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More media that promotes the dominant narrative about Grand Rapids

January 22, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 5.02.28 AMIt is instructive that the dominant narrative about Grand Rapids continues to only include the new “development” projects and the commercial aspects of certain neighborhoods throughout the city.

Within the past few days there have been two examples that reflect the dominant narrative growth in Grand Rapids, a narrative that in reality ignores large portions of the population.

The first example is a new video from Experience GR. The video begins with a few words from the new mayor and then includes several spokespersons who highlight the commercial and entertainment value of downtown Grand Rapids and the neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown.

This dominant narrative about Grand Rapids is further cemented if you go to the Experience GR neighborhoods section. Each of the neighborhoods highlighted in the video have their own section, but primarily feature place to eat, places to shop and entertainment options. Again, the commercial and entertainment aspects of neighborhoods are featured, with no real assessment of the residential aspects of those neighborhoods.

The video has limited voices in terms of racial and class representation, with the voices being dominated by people either connected to Experience GR or people who are business owners. Such a limited view of neighborhoods is quite attractive to investors, professionals  and tourists who might be considering Grand Rapids as a destination, but it omits a large percentage of the working class residents who also live in some of the neighborhoods featured.

However, what is more alarming is the omission of voices and visual representation of neighborhoods in Grand Rapids where thousands of residents are struggling to make ends meet. I completely get that including these parts of the city and residents from those neighborhoods wouldn’t be beneficial in the marketing of Grand Rapids the way that Experience GR wants to, but having such voices and such spacial representation would at least be a more honest reflection of neighborhoods in Grand Rapids.

Why is it that we do not hear the voices of people who are experiencing poverty in Grand Rapids. After all, they make up almost one-third of the population, according to recent data? People experiencing poverty, working class people, migrant families and other marginalized communities contribute to this city in all kinds of ways. In fact, they are often the ones who wait tables at the restaurants that are featured at Experience GR, they cleaned the hotel rooms that attract the tourists, along with all the other service sector jobs. They are an integral part (although quite exploited) of what Experience GR wants to highlight in the video, yet they remain invisible.

These voices and where they live are excluded because in order to bring them into the conversation would mean we would have to come to terms with the economic and racial oppression that is quite pronounced in this city and that just doesn’t make for a fun or attractive video.

Celebrating New Development Projects

The other recent media piece that reflects the dominant narrative about what is happening in Grand Rapids – the new shiny aspects – was a feature story on Rapid Growth Media. The article is entitled, For better (or worse): 10 development projects that are changing the face of Grand Rapids. The headline suggests that there are positive and negative aspects of these new development projects, when in reality the article essentially celebrates each of the nine new development projects instead of trying to grapple with the ongoing tensions around gentrification, displacement and rent increases, all of which negatively impact communities of color and working class communities.

Now, I don’t expect that Experience GR or Rapid Growth Media would include these voices and any kind of alternative narrative, since both entities function within the framework of neoliberal urban development. Just look at all the renderings of the shiny new development projects Grand Rapids will see over the next year.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 5.14.36 AM

However, if people are seeking other perspectives of what these development projects mean, who they benefit and who they negatively impact, we recommend that you check out the analysis of recent development projects and other topics that challenge the dominant narrative about Grand Rapids, which are explored at If the River Swells

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2016 1:33 pm

    The first sentence of the 7th paragraph:

    “Why is it that we do hear the voices of people who are experiencing poverty in Grand Rapids. ”

    is maybe missing a “not”?

    Good article though.

  2. January 22, 2016 1:45 pm

    Thanks for catching that. I made the edit.

  3. Chris permalink
    January 26, 2016 4:45 pm

    As it relates to the omission of essential voices–I commend the recent efforts of CRI in their ever-improving Voice GR project and look forward to the March 3 summit.

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