By Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos ©2021 Bill Gemmell
AFTER A YEAR OF SO MUCH CHANGE, LOSS AND LONELINESS, it feels almost necessary to search for the bright spots. To look back and find some good and look forward to the fresh opportunities of a new year. In living up to its name, Pleasant Ridge seems to be doing just that.
MAYOR KURT METZGER has found that the strong sense of community and familiarity among residents has helped many get through the worst days of the past year.
“With the arrival of Spring and vaccines, to see more and more neighbors out, walking dogs, pushing strollers or biking indicates a change toward normalcy,” he said. “Just the idea that we’ve been in our homes and isolated – you see this look on people’s faces when we see each other on the streets. Almost a release.”
Others like Ann Perry, one of Pleasant Ridge’s four City Commissioners, found that the forced transition to virtual meetings and events has allowed for increased community involvement.
“That’s one of the most important things I, and all of us, do as commissioners. We’re here to listen to what residents are saying and make sure those things are reflected in policy and practice,” she said. “With remote meetings, it’s given people more access to that. They might not have come to meetings before but now it’s so easy for more people to interact and that has been an excellent experience.”
And this opportunity for resident involvement extends past just virtual commission meetings. Every City department, board, foundation and block club benefits from the involvement of residents and volunteers.
“This pandemic has been such a psychological strain on everyone’s emotional health and having those connections makes a huge difference,” Perry said. “Anyone seeking ways to connect can always reach out to any of the city commission members through the city website. We can always help connect them to different groups and communities.”
“Despite 105 reported cases of COVID and one COVID related death over the year, I think we survived pretty well. Budget-wise we were not impacted, as we were able to increase our general fund balance. Obviously, services were delayed and offices were closed but, unlike other communities, we are mainly residential and most of the impact was on social life and activity,” Metzger said. “Outside of that, as a City, we were able to continue most of the projects we had planned.”
Those projects include the addition of two new pavilions in the city: One on the East Side at Gainsboro Park and the other at the community pool on the West Side.
“I think those will be really great spaces for people to gather and have their parties and little events. They are a really nice addition to the park and pool area and are beautifully designed,” Perry said.
As we look forward to 2021, there are plans for even more projects and city improvements, including collaboration with the City of Ferndale on a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant to add bicycle tracks to Woodward Avenue and streetscape updates. The largest project beginning this year will be updating the water lines throughout Pleasant Ridge.
“THE BIGGEST THING WE’RE NOW FACING IS THIS STATE MANDATE to get rid of all the lead lines,” Metzger said. “We’re trying to find ways to minimize the financial impact on residents, but it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have a town hall in April to explain why it’s necessary, what the ramifications are and why we just can’t absorb the cost ourselves.”
“It’s an almost unintentional benefit of having such sandy soil, our water mains never broke,” Perry added. “Unfortunately, that has put us in a tough situation because they are now over 100-years-old and we have to do these lead line updates.”
While this new year might bring new challenges, Metzger wants to assure residents that they are exploring all the potential ways to ease the pain of these necessary updates and have them concentrate on things to look forward to this year, including the re-opening of the community pool.
“The pool is the number-one attraction, followed by summer camp, the swim team and those kinds of activities,” he said. “That’s what people miss the most so we’re just hoping that we can reopen and operate as close to normal as possible.”
“Our Recreation Department is so smart and love what they do. It’s fun to watch them figure out how to navigate this,” Perry added. “I think this will be an exciting summer!”
Maybe one last bright spot of the past year is the opportunity to find excitement and joy in the little things in 2021.
“While many individual lives have been altered, I believe that the overall effect of the pandemic is to further tighten our community bonds,” Metzger adds. “We’re all in this together and the idea of getting back to some level of normalcy will be plenty exciting.”