Over 40 Years of CNA, Over 100 Years of Creston Community Organizing
By Gabe Savercool
You can thank Briggs Park for the Creston Neighborhood Association you know today. As many locals know, Briggs Park and Pool is a treasure to the neighborhood, especially during the hot summers. Over forty years ago, that treasure was threatened with closure due to a potential sale of the land to the Board of Education, who planned to turn the land into an athletic field complex. Faced with this news, ten local women whose families made frequent summer visits to the pool rallied together, nicknaming themselves the “Briggs Park Coalition” with the goal of gaining political recognition.
The Briggs Park Coalition was successful in raising public awareness, putting pressure on the mayor and City Commission to keep this valuable community resource viable. Many of the women involved in the fight to save Briggs Park, led by Kathy Kuhn, went on to be key members of the Creston Neighborhood Association (CNA). Although the CNA had existed prior to the Briggs Park Coalition, the fight to save Briggs Park and pool became the major goal of the association during this time period. CNA’s involvement in the successful effort to save the pool cemented its place in the community, garnering more public awareness and interest in the association. It was clear from that point on that the CNA would be a vibrant, active force in Creston.
Since its early days, raising the quality of life for all Crestonites has been a key concern for the Creston Neighborhood Association. This spirit of neighbors coming together and fighting for issues in their community is nothing new in Creston. In fact, Creston was home to the first community association in Grand Rapids.
In 1905, a group of Creston and North End businesspeople and civic leaders founded the Creston Citizens’ Association with the goals of encouraging business development and investment and to “secure favorable actions by the city relating to the improvement of streets, the establishment of parks and playgrounds, better lighting and police patrol, and from the board of education enlargement of our public school facilities.” This pioneering group was responsible for the naming of Creston (previously nicknamed Bloody Fifth, North End, or Fifth Ward), the development of Riverside and Briggs Parks, the sidewalks on Knapp and Plainfield, the Ann St. and Leonard St. Bridges, the Grand Rapids Streetcar extension to Creston, and Creston High School.
The legacy of the Creston Citizens’ Association lives on in CNA: many of CNA’s projects have addressed the same fundamental goals of the earlier organization. A few years ago, for instance, CNA helped to bring in funding for the Bioretention Islands on Plainfield Avenue, improving the neighborhood’s walkability and business desirability while decreasing pollution. Furthermore, Briggs Park has not been the only Park improved by the CNA. In 2009, the CNA, working with local community members, Amway, and KaBOOM! renovated the Sweet Street Park. CNA has also been active in advocating for improvement of other city parks in Creston and the North End.
For forty devoted years, CNA’s mission of improving the lives of Crestonites and giving a voice to the community has not wavered. CNA has been actively involved in building community resources, organizing family-friendly community events, and providing engagement opportunities for volunteers and future leaders.