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Town Hall Meeting in NE Grand Rapids a clear example of NIMBY

June 20, 2017

About 60 people showed up to a meeting last night that was held outside across from a building that some people believe might be the future site of the Guiding Light Mission.

A Facebook posting and a flyer (seen here) is what brought out people to the gathering.

Mike Farage, someone who is running for 2nd Ward City Commission, was facilitating the meeting and another person was passing out a document that said it was presenting facts about what was happening.

One “fact” that the document listed said, “A developer purchases the property from the City of Grand Rapids to do a 15 year build to lease to the General Services Administration (GSA) for Federal VA use.” This fact seemed to be called into question, since according to the City Parcel map, the current owner of the property is listed as VA Ventures Grand Rapids, which is based in Crown Point Indiana. Several commercial sites, including Bloomberg, list VA Ventures Grand Rapids as being founded in 2004 and identifies them as a real estate entity. 

The document shared at the meeting was also claiming that an anonymous person was going to Too Talls Ice Cream and Dale’s Party Store and asking that flyers be taken down. Again, no one could substantiate said claim.

The meeting was run in such a way that didn’t make it easy for most people to speak, partly because the facilitator kept injecting his own commentary during the meeting and because it was not a safe space for people with differing opinions. There was one person who challenged the authenticity of the claim about Guiding Light moving into the building at 3019 Coit NE and another person who stated that they felt like the meeting was using fear tactics.

Another neighbor spoke up at one point about how she and other residents got a halfway house kicked out of the neighborhood some years back, because of the dangers it was posing to the area. At one point this same neighbor acknowledged that Guiding Light Mission deals with people with addictions, but that “those people needed to be in the right facility, in the right neighborhood.” This begs the question, what is the right neighborhood?

In many ways this was a classic example of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) politics. In addition, it should be stated that most if not all of those in attendance were white. The Not In My Back Yard also seemed to have a racial component to what was taking place. Dale’s Party Store has a sign on the outside of the building that clearly targets black youth, saying No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service – Pull up your damn pants (shown above). Inside the party store they have posted a Do’s and Don’ts (on the left) that clearly reflects a bias against non-white cultures and how others speak.

To other observers, this gathering may have seemed like an example of people engaging in the process of democracy, with a simple desire to not have a facility that deals with the homeless, relocate to their neighborhood. However, a great deal more was happening at this gathering, including racist attitudes and a political candidate that had his own agenda. The meeting last night also seemed to reflect much about the current political culture in the US, where people can say stuff that is not based in fact and get a whole bunch of other people to node their heads in agreement.

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