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State Street gets its life back through re//STATE

The desolate area of State Street in the Heartside neighborhood has been in desperate need of revitalization for years. This weekend will highlight the street's potential.
re//STATE volunteers

re//STATE volunteers /courtesy of Josh Leffingwell

Underwriting support from:


Together with the businesses, volunteers and residents assisting re//STATE, the event couldn't happen without the following sponsors:

Friendly Corps

Williams & Works

West Michigan Environmental Action Council

Better Block GR

Better Block GR /re//STATE

Better Block GR: re//STATE

Better Block GR: re//STATE /courtesy of re//STATE

As much as we hate to see it, every city has them: streets that, over time, have transformed from bustling economic hubs to vast, desolate concrete waste. Their public green spaces become neglected, morphing into empty parking lots while their neighboring, once bustling buildings find themselves speckled with boarded or broken windows. Here in Grand Rapids, State Street has fallen victim to this neglect and unwanted transformation. This weekend, however, it has the opportunity to revisit its potential and become an urban space of business, music, transportation and community.

For months, Lynee Wells, Tyler Doornbos and Josh Leffingwell have been planning Better Block GR: re//STATE, a citizen-driven city improvement project focused on reimagining State Street between Madison and Jefferson SE. The event, taking place this Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19, will feature various local businesses who will set up temporary pop-up shops and outdoor retail spaces. The focus of the event is to demonstrate what the intervention of these businesses could look, feel and act like if they were actually to be implemented in the space.

"We want to both show the city how you can transform neighborhoods with empowered citizens and be able to help people understand what goes into making a great business district," says Leffingwell. "We want to create a place and we want the neighborhood to feel a sense of pride in this block that has been run down for years. If we can show the success of these interventions, we will be able to utilize these in other areas of the city."

Better Block is a national movement that originated in Dallas, Texas with the intention of addressing areas of cities that were not performing well, for whatever reason, and revitalizing them with people-focused urban design. When Wells, Leffingwell and Doornbos were introduced to the idea, they immediately knew it would function well in Grand Rapids.

"We knew we could utilize the principles of Better Block to create our own event that would be specific to and best benefit State Street," says Doornbos. "In creating re//STATE, we want to help people understand that you don't have to wait for the City to plan your block, you can build it yourself. We also want to show off some best practices and some new ideas to the city of Grand Rapids - we have nine projects taking place this weekend that have never been done in the city of Grand Rapids - it's pretty exciting."

Various local businesses are showing support by having a temporary presence on State Street for the event. Committed businesses include Hopscotch Children's Boutique, whose items will be sold 50% off; 6.25 Paper; Mercy Leatherwork; Citizenshirt; Gnarly Varley; and Grand Rapids Pizza Delivery. Leffingwell also expresses that, as crucial as it is to have the support and presence of local businesses, this event can't happen or be effective without the support of residents and volunteers.

"To see the neighbors and those who live in the area come out to help, even when it was scrubbing mold off of the inside of a building, has been incredibly rewarding," says Leffingwell. "We often talk about wanting neighborhood participation in [city] planning, but in all my time organizing I have never seen this level of participation and this level of excitement. We can tell that everyone really feels like we can really change this city. I think that even the most cynical people will be amazed at what a bunch of volunteers can do."

The group encourages the general public to take part in the event this weekend, which is running from 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. on Saturday and noon - 5 p.m. on Sunday, weather permitting. They are also still in need of volunteers. Learn more at the event's Web site at or on the group's Facebook page

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