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The GR Press, Green and Grassroots?

October 26, 2009

On the front page of Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press the headline read, “From the Grass Roots: It’s Up to Advocates to Fund Green Initiatives.” The article by reporter Jim Harger tells the public that while the City of Grand Rapids is getting ready to finish up with its revised Master Plan, there is no money for some of its “Green” initiatives.

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The first section of the article cites the new City Manager Greg Sundstrom who says the city has no money to implement the recommendations that came out of the Green Gathering meetings hosted by the City of Grand Rapids. Also cited in the first part of the article is one of the Green Grand Rapids Committee members Jack Hoffman. Hoffman thinks that the volunteers in this effort can create a “Green Power movement.”

The rest of article is a summary of the six areas that Green Grand Rapids has identified; bicycling, local water, local parks, the Grand River, urban trees and local food.

Bicycling is the first theme presented and the Press story tells readers that the demand for more bike paths has resulted in a Bike Summit and a local bike coalition, but there are no plans offered on how the City will become more bike-friendly. The section ends with City Planner Suzanne Schulz saying, “A design team that reviews all city street projects will make sure bicycles are considered.” Not exactly a clear commitment.

The section on Parks and Recreation cites Steve Faber, the Executive Director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. Faber states that for the City to protect the existing urban green space “This is going to take an investment from private and public dollars to make this dream come true.” The organization asks people to spend time in the parks, participate in park clean ups and to contribute money.

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There are two sections that deal with water, one specifically for the Grand River and the other for local streams and water runoff. The focus of this section is on efforts to make the river more accessible for Kayakers and cites someone with the group Grand Rapids Whitewater. The group is focused on recreation and not on improving the water quality of the Grand River.

The other water section deals with contributing streams and storm water runoff. The West Michigan Environmental Action Council is sourced in this section, since the group makes local stream projects a priority. WMEAC does stream clean ups, education and some stream restoration such as planting trees near streams. Nothing was mentioned about the current condition of the streams and whether or not local industry contributes to contamination.

WMEAC is also the lead group for the urban forestry section. The article cites a member of the Urban Forestry Committee about the importance of protecting and expanding trees. “Green Grand Rapids wants the City to add 500 trees a year plus replace the ash trees that die.” However, there is no information about how this will happen and if there is any money available. The article does provide a link to the Save Your Ash Campaign, but that link does not include information on how saving trees or planting trees will be funded.

The last section to be dealt with is local food. The emphasis here is on the need to have more community gardens and local farmers markets. Some ideas are listed in the article but the only concrete plan seems to be to have a year-round farmers market downtown that is being spearheaded by a group called Grand Action. Grand Action was founded by local businessman such as John Canepa, David Frey and Dick DeVos. This “non-profit development group” was behind the construction of the arena and the convention center. Here the reporter doesn’t ask any questions about whether or not the effort to bring a year-round farmers market to downtown Grand Rapids would benefit the downtown business community primarily, particularly the friends of DeVos, Canepa and Frey.

While there is certainly a great deal to be done to make Grand Rapids a more sustainable community, the Grand Rapids Press needs to do a better job at investigating the claims made by such efforts as Green Grand Rapids in order for residents to be better informed about what is really being done in their name.

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