residents and Michigan’s reputation for fantastic beer is represented by New Holland Brewing’s brewery and pub. Many buildings along the street are historic and infill development has been sensitive in terms of scale and orientation. There is a sense that change over time has been organic which is a credit to the Downtown Development Authority’s standards and design guidelines. Eighth Street is also a wonderful example of what mixed-use development looks like for smaller cities. For example, a senior living facility exists right there on “main street”- a logical use in a great location- close to restaurants, services, and events.
It’s easy to get around
Parking for Eighth Street businesses is concentrated in publicly owned lots located behind the buildings. Wayfinding signage is consistent and clear and bike infrastructure is abundant. Streetscaping has created opportunities to hang out and enjoy the street’s offerings including beer, ice cream and coffee. There are frequent events where the street is closed off to auto traffic and pedestrians can roam free. Pedestrian access and safety has been carefully considered including mid-block crossings, benches, and streetscape.
Reasons to come back
It seems like there is always something happening in Downtown Holland- frequent events include live music, art exhibits, street performers, family fun, and an annual summer sidewalk sale that extends into the street. Downtown Holland also has an unparalleled farmers’ market (twice per week). The market is strategically located next to the Civic Center, which provides some efficiency (parking and administration). The market is located on a public street that is closed to cars during events- a very efficient use of space that provides shelter to vendors and a gateway to downtown.
I love mixing business with pleasure and I love to see communities where collaboration, hard work, and planning result in great places.