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Start Garden and the appropriation of ecological discourse

June 23, 2016

The economy, as it is now, prescribes plunder of the landowners and abuse of the land.”             Wendell BerryScreen Shot 2016-06-12 at 3.41.17 AM

Three years ago we posted an article entitled Arrogance and the Creative Class in West Michigan

The article is a critique of the creative class in West Michigan, but it is also a response to the appropriation of ecological language by local members of the creative class, referring to the how they are “tending the local economic rainforest.”

The use of ecological language is an important PR tool increasingly used by the capitalist class based on the notion that if you use green language or words like sustainability, then people will think that what you are doing is somehow for the greater good.

However, author Heather Rogers, who points out the major flaws of green capitalism in her book Green Gone Wrong, makes the following point:

“When a firm such as DuPont saves billions by reducing its energy footprint, it will funnel much of that money right back into making more goods to sell to more clients. Staying competitive demands production may go down, its scale of production will continue to escalate.”

Start Garden’s Ecosystem

Facebook has been featuring sponsored ads recently from Start Garden that seeks to refer to the service they offer as a kind of ecosystem. These ideas are reflected in 2 short videos they produced entitled Ecosystem Part One and Two.

Both videos begin with the same introduction, with images of downtown Grand Rapids and accompanied by a voice over stating, “A city deliberate about creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, is committed to building an ecosystem.” Such a statement is followed by the idea that social, intellectual and financial capital are what makes up this venture capitalist ecosystem.Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 1.57.20 AM

After the introduction to the Ecosystem video Part One, we are then introduced to three business partners that utilize the physical space and resources of Start Garden. First, we hear from a woman who works for the Cultural Intelligence Center. This organization works with clients to help them be better prepared to “relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations.” This of course means they want to promote diversity and cultural sensitivity. However, what good does this do for the staff of businesses, when the businesses themselves are engaged in oppressive and unsustainable practices? Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 2.57.48 AM

Looking at their client list, one can easily draw some conclusions about how practicing cultural intelligence only benefits institutions by making them feel better about themselves while they pillage the planet. Here is just a sampling of their client list: the Department of Defense (DOD) – how does cultural intelligence benefit the world when the DOD engages in criminal acts on a daily basis around the globe; Coca Cola – another entity that makes billions while extracting water resources around the globe and by supporting the murder of labor organizers; Walmart, McDonalds, Starbucks, Shell, Amway, Cargill and Bank of America. If this is what it means to be part of a Start Garden ecosystem, then we are all in serious trouble.

Another person who speaks in Part One of the video is a guy who is with OXX. OXX is the maker of a coffee machine that is marketed as being “The World’s Toughest Coffee Maker.” More importantly, OXX is a subsidiary of the DeVos business consortium known as The Windquest Group. So, maybe that is what Start Garden, owned by the DeVos Family, means by an ecosystem, since they internally promote their own brands.

In the Start Garden video Ecosystem Part Two, viewers are introduced to Bruce Thompson, President of Urbaneer. This video only features the work of Urbaneer, which has the following statement of purpose on their website. “URBANEER’s pre-fabricated components, wall systems and multi-purpose furnishings allow for more efficient construction while reducing real estate costs and providing a better occupant experience. URBANEER envisions a solution to affordable market-rate housing, aging-in-place, the changing healthcare landscape and a range of other space challenges.”  Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 3.10.37 AM

Thompson founded Urbaneer with the CEO of Rockford Construction Mike VanGessel. This makes complete sense when you look at the video images used in the Ecosystem Part Two video, which features examples of Urbaneer’s work in collaboration with Rockford Construction projects along Bridge St, images that include the new brewery and the market rate apartments on Bridge and Alabama St. 

Looking at the blog on Urbaneer’s website, one can read about their role in the renovation of the The Morton. The Morton is also a Rockford Construction project, in partnership with the DeVos family’s RDV Corp. In the blog posting Urbaneer states, “The building once housed the Morton Hotel, which was built in the late 1800s. Rockford Construction began renovations in 2012 to create 99 apartments and a limited number of condominiums.” What is omitted in the blog post is that the Morton House was used for Section 8 housing for decades and that the DeVos owned RDV Corp was given $317,000 in tax breaks by the Downtown Development Authority to re-develop the Morton House. 

So it seems that not only is Start Garden’s appropriation of the word ecosystem an insult to the very notion of what a real ecosystem is, their videos make it clear that their definition of an ecosystem is really a closed system that facilitates their ability to promote their own interests and that if the rest of the West Michigan capitalist class.

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