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Protest Against Gentrification Dismissed as Prank

December 29, 2010

On Christmas Day, merchants and restaurateurs in the Wealthy and Cherry Street neighborhoods received messages. They were not Yuletide greetings, but declarations of class warfare. Painted on storefront windows, a garage at an ICCF townhouse, and on bricks thrown through windows, the protest was clearly about gentrification and a group of people being pushed out of their own neighborhood by business development.

The Green Well Gastro Pub, the Richard App Gallery, The Sparrows, The Meanwhile Bar, and The Winchester Restaurant were all targets of the protesters.

According to a report filed with The Rapidian, messages on bricks and painted on windows included the Anarchist symbol (an A in a circle); “Fuck You!”; “Yuppie Scum Yer Time Has Come,” a drawing of a capitalist pig, “Get Out,” “Urban Renewal = Classist + Racist,” “Gentrify This!” and “This is Not Your Neighborhood.” One brick was decorated with dollar signs.

The Rapidian commentary produced speculation that the damage had been done by kids, echoing the fact that in the site’s article, Winchester owner Paul Lee stated flatly, “I don’t feel that this is obviously anyone that is really from the neighborhood.”

Lee amplified his statement in the second of two articles published by The Grand Rapids Press on the MLive site December 25 and in the paper on December 26. In that article, Lee is quoted as stating: “This is the mark of probably a suburban kid who had too much time and who doesn’t understand what’s really going on in this neighborhood.”

Several other business owners, such as co-owner Tami VandenBerg from The Meanwhile Bar, started reiterating Lee’s statements. VandenBerg told the Press that she thought it was “disgruntled kids” or “college kids” who had painted the graffiti and thrown the bricks.

But by December 27, Lee’s story about the culprits had changed again. Interviewed by WOOD-TV, he did not mention his “suburban kids” theory. Lee called some of the statements painted on his business (especially “This is not your neighborhood”) “ignorant” because he and his wife live above their restaurant. After the WOOD-TV reporter summarized that neighbors and business owners worked hand-in-hand and “have reclaimed this neighborhood,” the reporter quoted Lee as saying that he knew the protesters were not people from the neighborhood “because most drug dealers don’t use words like ‘gentrification.’”

None of these speculations about the motive of the protesters appeared in the first article by the Press, published on MLive on Christmas Day. That article was shorter and seemed more to the point, reporting that the attacks were “vandalism warning the businesses that were seen as intruders in their respective neighborhoods.”

Although the business owners’ feelings about vandalism to their property is understandable, it should be noted that the story is evolving to frame the event as a kind of high school prank instead of considering it as a possible response to the gentrification of the neighborhoods in question.

GRIID has reported on various aspects of gentrification, including a report about a community forum last spring to discuss the problem in the Heartside area and a story in the Press about the “revitalization” of Wealthy Street.

The Press articles and the WOOD-TV report ignored what can be considered the inevitable downside of business development:

• Longtime residents and even some business owners have been forced out of the area by higher rents.

•As property taxes in the neighborhoods go up, some residents will lose their homes.

•Minorities who have been in the neighborhood for years are feeling pressured by the predominantly White influx of new business owners and residents.

When one looks at the messages left on Christmas Day, it appears that they point to this feeling of alienation. They also speak to the idea that gentrification inevitably brings about changes that are detrimental to the poor. They present the concept that urban renewal can carry a racist element with it. They underscore that some people in these neighborhoods might feel their lives are being dismantled for the profits of a few business owners.

Paul Lee’s statements, along with some of those posted at The Rapidian, seem to be a denial that this element to the changes in the neighborhood even exists. Conferences such as the one held by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and meetings for further development, such as the year-round “farmers’ market” complex, are not as inclusive as they could be in giving long-time residents a venue to voice their concerns and assert their rights in this changing environment,

People left out of any dialogue will find a way to make themselves heard. It’s an unsettling thought to those who are putting their money and development interests into Cherry and Wealthy Streets. But rather than dismissing it or denying it, addressing it in constructive ways could lead to a better dialogue than bricks.

The Right to the City movement based in New York City has tackled issues around urban development and gentrification for several years now. They have numerous resources on their webpage with links to other resources being used around the country that may be useful for any discussion that might take place in Grand Rapids.


154 Comments leave one →
  1. holly permalink
    December 29, 2010 3:42 pm

    i’m really curious… how many residents and which businesses have been pushed out by higher rent prices? what percentage has the rent increased? how much have the property taxes increased here? what’s the stats on what has happened to living costs and what is the projected increase from these small businesses that have opened on the wealthy corridor?

  2. srdailey permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:03 pm

    i’m also curious about actual numbers here, proof that gentrification is actually happening in this neighborhood. otherwise, it’s all just theory.

  3. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:10 pm

    Holly, much of this information comes word-of-mouth because the local media is only reporting on the positive side of the Wealthy/Cherry business development.

    Take, for example, a house that was recently listed for rent on Wealthy Street in the 800 block. Houses there used to rent for about $600, sometimes less. This house is on the market for $1,195 a month.

    Another example: apartments above the Electric Cheetah are now being rented for $950 a month.

    Apartments in the 600 block of Wealthy are renting for $1,000 a piece–these are part of Todd Ponstein’s development. There are also more and more ads that state that students are unwelcome to apply for various apartments.

    None of these apartments are affordable to longtime residents of the area, and some of these were spaces that had been renting for much lower rents; were emptied out; and now, after “reclaimation” are being rented for some of the higher rents in the city.

    One example of a business that had to shut down because rent became unaffordable was George Bayard’s art gallery on the Wealthy Street Theater block. Mr. Bayard was an anchor of the area for a long time, was active in helping with the theater development, and then couldn’t keep his business going because the area became too “desirable” for his business to afford.

    As for property values and taxes, you can look these up yourself at the City Clerk’s office if you’re interested. All the data is there. As one example, a lot that was sold in 1999 for $2,000 was recently sold for $22,835. It gives you an idea.

  4. Rod permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:22 pm

    I live right off wealthy between the winchester and meanwhile. This neighborhood is awful. The new business is a godsend to an area plagued by crime. My car has been broken into twice and my house was broken into while I was home last week, all within 6 months of moving here. They tracked down 2 teenage black kids a couple blocks away. You stated: “Minorities who have been in the neighborhood for years are feeling pressured by the predominantly White influx of new business owners and residents.” Im curious as to what this “pressure” is? is this how they respond to it? I can’t wait to move out. This neighborhood is by no means changing anytime soon. If they are against gentrification and “urban renewal” then let them have their crime and economic issues. Heaven forbid someone would want to bring a store into this area to help employ people.

    Oh yeah and rent has not gone up. The landlord is practically paying me to live here. People are moving out because I’m sure they can no longer afford it. Take for example my neighbors. The residents never left the house and had people going in and out at all hours of the night. 2 months later they were kicked out. Pretty sure it wasn’t high rent that was the cause. Maybe I’m bias because my house got broken into and I had to call the cops but it’s just an observation.

    As far as the grafitti? 1 to 100 it was some stoned hipster kids looking to make a statement.

  5. DaveyK permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:22 pm

    I find it a little ridiculous to automatically attach racism to urban renewal. Last I checked, anyone can be poor. I also don’t like that it was said that it’s for the profit of a few business owners. How about all of the people that go there that it’s benefiting? If it weren’t for them, there would be no profit. Also, the business owners are not the ones that raise rent. I’m sure they would love for rent to stay low.

    Honestly though, it’s a bit of a catch 22. I don’t like higher rent either and cannot afford a lot of the costs downtown now. But, I’m entirely okay with living a little further because I enjoy those businesses and, really, those areas are MUCH nicer. Shall we just go back to run down and abandoned buildings?

  6. srdailey permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:23 pm

    but what’s the solution? stagnate growth and development to preserve the neighborhood?

    i just think it’s ridiculous that places like the meanwhile get attacked when places that actually bring down the neighborhood, like the wealthy market, go unscathed.

  7. DaveyK permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:32 pm

    I also find the Meanwhile being part of this at all a little weird. I’m sure that, when they were opening for the first time, they weren’t thinking to themselves, “I sure hope people end up viewing our business as a totally hip spot that helps in driving up the local rent to push all of these people out of their neighborhood!” And you certainly can’t accuse them of catering to a wealthier clientele either. Unless $4 for a pitcher of beer is being considered “steep” here. “Ohh, $1 beers AND pinball? This place is much to rich for my blood.”

  8. trevor permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:37 pm

    Hmm… There’s some benefit to another perspective, but I’m not sure taking all those shots at Paul Lee was really necessary to establish your eventual point, especially since there are a few assumptions being made that could have been easily cleared up by having a conversation with Lee before posting this article.

    Kate, what you’re on the edge of here is part of a larger issue that is effected greatly by the economic situation as a whole. Urban sprawl is slowed, and many citizens that would normally strive towards residency in areas like Alger Heights, Wyoming, Grandville, or Cascade have instead gone inward, seeking lower property values for both business and home. Make no mistake, your numbers are accurate (though I’d point out that they are not consistent throughout the neighborhood as a whole) and I agree that it does make life considerably more difficult for the longer running community that has been here for decades or more.

    However, as much as I myself at times would like to see the status quo equalized, this demonstration of social opinion was still ethically wrong. I quite doubt that when the Winchester was under construction, Paul Lee traversed the surrounding neighborhood with spray paint and bricks in tow to show who was the new top dog on the block. The same could be said of Bazzani, or Vandenberg (whom I doubt broke into older local business afterhours and procured her business capital at one end of a gun), or of several others. Yes, dialogue should be opened in more accessible ways throughout the community so people of all demographics can get involved, but before claims are made that that is the renovators’ responsibility, remember who cast the first stone.

  9. Nick Manes permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:39 pm

    I do have to weigh in on how Paul Lee was portrayed in this post. If you watch the video it is actually News 8 reporter Joe LaFurgey who says “most drug dealers don’t use the word gentrification”. Lee appears to have continued his earlier claim that he does not believe it to be people from the neighborhood. He appears to be quite consistent in his statements.

  10. srdailey permalink
    December 29, 2010 4:40 pm

    thanks, nick. i’d like this point corrected in this piece.

  11. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 5:03 pm

    Hi, Nick–

    First of all, I’d like to say to everyone that my point in writing this piece was to advance *another theory*–one that it actually was people from the neighborhood who possibly could have been involved in this, because they are the ones who will continue to feel the downside of the gentrification efforts. I’m not saying that all residents in the area are unhappy–but unlike the business owners interviewed, I reject the idea that they are all 100 percent delighted and pleased with what’s happening; that strikes me as a Disneyland denial of what is really a complicated issue.

    Second, the only reason that Paul Lee was “featured” in this article is that he was the main person interviewed in all of the articles; he appeared to have launched the “it’s just suburban kids; it couldn’t have been anyone from this neighborhood” idea; and his story kept changing from one interview to the next.

    Third, if you listen closely to the LaFurgey report, he is *quoting* Paul Lee in that final part. The entire section starts out with LaFurgey saying, “While Lee says that he doesn’t know who did it, he does say…”

    Reporters often state what an interviewee has said to them, and I feel it’s valid to report it as coming from the source.

  12. CaZ permalink
    December 29, 2010 5:25 pm

    Kate –

    two of the three examples you provided in regards to high rent are brand new apartments so it is not surprising they are priced accordingly. . .

    also – your research should’ve indicated that there is plenty of section 8 housing in this neighborhood. . .

    having looked @ apartments a few times over the course of the past two years in the Heritage Hill/East Hills neighborhoods I haven’t noticed an increase in rent prices. . .the only thing I have noticed is people taking advantage of cheap housing prices and flipping them to rent out. . .so yeah – a nicer newly renovated apartment is going to call for a higher price than previously rented. . .

  13. holly permalink
    December 29, 2010 5:32 pm

    thanks kate, that’s very helpful.
    i wonder, though, if the changes in price are due to these places being new or improved (i.e. not rundown, not unsafe) spaces- and i’m also wondering if this increase in price has spread to areas other than just specifically wealthy street. have rent prices changed just one or two blocks south? it’s important to compare prices for comparable rentals-not only in size but in quality. i’m not going to expect someone to fix up a place, invest in removing lead paint and replacing old leaky windows, for example, and not get some way to recoup their investment so that the tenants can have a better living environment. not fancy, mind you, but safe living environment is perhaps not gentrification-though it will require a bit more price tag, unless you want government programs to assist in the repairs as some programs currently do. i’m imagining the anarchy symbols in this graffiti indicate that the folks sharing their distaste for the renewal would not approve of that either.
    and regarding the lot that sold for 22,000 instead of 2,000… i know from our own home that state-assessed property value is not the purchase price. our property value just a few blocks south of the corridor has not increased, and is still above what we paid for the house.
    and do we want properties being only able to be sold at $2000? i mean, what quality of housing is that? is it even safe? is $20,000 such an exhorbitant, gentrified price? seems there has to be some space between hell hole and gentrification where renewal happens without pushing out the poor from an entire neighborhood. it’s a hard line to find, i’m sure, between renewal and gentrification, but that’s where the conversation needs to come in.
    such a complex issue, for sure.

  14. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 29, 2010 5:43 pm

    Actually, housing prices in the areas around Wealthy Street have gone down, way down, in the last few years. Just in the last year, sales prices in Heritage Hill down 33%, East Hills down 18%, Fulton Heights down 5.9%, Baxter down 14.2%. Midtown down 16%. And other than HH, the average sale price is well below $80,000, completely within the price range of what is considered affordable.

    The rent prices for units someone listed above, like above Electric Cheetah and the Ponstein development, did not even exist a few years ago. There’s no way to say whether they are driving prices up. Anyone know what the average rent prices are today in those areas compared to last year? RPOA probably has some stats. I’m guessing their down too.

    I don’t think it’s kids coming in from the suburbs, like many of the taggers in GR probably are. I think it’s a group of so-called anarchists/anti-capitalists, who (for some reason) refuse to come to public hearings to voice their concerns about development (there’s a public city hearing for just about every development project, at city hall, along the bus lines), or refuse to gather petitions, or write letters, and instead resort to anonymous childish brick throwing and spray painting at an hour that they were ensured that no one would see them or hear them (5:00 Christmas morning).

    Regardless of how good their intentions are (supposedly), acts of civil disobedience do not do anything to further the cause. In fact, it sounds like it has emboldened the business owners and strengthened public support of them. Oops.

    I would imagine if people have concerns about turning abandoned burned out falling down buildings into viable businesses, they could gather up a bunch of people at a “town hall” at Wealthy Theatre or somewhere else in the area.

  15. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 29, 2010 5:48 pm

    Sorry, Trulia was my source for those housing prices:

    I think I’ll check with the local realtors too to see how prices have been trending in that area.

    I really don’t see how the stats are going to show that true gentrification is occurring. I look at select areas of Chicago near the L lines and in the Eastern parts of Washington DC, where prices are tripling in 2 or 3 years. That is gentrification.

  16. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 5:55 pm

    Thanks, Trevor, for your comments. Please see my response below about Paul Lee and why he appears so prominently in my piece.

    As for casting the first stone, I’m not so sure I agree with you. I think that in neighborhoods like Wealthy and Cherry, developers can seem very much like aggressors–they don’t have to be carrying spray paint and bricks, because they have money and influence with the City instead. If you go into one of the touted new businesses on Wealthy Street, you’ll see an awful lot of White faces–white business owners, White wait-staff, White clerks, White customers–in an neighborhood that is predominently Black. These are not the locals who are being hired or who are the majority of people patronizing these places. So think about the people who used to feel comfortable and accepted in this neighborhood, who now suddenly feel like outsiders in a place they’ve lived for decades.

    While there are definite arguments for “improving” a neighborhood, there is also the reality of a downside–and up until now, there has been virtually no effort to even listen to the voices of people who might not think that what’s happening to their neighborhood is a great thing. There has been no real forum that included these voices. And if most of the business owners have the attitude of the ones who were quoted in the article, then that explains a lot; their minds are shut to listening to possible problems their businesses have created for the people around them.

    I agree, as I think that everyone does, that spray paint and bricks are not a great way to address this issue. But neither is ignoring it and simply insisting that everyone is happy with what’s going on.

  17. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 6:01 pm

    Holly, the prices I quoted on that empty lot were the purchase prices. On the clerk’s assessment sheet, it shows both taxes (two years previous, so that’s not so telling), plus a fairly complete purchase history of the property in question–who bought it at what price during what year, and how much it was sold for, etc.

    As for the rents, I think you’ll find that most gentrification starts with rent increases directly on the street that is being developed, and then they fan out to include the entire neighborhood. Right now, the prices are still mixed, and there is still subsidized housing, but I think that it’s going to inevitably keep shifting toward higher and higher prices. There’s a lot of buying of property there right now because of the Renaissance Zone status. When those properties are flipped, the prices are going to start being reflected in the blocks surrounding Wealthy as well as right on the street. I’ve seen this happen in another city I lived in; it’s a well-established pattern. I know this is of concern to many long-time residents.

  18. srdailey permalink
    December 29, 2010 6:13 pm

    i think my main problem with this article is the title: vandalism of local businesses is not a “protest.” it’s a crime.

  19. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 6:34 pm

    Sean, I wanted to comment about your statement that vandalism is not a protest, but a crime.

    If you think about it, nearly all protests are considered crimes at the time they occur. Civil rights activists were arrested and jailed for using “Whites Only” water fountains and sitting at “Whites Only” counters in the South. People in Nazi Germany were executed for committing “crimes against the state” by giving food and hiding places to Jews or by attempting to undermine Hitler’s power structure. Protestors outside of nearly every one of George W. Bush’s public appearances were arrested for disturbing the peace or for trespassing–some just for holding signs or wearing t-shirts that were critical of his policies.

    Over the years, protests that have included actions such as graffiti and takeovers of buildings have been considered crimes, but ultimately have been effective in changing unfair and at times even unconstitutional policies.

    Again, as I’ve already said in both the article and in responses here, this vandalism was not the optimal way to be heard in this situation. But I think that it is valid in theory to consider it a protest if it came from people who have legitimate concerns about gentrification of the area and the not-so-positive aspects that it might bring about. By using the term “protest” in my headline, I am attempting to get people to look at another theory about what happened, in contradiction to the uniform reporting on this event in the mainstream media.

  20. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 29, 2010 7:13 pm

    @Kate, so people taking abandoned, rat infested buildings, renovating them, and serving Pad Thai and $2 PBR’s is equivalent to the Nazi’s and the architects of segregation laws?

    It’s not a “protest” if you hide behind the cover of darkness on an early morning that you know no one will be around.

    If you guys are interested in coming out in public and expressing your gentrification concerns, Rapid Growth event, Wealthy Theatre, Jan. 14th at 6. Free admission. We welcome all viewpoints, particularly those backed up by facts and not anecdotes.

  21. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 7:33 pm

    “Remember a time, not long ago, when many people were afraid to even drive down Wealthy Street, let alone live, work and shop in the district?

    “Now, it seems like announcements come monthly regarding another building being rehabbed, and those buildings are filling up with great eateries, coffee shops, galleries, community organizations, offices, apartments and people! Much of this revitalization can be traced back to a major catalyst project in the neighborhood: the renovation of Wealthy Theatre in 1999, a project that took nearly a decade of hard work, sweat and determination to come to fruition. ”

    You’ve made your stance clear, Jeff. Wish you could have been more upfront about your backstory for other readers in this thread. Since you haven’t done that, I will: in case you don’t know, Jeff wrote the quote above and he is affiliated with Rapid Growth, which means that his interests are allied completely with the business developers in the area. His own business profile states: “Run the business operations for Rapid Growth Media, including local p&l, fostering business and organization sponsorships, media partnerships, syndication, event hosting, marketing our own brand, identifying new markets, and growing our audience.”

    It’s also interesting to note that currently on the Rapid Growth home page, all local personalities featured are White. Just saying.

    And now that we have full disclosure:

    Jeff, rather than asking people on this thread to attend and voice their concerns about the gentrification issue, why don’t you make it clear to the entire neighborhood that they will be allowed to speak out at your upcoming event? Is it presented as a forum to discuss issues in the neighborhood? Could it be changed into one?

    If you’re sincere about this offer, try posters on telephone polls, signs in non-White local businesses, and flyers to get the word out. There are people in the neighborhood who are too poor to have their own computers and Internet access.

  22. Juila Child permalink
    December 29, 2010 7:38 pm

    This article is very disappointing.

    Not because of what I think about the vandalism, but because I think that GRIID is essentially trying to speak for those committed this act and is attempting to justify it. You are also using it to advance your own politics and using it as just another reason to attack the mainstream media.

    The message appears to be in the action itself and I don’t think it needs folks like GRIID to talk about how you think that there could be “a better dialogue than bricks”, that “vandalism was not the optimal way to be heard” (from the comments by the article’s author), or that the media should be covering gentrification in East Hills.

    If these acts are “declarations of class warfare,” do you really think people want to have a dialog (such as a community forum as has been suggested elsewhere online) or want lame arguments made about how their action was a “protest”?

    Also, with all the speculation about who was responsible, I think it’s reprehensible that one of the main points of writing this was to “advance another theory” (as said by “Kate Wheeler” above) that it was folks from the neighborhood who did this. Hasn’t there been enough pointless finger pointing online already?

  23. jon permalink
    December 29, 2010 7:45 pm

    I wonder how many people who are sticking to the oppressed being the culprits live in the area. I lived on the 900 block of wealthy for 2 1/2 years (where the rent for a spacious 2br was only $750/mth gas included) until may. I now live between cherry and wealthy on the same block (where we pay less than $1000/mth all utilities included for the entire house), and before that I’ve lived on Charles right off wealthy and on the 600 block of wealthy. I’ve never had a cost of living over $350/mth.

    Anyway, the pricing is a tangent from my point. Paul Lee ‘s opinions are based on living and working in the neighborhood, and while admitting I’m also assuming, I agree 100%. Spending the last 5 years living in and visiting businesses in the east hills and Eastown area, I strongly believe it was kids from outside the area, based on my interactions with the people I’ve come across, and simple evidence. Are people with real political or economic motives going to draw anarchy symbols on their bricks? No. But some of the kids who hang around Eastown bumming change and cigarettes have them drawn all over their clothes and bags.

    Of course numerical evidence is great, but paul is a credible source, and everyone can find the evidence they need for their side of the argument if they are willing to look for it, as previous comments have shown.

    I think if this is the case, then the act was “crime” and not protest.

    Also, I’ve spent a good amount of time in the sparrows, and have frequently seen the staff there allow people who were just panhandling outside to use the phone, bathroom, and even give them water all day long. Obviously the owner here is not out to hurt anyone.
    Trends in twitter from kids from nearby areas frequently point out that they consider the sparrows the yuppie Mecca of the area, when the homeless in the community are repeat visitors, because they are treated very respectfully when they visit.

    *I’m sorry for typos. I have strong enough opinions on his to have written this from my phone in a car.

  24. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 7:54 pm

    Since no one at GRIID has any idea who committed the vandalism, we are not attempting here to “speak for them.”

    I found the reporting in the mainstream media to be one-sided and offensive. It trivialized an important issue. It failed to advance more than one idea of who might have committed the acts and why. It framed everything from the perspective of the business owners. No one from the neighborhood was even interviewed.

    The intention in writing this piece was not finger-pointing, but to present an alternate view to the one in the mainstream media. That’s what independent media does.

  25. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 29, 2010 7:59 pm

    @Kate, thanks for the plug for the publication, I appreciate it. I didn’t want my posts to be construed as advertisements for our company.

    In addition, we don’t make any money from attendees to our events, or from any of the Wealthy Street and East Hills businesses we write about, or from any economic development in those areas. That’s a fact.

    The event on the 14th is open to the public, and open for people to discuss the issues we present. We don’t do anything in print, including posters and fliers, as it is a dying business (and technically littering). Plus, all the GR Public Libraries have computers w/ internet access. And isn’t posting fliers on telephone poles in Grand Rapids illegal? Something tells me it is…

    Still waiting for a response to my questions about Nazi’s and housing stats.

  26. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 29, 2010 8:05 pm

    Also, did you come to the event that we did featuring the renovation of Wealthy Theatre? That you quoted above? Have you been to any of our speaker series events?

  27. J Rylah permalink
    December 29, 2010 8:10 pm

    The assumption that everyone in these places is white, and the assumption that the business owners are all exclusively Caucasian is incorrect. I would agree with the word ‘predominantly,’ but there is absolutely no proof that minorities could not receive jobs at any of these places, or that minorities would be unwelcome. To assume that minorities are unwelcome in these establishments means that the speaker has never been there. Paul Lee, along with being taken out of context, is not white.

    I live on a diverse block where everyone gets along. The home I live in was purchased at a low rate. When looking to move to this neighborhood to be closer to work and friends, rent prices were comparable to prices downtown and Cherry Hills, some NE side locations, the Michigan business corridor and cheaper than Heritage Hill. They are more expensive, but more convenient, than West Side locations. The examples you point out are extreme examples.
    I looked at the $950 apartment above Electric Cheetah, just out of curiosity to see what could merit that price. It’s totally new, green and… not worth the price, in my opinion. That’s probably why last time I checked, it was still for rent.
    In any neighborhood, you’ll find deals and you’ll find rip-offs. Uptown is no exception.
    The buildings now inhabited by The Meanwhile, The Sparrows and the Winchester were unused, boarded-up buildings with no life. These businesses not only contribute to a local economy, but encourage people to move to stay in Grand Rapids and provide jobs. If you want Grand Rapids to die, then a good way to encourage that is to have streets lined with boarded up buildings. That’s a surefire way to get young people to to go Chicago or Portland.

    Srdailey is correct. This is a crime. To compare the vandalism of locally owned and operated businesses to protest situations in Nazi Germany or a segregated past is preposterous.

    Maybe if you’re not finding diversity here, you’re not looking hard enough. Across the street from the Meanwhile is Urban Pizza, where pizzas you have to bake and take home can be purchased using bridge cards, whereas prepared food cannot be purchased using bridge cards. While this is not a measure of diversity, it is an acknowledgment of low income residents. It’s not like the new businesses were an Anthropologie and an Ikea.
    There are multiple, long-standing establishments in the same neighborhood owned and operated by African Americans (Southern Fish Fry, Sandmann’s, Lady Love) and Asian Americans (Erb Thai). If bricks had been thrown through the windows of these establishments instead, no one would be defending their actions. It would have been seen as a move of intimidation and racism. We would all be appalled if someone spray painted ‘get out of my neighborhood’ on the glass windows of Erb Thai. Why is throwing a brick through the front window of the Winchester so different? Why is that a defensible action? Why is that a “protest” and not a “crime?” Making people feel unwelcome is the only thing here that’s even remotely comparable to the segregation and Nazi oppression mentioned in the comment thread.

    More diversity: The Wealthy Theatre has a film series, the Queeries, that support the LGBT community. I’m proud to live in a community where openly gay citizens are not threatened, but rather supported and celebrated.

    The only people that I ever see not living in harmony here are the people lobbing bricks through windows, hiding underneath the cover of darkness.

    There is always room for MORE diversity, and I think most of the patrons of the Meanwhile, The Sparrows, The Winchester and Greenwell are on that same page. Not to mention the Richard App gallery, where I’ve seen the works of Mexican American artists like Hugo Claudin and Erik Pichardo displayed. No one commenting on this thread wants a totally white, affluent neighborhood void of art and culture.

    We should condemn these acts as senseless, ignorant and repulsive, and we should take note of the diversity we have and have open discussions about how to increase that diversity in this neighborhood, as well as the city on the whole.

    And it’s true, Jeff and I BOTH work at Rapid Growth Media. And I want to know, at our December speaker series having an open talk about how to increase diversity, where these ‘anarchists’ were. I haven’t worked with RGM for very long, but the reason we’re having these speaker series is because we see a need for diversity in our publication and our city. So, who’s with us, and who wants to defend cowards?

  28. srdailey permalink
    December 29, 2010 8:29 pm

    good lord.

    i find your comparisons offensive and i would imagine the descendants of those civil rights activists and those murdered by the nazi regime would too. those people were fighting unjust laws and for their very beiing. throwing a brick through the front window of a locally owned business =/ sitting at a white lunch counter.

  29. jon permalink
    December 29, 2010 8:41 pm

    I wish I said any of that. Especially that Paul is not white.

    So many sound, valid points.

  30. holly permalink
    December 29, 2010 8:43 pm

    oh, the horror! you mean he’s been trying to develop business within the city, by local folks who run small businesses, instead of letting more business go out to the big box stores and even further away from the poor in the neighborhood, where only cars can get you access? oh yes. that’s a backstory we should have known about.

    that said, if RG wants to provide a pdf for flyers about their event, i’d be happy to help spread the word -it’d just be a matter of walking around in my neighborhood anyway.
    i think it’s important to get the neighborhood’s perspective. and, knowing my neighbors, i have a feeling they aren’t fans of anarchist/anti-capitalist “protesters” doing things that ends up getting the finger pointed at them (just look at mlive comments) and once again makes the neighbors look like criminals. there’s been enough of that.

  31. J Rylah permalink
    December 29, 2010 9:20 pm

    As an internet pub, we typically don’t do anything in print, like Jeff said. Not particularly green. But I’m game for this experiment. I also live in this neighborhood. We’ll see about getting some posters together and try to hit places of high traffic, like Wealthy Market, including the businesses targeted.
    Once we get this around, I can leave stacks of them at Meanwhile or wherever it would be convenient and people can disperse them wherever.

  32. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 9:40 pm

    Sean, I found one of your responses above very offensive. I was attempting to address your objection to my use of the word “protest.” I was pointing out that many acts of protest are also considered crimes. In other words, the term “crime” and “protest” are often linked.

    Your response included this: “i find your comparisons offensive and i would imagine the descendants of those civil rights activists and those murdered by the nazi regime would too.”

    As it happens, I actually am the descendant of people who worked in resistance to Hitler. And unless you had family members who were shot against a wall and others who were gassed to death at Auschwitz, like I have, I think you owe me an apology for that statement.

    I found it interesting and also somewhat amusing that people jumped all over my post about protests, taking it out of context and insisting that I was seeing the events on Wealthy Street on Christmas in the same light as some of the other types of protests I mentioned. This completely disregards statements I made in my article and in this thread.

    But people who are angry (and who have business interests in the area, as some of you do), often take an explanation out of context in order to belittle a person with whom they disagree. It’s a cheap way of debating a point, in my opinion.

  33. oh gosh permalink
    December 29, 2010 10:02 pm

    but that’s the thing here. You’re not a reporter, your a heavily opinionated person. And these good people are trying to show you that you are wrong, so very wrong. Its tough to be attacked, it puts you on the defensive, but go past that and find the peace within. No one thinks you are a bad person, or wants to hurt you, they are just trying their best to show you that your opinion really needs to be open to change. Its ok to be wrong and it takes strenght to admit it, it will help you grow, give up your resentments, find peace.

  34. Hilary permalink
    December 29, 2010 10:05 pm

    It isn’t out of context if you used it AS context.

  35. JMichael permalink
    December 29, 2010 10:09 pm

    I agree with SRDailey- the term Gentrification should not be thrown out until we are sure it is happening.
    Anecdotal evidence is not enough in social science research we would need to see statistical evidence that rents have been increasing relative to normal inflation. And we would need to see it as a continuing trend. This goes for property taxes as well.
    Furthermore the idea that a business owner should be held accountable for property taxes going up is silly. If we have a tax issue or unfair taxation we need to petition the taxing agency- in this case the State of Michigan which would mean through legislative process. Paul Lee should not be held accountable because your property taxes went up.

    If there have been discriminatory hiring practices at any of these establishments then there is also an avenue to remedy that as well. But to cast aspersions on new businessses because there are no minorities working at them is not fair. Discrimination is dealt with on a case by case basis- if you think the owner of XYZ restaurant didn’t hire you because of your color you build a case against that owner- you don’t simply say all non-minority businesses have to go or should be held liable.

    I would also like to show my hearty agreement with the comments of J Rylah- Very succinct and apropos.

  36. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 29, 2010 10:19 pm

    Hey holly, I could put together a pdf if you’d be willing to post them. They’d have to be taken down after the event though (and put into recycling if possible). 🙂


  37. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 10:33 pm

    Juliet, please see my comment below to Sean Dailey about the crime/protest post I put up.

    I never said that the neighborhood is not diversified; that would be crazy. Of course it is. And I’m well aware that Paul Lee is Asian-American, but again, most of the new business owners on Wealthy Street are not. Nor did I say that the individual businesses that were targets of this event on Christmas are not welcoming to minorities.

    I find it stunning how one person in this thread makes a comment, and then everyone piles on top of it as if it were a part of my original article.

    In the article, I talk about the general effects of gentrification. These are well-established and easy to spot. I’ve seen them first-hand in other cities. It’s clear to me, at least, that the Wealthy and Cherry Street areas are in the early stages of this pattern. Anyone who thinks differently is in denial, for one reason or another.

    It also seems to me that in light of the Christmas Day events, perhaps a forum should be specifically planned to discuss these issues. I said that in the article. But judging from the comments on this string, it appears that any voices that objected to what’s going on would be drowned out or simply fall on deaf ears. You say that no one wants a completely White, undiversified, culturally dead neighborhood on Wealthy. I can tell you from experience that there’s a good possibility that that’s where things are headed. I seriously doubt that when George Bayard threw his support and enthusiasm behind the Wealthy Theater project that he could foresee the day that he’d be forced out of his gallery because he could not longer afford the increased rents. In the same way, the picture you see now in the Wealthy Street area is not static. It will keep changing. And if it changes without respect for or inclusion of the long-time residents in the area and their worries over what might happen to them, then those changes might not go in a way that anyone really wants.

    I am astonished that people are so threatened and angered by my simply raising the POSSIBILITY that this scenario exists and will continue to play out. I just received a threat via e-mail by someone who has business interests in the Wealthy Street area, and other members of GRIID have been threatened too regarding their views on this issue.

    That seems to indicate that there are some very high stakes of some kind being protected here, and I think from reading some of the comments in this thread, it’s easy to guess what they are.

  38. December 29, 2010 10:51 pm

    If anyone of you know even a remote history of these neighborhoods, you wouldn’t be asking some of these questions. And you really do not understand gentrification from the phrasing and condescending tone of your comments. The proof is Your burden.
    And why the hell do people not understand this concept?? It not about diversity, or catering businesses to ghetto customers-which by the way, you all have been elluding to, so i said it- Its about letting native neighborhood-ers build their community up. Its about providing opportunity for equal access to services and financial lending and equal zoning of areas etc. Its about lifting some parts of neighborhoods out of a fringe economy-not putting in overpriced bars and restaurants that OBVIOUSLY seclude themselves from the native residents of the neighborhoods- have YOU seen a native of any of these neighborhoods WORKING in any of these establishments?? have you REALLY seen natives of the neighborhood patronizing any of these places??? And, sure thats great that you ‘live’ near a place, or above your business-go ahead and pat yourself on the back, but let me ask you, have YOU ever frequented a nearby party store or barbershop or other business in your neighborhood? maybe one that isn’t white owned and operated??
    think about it. defensiveness only makes YOU look ignorant.

  39. holly permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:05 pm

    jeff, i can do that-and retrieve for city recycling afterwards. be happy to! it’s important to have the neighborhood (not just north of wealthy but also south) involved in the conversation.

    send to hollyDOTartwordsATgmailDOTcom.

  40. oh gosh permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:13 pm

    who exactly are the natives of the neighborhood? The dutch settlers who came here and built them? The middle class people of the 40s and 50s? The current population? I know many white, black, and brown people who have lived in that neighborhood for a good 10 to 15 years, are they natives?

    Its hard to understand where you are coming from as these properties have changed hands quite a few times in the 80 or so years there’s been activity there. Should the original bearers of the Wealthy name be the ones that decide what go on in that neighborhood? Or its just the people that bought houses? Anyone could buy a house there and that would give them right to be part of that neighborhood, because they own property. So all the property owners are natives? That would give anyone from Bazzani to stereotypical poor black man a right to the neighborhood, but maybe they do or don’t agree on the course it should take?

  41. oh gosh permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:15 pm

    what are the other neighborhoods you have experience seeing this happen to? Please cite them and draw specific correlations between the symptoms seen in those neighborhoods and this one. Please explain what those neighborhoods were like before and after said “gentrification”.

  42. Mike Saunders permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:19 pm

    The whole debate on crime/protest is silly. The holiday vandalism was a crime and a protest. Same as a burring cross on a lawn, an occupation of private property, a non permitted march through the streets that obstructs traffic. No need to engage in value judgments on specific criminal protests though out history and how they relate to this one.

    I think the holiday vandalism was fairly stupid and most likely carried out by a misanthropic, drunken, quasi-anarchist identifying individual or group. (pure speculation)

    This does not make it ok to dismiss the issue of gentrification or ignore the changes on Wealthy Street. Many of the changes have been positive and as Juliet pointed out encourage a diverse and integrated community. There have though been winners and losers in the changes to Wealthy Street, thanks for helping to point that out Kate! Perhaps as a community we can better ourselves through this incident and the discussion your article has inspired.

  43. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:22 pm

    Thank you, Mike. You restated my protest/crime point exactly as I intended it and I’m grateful for that and for your other comments as well.

  44. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:23 pm

    Thanks for your post, AF–very helpful.

  45. holly permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:23 pm

    well, yes. i live (not ‘live’) In the neighborhood, not near. and have worked or lived south of wealthy (other than some time away from gr) for the past 15 years. i’m a bit south of the cool spot. 😉
    i shop at my local party stores, businesses, and have enjoyed getting to know the owners. no barbershops, though- i’m a cheap dutch girl and i cut my own hair.

    the history of baxter neighborhood includes the fact that it used to be referred to as the “dutch ghetto” until the riots on my corner after mlk’s death made folks start to think it was getting dangerous, and white flight happened. i’ve told off coworkers who referred to the neighborhood as “dangerous” and i’ve sparked heated debates with local church members. i’ve been concerned about the rights and access of my neighbors for a long time, and i have asked this question-how do we improve the neighborhood without gentrifying-for a long time now.
    i don’t, however, think that anarchy and a lack of capitalism is the answer. i don’t believe that this “protest” was done by the neighbors or approved of by the neighbors-not the ones i have been talking to about all the changes for the past 5 years, anyway. i think if we’re going to throw accusations we should have the proof to back up such things. if we haven’t actually even found out the average rent in past years or taxes-then it’s a little soon to be calling it gentrification.
    like i said before, there is a span between letting things go to hell, and gentrifying a neighborhood-we need to all talk together to find that sweet spot in the middle.

  46. srdailey permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:27 pm

    i’m sorry that happened to your family, but i stand by my statement. using such a hyperbolic analogy is a disservice to their memory and their struggle. if you don’t want your statements taken out of context, maybe don’t draw ridiculous comparisons like that? i still hold that this is crime, and as juliet said above, a cowardly one at that. no matter who perpetrated it, and for whatever reason, it’s a crime.

    also, maybe stop emailing people in this thread? it kinda makes you look like a crazy person. to quote an earlier post of yours, “Just saying.”

  47. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:36 pm

    Sean, I simply e-mailed you my comment to make sure you saw it. I e-mailed another commenter on this thread to take a discussion offline before it became publicly ugly, as I felt it would not serve his interests to have it become so. He responded by threatening me. I don’t think that makes *me* look crazy.

    I was not using hyperbolic examples. I was pointing out that a a huge range of protests–from resistance to Nazi tactics to something as simple as graffiti–are considered crimes. They are both crimes *and* protests, as Mike Saunders stated so well in his post below.

    And it’s not up to you to determine if using a specific example is a disservice to my family or not. What an arrogant thing to say.

  48. JMichael permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:50 pm

    Actually AF- to make a charge of gentrification means the burden of proof is on the person making the claim that it exists.

    Perhaps the brick thrower should come to a local neighborhood meeting and peacefully and cogently make their case for gentrification.
    Also you make the claim that people from the neighborhood should be the ones building their neighborhood up- fair enough- I would agree that any person should have equal access to opening a business in terms of fair lending standards etc. But is institutionalized discrimination the problem of the guy who simply wants to open a restaurant on wealthy ave.? If I open a restaurant should I worry about and be liable for vandalism due to discriminative lending practices of a banking institution.
    I think the inequalites in the system that you and kate bring up are legit- but I think directing your anger at a brother and sister who are just trying to make a living and providing a cheap place to get a beer with friends in an environment they would like to hang out in is pretty unfair.
    Furthermore- were any people living in the neighborhood turned down for a business loan to open a business along Wealthy or Cherry? If so do we know why they were turned down? If it was because of the color of their skin then that needs to be remedied. But again- it’s not the fault of a local business owner and they shouldn’t be held accountable for inequalities in the system- there are better avenues to deal with that.

  49. Johnnny2X2X permalink
    December 30, 2010 12:09 am

    I can appreciate both sides of this argument.

    I have lived within a few miles of this neighborhood in Grand Rapids for the better part of my life. When it comes to the Wealthy Street neighborhood I am very pleased with the Progress I have seen. Personally, the businesses are a plus, the neighborhood is now safer for ME to traverse as well. All in all it has benefited ME and many people like ME.

    That being said it is not hard for me to imagine that these same changes have not been to the benefit of many longtime residents. Perhaps an elderly person who had lived there for decades had to leave the neighborhood they knew and loved. We dismiss this neighborhood as being basically “uninhabitable” in the 90s. Well I knew people in this neighborhood in the 90s and 80s for that matter, people who felt like they were part of a community back then and people who frankly were happy to be living there and not along the Division Avenue Corridor. The neighborhood was rougher back then, but even then as in worse neighborhoods now there were still vastly greater numbers of law abiding citizens than lawbreakers and drug dealers.

    It seems the critics of this area’s economic development are being summarily dismissed in a rather arrogant way such as, “Well it’s better for me so it must be better for everyone”. It is better for me to frequent this neighborhood, there is a lot more that is offered to me, but I can also entertain the possibility that it does no seem better to everyone.

  50. Eric B permalink
    December 30, 2010 1:31 am

    It seems a little ridiculous to compare civil rights activists and jewish sympathizers with a bunch of vandals. And to make the argument that nearly all protests are considered a crime at the time doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in this instance unless you are contending that destruction of another’s property will someday become legal and socially acceptable. We all get that you want to go against the grain and bring up a different point of view, but projecting vandals as crusaders for some kind of “urban preservation” is counter-productive. Come up with a solution for the “problem” and try again. Or, at the very least, try to explain how increasing property value and stimulating commerce, all while using local goods and services is bad for a community. Also, do a google maps search for The Winchester and check out google street view for that area and rethink your argument.

  51. Appreciative permalink
    December 30, 2010 1:38 am

    I’m a resident of this neighborhood and I applaud these actions if for no other reason than the fact that the community is discussing the gentrification. These businesses are all insured and didn’t lose a dime or have to be shuttered for one second.
    The fact of the matter is although they may be locally owned these businesses do not serve the longtime residents (who are still left) of the East Hills community .
    When the owner of the Manchester says he doesn’t think its local drug dealers because they don’t know how to spell “gentrification” that’s a blatant example of the racism and class-ism that accompanies gentrification.
    These establishments are most definitely frequented by, cater to, and employ white people, ALL of them.
    The only critique (and a very minor one) I would have with the culprits is that they didn’t leak a communique.

  52. December 30, 2010 1:51 am

    The proof is easy. Look around, drive through and actually talk with a few residents of the neighborhood-such as Baxster. Put yourselves in their shoes, at least be humble enough to step outside of your skin and into something foreign for a moment. Actually, walking through the neighborhood and patronizing some other local businesses will probably give you a feel for what residents may feel if they walked into one of these new businesses that have come in. And in NO WAY do I excuse vandalism or violence. I’m not even saying I dont enjoy (one) of these new establishments-thankfully it actually owns up to a fair price and good service.
    Im just saying, overall, that having just one experience that makes us want to trade our skin for another is extremely beneficial to deep human growth. My challenge to everyone-except holly-is stated above. Let me know how it goes.

  53. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 2:06 am

    Thanks, Appreciative. I just spoke with a friend of mine who said she and her husband ate at the Electric Cheetah over the holiday. They both work in civil rights-related areas and they noticed, as they were standing in the long line to get in, that everyone in the line was White; that everyone dining inside the restaurant was White, and that every person who worked there, as far as they could tell, was White. She and her husband commented on the fact that it was obvious that meant that a lot of people in the neighborhood were either not comfortable with eating there or couldn’t afford to do so. It also seemed to her that the nondiversity of the staff meant that a lot of area residents were not benefiting from the new businesses in terms of the jobs that they provide.

    It’s surprising to me that so few people want to admit that that’s one of the realities of the situation in the Wealthy Street neighborhood now. I’m not saying that there isn’t an upside to development, but I’m concerned that a lot of people are not acknowledging the obvious downside. As I’ve said before, it’s a complex issue. Thanks for being someone who understands that.

  54. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 2:06 am

    Thank you again, AF, for your observations and comment.

  55. Nick Manes permalink
    December 30, 2010 2:16 am

    Thanks Mike. I think that sums up the issues here in an excellent way.

  56. Michael Albert permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:24 am

    What about a people’s tribunal where residents of the neighborhood could come together to give testimony about how these developments are impacting them? I’m thinking we could invite the GR Press and have snacks after words (maybe punch if funds allow).

    I got sume of those silly wigs that y’all could borrow if we wanted to have a judge who presides over the hearing. If we wanted to have the judge do a “Verdict” we could use butcher paper so the whole crowd could see it.

    Kate, how can we can make this happen? Seems like the Theatre could be a potential venue.

  57. holly permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:57 am

    hey thanks, af-i think. i’ve had conversations with the guys who run wealthy market about taking advantage of the locavore foodie crowd across the street from them by selling local farmer’s produce/meats/etc. you know, a potential way to build their own business because of the new business directly in front of them– but they’re not quite ready to take that risk. very nice guys, though. wealthy market would be a great place for folks to start if they want to take you up on your challenge.
    the truth is, i think it’ll take all of us being more willing to interact with each other to make it work…. the east hills neighbors, the baxter neighbors, the folks in and visiting the wealthy corridor. i hope the christmas day vandalism and all this ensuing conversation, here and everywhere it seems, is the beginning of that happening. i really like my neighborhood and wish more people were willing to discover it.

  58. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 5:29 am

    Johnny, your points are very well thought-out and presented. Thank you. You sum up the positives and negatives of the situation perfectly.

  59. itsalljustaride permalink
    December 30, 2010 5:56 am

    I’m curious how we knew this was a drawing of a “capitalist pig”

    All I saw was a drawing of “a pig”.

  60. JMichael permalink
    December 30, 2010 5:58 am

    Wait- you say since there were only white people in the place that “It was obvious that a lot of people were not comfortable or could not afford to eat there”. Are you saying all non-whites are poor?

    Again- if you’re saying that inequalities exist as far as lending practices or other institutionalized discrimination then fine- we can have a dialog about that. But to give credence to these vandals for defacing private business owners and neighborhood residents is misguided- they are not responsible for these inequalities- They are trying to make a living. How are they to select their customers? If you can find one who engages in discriminatory hiring practices- then we have something to talk about- but you need to make a case for that. Just because you only see “white people” working on the night you show up to eat is not proof enough. Have you actually talked to anyone that was qualified; applied for a job at one of these places and was subsequently denied employment because of their race?
    Again we’re throwing out terms (gentrification) and accusations (discrimination) without any proof- show me the statistical evidence for gentrification and show me a business that engages in discriminatory hiring practices.

  61. JMichael permalink
    December 30, 2010 6:03 am

    Walking around the town is not proof of gentrification. Gentrification is a defined term- it is pretty measurable I think. Have we seen rents disproportionally increase relative to inflation? That is a measurable statistic. How much have property taxes increased in the neighborhood? Are both of these measurable traits correlated to the new businesses in the Wealthy/Cherry neighborhood?

    That would be proof. I’m not saying it’s not important to get a feel for your neighborhood or the people who live in it but without quantitative numbers it’s anecdotal evidence at best.

  62. James permalink
    December 30, 2010 7:59 am

    I ask forgiveness in advance if I fail to add anything in the way of a solution, and in the interest of self-disclosure I am a resident of the neighborhood, and have patronized the most of the businesses targeted.

    I would like to separate the discussion of the metrics of gentrification from the more difficult to measure experiential and anecdotal effects of gentrification. I would like to start from the fact that Grand Rapids is a segregated city. To explain this I would like to compare the BP in Eastown with the BP at Franklin and Eastern. The Alpine Meijer with the Meijer at 28th and Kalamazoo with the Cascade or Knapp Corner locations. The Family Fare on Fulton with the D&W in Gaslight village. The east side vs. the west side.

    Like I said this is anecdotal musing but I’m willing to bet that most readers will agree that experience a different clientele traveling from location to location even though all are within a few miles of each other.

  63. James permalink
    December 30, 2010 8:35 am

    (sorry I bumped the post it button)


    What do I mean by pointing this out? Just that the issues of class and race are frustrating, complex, and sometimes insurmountable (obviously) but few of us can deny that there seems to be a strong cultural divide here. Stuff white people like and stuff black people like. Are there exceptions? Sure. Can any of us deny, though, that there seems to be a bit of a color (or at least culture) barrier at about the yellow line on Wealthy between the Meanwhile and the Wealthy Market? Is it guarded by a racist governor with dogs and a fire-hose? Of course not. But it’s there.

    I bring this up in a modest attempt to keep discussion fruitful. When we talk about metrics, statistics, gentrification it is easy to lose sight of the human element of the equation. And when we talk about the human elements it is easy to lose sight of the numbers. Both have value and are important.

    The tensions that are created by a quickly changing neighborhood have been addressed in the thread. I think, however, we are circling around the more difficult issue of intention. Do the diners at the Electric Cheetah intend to have a whites only atmosphere? I certainly hope not, but that is often the case. Does Ron’s Car Wash and Coffee Shop intend on having mostly black customers? I doubt it, but again that is often the case. Is it a coincidence that the Catholic Diocese was built at the intersection of the streets Wealthy and Division? Is there a racist motive to development? Is there a racist motive to picking up booze from Martha’s instead of Clark’s?

    I am far from an expert on sociology or urban planning, civil rights or social justice. It seems though that we often fall into the semantic trap of arguing on the terminology. Do we have a system of institutionalized racism in Grand Rapids? I can’t make that call. What I can say though, having worked jobs that traveled across the lines of race and class in this town (cable guy and cab driver to name two), that there do seem to be invisible lines separating people.

    What can we do about it? I said at the beginning I didn’t have an answer. I can say I’m grateful for the discussion and apologize for rambling.

  64. baiers permalink
    December 30, 2010 2:40 pm

    Thanks for the voice of reason Mike. I just finished reading all the comments to this article and I am disappointed by the lack of constructive conversation. While many good points were made, I was surprised that so many people look at the issues of development in these neighborhoods as black and white, meaning it’s either GOOD or TERRIBLE. Why is it so hard to admit that the development that has taken place in recent years has pros AND cons? I think that our community would benefit from a public “town hall” forum hosted within the neighborhood and advertised properly. Gentrification is a real thing and it would be in our best interest, as a community, to discuss the impact of development in the earliest stages to avoid becoming an area that may inadvertently leave/push anyone out. I am thankful that this topic is being discussed at all, although I wish more positive events had brought this topic to the table.

  65. baiers permalink
    December 30, 2010 2:58 pm

    Gentrification is not just the measurement and comparison of statistics. Gentrification is a term that describes “the socio-cultural changes in an area resulting from wealthier people buying housing property in a less prosperous community.” It’s not as easily measurable as we would like it to be. If we take this definition into consideration (and it is a very basic definition for a very complex concept) then I would agree that some form of gentrification is taking place in these neighborhoods.

    Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I’m insinuating that development is bad and that developers in these neighborhoods are in the wrong, I would like to say that I proudly support and frequent many of the establishments discussed in this thread. I don’t believe that the owners of these establishments moved into the neighborhood with the intention of hurting anyone that lived there. I don’t think any rational person thinks this.

    I believe that we need to look at the pros and cons of development. Pretending that there are no cons is not helping anyone. Again, a public forum would be beneficial, one that takes place outside of internet threads.

  66. December 30, 2010 3:06 pm

    I think the most difficulties when we start talking about the issues of gentrification on wealthy and cherry. One of the biggest difficulties is the starting places of each person trying to debate the issue. I think that in order to have a productive discussion about this issue you need to have a firm understanding of white privilege and institutional racism. Gentrification is more than deliberate discrimination such as not hiring a black waitress because of her race (which no one is saying is happening). It has to do with HUGE issues of poverty, inequality, generational wealth and the opportunities afforded to different people groups. I had been working on a blog post about the issue of Gentrification in these neighborhoods just a week before these events happened. Here are some of the thoughts I was putting together:

    I live in Grand Rapids and some of the hottest places in the city right now are Uptown and Midtown. Over the past few years, new businesses have been potting up all over these areas. Great new restaurants and shops are drawing people in on a regular basis. But as I walk down Wealthy Street and Cherry, I wonder if all these new businesses are serving the people who have called these neighborhoods home for years. The neighborhoods south of Wealthy Street are some of the most densly African American neighborhoods in the city. (check out this map of the racial breakdown of GR Neighborhoods: However many of the new businesses in the area seem to bring in a VERY high percentage of young white upper-middle class white customers. Places like wine bars, fashion boutiques, gastropubs, artisan bakerys, and home decor shops are buzzing. But the the customer base of all these stores aren’t reflecting the diversity in the neighborhoods which they occupy. I worry that the people who have the finances and connections to start new businesses in these areas are not adequately taking into consideration the people who live in these neighborhoods. This was best displayed to me on the Urban Planet development forum back in 2009.

    A new beauty supply shop went in to the newly build Uptown Village building. This is a store that is part of the billion-dollar African American hair care industry. (check out Chris Rock’s documentary “good Hair”) when people on the forum discovered that this was the new tenant, the following comments were made:

    “Just drove past the new beauty supply store today! Maybe I need a second drive by, because at this point I’m just praying that the next step on Wealthy isn’t the payday loan or the cell phone shop. The place just looked a little tacky. But I guess it could be worse. ”

    “it does kind of look like they’d sell ringtones too. There’s a lot of fake hair, that’s for sure.”

    “it’s shady looking for sure. I’m actually disappointed. Wing Heaven seems like a great tennant… “Wigs, fake hair, and bars-in-windows” is not nearly as inviting.”

    It was obvious to me that these people had no idea about role of the hair industry in the African American community. It was also clear to me that people thought a store like this gave the neighborhood a “negative” image. I am 100% sure that comments like this would have never happened if it was announced that a specialty tea and coffee retailer was going in, or if an organic tapas restaurant was the new tenant.

    I also noticed something at the recent “Uptown Holiday Shop Hop” event. As I walked through many different shops, I noticed one thing in common between 99.9% of the customers. We were all very well dressed white people. We all laughed about how great it was that some places were serving wine. We looked at things for Christmas tablescapes and smiled knowing that we were shopping locally in a “nice” environment. Now Don’t get me wrong. I love my imported Goat Cheese. I love a good hand-sewn table runner, and I could eat small plates and drink craft brews all night. I love most of the stores in Uptown and Midtown. But Something felt off. I Knew that there was this big community event happening. Even the news showed up to do a story about it, but there was a large swathe of the community who lives around these shops, not there!

    I recently attended the play Lines: The Lived Experience of Race and one of the things that struck me was a part where some of the actors were discussing the Two Stans Bar (now the meanwhile). Apparently, Two Stans used to be a bar that neighborhood African Americans frequented. It had closed and fallen into disrepair. When it was rehabbed and reopened it became the Meanwhile, a place where white college-age “hipsters” hung out. The actors (speaking directly from interviews with people from the community) that they were sad that what once was a neighborhood bar, no longer felt like a place where they were welcome.

    What if the owners of the Green Well took the former location of Corez Wine Bar and worked hard with a local minority cook/chef to help them start a successful business there with the food and atmosphere that he/she thought would be best? What if the community or business groups worked with the owners of shops such as e-toys salon to help them improve the exterior and signage of their business? What if there were 3 storefronts on every block that were owned by minorities from the neighborhood who received business mentoring from local groups if they needed it?

    I have no answers to the issues I raise. I don’t know that the best business would be for these neighborhoods. I struggle with the same issue a block away form my house. There are 3 empty storefronts on the corner of Giddings and Hall. One side of the street is Ottawa Hills and East Grand Rapids, on the other side is the “Southeast Side” and MLK Park. What kind of business would work in this location? What kind of business or restaurant would make all people from all ethnic backgrounds, feel comfortable? I ask the same question of all the businesses going into Uptown and Midtown. I don’t think that having a diverse commercial area means having one business where one half of the community goes next to a business where the other half of the community goes. I think diversity in a neighborhood means diversity inside the shops and restaurants themselves.

    So I guess my question is, how do communities balance “revitalizing” a commercial district without creating businesses that exclude a large portion of the community? Are there people on the neighborhood associations and commercial committees who are deliberately facing these issues? If communities such as Uptown and Midtown become THE place to be, how do communities make sure that rent in the apartments and storefronts stay at an affordable rate so that the people who have lived there for 10 years, can continue to afford to do so for years to come?

    I know that this is a hot-button, charged topic that people can get really defensive and offensive over. let’s try to keep discussion civil and productive!

  67. itsalljustaride permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:25 pm

    And Division South of 28th St has a lot of Asian residents (Vietnamese mostly) with grocery stores and markets to cater to them.

    Same for the Bosnians.

    The problem is that a lot of the talk in this conversation sounds like the opposite of the stereotypical “neighborhood is getting ‘darker'” that usually is followed by a wink and a nod and a “if you know what I mean”. Should we excuse and rationalize and justify what is an essentially racist reaction to white people moving into a predominantly black neighborhood, where we scorn and shun the idea that some white people get squeamish when a black family moves into the suburbs?

    Why do I go to Martha’s to buy booze instead of Clark’s? That’s a good question, but mostly because I doubt Clark’s sells Jolly Pumpkin artisan ales. Sorry for my bourgeois tastes. I like what I like.

    Kate said her friend wondered why there were no whites in the Electric Cheetah. I’d like to think it’s because non-whites have more sense than to pay more than $10 for a glorified sandwich. Businesses will go where there is a customer base to support them. If a business can sustain itself selling sammiches to white people on Wealthy, it’s probably because a bunch of white people live near there, and want sammiches, so how does that not reflect the neighborhood they inhabit?

    Is there an invisible line down Wealthy? Yes, for sure, but I don’t get the endgame of people who harp about gentrification. A city has to combat decay. If it doesn’t parts of it will fall into disrepair and the businesses that would otherwise move in and provide jobs for residents will go elsewhere. The rising tide doesn’t lift all boats equally by any means, and that needs to be corrected as much as humanly possible, but it has to start somewhere.

  68. Derek DeVries permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:28 pm

    “Crime” is a form of civil disobedience/protest. The only thing that separates “crime” from “protest” is one’s position on the legitimacy of the cause that motivated the action.

    As Martin Luther King said: “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

  69. itsalljustaride permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:36 pm

    I sometimes don’t feel too comfortable in the Meanwhile, and I’m pretty darn white too. It’s the hipster pub, and that’s fine by me. Hipsters need beer too.

    Maybe we need to look at it like this: A bar called Two Stans, which catered largely to African Americans, has to close and falls into disrepair for lack of business. Subsequently, another group buys said bar, renovates it, and makes a good living selling booze to white hipsters in the same location. This tells me that in at least some capacity, that new bar filled a need that that community had that wasn’t being realized by the old place.

  70. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:41 pm

    JMichael, per your questions above:
    “Wait- you say since there were only white people in the place that “It was obvious that a lot of people were not comfortable or could not afford to eat there”. Are you saying all non-whites are poor?” and “Just because you only see “white people” working on the night you show up to eat is not proof enough. Have you actually talked to anyone that was qualified; applied for a job at one of these places and was subsequently denied employment because of their race?”

    I didn’t say any of these things. The post was about the observations of a friend of mine. Since I don’t read minds, I can’t answer on her behalf–I can only restate that both she and her husband have worked in civil rights for years and their observations were informed by their work as well as their personal lives.

  71. Derek DeVries permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:44 pm

    Not to speak for her, but I don’t think it’s Kate’s intent is to compare gentrification to genocide, rather she’s making the point that the legitimacy of the cause often differentiates whether or not an act of civil disobedience is considered “crime” or “protest.”

    From a rhetorical perspective, making a point like that requires that one analogize it to a historical situation that is universally regarded as an example of protest against injustice.

    For example, if she tried to make a more similar and contemporary comparison – say the G8 Protests or the LA Riots – that could much more easily be written off as also crime and the point would be missed.

    Injustices happen on a spectrum of severity, and at some point on that spectrum when the injustices become egregious enough everyone considers “crime” a justifiable response.

  72. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:45 pm

    I actually know people who drive quite a long way to eat at the restaurants on Wealthy and Cherry. I have friends from Saugatuck who drive in at least once a month to eat at the Green Well, for example. Not everyone eats solely at restaurants in their own neighborhood. But to see all-White patrons in an area so predominantly Black does seem to raise some questions, as others in this thread have noted.

  73. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:52 pm

    JoshLeo, you have written something that really speaks to the complexities and the emotional content of this issue. Thanks so much, and thanks for the link to the NY Times mapping project. I was unaware of this, and it looks fascinating.

  74. itsalljustaride permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:54 pm

    Yes, there are people who drive in from elsewhere, that much is certain, but some of these places, like Green Well, are on the cusp of this invisible line that we talk of. East GR is not too far from some of these businesses. No doubt many people from there frequent the Green Well and other places. Whose neighborhood do they belong to? Are they to be looked at as invaders because they drove less than a mile from their home to get some food?

    A small business like most of the ones on Wealthy won’t stay open long if it’s customer base is mainly people driving from Saugatuck. Small businesses are sustained by the surrounding community, however you define it.

  75. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:56 pm

    James, these are all great and valid points. We tend to stay silent about the invisible lines in our community, and it’s valuable to speak up and discuss them instead; it’s the only place where we can begin to be honest about these issues, in my opinion.

  76. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 30, 2010 4:05 pm

    The problem with your theory Josh is that the community doesn’t create businesses, individuals create businesses. The community (government) can give incentives to certain areas, or limit certain businesses, but it only acts as a gatekeeper. Business ideas generally start around a kitchen table, or over drinks at a bar.

    Two Stans was failing. Should it have been propped up and protected by the neighborhood? Somerdyke Plumbing building, where The Winchester is now, was basically falling apart and probably should have been condemned. Should the neighborhood have kept out someone who wanted to renovate it? Should they have made that decision based on the color of skin of the business owner, or what products/services the company was proposing to sell?

    The building renovated by Ponnstein (sp?) was also about to cave in on itself. From what I hear, the entire Eastern portion of the building was structurally unsound and dangerous to be in. How was that building in that state serving the neighborhood? Didn’t it pose a threat to the neighborhood in that condition? What if kids got into it (because it’s by a school) and the building collapsed on them?

    The empty weed filled lots where Electric Cheetah stands and where the Uptown Village development stands (the garage that was basically falling over). What about those?

    I’ve talked to a lot of African American people about the lack of diversity at a lot of what Grand Rapids has to offer lately, and one common theme emerges: there is not a large population of black middle class in Grand Rapids to frequent these events and venues, unfortunately.

    I, for one, would love to see a more diverse crowd at Uptown Shop Hop. But throwing the burden on a small business owner to come up with solutions to massive problems is probably not the way to do it. Small business startups already have a mountain of challenges to overcome in the first 3 to 5 years, which is why the great majority of them fail.

    Lastly, I don’t think we should jump to the conclusion that people who don’t want payday loan and cell phone shops don’t like black people. I personally think they’re predatory retailers and don’t contribute much to an area.

    Regardless of any of this, I hope most people agree that discussing the issue rationally is a much better solution than black ops spray painting and brick throwing. And that business owners in the area, despite being “capitalists,” probably have good intentions for the area.

  77. December 30, 2010 4:17 pm

    Jeff, but what I am saying isn’t that I think buildings should be empty and falling apart instead of owned by upper-middle class white folks, I am saying that maybe because of all these complex issues of race, poverty and institutional racism, those minorities can’t even have that conversation around the table because they don’t have the money, advice, or opportunity to start a new business… I think that it is possible for investment and mentoring groups to take an active role in diversifying the communities businesses. And I don’t understand why it needs to be “either, or” when it comes to what kinds of businesses are in the neighborhood. There is a middleground between a building that is falling apart and an imported cheese shop… I think the best models are things like sandmanns, wing-heaven (now on burton street) and wealthy street station.

  78. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 5:24 pm

    Thank you, Derek. That was exactly my intent in that post.

    Thanks, too, for the MLK quote–very apt in this situation.

  79. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 30, 2010 5:46 pm

    @josh, but why? Why are those businesses superior to the Meanwhile or Wealthy Street Bakery?

    Won’t the market determine which businesses succeed and which ones fail? Look at the Electric Eel? It failed to execute a good business plan (most likely). No mass group of white people could have kept it alive. Same w/ Corez.

    Your idea about business mentorship for minorities is a great one. Starting a small business, particularly retail, is tough work and requires a lot of maneuvering through the system. Particularly when you get into historic building renovations, that usually requires multiple levels of permitting, tax credits, layers of city approvals, neighborhood feedback (this does happen), and on and on. I think organizations like Lighthouse Communities provides these business incubator services, right in the center of the Baxter neighborhood. Could/should there be more? For sure.

    Contrary to assertions made on here, I don’t have one penny invested in any of these businesses. But I frequent a lot of them, and I know some of the owners and I use the services of the Community Media Center. But I don’t frequent them to be around my white brothers and sisters. I can go to one of a dozen Panera Bread Companies for that. I go because they provide an excellent, locally grown and cultivated product or service, and they’re in a diverse area filled with rich culture and interesting architecture.

    I agree that it doesn’t have to be either/or. But certain people in the community have drawn a line in the sand, and made it very clear that these businesses do not belong in this area. That ship does not sail.

  80. December 30, 2010 5:53 pm

    Jeff, you are right that businesses will succeed if they are good… but the key is starting them. and I don’t think and didn’t say that those businesses are superior to any other kind of business. I want the Green Well and Electric Cheetah to stay put forever! but I also want other businesses to flourish that cater to different audiences. I was using those two businesses as examples of establishments that are successful but seem to somehow serve all customers in the neighborhood.

    side note – I thought corez was doing fine but it was a choice to a great offer that made them sell?

  81. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 30, 2010 5:56 pm

    I don’t know the details, but it’s rare for a successful business to sell and close its doors, unless the owners are retiring and the family doesn’t want to carry it on.

  82. itsalljustaride permalink
    December 30, 2010 5:58 pm

    “These businesses are all insured and didn’t lose a dime or have to be shuttered for one second.”

    And banks are insured by the FDIC, so we can rob them, right?

    Making people come home from spending time with their families on Christmas to clean up this BS is cool too.

    Rebellion is fun. Let’s go read some zines.

  83. oh gosh permalink
    December 30, 2010 6:09 pm

    Everyone here is just arguing opinions, still waiting for someone to present quantifiable information that gentrification is happening. Property taxes, rent increase, inflation. Is there evidence that, in significant numbers, people are being forced out of this neighborhood?

    You guys’ desire to see real class warfare break out is almost fetishistic, erotic. Your excitement pushes the argument beyond the realms of what is actually happening into a chicken little style argument that the sky is falling. All around you the economy is tanking, whites and blacks are getting poorer, the housing market is terrible, and families are struggling to make ends meet. This is not because some hipster businesses that you resent out of either jealousy or stupidity moved in to town.

    Your arguments that gentrification are happening need to take a sober and clinical 20-30 year examination of the neighborhoods economy, culture, and diversity if they are going to hold weight; and, WAY MORE IMPORTANTLY, if you are going to constructively reach a solution for said neighborhood’s problems. Problems that are alleged by a vast minority, from the sound of things.

    Discussion is not constructive, action is. Action like renovating a home or a business, starting a garden, walking a blind person down the street, and not actions like throwing bricks through windows. The people who did this need to show their faces and tell us their exact intentions, it will greatly help both sides understand this argument.

  84. Mike Saunders permalink
    December 30, 2010 6:16 pm

    This map makes some of those lines visible.

  85. George Wietor permalink
    December 30, 2010 6:47 pm

    (In response to Mike) Incidentally,
    Race and ethnicity: Grand Rapids

  86. December 30, 2010 7:07 pm

    I think the real tragedy is the number of Gnomes and Trolls who’s needs are not being addressed here. They were displaced by man and now no businesses sell the mushroom tops they need for the roofs of their homes.

  87. December 30, 2010 7:11 pm

    DF: not true, they live in my yard now:

    anyway… back to the serious conversation at hand.

  88. Tommy Allen permalink
    December 30, 2010 7:20 pm

    I used to drink on Sunday afternoon at Two Stans. They had great jazz with plenty of guests popping in and out on the bar’s impromptu stage.

    I was sorry when they closed since it was my neighborhood bar for 9 years.

    Even though I have moved to another neighborhood. I love The Meanwhile Bar too and for same reasons i did Two Stans. I still feel like I am in a neighborhood bar.

    It is all good. And all were/are welcome.

    I really wish I could have bottled those times in the late ’80-’90s but alas, it is mostly being told via oral history and missing from the minds of many who now make regular stops to this street.

    The work was hard and the timeframe between its start and present are filled with the sweat equity of the many neighbors who stood up for community and not a color of any one skin. (History will note some day that the spark was created by a few women who loved women, yep, lesbians, who said we live here too and drove off the drug dealers and slum landlords who preyed upon the elderly to the families who still call this region their home.

    We lived in chaos at times but we kept creating harmony and cared for each other as neighbors.

    If I had one wish for all of you who feel so passionately about our city, it would be to bring back the old Wealthy Street neighborhood celebration that helped spark the rebuilding of this region, Wealthy Street Alive. This all day event brought people of all colors together for a street party with music, basketball and plenty of good food.

    It was totally low tech and probably why it worked so well. I have a few photos that illustrate what it looked like and how it could still be with a little work. I’d be happy to share them sometime.

    Maybe this act of violence is really the start of a new chapter for all of us….to be a neighborhood coming together again. And not to toss bricks and spray paint, unless they are being used to build up a community, not tear it down.

    No need to banter with me here since my comments are really meant to share some observations about a community I have loved for a long time, I personally have to move on. I have enjoyed everyone’s contribution here.

    You are a lively bunch. Can’t wait until you all meet in public some day. I share these as my own thoughts, my own memories.

  89. x99 permalink
    December 30, 2010 7:25 pm

    Someone at Urban Planet pointed out this discussion to me in response to my post over there regarding this vandalism, so I thought I’d offer a quick response here as well:

    The fact of the matter is that these vandals and malcontents are not anarchists or activists who are doing a favor to “displaced” community members. Rather, these are ignorant punks who have no appreciation for the history of these communities.

    Like it or not, change comes. My great-grandmother’s house and neighborhood was, for better or worse, converted into an area of run down houses occupied by people who neither looked nor acted anything like those who were there before them. My parents didn’t vandalize her neighborhood because it changed. Change happens.

    Now, many places are slowly being reclaimed and reinvigorated by the grandsons and granddaughters of those who built these places in the first place. Often, they are being rescued from the brink of total collapse and ruin, having been neglected for decades by those who (although perhaps through no fault of their own) never had the ability to care for them in the first place.

    Businesses or people with next to no money occupying only the first floor of a two or three story building or inhabiting a 3000 square foot house, is a recipe for long-term disaster. Like it or not, when you build buildings with a big budget and attempt to maintain them on a shoestring, they eventually fall apart. Rents or disposable cash simply are not sufficient to cover the upkeep costs. Historically wealthy areas that become impoverished will not last forever. Is this fair? No. But it is reality. Less affluent areas are built in a different way and in a different manner which makes them more usable to those who live in them. To bemoan the poor having to move out of drafty and unsafe buildings because those were their “homes” does them a grave disservice.

    While I’m at it, let’s also put the lie to three other myths that Ms. Wheeler is attempting to promote:

    • Longtime residents and even some business owners have been forced out of the area by higher rents.

    Untrue. No one was “forced out” by anyone. Those who rent and do not buy enter into voluntary lease agreements for a defined period of time for a given place. They voluntarily run the risk that rents could increase, and that they could have to move. To the extent that rents have risen in certain small pockets, I truly doubt that anyone in the City of Grand Rapids has had to move more than half a mile. There is scarcely a single “high rent” district in this city which is not surrounded by a low rent district less than a few blocks away.

    •As property taxes in the neighborhoods go up, some residents will lose their homes.

    Provably false. Property taxes in Michigan are capped at the higher of 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Rather than being “forced out”, those who owned a property when the value was low wind up getting a fantastic deal on their taxes. Ultimately, they voluntarily move not because of taxes, but because someone offers them enough money that it makes it worthwhile to do so.

    •Minorities who have been in the neighborhood for years are feeling pressured by the predominantly White influx of new business owners and residents.

    You’ve got to be kidding me! Did I just read that right? Let’s unveil the hatred, racism, and classism behind this comment by mixing it up a bit:

    “Whites who have been in the neighborhood for years are feeling pressured by the predominantly Black influx of new business owners and residents.”

    What is this, the Jim Crow South circa 1960? You would be tarred and feathered by your progressive buddies for putting out the recrafted sentence, but seem to have no compunction about accepting and even advocating the divisive and noxious brand of hatred that excuses and even accepts minorities hating white people (or White people as you would put it–wouldn’t want to forget that these are “White” businesses in “Black” areas). Why you feel that constantly and repeatedly injecting race and class into the discussion is inexcusable, unless your underlying goal is to foster and highlight the line upon which society too-often fractures, rather than seeking to heal and mend them.

    Unfortunately, it appears that you fail to recognize the remarkable arrogance that underlies most of what you say, which is truly sad.

  90. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 8:00 pm

    x99, thank you for actually quoting from my article. It is, however, too bad that you didn’t actually read it more carefully.

    The points that you address are presented by me as the *general* problems that occur with the gentrification of the area. Then I go on to say that you can match up those points with some of the messages found on the graffiti and bricks that were found by business owners on Christmas Day.

    As for property taxes, they are not completely capped. For example, at any time that a home owner must do a major improvement that requires city permission, that property becomes open to re-assessment and an increase in property taxes. When a house is sold, the property taxes are adjusted to new levels. Depending on how property is transferred after a death, a re-assessment can occur then, too. In any of those scenarios, a home’s taxes could become unaffordable to a resident or a prospective resident.

    Your assumption that everyone leaves a house voluntarily and gets “a great deal” in a gentrified area is another example of class-ist thinking. In poorer neighborhoods people are far more likely to lose their homes when they lose their jobs or go from full-time to part-time. Anyone who follows data on why houses are seized in this area knows that. In some cases, people only owe a few hundred dollars in back taxes; but it is too much for them to pay.

    It is true that there are Black residents in the Wealthy and Cherry areas who are feeling like their neighborhoods are being co-opted by the new businesses and “upscaling” of their neighborhood. It is also true that some, like George Bayard, have been forced to move out because of rising rents. I’ve met some of them. So have some of the other people who have posted here, if you bothered to read their posts.

    And any move by a business, even if just “a half-mile,” incurs a lot of expense: rehabbing a space, installing a phone, changing addresses on business cards and getting the word out that there’s a new location. Some business owners find these costs prohibitive.

    As for arrogance, I’d say that the arrogance of White privilege that you display all throughout your post is far greater than my simply suggesting that this scenario might have been played out by people who are worried and afraid of changes in their neighborhood. Why do you find that idea so threatening?

    You simply cannot compare the immense advantage of being White to the situation that many minorities in this country and in this city find themselves.

  91. December 30, 2010 8:01 pm

    Ms. Wheeler, your article of 12/29/10 is both disappointing and misleading to its readers. You seem to be grasping at this unfortunate event to support your views on gentrification. Calling vandals “protesters” is clearly absurd. All of the 13 vandals and taggers caught by the GR Police inside our neighborhood project were from Christian High School or East Grand Rapids High School. No vandal or tagger was from the neighborhood.

    The commercial districts that house these new businesses have been in place since the early 1900’s. In fact, we have fewer operating businesses today than were present in the 1950’s. Adaptive re-use of these historic commercial properties is good for everyone. Wealthy Street is now a much safer place because of the hard work of many who desire to live in a diverse neighborhood such as ours.

    As far as housing is concerned, more low income housing units have been constructed here than market rent housing. Lighthouse Communities project at 950 Wealthy Street is a good example of beautiful low to moderate income housing as is the work Habitat and Dwelling Place are doing in Wealthy Heights. The higher residential rents you are quoting reflect the current cost of new construction and renovation, not a method of driving the more unfortunate of us out of the neighborhood.

    If you wish to have a sincere discussion about gentrification, we will be pleased to participate.

  92. Idea for Dialog permalink
    December 30, 2010 8:08 pm


    After all this discussion (80+ comments) can we please get a RECENT COMMENTS feature on the side of your blog?

    It is pretty easy and would help to promote the dialog you are trying to encourage!

    Here are the instructions:

    It would do a lot to improve discussion and make GRiID seem less behind the times. Without it it kinda seems like you are trying to bury discussion.

  93. x99 permalink
    December 30, 2010 8:17 pm

    “For example, at any time that a home owner must do a major improvement that requires city permission, that property becomes open to re-assessment and an increase in property taxes. ”

    False. Increases due to most normal improvements or upgrades are specifically prohibited by the Mathieu-Gast Act in order to encourage home improvement. Now, if you slap on an addition, then yes, you will be taxed, but ONLY according to the value by which the additional increases the value of the home.

    “When a house is sold, the property taxes are adjusted to new levels. Depending on how property is transferred after a death, a re-assessment can occur then, too. In any of those scenarios, a home’s taxes could become unaffordable to a resident or a prospective resident.”

    If the house is sold to someone else, isn’t that person going to be the resident or prospective resident? Does that person simply not count in your world?

    “In poorer neighborhoods people are far more likely to lose their homes when they lose their jobs or go from full-time to part-time. ”

    So they should get to live for free? They shouldn’t have to pay for their house because they can no longer afford it? Then it’s clearly time to move or time to rent. You don’t get to have a Benz if you can’t afford to make the payments.

    “In some cases, people only owe a few hundred dollars in back taxes; but it is too much for them to pay.”

    Almost never. It takes nearly THREE YEARS to lose a house to back taxes. And if you are poor and cannot afford to property taxes, you can apply for a hardship exemption. By the time a house is lost to back taxes, it is almost invariably vacant.

    “… have been played out by people who are worried and afraid of changes in their neighborhood. Why do you find that idea so threatening?”

    Why do you fail to recognize that the fear you are validating is the SAME fear that was felt by those in these neighborhoods forty years ago and which any good progressive would condemn? You have boxed yourself into a corner, which only has two valid options to get out of it: 1) Diversity is not a virtue and homogenous, lilly white or solid black neighborhoods are preferable, and that change which integrates a neighborhood is bad; or 2) That these fears are irrational and should not be validated. Which is it?

  94. December 30, 2010 8:28 pm

    @X99 you do understand that there is a difference between White Flight and Gentrification right? you seem to be oversimplifying it and ignoring larger issues of White Privilege and institutional racism… i mean this gets into a whole ball of issues related to why people move to and from places that is weaved in with economics, family background, generational wealth, and stuff like that. I think both Kate and you need to take the hostility and animosity down from 11 to about 4 and then continue talking.

    I also wish that people would use their real names here. I mean what is the Mlive!? heh.

  95. December 30, 2010 8:39 pm

    time and time again, when presented with facts and statistics, Ms. Wheeler resorts to petty insults as retort. Where are the hard facts, where is the evidence for your claim that goes further than “I know, I’ve met some of them?”

  96. srdailey permalink
    December 30, 2010 8:50 pm

    yet another perspective, care of tim morrin:

  97. wmrharris permalink
    December 30, 2010 8:59 pm

    Several comments are merited on the topic generally, and Josh’s note in particular.

    Generally, it is not as if Wealthy hasn’t seen other attempts at business start-ups. If nothing else, there is the old McDonalds and all its subsequent iterations. Pre-renaissance zone, the street held a variety of struggling businesses, businesses that were in an out. This is not unlike the similar mix along Eastern, from Wealthy to Franklin.

    Was the street in this configuration an optimal setting for commerce? For the community? An honest appraisal would recognize that the community was not especially well-served then, either.

    The better and unaddressed question is what sort of neighborhoods would allow for the development of these communities. Then with this, how do we imagine any sort of development? Here, a hopeful sign is the continuing redevelopment of housing stock by Habitat (I have a dog in this, I’m a volunteer). Affordable, owner-occupied family housing is more than a stabilizer of rents, but brings in the social capital that local schools (here, Sigsbee, Congress) can so benefit from.

    And about Ottawa Hills: yes we missed Big Bobs for some time, but EGR begins a quarter mile east, past Cadillac. The (re)placement of the Christian school is another part of the redevelopment puzzle on the SE side.

  98. x99 permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:03 pm

    Josh, you presuppose that “[w]hite privilege” and “institution racism” have anything to do with the conversation. They do not. This conversation is about ignorance that seems to be displayed by arrogant, privileged rich white kids who think they have the moral authority to speak on behalf of poor, disadvantaged black people, and who have the audacity to vandalize buildings in their name or on their behalf. Mr. Wheeler and her ilk preach that black people hate white people because they are made “uncomfortable” by them. I find that incredibly offensive and arrogant.

    I also know, from first hand experience, that her ridiculous notions that black people hate white people is patently false. I moved into a very bad area and rehabbed a house right in the midst of it. My neighbors, who were black, were grateful for the improvements. They watched my house. They asked about the progress. When someone stole my ladder, my neighbor across the street found my employer in the phone book and contacted me at work. That’s going the extra mile for a neighbor. When my neighbor across the street lost his home, I let him put his stuff upstairs, and live upstairs for a few months. While admittedly making me somewhat uncomfortable, my neighbor across the street on more than one occasion came over and said (referring to me), “What up my n—er! That house is looking great!” Yeah, he referred to me like that, like he would any of his other friends who were actually black. They considered me a neighbor, and a member of their community, someone who would watch their kids in his front yard. No one, to my knowledge, considered me an invader except for stupid, ignorant, rich white kids who did not live there.

    Ms. Wheeler wants to gripe about gentrification and in support of her argument, cites multiple arguments that rabble-rousers across the country often trot out, such as “rich white people raise property taxes and force poor people out.” In some areas, that is true, and I would agree that it ISN’T fair. But that what you get when you let the government into the picture. You get long-term residents out of their homes. It’s despicable. It also does not happen in Michigan because Michigan law is not drafted that way.

    The fact of the matter is that Ms. Wheeler likes to put words and thoughts in the mouths of the poor and underprivileged that they themselves do not have. She deigns to have the moral authority to tell them what to think–that they should be afraid of and offended by white people, that they should live is isolated black ghettos with no white people in them, that they should protest the evil white invaders. The truth of the matter is that she probably has never truly lived and owned property in a majority black area. Fortunately, there were no rich, privileged white people like Ms. Wheeler running around around to tell my neighbors that they should hate me.

    Neighborhoods are made up of the people that live in them. People like Ms. Wheeler or you, Josh, tell neighbors that they should hate each other because of institutional racism and gentrification. You fuel and fan the flames of racism and hatred which do not organically exist in these communities without you wandering around to promote them.

  99. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:17 pm

    Mr. Bazzani, thank you for the information regarding the arrests. This is not information I’ve seen on local news sources yet, and it certainly wasn’t available at the time I wrote my commentary.

    The point of my commentary was to explore the content of the graffiti and messages on bricks and entertain the possibility–and I never said it was more than that–that perhaps people from the neighborhood could have been involved. I stand by my statement that this event appeared to be, as well as a crime, a protest, and I felt it was legitimate to explore that idea.

    I think that the article did spark an interesting, although at times vehement, discussion about the issues related to gentrification. I’m sorry you don’t find it sincere, as it seems to me that many of the people who posted here are connected with the neighborhood in one way or another. Some seem aware of it as a potential problem and are not simply in a mode of denial that it may be an issue beginning to present itself in the neighborhood in question.

    I’d also like you to know that simply because these points were raised, here and on other sites, people associated with GRIID were threatened–with the absurd notion that we were in league with the people behind the vandalism or that we knew who they were. One person was physically threatened. I was accused of being an accessory to a crime. Some of the people making these threats were people with business interests in the Wealthy and Cherry corridors. This seems to me, at least, to indicate an almost virulent level of denial coupled with a desire to present a uniformly 100% happy picture of the situation in these neighborhoods. If that’s what you’re calling a “sincere discussion”–a “my way or the highway or I’ll blow you away so watch your back” discussion, then no thanks; been there, done that, am in contact with my attorney about the threat issued against me. But thanks very much for taking the time to read and comment on the piece.

  100. wmrharris permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:19 pm

    Although it seems difficult to imagine local African American anarchists toss ing the bricks (outsiders seem more the possibility), nonetheless I have heard from neighborhood residents some of the same concerns Wheeler mentions. The Wealthy street divide is real, running along racial, but also socio-economic and sexual boundaries, as well. (That is, the comments I heard on the campaign trail were also homophobic in nature).

    But let’s be economic realists, as well. Retail is not a driver, its a symptom of consumption. And this is the rather blatant point about our “protestors” — the very branded nature of the protest, our happy anarchist “A” (does it have a ®?) — is no less part of this same pattern of consumption and display. The economic and social redevelopment of our urban area will take the expansion of our economic base both in terms of jobs and also with training, a revisioned social contract that can rescue lives instead of abandoning them, and some honest help from a hitherto reluctant state government.

  101. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:21 pm

    Please quote exactly where I said, in this thread or in my article, that Black people hate White people. Thanks.

  102. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:23 pm

    Thank you, Sean.

  103. x99 permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:46 pm

    Perhaps “hate” was too strong a word. Perhaps “distrust” or “view with suspicion” would have been more apt. That said, I fail to see how tacitly approving of race and class-based vandalism is not approving of hatred. More specifically, I take issue with phrases such as the following:

    “If you go into one of the touted new businesses on Wealthy Street, you’ll see an awful lot of White faces–white business owners, White wait-staff, White clerks, White customers–in an neighborhood that is predominently Black.”

    “But to see all-White patrons in an area so predominantly Black does seem to raise some questions,”

    If you transpose the words “white” and “black” and keep that noxious and pointed capitalization in place, you would have no doubt that I was a merchant of racial hatred, and you would accuse me of being a racist. That’s why I placed you in a class of people who are encouraging hate. It may not be your intent, but I don’t know you. I can only see what you say, and from over here, it looks ugly.

  104. doug devos permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:55 pm

    The Rapidian published an article today called “Creating Myths in Uptown” that provides a good look at whether or not gentrification is happening in the neighborhood:

    It is a “must read” and should be considered by anyone reading this site as it addresses many of the assumptions made by Kate Wheeler and GRIID head on.

    One interesting part:

    Gentrification is a real thing, Uptown is being invaded.

    What we are seeing in Uptown is re-investment after decades of dis-investment. The Uptown area has historically been a place of mixed incomes, we have great historical markers that make direct evidence of the history of this community, all one needs to do is look at the housing stock. Our community has always been composed of people of greatly varying income levels – some lived in large houses others in small houses or apartments. The idea that this area of the city has historically been primarily poor is a misnomer, it has always been mixed. In the 60s and 70s there was massive disinvestment that led to a temporary decline that is now being corrected. This is not “new” development but the return of what was here – an active thriving neighborhood with active thriving businesses. New infill that is being built is merely replacing neglected property that had been demolished and left vacant. No invasion is happening, just a 30 year long slow trickle of re-investment that is re-making what was here before.

  105. Johnnny2X2X permalink
    December 30, 2010 10:04 pm

    This thread has deteriorated into whining and name calling, it is no longer interesting for me to read and that’s a shame because it started out with the promise that some constructive dialogue would take place. I’ll keep frequenting the Meanwhile, the Wincester and the Electric Cheetah and am glad they are there, but maybe at the very least I’ll try to be more cognizant of the Community that has made the area it’s home before all the Hipsters moved in to ply their wares.

  106. December 30, 2010 10:06 pm

    I do think that the key to development in these areas is maintaining a great level of diversity in the kind of shops going into these neighborhoods. I think Heritage Hill is a great example of this. You can have one mansion owned by a single family with a significant yearly income right next to a giant home that is split up into apartments ranging from studios to 4 bedrooms units. This means that you have a neighborhood of renters of all ages and financially established residents (of course there aren’t many options in HH for lower-income folks who want to own their own house) But I think it’s great to see businesses that serve pricy food next to those that dont.

    I do also think that this conversation online is obviously lacking the minority residents of these neighborhoods that we are discussing. Guess a real-life discussion is necessary – scary, I might have to put on shoes and leave my desk!

  107. x99 permalink
    December 30, 2010 10:19 pm

    “(of course there aren’t many options in HH for lower-income folks who want to own their own house)”

    Property values in the Hill have been absolutely decimated. If you want a house in the Hill for under $100k, you can have your pick if you keep your eyes open. There have even been quite a few sales under $60k. That’s why all this talk of gentrification is truly somewhat silly. If any area was actually gentrified as that terms is normally understood to include rising property taxes, it was Heritage Hill prior to the property tax cap. But the boom is over. There are affordable homes in literally ANY area of the City.

  108. J Rylah permalink
    December 30, 2010 11:34 pm

    I do not know George Bayard on a personal level, but I did look for him online to learn more about his business, as Bayard was the only business owner listed as an example of businesses forced out of the neighborhood.

    This article indicates that it was slow sales that pushed them to close, not rising rent. However, he did choose to relocate later to the Boston Square neighborhood:

    Here, it states the new space is one third the size with less overhead, and he also shifts some of his focus to online sales. This follows a move from Michigan Ave. eight years before.

    I would be interested in hearing his story in his own words.

  109. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 30, 2010 11:49 pm

    Thanks for the link. I am not the site administrator, so I’m unable to do this myself. Appreciate the input, though.

  110. December 30, 2010 11:51 pm


  111. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 12:04 am

    x99–normally, I try to not to engage with trolls, but in your case I’m interested, now that we’ve established that you lied about one thing that I said and went on to base an entire post about it, to see if you can back up additional statements of yours.

    So first, please point out, per your post, where I said that I approved of the events on Christmas. Please use exact quotes.

    In addition, please point out where in the article or in this thread it says that I am rich, predominantly White (I did refer to some White family members, but that doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily identified as White), and have never lived in a predominantly minority part of this or any other city. Again, please use exact quotes.

    I feel confident that you will not be able to back up your characterization of me in any way.

    Also, just so you know this: my “noxious and pointed” capitalization of the terms White and Black are based on the Chicago Manual of Style, which is considered the best Amercan English-language style manual available. GRIID caps these terms so that they achieve equity with other racial terms that are capped–such as Latino or Chinese, as examples. There is an article about this term-equity in the style manual that you can read for yourself, and you will find this capitalization widely used on independent news sites. If you look at other articles on this site, you’ll see the same usage being employed.

    Thanks for posting.

  112. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 12:13 am

    Juliet, you might want speak to Jeff Smith; he knows George Bayard and has posted elsewhere about the rent increases.

    As for it not being mentioned in the articles you linked, I would expect that any business owner who wanted to re-establish his business elsewhere would not burn any bridges by complaining about rent increases in the mainstream media or bringing it up as a factor, but that’s just a guess on my part.

  113. jon permalink
    December 31, 2010 12:51 am

    Kate, I am absolutely appauled by your attempted to martyr yourself in the comments of your article to promote what gradually degraded in a radical conspiracy theory.

    You said offensive things to your commenters that you disagree with, and then in turn told them you were offended. You have a responsibility as the author of this auricle to maintain a level of proffesionalism, and you were extremely fortunate to have received that courtesy from your commenters who do not have that responsibility.

    Your personal story about your family history does not belong here.

    Your method of arguing was extremely childish. Posting that you or anyone received threatening emails belongs here even less.

    I applaud Mike for mediating, but that was your responsibility, it should not have taken someone annoyed with all the complaining about your stubborness to step in.

    Worst of all, having lived in the area for 5 years and being quite poor, I too have worried about the area being gentrified, and not being able to continue to afford to live there, but YOU (not your commenters with very valid points) convinced me I was being ridiculous, because of your radical thought process.

    I’m also extremely offended by how you allowed this conversation about an economic issue to turn into a race issue. I’m both white and poor, they are not exclusive of one another.

    You made this thread an uncomfortable place for people to post their disagreements, and that is very poor journalism.

    As commenting continued, you said to people that they said what you meant to, and complained that anyone who disagreed with you either misunderstood you or took you of of context. Why then did your first 30 comments consist only of people doing that, and you getting defensive? It really appears your commenters were better at saying what you “meant to say” than you.

    Also, you need to correct the person who said Paul Lee claimed a drug dealer “can’t spell” gentrification and that it was racist. The quote was “would use”, and again, as the author, you have the responsibility to keep the information accurate. I think you persoanlly owe Paul an apology.

    Frankly, I think your publication owes its readers an apology for your conduct here.

    *again sorry for typos, this was typed on a phone from a car that I’ve been in for 24 hours.

  114. x99 permalink
    December 31, 2010 1:23 am

    Instead of answering the substance of my argument, you’ve turned to arguing whether my characterization of you was correct (without specifically stating how it is not) and objecting to my dislike of your capitalization of White and Black. You’re ignoring the forest for the trees. If you want me to throw you a bone because you follow the CMS, then fine–you’re right. So far as where you condoned the violence, I never said you did. I said it was _tacitly_ condoned: When you characterize brick throwing and graffiti “as a response” and a way to “make themselves heard” it appears to me you consider these actions justifiable.

    Ultimately, though, you’re trying to deflect attention from the fact that your primary arguments, for the most part, don’t hold water and that many of your comments with the persons transposed would normally be considered racist. If you want to have a serious debate about gentrification, I would be more than happy to do so, but first you have to drop the premise that there is any gentrification going on here and stop engaging in the “white this, white that” commentary.

  115. jon permalink
    December 31, 2010 1:39 am

    Oh, and you’re wrong on every account, as many people have rationally, cohesively,patiently, and persistently pointed out.

    Some one (doug devos?) Did even point out that it was in fact white teenagers that were the vandals, as all of your commenters who live/work in the area speculated, right? We knew that because we live there, and care about our community enough to know what’s going on in it. Speaking for us is bad enough, arguing with us that we don’t know what’s going on our own neighborhood and claiming we are actively denying that we are trying to ruin it is another thing all together.

    Feel free to claim I’m misunderstanding you if you wish, if you want to publish a story, your readers should be able to understand it.

  116. December 31, 2010 2:53 am

    there is assumption and fact. Your assumptions do not make fact.

  117. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 2:53 am

    x99–I have addressed the “substance of your argument” over and over in this thread. You’ve read the thread. I don’t feel the need to repeat myself yet again for your amusement.

    In fact, I have been a civil rights advocate and activist for some time–and one thing that is seen in that work are people who make the same kind of “reverse racism” argument that you do. I will say again that the reverse racism argument really doesn’t work when White privilege is involved, because there is no actual parity between the two groups. In case you are unaware of the term “White privilege,” as you seem to be, here’s a simplified definition: “In critical race theory, white privilege is a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that whites accrue as on the disadvantages that people of color experience.”

    You, however, seem to be unable to defend any of the statements in your post that you put up about me, and you attempt to defend that by saying I’m just deflecting the argument? The entire point of one of your posts was that I was a racist and that I had stated that Black people hated White people. That is slander. If I made a slanderous statement about you in public, I think you would focus on it, too.

    The following statements of yours constitute slander which, I suspect you know, is an actionable offense:

    “Mr. Wheeler and her ilk preach that black people hate white people because they are made “uncomfortable” by them.”

    “Fortunately, there were no rich, privileged white people like Ms. Wheeler running around around to tell my neighbors that they should hate me. ”

    “I also know, from first hand experience, that her ridiculous notions that black people hate white people is patently false.”

    I would like you to retract your slander of me publicly on this site, and do it in your next post. Thank you.

  118. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 3:10 am

    DF, if you read my response to Juliet, you will see that I know my assumptions are not facts. That is why I referred her to someone who has written about Mr. Bayard’s rent increases and who can put her in touch with him to find out more.

    I said that I was just guessing at why he wouldn’t want to publicize the fact in the MLive story.

    What exactly was the point in you taking a shot at something that I’d already acknowledged?

  119. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 4:00 am

    Jon, a couple of points:

    Not everyone in this thread has agreed that I was wrong on every count. A number of people who live in the Wealthy neighborhood have posted and said that they felt I was correct in what I say about people there fearing the negative effects of gentrification.

    It is up to the person who misquoted Paul Lee to apologize to him for that; not me. I quoted him accurately.

    It was Guy Bazzani who said that the people involved in the Christmas Day attacks had been caught, but I still have not seen any mainstream media stories about it. So I can’t verify it, or speak to it. Now I’m wondering if Mr. Bazzani was actually referring to a different incident than the one on Christmas Day.

    As for allowing the discussion of this to turn from an economic issue into a racial one, it was not me who first raised that issue. However, I do feel that it is a valid part of the discussison. Are you saying that the neighborhoods in question are not predominantly Black? What’s wrong with discussing that as one aspect of this?

    As for my responses, I think that the vast majority of them have been polite. I feel that my original points were valid. I did challenge a few people to show where I had said what they were stating I said, and they were unable to do so. There has been a lot of erroneous re-statement of what I said in my original article, with other people grabbing onto that and acting as if I said it rather than another commenter. I admit that at times it is hard to be patient with that.

    I’m sorry that you found reading this thread so upsetting. If you are in a car because you’re traveling somewhere for the holiday, I hope you get there safely. Happy New Year.

  120. Tyler Nickerson permalink
    December 31, 2010 4:00 am

    After reading and thinking about what has been said here, along with living and being active in the discussed neighborhood and working on these issues at a professional level, I think we are dealing with an “and/both” situation (as opposed to either/or).

    Let me preface my comments by saying I in know way condone the actions of the vandals. I frequent all of the affected establishments and know the most of proprietors well. Although their actions have undoubtedly caused a stir, they are not an effective way of creating change. I think it is sad that these already small business owners, none of which are making millions of dollars (unlike Walmart who we all should be criticizing), have yet another obstacle to overcome.

    That said, as a very strong supporters of the local business movement (over 75% of all of my purchases are by businesses in the neighborhood, city, county, state, and region), I think East Hills is at a pinnacle point in its revitalization. The damage that white flight has caused our Central City neighborhoods, only exacerbated by the foreclosure crisis, will take years to repair. There is no doubt that local and federal policy has encouraged the decades of disinvestment into our urban core. To see such strong growth in our neighborhood during tough economic times is incredible. As this neighborhood and city continue to revitalize (which all national studies say urban centers will do) we need to ensure that this neighborhood’s roots are preserved. We need revitalization, thriving business districts, restaurants, shops, bars, etc. for all people in the neighborhood as our goal should be to build an integrated, diverse (racially, economically, family styles, etc) community.

    Is East Hills “gentrified” (as defined by academics that study this issue)? No. We are rebounding back from decades of disinvestment and a bearish market. We have had incredible growth and changed a lot in fifteen years. We look nothing like Ann Arbor, SOHO, Greenwhich Village, Lincoln Park, and other truly gentrified areas. If continue on the path taken in the last ten years we could become that. I live on Wealthy near Diamond and from what I understand from long time residents and community activist, I believe nobody would pay in rent what I pay now to live on Wealthy Street. Also, working in the housing business, I know I could get a lot cheaper two-bedroom apartment in another, not so “cool,” neighborhood for less (not a lot, maybe $100-$150 less a month at the most). The neighborhood has improved and maybe some rentals are able to obtain more income, but it is not huge percentages. Looking at the fair market rents as reported by HUD for the last twenty years, City wide rent prices have not increase dramatically (outside of the rate of inflation). That is not neighborhood specific data, but more anecdotal information (which is largely all we have) have shown an increase in rent due to an increase in demand (demand driven by a revitalized area). Although, rents in East Hills are not terribly out of line with city and metro region wide standards. The average two bedroom rent for Grand Rapids/Wyoming is $749 (HUD 2009 FMR). I don’t pay much more than that and I live in East Hills.

    I think this is an “and/both” situation. We need revitalization. We don’t need gentrification. We are not gentrified, but if we continue the path we are one we could become so. We need to preserve the historic minority populations in East Hills (along with business that cater to them).

    On the issue of businesses, and as someone who frequents most of the mentioned establishments and notices who else does as well, a strong portion of the businesses does not always cater to the neighborhood. There is a lot of people from the suburbs and East that eat at the electric cheetah, Winchester, and others. Some businesses are frequented more by non-neighborhood folk that others. It is without a doubt that our neighborhood has become some-what of a destination. This a significant change than from ten years ago. Is this bad you ask? No, not necessarily. I am very OK with people coming to spend their money in our neighborhood. We must though maintain our diverse population that will continue to attract people here. We need diversity and integration.

    Although I disagree with many elements of Ms. Wheeler’s article, I do thank her from the opening up the discussion. I think we need growth, revitalization, economic development, and new business that cater to all types of people. I also think that we need make some serious decisions for the future and how we plan our neighborhood so it does not become gentrified but maintains its integration. It is a fine line and we must walk it carefully.

    Thank you for opportunity to comment.

    p.s. I am more than willing to help organize a public forum to discuss these issues. Also, people who are interest in becoming active in the East Hills community should get in touch with the neighborhood association.

  121. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 4:11 am

    Tyler, you raise some really interesting points, and your explanation of how you see the current situation as an “and/but” one is particularly thought-provoking.

    I did say that I thought, after listing the downside effects of gentrification in general in my original article, that I felt that there were signs of gentrification beginning to take hold in a very early stage. I also said that some residents of the area feared they would be pushed out if it occurred. You post posits some ways that it can be avoided, which are valuable discussion points.

    Thanks very much for posting this.

  122. Jeff Hill permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:12 am

    Kate, you’d have a really tough time getting a judge to rule in your favor that those comments by x99 were “slander.” It’s an online public forum, and you engaged him in a debate. Unless you can show some kind of actual damages, you’re a ship w/o a port.

    I’m sure you’ll delete this too, since you apparently only want to hear from people who agree with you.

    I thought GRIID was information democracy, not information demagoguery. What happened to it?

  123. James permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:21 am


    I just wanted to say thank you for sparking the best discussion I’ve been a part of in a real long time. I think you performed remarkably well in response to the powerful opinions expressed here; I don’t know that I could have done the same. Happy New Year.

  124. James permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:22 am

    Thanks bud. That was great.

  125. James permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:23 am


  126. jon permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:52 am

    There are so many things I want to say, but you obviously have no intention whatsoever of listening to them, so I’m going to reduce them to 2.

    1. Your initial article and many of your comments blantantly point out your distrust of mainstream media, yet your response to me states that you need them to confirm what happened? I thought they were part of the conspiracy.

    2. It IS your responsibility to address the commenter’s misquote since you thanked him, told an anecdote, and used his comment for you argument, while in turn complaining that other people misquoted you. YOU are the author of this post, and you need to accept a little accountability.

    I’m done, I’m not reading anything more here, thankfully you got some rational people to start talking, and ill rejoin the conversation when it reaches a venue where you aren’t given the privilege to act like a spoiled child.

  127. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 2:01 pm

    Thank you, James; I appreciate you saying that. You have a happy New Year, too.

  128. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 2:29 pm

    It’s been pointed out that you stated Paul Lee’s quote incorrectly. He didn’t say that drug dealers didn’t know how to spell “gentrification.” He said “…most drug dealers don’t use words like ‘gentrification.'”

    I didn’t notice the misstatement when I replied to you earlier. Thanks again for posting.

  129. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 2:30 pm

    The post above was intended as a second response to Appreciative’s post.

  130. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 2:33 pm

    It took me quite a while, Jon, to find the person who you said misquoted the Paul Lee statement, but I did and posted a correction.

    As for the mainstream media: it’s part of GRIID’s goals to act as a media watchdog and comment on the presentation of the news. But in the case of an ongoing crime investigation, GRIID like everyone else has to wait for a police announcement, which will appear first in the mainstream media. The police will not comment to anyone outside of the people involved in the incident (the business owners, etc.) until the case has been brought to a preliminary conclusion.

    Take care.

  131. December 31, 2010 5:42 pm

    You’re totally gonna have Kate speak at the next speaker series, right?

  132. analogmutant permalink
    December 31, 2010 6:01 pm

    There are a lot of interesting points, and counter-points being made here… but i am willing to bet that the motives of these so-called “anarchists” are grossly over-calculated. It’s most likely bored adolescents with no serious comprehension of politics or economics, just trying to get a reaction out of people for kicks.

    The iconic “circle A” on the brick is identical to the others spray painted around that area of town. Across from Literary Life is a building that had this symbol (photographed by Stephen DePolo this summer) tagged on it. This tag and other identical ones around town are the work of a local, or a regular visitor to the neighborhood.

  133. December 31, 2010 7:48 pm

    Ms. Wheeler:
    It is unfortunate to hear you were threatened by anyone. My desire to participate in an open discussion regarding gentrification in this neighborhood is truly sincere. Your attempt to warp my request into a threat is a bit paranoid. Are you interpreting others comments in a similar way?

  134. December 31, 2010 7:53 pm

    I was referring to other incidents other than the recent ones on Christmas day. Specifically the prior buildings where Green Well now stands.

  135. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 31, 2010 7:53 pm

    I should apologize, Mr. Bazzani. I did not mean to suggest that you had threatened me; I just wrote my response to you at a point where I was feeling rather overwhelmed by what was happening.

    It is possible that people at GRIID would in fact like to discuss this matter further with you. If so, I am sure someone will be in touch. Again, thanks for reading the article and have a happy New Year.

  136. x99 permalink
    December 31, 2010 7:53 pm


    I really don’t think my opinions are slander, but if you’re unhappy about them, then fine, I apologize. I don’t believe I ever called you a racist, because I certainly don’t think you are. I do however, believe you were excusing hateful and criminal acts by attempting to lend some veneer of legitimacy to them as I detailed above.

    Based on your latest comment, however, you do appear to be a proponent of critical race theory. This readily explains why I perceived an undercurrent of promotion of racial mistrust, disunity, or, as I have also termed it, “hatred”. That is a strong word, but when applied to critical race theory and theorists, in describing the net results of their efforts, I believe it is true. Unless I grossly misremember CRT, the general concept is an a priori assumption that racism is inexorably engrafted upon the social structure, which is defined and divided by lines “white privilege” and minority oppression. Consequently, rehabilitating buildings and increasing numbers of white faces in minority areas must, somehow, be indicia of white supremacy. The underlying economic or business justifications are, in turn, simply more ingrained white racism. I once advanced (and confronted) a number of various CRT and CLS arguments back in my days of competitive debate. It was a particularly wretched type of thing to discuss, because it made logical, rational debate almost impossible.

    I don’t mean to diminish the importance of strong local communities and having “roots” in area. The notion, however, that it is acceptable for any person of any color to be distrustful or disliking of another person solely on the basis of their skin color, is, however, a notion which I find offense. CRT seems to accept and even celebrate this since whites have are “inherently privileged” while blacks and other minorities are “inherently disadvantaged” and “unable to speak for themselves”. Accepting that as an a prior assumption seems, to me, to adopt as a premise the notion which most minorities would seek to dispel, and places them in the position of perpetual victimhood.

    To bring this full circle, I simply do not believe you can make a factual case that gentrification is a real issue here. The tax issue doesn’t work, the area is very small in size and scope, and rents have not significantly increased in most instances, and in those where rents are very high, those rents are necessary to cover construction costs. By claiming that anyone in this area is a victim of “gentrification” you simply perpetuate a myth which reinforces old and misguided stereotypes, and fosters disunity and distrust instead of community.

  137. for some reason permalink
    December 31, 2010 9:52 pm

    For some reason a previous comment was not approved regarding George Bayard.

    At any rate, the only place online that I can find that mentions George Bayard moving off Wealthy due to rent increases is on GRIID.ORG in the article “It’s cool, if you’re White” by Jeff Smith from June 21, 2010. In it, Mr. Smith writes:

    “Another omission in the Press article is the numerous minority owned businesses in the Uptown area. The reporter did not talk to the owners of Sandmans, the Guatemalan store on Wealthy or former gallery owner George Bayard who left Wealthy Street because of increased rent costs.”

    However, he does not give a source for the claim that George Bayard left because of increased rent costs. When asked in the comments to that article about how much Bayard’s rent went up, Mr. Smith did not respond.

    In an article on WOOD TV’s website (“Local gallery closes during downturn”) the television station did not mention the issue of increased rent. Instead it quoted Bayard:

    “This last year has been unfortunate for our business just like many other companies,” said George Bayard. “The overall economy, high gas prices this summer, local layoffs and consumers not spending have caused us to close. We are grateful for those loyal customers who have supported us for 20 years.”

    A rent increase very well could have played into this, but I don’t feel like there has been sufficient proof of this. Could someone get in touch with George Bayard about the issue?

    It seems like it is critical to some of the arguments being made.

  138. Jeff Smith permalink
    January 1, 2011 2:58 pm

    Juliet, I worked and volunteered on the 1100 block of Wealthy Street from 2004 through the Spring of 2010. I knew George and spoke with him regularly. He said to me during a conversation when we learned he was leaving the neighborhood that rent increases made it financially difficult for him to stay in that area. In addition to George, a friend of mine who rented a space for three years at 1134 Wealthy also left because of the annual increases to rent.

  139. January 2, 2011 7:46 pm

    Just had lunch at the Electric Cheetah. There was one black family of four in the restaurant, a party of nine that were all asian, and two couples that were brown (perhaps mexican?). The wait staff was white except for one Lebanese guy and the cook was a mexican. That’s probably not diverse enough for ya?

  140. Nick Manes permalink
    January 3, 2011 6:55 pm

    Here is another issue raised to me today regarding the area:

  141. Rachel Lee permalink
    January 3, 2011 8:23 pm

    In response to Nick’s issue from above:

    Since I worked on the development of this project, here is some information. The Winchester received more letters of support for their Class C license than any other project brought before the City’s Planning Commission. Meetings were held …with school administrators to keep the lines of communication open for any possible concerns, which none were reported. Further more I met with the head of GRPS security department to go over the project plans. Neighbors on both sides of Wealthy Street were hand delivered letters with the project details and contact numbers for concerns. Representatives from the Winchester attended meetings at the Wealthy Street Business Alliance, East Hills & Madison Area Neighborhood Association public meetings to present the project & to answer questions/concerns. All of these lines of communication with various organizations remain open. Besides the recent vandalism, there has been little to no reports of incidents stemming from the operations of the Winchester or from the property owner, Good Earth Properties LLC. In fact, an establishment with a transparent facade has created a safer street for all who walk by than the vacant building which once stood there. Providing information, keeping communication lines open, door knocking, & meeting with stakeholders is how I roll on projects I work on. The school had every opportunity to oppose the application, but this did not happen. I’m not connected to the operations of the Winchester at all, only to the development of this project & to the property owner.

    Miss Kate: I first moved on Warren Ave SE in 1999, does this make me a native neighborhood person? I’ve also worked on numerous private/public development projects in this area since 2003. I’ve been attending neighborhood association and business alliance meetings in East Hills since 2000. I’ve been on the board of directors for the East Hills Council of Neighbors, the Wealthy Street Business Alliance, and the East Hills Business Association since 2001. I recently was the president of the East Hills Business Association from 2006-2010. I was the lead writer of the Uptown Cool Cities Grant in 2004 with Mark Rumsey. I was the chair of the Uptown Advisory Council for a couple of years and in 2010 I was named a “Women of East Hills.” Am I a native neighborhood person?
    I do think its valid to discuss how this area has gone from streets of boarded up, vacant buildings to transparent storefront facades with viable businesses that contribute and support the surrounding neighborhood. Will you be attending the Rapid Growth event on January 12th? I would sure like to meet you and to discuss some of your points in person. Thanks for your time!

  142. thoort permalink
    January 5, 2011 5:58 am

    Kate you wrote in your comment above “While there are definite arguments for “improving” a neighborhood, there is also the reality of a downside–and up until now, there has been virtually no effort to even listen to the voices of people who might not think that what’s happening to their neighborhood is a great thing.”

    Go interview some of these long time residents and see what they say. No one has actually asked the residents of the neighborhood what they think. Start the conversation. Somebody needs to.

  143. todd permalink
    January 9, 2011 9:30 pm

    I don’t condone the vandalism that was done, but I understand the frustration behind it. I have 3 kids, work 40 hrs, make a mortgage payment every month, and love to see new businesses come to my neighborhood. HOWEVER! I’d love to see some businesses open up that I could actually afford to go to! Point blank: This isn’t a RACE thing, it’s a CLASS thing!

    I see people come from all over to patronize the new restaurants around here. Where do they come from? Hell if I know! I just know they’re not my neighbors. It gets pretty damn frustrating walking your kids past a restaurant every day and have them ask “when can we go there”? Only to lie to em and say “one day”.

    I stopped in to the Greenwell the first week it opened and was really excited that it was there. I ordered a beer and the bartender said, “that’ll be $6.50 please”. I knew right then that I would never be there again. So, I walked down to the Pickwick and had my usual Becks for $3.00

    My wife and I went to the Winchester and shared some $8 calimari. It was good, but we simply can’t afford the prices! So, we had our appetizer, then went over to Grand Coney. Woulda loved to stay in our own neighborhood, but appearantly we dont belong here anymore.

    Hell, even Samis pitas are waaay overpriced! When he started out, he was charging $3.00 for the same thing he charges 7 bucks for now!

    So, I really don’t know if it’s just inflation, or businesses overcharging for their product? Most (not all obviously) new businesses are ‘upscale’ and if I live in an ‘upscale’ neighborhood, then I’d like to know when I can sell my house for a profit and move somewhere more affordable. But that aint happenin anytime soon!!! Take Herb Thai for example, we bought food there and no doubt it was excellent, but we drive out to the suburbs to eat Thai food because it’s half the price!! Why the hell should I have to drive out to Kentwood to eat Thai food????

    Ya sense the frustration yet?? I think this is what the ‘gentrification squad’ were gettin at!

    Don’t even get me started on how the college pukes come into our neighborhood every year and trash the place!! That’s a whole new article entirely!

  144. todd permalink
    January 9, 2011 9:53 pm

    Oh yeah, as far as ‘white flight’ and ‘re-investment’ is concerned; When your families fled to the suburbs in the 60’s, you gave up the right to call this area ‘home’. You left! You Lose! The ones that stayed here are the ones that can lay claim to this neighborhood. That would be: minorities and poor white people like me! So, when you talk about re-investment, what you really mean is re-conquering of the neighborhood. You suddenly realized one day, “oh wow, we really gave up a cool little neighborhood. Now that the real estate is dirt cheap, I better go back and get a piece”. Sorry, doesn’t work that way. Rich people coming back into this neighborhood doesn’t make it theirs, it makes them strangers and occupiers. You might as well be the US military walking down a street in Kabul when you walk down Wealthy St. You’re a walking target my friend! Until either my wages go up, or prices go down, the natives of this area will view you with distrust and suspicion, if not downright hostility!

  145. spyralout permalink
    January 9, 2011 10:12 pm

    Well then. Glad to know I should be viewed as a “conqueror” and fear for my life simply because I haven’t lived somewhere for 40 years.

    Hurray for hyper-local tribalism.

  146. todd permalink
    January 9, 2011 10:37 pm

    I personally liked it when we had all kinds of abandoned buildings. As a teenager, we would have partys in them and have bands play. It was great! Cops never bothered anybody because no one cared. Now try doin that! The buildings that used to be free now cost way too much for anyone to patronize. Now, I can’t even have a beer without a cop stopping me and telling me it’s illegal to drink a beer walkin down the sidewalk. Yeah, I liked it better then!

  147. todd permalink
    January 9, 2011 11:18 pm

    I don’t know if you have to fear for your life, but you get the point. I love this place, but I’d move if I could. Problem is I can’t. So, I have to sit here watching happy rich people eat their 8 dollar calamari and sip their $6.50 beers, then walk out to their BMW’s and go home. Then watch dumb college kids move in and out every year, waking my kids up with their parties, leaving trash all over the place, and having no respect for the people who live here.I have to admit, it’s tempting to pop em in the nose. Sorry, but when you aint got much, ya cling to what you DO have! Watching somebody blow what I make in a week over a dinner pisses me off! I’m sorry, but it does! Meanwhile, my kids are wonderin why their shoes don’t fit anymore! I can’t hit a wall street exec in the face like I’d like to, but I can get to the closest thing around here! Stupid tribalism, yeah. So what? Somebody is makin mad money and it for sure isn’t me! Like the film goes: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” Desperation sucks! So, I figure if I’m never gonna get to the top, then why not drag down a few of the people that have profited off my labor? I’ll say this for johny law reading this: What I write here is how I feel, I’d never do anything to hurt anyone though because I love my kids too much and I couldn’t stand going to prison and not being able to see them, but the feelings of desperation and anger are here for sure! Deal with it.

  148. Kate Wheeler permalink
    January 10, 2011 12:10 am

    Todd, thanks very much for posting your comments.

  149. rpg permalink
    January 14, 2011 7:08 pm

    I just saw this article on Rapid Growth Media’s website that talks about Mr. Bayard and his reasons for leaving Wealthy Street. It says:

    Another eight years or so passed and the economy hit a low point. “The finances just weren’t there,” Bayard says. As the recession continued, Bayard made the decision to shut his doors.

    “When we moved from Wealthy Street, it wasn’t really the increase in rent that forced us out,” Bayard clarifies. “We moved in under the Renaissance Zone Act, so we pretty much had free or reduced taxes for the eight years we were there. Our lease was very low and reasonable for those years — even when it was increased, it wasn’t increased substantially. It was the fact that the economy had turned. While I think art is essential, a lot of people just didn’t see art as essential. In those days when gas was five dollars a gallon and people were losing their homes, buying art was not a prudent thing for people to do.”

    Kudos to Rapid Growth Media for going directly to the source and getting clarification on this issue!

    The article (which tells a bit about his business) is online at:

  150. MARK STEELE permalink
    February 7, 2011 8:42 pm

    While it seems like the discussion of Wealthy Street’s gentrification has died down after the community forum on the topic, there is a new interesting bit on The Rapidian that you might want to check out. In it George Bayard (cited multiple times in the comments) explains in great detail why he left Wealthy Street and why he setup shop there in the first place:

    Uncivil disobedience: Thoughts on recent vandalism from a former Wealthy Street business owner

  151. ame permalink
    March 3, 2018 10:16 pm

    I wonder, 7 or so years later, how people view this debate now?

  152. March 4, 2018 9:59 am

    ame, your question about this debate 7 years later is an interesting one. I have been writing about gentrification for most of those 7 years and it always amazes me how people still want to deny it is happening in this city, like most cities across the country.


  1. on the wealthy street vandalism (and gentrification and everything else) « my ironic mustache
  2. Wealthy Street: a White Corridor? An overview | GRkNow

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