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WGVU program investigates Gentrification in Grand Rapids

June 24, 2016

Within the past few days there has appeared lots of postings on Facebook about a show that WGVU did on the topic of gentrification in Grand Rapids.

The video is just short of an hour and pieces together several components that were filmed over a period of time. The video is worth watching and certainly can generate some interesting discussion about a topic that seems to polarize people. Here is the link http://video.wgvu.org/video/2365787420/.

The video starts of powerfully, by including a spoken word piece by Marcel Price. His words are also accompanied by images that are based on his experiences of Grand Rapids an a young African American.

One portion of his spoken word particularly caught my attention, in that it called out one of the factors contributing to gentrification near the downtown area, the Downtown market. Here are those words from Marcel, juxtaposed with the image of a market that caters to those who are the beneficiaries of gentrification.Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 5.24.17 PM

The WGVU program then frames how gentrification has impacted the working class poor in several neighborhoods – the westside, the Heartside area and the southeast side of Grand Rapids. We learn that on the westside that the cost of rent has gone from an average of $400 a month to $1000 and up a month.

The WGVU program does a solid job of putting a human face on the issue of gentrification in all three neighborhoods.

However, the program then falls flat and ends up mimicking some of the same old tired narratives about gentrification and how it could be addressed.

First, those responsible for gentrification, planners, investors and developers, are never really identified in the program. Rockford Construction is mentioned in passing because of a leaked document they were developing that proposed to radically alter a neighborhood on the southeast side, but that issue and the role they have played in other areas of the city was not explored. Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 5.29.00 PM

Third Coast Development was actually featured in the program and given the opportunity to claim they provide affordable housing without really being questioned in the process.

So, how is it that entities like 616 Development, Orion Construction, Artesian Group, Rockford Construction, Third Coast Development, Grand Valley State University and several DeVos-owned projects are completely omitted from the conversation? Not only does this completely omit the causes of gentrification, it lets off the hook developers that are profiting heavily from the process of gentrification.

There was a representative from the City of Grand Rapids, Suzanne Schultz, but she basically admitted there was no funding and not much happening with city government in the process. However, she failed to mention that the Grand Rapids City Commission has been approving virtually every development project that has come before them, often with a unanimous vote, despite public opposition. 

There were also two non-profit representatives who spoke in the program, Jeremy DeRoo with LINC and Tami Vandenberg with Well House. Both of the non-profit representatives did talk in more detail about how gentrification impacts neighborhoods, but both were careful with their words and neither of them were willing to name businesses/developers that are the main force behind gentrification.

Lastly, why were the voices of those who are organizing in response to gentrification not included in the show. There are the efforts by folks on the westside through the Other Way Ministries, the efforts of the Micah Center and the more recent organizing by Grand Rapids Homes for All? 

Talking to any of these three entities and others would have altered the content and may have brought us to a deeper understanding of how gentrification not only impacts neighborhoods, but who benefits from the process.Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 5.20.50 PM

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