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Why GR Forward: Preparing for smart, explosive growth takes citizen involvement

As the Grand Rapids community is rapidly evolving, I am excited to help us plan with "Design Thinking" as I serve on the GR Forward Steering Committee.
The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony /Courtesy of Mark Holzbach

Dana Friis-Hansen and I, with our city in the background

Dana Friis-Hansen and I, with our city in the background /Courtesy of Mark Holzbach

Grand Rapids Forward, a comprehensive planning process in envisioning a holistic vision for our future, is being guided by a volunteer steering committee. As part of the outreach and education of GR Forward, steering committee members will be sharing their stories monthly. The intent of each essay is to allow participants in GR Forward to describe why they are choosing to be involved and their hopes for its outcomes. -DGRI.


The Grand Rapids community is rapidly evolving. I want to help foster the continued evolution of an exemplary community where diverse stakeholders are in open-minded, constant, constructive and supportive communication with each other. I hope to help to promote and support an abundance mind-set that I’ve encounter in many of the people I’ve met here.

Grand Rapids is a place that is starting to experience explosive growth. Now is the time for us to learn from similar cities that have experienced explosive growth and for us to demonstrate how smart and proactive we can be as a community. By working hard and staying authentic to our true selves, we can shine lights and lead at every conceivable level.

I feel relatively new to Grand Rapids, having moved here from Austin, TX in July 2011 with my spouse of 26 years, Dana Friis-Hansen (GRAM Executive Director & CEO).

In 2013, I participated in Leadership Grand Rapids. It was my indispensable crash course for learning about the Grand Rapids community. Leadership Grand Rapids provided me background and perspective and gave me the confidence to quickly get involved in the Grand Rapids community by joining a number of local organization boards: the South Arena District Visioning Committee, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, River House Condo Association Board, West Grand Neighborhood Organization Board and others.

Aside from participating in many community events outside of our home, Dana and I have also found that convening Grand Rapidians of different backgrounds in our home for creative engagement around common themes empowers them individually and makes meaning for the whole community in unexpected, forward-focused ways. For example, we have a hosted cocktail and dinner parties at our home, and are amazed at the depth and breadth of people we have gotten to know in a short period of time and at the many new friendships that are born in our home between people we introduce and who introduce us to others- and the cycle goes on and on.

Grand Rapids has been quite welcoming and we want to “pass it forward,” and to visibly model Grand Rapids community civic engagement with the hope that it will encourage others.

The last time Grand Rapids carried out an effort similar to GR Forward was in 1995 with the “Voices and Visions” plan. It served this city very well. I am thrilled to be a member of the GR Forward Plan Steering Committee because it is an amazing opportunity for me to encourage people I meet to co-create an energizing future together.

The Grand Rapids area established itself as international design and entrepreneurial manufacturing region over multiple generations. It is a bastion of Design Thinking and is well on its way to becoming an academic discipline at places like Stanford University's D School and the IIT Institute of Design. I hope that the GR Forward planning process will reflect Design Thinking through and through and will take maximum advantage of the expertise of our historically strong local design community.

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