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The environmental cost of urban development in one Grand Rapids neighborhood

September 28, 2011

In the interest of full disclosure, the following information is about a development project that is taking place across the street from where I have lived for the past 27 years. The pictures you see here are a progression of the urban deforestation that has taken place in the past 24 hours.

Within the past 24 hours a crew of men have been working on the 400 block of LaGrave Avenue, which is located between Wealthy and Logan Street.

For the past 25 years this block of land has been mostly vacant, with a couple of houses being torn down during that time. Grass and clusters of full-grown trees have occupied most of the space within this city block.

Within these past 24 hours several dozen trees have been cut down and turned into mulch. Granted, there were a few trees that were dead or dying, but the bulk of the trees were healthy and provided a marvelous canopy in an otherwise concrete dominated area.

Over the years I have seen these tree be home to numerous small mammals and a host of birds. Every year there are hundreds of black crows that have used the cluster of trees as a stopping off point on their journey to who knows where. I have seen robins, cardinals, finch, blue jays and sparrows call this urban space home. There have even been times when both peregrine falcons and hawks have landed in this area, quiet possibly because of the large number of fully developed trees.

In addition, I have witnessed years of play that have taken part in this city block, with children climbing trees, neighbors eating berries from the mulberry tree and homeless men and women finding solace under them when seeking a respite from the hot sun.

In the past 24 hours almost every one of these trees have been cut down in preparation for a development project that will include residential and business construction. The development project is being undertaken by the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF).

Earlier this year, while meeting with the executive director of ICCF, I asked what was going to happen to all the trees in the 400 block of LaGrave SE. He told me that they were all going to be cut down, because they were “ghetto trees.” The non-profit director went on to say that what he meant by this was that they were trees that just came up on their own, meaning they were not planted by humans.

Now, I don’t know about you, but trees don’t need humans. In fact, from an ecological point of view it is the other way around…….humans could not survive without trees.

I’m not against new housing being but across from the house I have lived in for 27 years, but I am not in support of development projects that unnecessarily cut down trees in the process. This is a sad day for Grand Rapids.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. kswheeler permalink
    September 29, 2011 12:13 am

    “Ghetto trees.” What an ugly, racist comment.

    And this from a person who is taking land that was bought with donated money and turning it into a for-profit cash cow for his “Christian” organization.

    It’s too bad that the ICCF plan didn’t call for more careful planning that would have specified that trees could be saved and housing built around them, so that the neighborhood would already have an established tree canopy. But that would have meant more money and less profit going into the pockets of the Christian fat cat.

    These photos are really heartbreaking. And all they’ll end up doing is planting spindly little trees from a nursery in a tidy row in front of the houses anyway.

  2. Kara permalink
    September 29, 2011 12:48 am

    This makes me horribly sad! 😥

  3. Brett Colley permalink
    September 29, 2011 11:39 am

    I really appreciate the personal nature of this narrative, Jeff. I suspect that many of us have paid witness to similar arbor atrocities in the name of “development”. kswheeler is right on: The landscaping that the ICCF ends up integrating into this project will be paltry and pathetic by comparison. Even the most jaded urban denizen (or developer) admires a fully mature tree (most covet them for their own yards!), yet strangely many show no appreciation for the timeline of such growth…sad day, indeed.

  4. Ben permalink
    October 5, 2011 10:19 pm

    That area was run down and dilapidated, and the only thing you cared about were the trees?

    There are plenty of trees to take its place.

    If any of you cared about those plants that much you could have easily bought the property and preserved it the way it was. It would look completely unkempt, but at least you could smile as you drove past it back to your WASP enclave knowing that a inner-city neighborhood was left in a horrid state all to preserve a tree, which was more important.

  5. Jeff Smith permalink*
    October 6, 2011 1:54 am

    Ben, I have lived in this neighborhood for 26 years and have cared about more than just the trees, but the people in that immediate neighborhood have been forced out for this new development project.

    The area was not run down and dilapidated it slowly deteriorated over 3 decades because of the way absentee landlords treated their property and local businesses were not supported.

    I also could not have bought any of that property since I don’t make that kind of money. Therefore, before you make statements about going back to my WASP neighborhood you might want to know who I am and the facts in this matter.

  6. Ben permalink
    October 6, 2011 7:02 am

    Live there? Yeah right! Living up Wealthy in Heritage Hill (WASPland) is not the same as living west of Jefferson by Division.

    The area that the ICCF is developing was devoid of most homes because most had been torn down years ago. The homes that remained were severely dilapidated and rotting causing the property values of the the homes south of Logan to be depressed further than they already were.

    I DO know this because I lived a block to the East for years. You make it seem like this was a thriving neighborhood that was bought out, I’m sure by some evil Christian group, and the people were just forced out by gunpoint.

    The ICCF has put forth a very ambitious plan to revitalize this area with new homes and businesses that will benefit everyone, and will go a long way towards stabilizing the whole area.

    Trees can be replanted. Or if it is that important, you can buy the tree and have it moved.

  7. Jeff Smith permalink*
    October 6, 2011 11:17 am

    Again with the ridiculous assumptions. I live at 424 LaGrave, right across the street from where the new development project is, so NOT in Heritage Hill and most of the people in my house are Latinos. Stop making racist assumptions about who we are.

    Of course trees can be replaced, but my neighborhood will not have the same kind of old growth trees for decades that it had for the past 26 years that I have lived in the middle of that neighborhood!


  1. Do we dare call it Gentrification? The Wealthy – Jefferson Development Project « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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