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We had to destroy the neighborhood to make it sustainable: Green technology to benefit Rockford Construction’s new neighborhood on the westside

July 19, 2017

On Monday, Consumers Energy and Rockford Construction announced that they will be installing solar panels and a battery storage facility to in the same neighborhood that the development company has radically altered over the last few years.

An MLive article cites Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel who states:

“Our vision is to provide a safe, innovative, sustainable neighborhood on the West Side that is a magnet for people and commerce,” said Mike VanGessel, CEO of Rockford Construction, which is redeveloping the block northwest of Bridge Street and Seward Avenue.

The MLive article goes on to say, “The Circuit West project also promises lower energy bills due to more accurate meter reads in the district, which extends between Bridge Street and First Street and Seward and Stocking Avenues, according to its sponsors.

Like the MLive article, other West Michigan news sources gave the Circuit West project favorable coverage. WZZM 13 and WOOD TV8 also reported on the announcement, which continued the same narrative as MLive, thus providing no critical coverage of what the implications of this project are.

However, what is completely left out of the news coverage about this announcement is that Rockford Construction essentially torn down the old neighborhood, where working class families once lived, to create a neighborhood that will primarily house an economically privileged class and benefit a brewery, upscale restaurants, the soon to be constructed Meijer store and Rockford Construction owned properties.

We have been reporting on the gradual takeover of this working class neighborhood by Rockford Construction, which began when the company moved its headquarters to First and Seward several years ago. The development corporation has been buying up property and engaging in development projects which primarily benefit those with economic privilege.

At the same time, these development projects have resulted in the direct displacement of families and individuals that used to live in the area that the Circuit West project is targeting. The target area of Circuit West can be seen in this graphic here.

Another aspect of this project, which the local news media have failed to address is history of Consumers Energy and renewable energy.

In 2012, Michigan had a renewable energy ballot initiative, known as Proposal 3. However, Consumers Energy spent $2.9 million to defeat that renewable energy ballot initiative. 

In addition, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Consumers Energy spent $311,117 on lobbying and $240,400 in direct campaign contributions to lawmakers to make sure they would get the kind of energy policy that is most profitable to them. 

Lastly, if you look at the current campaign contributions from Consumers Energy in Michigan, they continue to support politicians that are NOT committed to real sustainable energy. 

So let us be clear about who will benefit from this Rockford Construction/Consumers Energy partnership. These corporations will benefit, both from the Public Relations end and financially. Those who occupy the businesses and the mostly market-rate housing in the Circuit West project area, will also benefit. This means that the economically privileged will benefit, while the working class poor and communities of color are displaced and will not be charging their electric cars.

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