Here’s Why Living in Grand Rapids is a Big Deal for Families
Considering a city to be “family-friendly” can mean many things to different people. Surely a low cost of living, thriving job market, and affordable house is a consideration for some.
A rich entertainment and arts culture that draws people of all ages is a big factor for others.
Then there are those who consider family-friendly to mean active and vibrant local communities – finding a place where their family can fit in and belong.
The great thing about Grand Rapids is that it has all these attributes, plus many more. Families are attracted to here because of its diverse qualities – there really is something for everyone.
When my husband and I were starting a family 25 years ago, we didn’t choose Grand Rapids because of a job or family. We moved to Grand Rapids because we saw the potential of what the city had to offer and decided to move to where we saw long-term success for our brand new family.
School and job opportunities aren’t the only reasons many people move here. Here are a few more reasons Grand Rapids is ranked one of the nation’s best places to live and why families fall in love with this place we call home.
*We originally reported on this story in 2019.
Four Parents Chime in on Why They Love Living in Grand Rapids
Jennifer Loves Her Simultaneous Small Town/Suburban/Downtown Life
Like many families, Jennifer’s wound up in the Grand Rapids area due to a job opportunity. Moving from Florida, they originally settled south of Kalamazoo, but soon found that their community was a little too small for their lifestyle.
Their children craved an environment with more opportunities and activity, so when one of their sons was invited to play for a hockey organization out of Grand Rapids, they decided to shift communities and settled in the Wyoming/Byron Center area.
Jennifer homeschools her children – her two sons are 14 and 7, and her daughter is a freshman at a local university. The educational opportunities for homeschoolers, especially in the Wyoming area, are close to endless thanks to the large homeschool community in West Michigan. Jennifer lives practically in the backyard of the Home School Building and has access to the many resources available to her there.
Jennifer’s family appreciates the accessibility they have to all that Grand Rapids has to offer.
“I love that we are 15 minutes from downtown… we have the perks of living near a city, but we have a lot less traffic on the south side of town.”
A fitness instructor working at the nearby YMCA, Jennifer says they use these facilities very often to keep the kids active as well as Gezon Park that backs up backs up to their house. They also have libraries, restaurants, and, as a hockey family, ice rinks nearby at their disposal.
“I like that we feel like we’re city, but we still have all of these perks of living in the suburbs or even a small town.”
Jennifer hopes that living in this area will set a standard for her children’s future homes. She hopes it will help them grow to love and seek out places like Grand Rapids where they are challenged to stretch themselves.
“I hope they remember just to find a place where they can explore, where they can do as much as possible, where they have opportunities… I have three very different children all several years apart, and they’re all happy here because there’s something here for each of them to do all the time.”
Tomarra Loves the Wealth of Affordable Family-Friendly Events in GR
For some people, Grand Rapids is the one place where they feel destined to be. After leaving the state for college, Tomarra made it her goal to return to her beloved hometown.
“My heart always wanted to come back home.”
A City High School graduate, Tomarra believes that Grand Rapids is one of the best places to raise a family.
She, her husband of 17 years, and their four children live in the southeast side of Grand Rapids where they have five parks or playgrounds within walking distance, as well as a library and several stores and restaurants.
Tomarra loves using the resources around her and being a part of her community, especially in the summer.
“I love to be able to do things in the summer. Berry picking, Maranda’s park parties, especially anything I can do outside in the community, especially free things because when you have four kids you want to stretch your dollars as much as you can.”
Teaching her children, who are ages five through 12, to value and give to their community, Tomarra and her family serve Christmas treats to two nearby firehouses, the local veterans home, and the Spectrum Hospital NICU unit staff and families. They load up their vehicle with packages and baskets of goodies each Christmas Eve to show their appreciation. Tomarra said this tradition began the year after their third child was born prematurely, and they had to spend several months in the NICU.
“After that, I wanted to start a tradition – Something where my kids can actually give back and be doing something for somebody else.”
Tomarra said she hopes her children will remember the simple fun they had growing up in Grand Rapids and enjoying everything the city has to offer such as park parties and library programs.
“We are able to do so many things that don’t necessarily cost money, and our community is so rich in activities and events. I hope that they’ll remember those things.”
Anastasia Said Good-Bye to L.A. Traffic Without Losing City Life
For some, Grand Rapids fulfills that perfect not-too-big, not-too-small desire, along with the perfect mid-state, not-too-far from other big cities, yet gloriously close to the beauty of the Lakeshore location. After 10 years of living big-city life in Los Angeles, Anastasia and her husband were able to find in the Grand Rapids Forest Hills area the perfect size and location.
“We chose Grand Rapids because it felt like it offers the little big-city experience we we had grown to love but right in our home state,” Anastasia said.
Now that she has welcomed a two-year-old son, Anastasia especially appreciates her super family-friendly area, good housing options, and greater ease in getting around.
“Coming from LA, we wanted ease and privacy. We felt we could still have the city experience without the additional stress that comes from living in the big city.”
A Lansing native who went to Grand Valley State University, Anastasia returned to the Grand Rapids area to be closer to family, but also to the many close friends she made during her time at GVSU. She said raising her son alongside her longtime friends is an important factor in moving to this area.
Now that they are settled here, they enjoy the local YMCA, and use memberships to many of the family-friendly establishments downtown like the John Ball Zoo and the many museums.
Most of all, as self-proclaimed “foodies,” they enjoy the wide array of quality restaurants that Grand Rapids offers. Sharing their love of good food with their son is a joy for them, as are weekly trips to Sprinkles Donut Shop in Ada – a favorite with their little family.
The most important thing about raising her son in Grand Rapids, though, is watching him grow up in a place she loves and where she has formed important bonds herself.
“Being able to have access to all these great things… watching him grow up with people we love, that’s priceless,” she says.
Megan Found a Diverse, Active Neighborhood in GR After Living Abroad
The constant activity of Eastown is a perfect fit for Megan and her young family.
After living in New York City and Europe, and traveling in Asia, Megan and her husband were used to city living. Both Michigan natives, after living abroad they moved back to West Michigan for a job opportunity and decided to give Grand Rapids five years to see how things would pan out here.
“It’s been almost nine years now, and I don’t see why we would leave.”
After living in tightly-packed spaces and communities for many years, Megan said she couldn’t imagine not living where all the action is.
Since moving to Eastown, Megan and her husband have welcomed a son, 6, and four year-old twin daughters. She loves raising her children in their diverse and active community.
“One thing that I do love is the exposure that my kids have to people who are different from themselves, which is really important to me after all my world travels and living in cities. I really value the fact that there’s socio-economic diversity and racial diversity in a city”
Megan said their family routine revolves around the convenience of living in the city – they bike or walk to practically every place they need to be. She said she is happy that her kids see their family as active and part of a community and not just moving between things in a car.
She said while they don’t have a lot of privacy living so close to their neighbors, the advantages are close relationships and bonds with those around them.
She said she hopes the desire for community is something her children will always have.
“I hope that they will remember a generosity of spirit. We are very neighborly… We all really care about where we are and choose to live here for a reason. I hope they find themselves in relationship to their world. Not in isolation, but a posture of community.”
Why do YOU love GR?
Leave us a comment below and let us know why your family loves Grand Rapids!