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The new Grand Action Riverfront study and White Settler Colonialism

February 28, 2021

Last week, Grand Action 2.0 released a 4 page study with recommendations on how to further develop along the Grand River, with an emphasis on the east side of the river, with heavy concentration in the downtown area.

The study has the usual corporate rhetoric of diversity and green space, along with the usual tokenism efforts to “engage the community.”

This effort on the part of Grand Action to further develop the downtown part of the city has been going on for decades, with the most recent wave beginning in 2016, with another study they commissioned to promote entertainment and tourism along the river.

This process of developing along the river escalated with the DeVos land grab and proposal to construct a 12,000 seat amphitheater last October. The process involved the usual public/private partnership model – the private sector gets the public to cough up lots of money, while the private sector pockets the bulk of the profits.

In November, there were more details about this process, where it was announced that millions would go to the project for the amphitheater, while Black neighborhoods continued to be either divested or received minimal investment funds from both the City government and the private sector, a process we named as Structural Racism.

Then in late November, Grand Action 2.0 hosted an event with a speaker to talk about more ways to attract tourists to GR, with lots of talk about engaging Stakeholders. At that event, Dick DeVos stated that during the COVID crisis, “this is the perfect time to develop ideas.” It’s perfect for him and the rest of the members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, since they are not struggling to survive and not having to worry whether or not the COVID virus will harm their families. This is the thing about this class of people, they can talk about making the river front area accessible to people, but they fail to recognize that leisure is a luxury that thousands in this community can’t really afford, especially when so many families are facing eviction, food insecurity, unemployment, employment with non-livable wages and limited access to health care. 

With this most recent study, we could discuss what is fundamentally wrong with the process and how it will disproportionately benefit the business class. However, instead to going down that path, I think what we all need to come to terms with is that the land that they are talking about developing along the Grand River, was taken from the Indigenous communities who had been living along the river long before Settler Colonialists arrived. 

Maybe we need to start talking about how White Europeans who came to the area we now call Grand Rapids and how they: 1) disrespected Indigenous spiritual traditions by trying to convert them – the earliest Settler Colonialist were Catholic and Baptist Missions; 2) used legalized violence, also known as treaties to take land, such as the  Treaty of Washington in 1836, which allowed Settler Colonialists to acquire an additional 13,837,207 acres of land; and 3) to displace most of the Indigenous population through force, coercion and attrition.

In addition to taking this land, Settler Colonialists have been doing serious harm to the Grand River in this area over the past 2 centuries, by polluting the river with industrial waste, constructing damns, using the river for logging purposes during the heyday of the furniture industry and constructing a highway system that crisscrosses over the river. Now, Settler Colonialists want to re-develop the area along the river, despite the decades of harm we have done. In fact, it is wrong to refer to the Grand Action proposal as re-developement. Instead, we should be using the term that Eco-Feminist Vandana Shiva has coined, maldevelopment. She argues that “maldevelopment”—the violation of the integrity of organic, interconnected, and interdependent systems that sets in motion a process of exploitation, inequality, and injustice—is dragging the world down a path of self-destruction, and threatening survival itself.

Do we really want to put our trust in Grand Action 2.0? Do we really want to put our faith in the most recent iteration of White Settler Colonialism? 

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