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Nothing is as it seems: $6.3 million to connect trails along the Grand River, while racial and economic injustice consume this city

January 26, 2021

On Monday, MLive posted an article entitled, Grand Rapids planning $6.36M trail connector along Grand River

The article states that the federal, state, city and private money necessary to come up with $6.3 million, will be used to connect a bike and pedestrian trail from Leonard St to Riverside Park. As of now, people have to walk on sidewalks or ride their bikes on Monroe in the designated trail connector area.

Walking or biking along the Grand River is a nice thing, and as someone who lives near Riverside Park, I enjoy riding my bicycle through the park or onto the White Pine Trail that is at the north end of the park.

However, the $6.3 million, in reality, is not just to connect the existing pedestrian trail. The whole push from the City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Whitewater group, is also about development along the Grand River. I mean, look at the list of funders for Grand Rapids Whitewater. It is the same families that dictate the same pro-business bullshit that dominates this city.

In an August 2020 blog post on Grand Rapids Whitewater, the writers claim that these development projects are all about promoting equity. Hell, they even quote Dr. King. Why it is that people are always quoting Dr. King, but never really understand the radical vision and demands that Dr. King was advocating for until he was assassinated? Anyway, Grand Rapids loves to use that term equity, and why not, since the more you use it the more you can convince people that is what this city is committed to. 

However, despite the constant claims of equity, Grand Rapids has the largest wealth gap of any city in Michigan, with Black, latinx and indigenous communities subjected to poverty at alarming rates. Grand Rapids has a significant unhoused population that is increasingly being criminalized and the amount tax breaks that continues to be given to developers and corporations in this community is staggering.

Again, I like riding my bike along the river, but I am more committed to real equity and racial justice than I am to projects that seem trivial in the face of all the injustice that is going on in Grand Rapids and all the suffering that is going, especially in the midst of a pandemic. 

It is instructive to observe that when these kinds of projects are evolving, the City of Grand Rapids always seems to be able to find funding to make it happen. In this case, as it states in the MLive article, the trail connector project would use federal, state, city and private donors.

If the City can find money to connect a bike and pedestrian trail, then why can’t they find money to end homelessness, to create truly affordable housing for all, end hunger, end poverty or provide Black residents in the southeast part of town funding to development their own neighborhoods in a way that lets them be in control of that reality?

$6.3 million is a number, but how could that number be used to address some of the glaring racial and economic injustices in this city? 

It would provide 437 families rent money for 12 months coverage of $1,200 a month.

It would provide 126 families the ability to each put a down payment of 50,000 on a home.

It would provide 525 families a food budget for one year at $1000 per month.

Now, these number don’t tell everything. If families that are the most marginalized right now, were able to have rent relief or a food budget at those number, it would provide tremendous relief to families who would not have to worry about utilities or health care as much. But of course, this just provides people with some relief, since the greater goal is real racial and economic justice. 

If we were allowed employ radical imagination to the serious social inequities we face, we could also find more longterm solutions that would do away with the business as usual approach, the White Savior approach and the reliance on rich philanthropists who also exploit people and buy politicians approach, to how we address systemic and structural racism and poverty in this community. Nothing is as it seems. Yes to bike and pedestrian trails, but not until racial and economic justice is achieved!

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