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Rockford Construction and White Savior Politics in Southeast Grand Rapids

March 15, 2016

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It has been publicly revealed in the past week that Rockford Construction has been working on a development plan for a several block area of the southeast part of Grand Rapids.

The development project became public when someone from Linc posted information on Facebook and in their online news section. The online news piece is entitled, Rockford Construction’s “Hushed” Plan for Southeast Redevelopment Brought to Light 

The Linc news piece states in part, We would like to send a couple messages to our community – 1, that we didn’t have ANY involvement in this plan – and 2, we NEED to step up as a community and have a voice in this matter before the developing takes place.  Our future here as a Southtown community is dependent on it.

The “Hushed Plan” that Linc is talking about is a 43 – page document, ironically titled, Complete Neighborhood. This plan was developed last year, with the date in the corner of the document being June 23, 2015. This means that for at least the past year, this plan has been in “the works” without the knowledge of the neighborhood that Rockford Construction has targeted.

The area that Rockford is proposing to develop can be seen here in this map.

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Now, I don’t really want to look at the particulars of the plan that Rockford Construction has put forth, rather I think it is more important to discuss the process.

Let’s be clear, what Rockford Construction has done up to this point, with this “plan” is to affirm the fears that neighbors have about outside investors making determinations about neighborhoods, without consulting or considering what people who live in those neighborhoods want.

What Rockford Construction is doing with this plan is engaging in both gentrification and White Savior politics. The plan developed by Rockford and their failure to even bother finding out what residents want is a way of practicing gentrification, where the development project with likely displace poor & working class residents, who are disproportionately African American.

White Savior politics refers to western people going in to “fix” the problems of struggling nations or people of color without understanding their history, needs, or the region’s current state of affairs. This also applies to neighborhoods as well.

The White Savior politics dynamic is further demonstrated by the fact that in their development plan they acknowledge that they have talked to people, just not those who live in the neighborhood. Rockford Construction has had conversations with The Right Place. Inc, Huntington Bank and Seyferth PR, all entities that have no idea what the residents in the neighborhood in question might want.

Regardless of their intentions, Rockford Construction is practicing a very dangerous form of racism. If you read the plan they suggest the following:

  • Over 1,000 permanent new jobs created targeted to the exact demographics of the unemployed living in the neighborhoods around the developments.
  • A large number of new local African American owned new businesses created to help establish these jobs
  • Robust education and training to ensure that the people in the neighborhood can qualify for the jobs.
  • A large number of new housing units for rent and ownership with a 50/50 mix between affordable and market rate.

Now, these might seem like very noble endeavors. However, the main issue here is that Rockford Construction is making decisions, developing plans and talking to financial institutions without EVER having talked to those who actually live in the neighborhood the company has targeted.

In addition, what Rockford Construction has ignored is the historical factors that have determined the high level of poverty for the neighborhood they have targeted.

It should be said that the “hushed plan” has angered and mobilized people around the future of the area of the southeast that Rockford Construction has targeted. In fact, there is a meeting tonight (Tuesday, March 15) at Linc from 5 – 9pm.

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