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Last week the Greater Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network (GGRREN) was made aware of plans by Rockford Construction to develop specific areas around Eastern Avenue and Cottage Grove Street, in southeast Grand Rapids. As a network of individuals and organizations committed to the elimination of racialized outcomes in greater Grand Rapids, we want to make sure that ongoing plans for development and growth in our neighborhoods create systems of opportunity for residents of color, and are aligned with what residents themselves have said they want. GGRREN believes that community input, genuine engagement, and sensitivity to racial dynamics, are essential aspects of all development activities.
"We don't want a carbon copy of other “developed” neighborhoods, like the Wealthy Street corridor, which in terms of business ownership, patronage, and culture have become almost exclusively white. Neighbors want improvements, but they want to be included in the process. Exclusion and marginalization have been the narratives of the past. Inclusion and engagement need to be the narrative of the future," says GGRREN member and Baxter neighbor, Kyle Lim.
The goal of this statement is to clarify the network's stance as it relates to ongoing plans for development and growth in the aforementioned neighborhoods.
Why are we talking about race? The development plans are situated in or along communities that are largely populated by people of color. This is important because of our city’s collective racialized history, which has conferred benefits and access to opportinty for white populations while creating roadblocks and systemic disadvantages to populations of color. Despite our best intentions, race continues to define our lived experience in an inequitable way.
It is important for us to frame our position in the context of history. Neighborhoods of color in Grand Rapids have endured a legacy of chronic disinvestment and exploitation by the hand of both public and private interests. Despite these disadvantages, people in these neighborhoods have worked to create a sense of community, which speaks to the resilience of the residents of these neighborhoods. These residents have dreams and visions of what their neighborhood can and should look like - dreams that are universally held across race, zip code, and background.
In light of this, GGRREN believes that any new development in these communities needs to have a robust and complete process of engagement that includes the voice of neighbors in both the ideation and decision-making process. These neighborhoods do not need “saving.” We believe in the wisdom of community voice and believe that the communities most often possess the best answers to community challenges.
Due to the legacy of chronic disinvestment and exploitation in these neighborhoods, neighbors and residents have inherited a significant amount of distrust regarding “big development.” Too often “community development,” “urban revitalization,” or “neighborhood improvement” are used as coded language for plans that maximize profit on the backs marginalized communities. We do not believe that profit and genuine neighborhood investment are mutually exclusive, but realize that in order for both to happen transparency and engagement are critical. GGRREN calls for increased transparency around the decision making process, along with the creation of platforms for community input into decision-making and the identification of solutions to community challenges.
Most major developments utilize public dollars in the form of tax credits, or development incentives. As members of the Grand Rapids community, GGRREN issues a call to our city and state officials for greater accountability to the desires and wishes of our communities. We urge community members to contact their local representatives to let them know how we want our public dollars to be spent.
We recommend Rockford Construction issue a race-conscious neighborhood impact statement for both the Eastern Ave and Cottage Grove sites.
We recommend Rockford Construction develop a comprehensive community engagement plan to garner community input at both the ideation and decision-making stages.
We recommend local city officials, particularly Third Ward commissioners Senita Lenear and David Allen, conduct listening sessions to discuss the implications of this development, and to get neighbors' input into their decision making process.
We recommend the implementation of tools, such as community benefit agreements, to ensure that the interests of all parties are adequately represented.
We also urge all neighbors to attend the free community dinner & conversation about these concerns tonight, March 15, 2016, at 5 p.m. in the LINC Gallery. There will also be bus transportation provided to the City Commissioners Meeting at 7 p.m. where we can make our voice heard together about what we would like as a community. The LINC Gallery is at 341 Hall Street SE.
GGRREN is a network of over 200 local individuals and organizations supporting the advancement of racial equity in Grand Rapids. For more information contact Colin Smith at [email protected] or 989-859-6965.