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The Business of Making Lists in Grand Rapids

June 29, 2016


“For the second year in a row, the Grand Rapids – Wyoming metropolitan area was ranked as the nation’s third best place to do business by Area Development Magazine.”  

This was the first sentence from an MLive article posted yesterday. The folks at MLive love lists and are happy to promote those lists that Grand Rapids appears on, especially if it doesn’t question the neoliberal capitalist agenda that dictates so much of this city. 

The MLive article only provides one source in response to the announcement about Grand Rapids appearing on yet another list. Birgit Klohs, with The Right Place Inc., affirmed the pro-business narrative about Grand Rapids, but she was the sole voice.Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 4.00.00 PM

The Grand Rapids ranking on best places to do business by Area Development Magazine lists San Francisco and Napa, California as the top two places to do business across the country. It is interesting that these two cities topped the list, because there is another similarity between their status on the list and Grand Rapids. The similarity is that Grand Rapids, like San Francisco and Napa are cities that have seen significant increases in the cost of housing in recent years.

James Tracey, in his book Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars, makes a strong case for San Francisco being one of the most gentrified cities across the country. Tracy cites the work of the National Housing Law Project, which emphasizes the links between wages and housing and tracks what is Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 4.04.19 PMaffordable for the average worker. He writes that this group’s data, “has consistently shown that rents far outpace the means to pay not only in high-investment, hyper-gentrified cities like San Francisco, but also in shrinking cities such as Detroit. Thus, in 2014 … there is no state in the United States where a typical low-income worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment.” Tracy and others use the toolkit, Mapping Susceptibility to Gentrification as a resource.

If one looks at recent data for Napa, which is just north of San Francisco, we find the same thing is happening there, although not at the same breakneck pace.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 4.03.59 PM

Using the mapping project created by the University of California, Berkley, we can see how Napa is also experiencing increased gentrification.  The color coded descriptions are shown here in this graph as to how much of Napa is being gentrified or is at risk of gentrification.

As we and other independent media sources have been reporting over the past year, Grand Rapids has been undergoing a process of gentrification, resulting in significant rent increases and displacement in numerous parts of the city. 

Making a List

As a way to counter some of the euphoria associated with the latest list that Grand Rapids is appearing on, we think it is important to offer up some alternative lists that Grand Rapids could aspire to. The lists that follow are not in any particular order, but are ones that will require major changes to how “business is done” in Grand Rapids.

  • Cities that promote and practice Racial Justice, including reparations
  • Cities where sexual assault and rape are not experienced
  • Cities that embrace the LGBTQ community and particularly Trans people of color.
  • Cities where Environmental Justice is practiced
  • Cities where poverty and homelessness are not experienced.
  • Cities that have done away with the Prison Industrial Complex

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