Charlotte Ellison reacts to a report from Jeff Smith at GRIID:
“DeVosville” coming soon, in a utopian fantasy for hipsters and a nightmare for low income folks being displaced. The prequel: “Heartless Heartside”, the stark new reality.” The sequel: “Wyoming, the new Wild West”.
In certain progressive circles, “DeVos” is all one needs to say in order to condemn. Maybe. Is that the case here?
The plan is actually fairly interesting, albeit with philanthropic (aka DeVos) money driving it. Good socialist that Jeff Smith is, anything smacking of Ada comes with “neolliberalism” etc. But are these the facts on the ground, or something shaped by an ideological lens? I vote for the latter.
Objectively here is your problem: this neighborhood lacks jobs, has one of the highest densities of persistent poverty, and is almost 40 percent rental. Start the question: how does one begin to build a community in that sort of space?
What Rockford has done is assemble a chunk of industrial properties in the heart of this area (much of it, the old Doehler-Jarvis plant). By the documents in Smith’s report, their goal is to site high employment businesses in this region, businesses that would then hire form the neighborhood. That’s pretty much a straight-up good thing. The sorts of businesses imagined (I believe, remembering earlier articles), would be the sort of light manufacturing / low wage sort. Of course, if you are just putting more low-skilled employment in place that’s a dead end. So the extension of the Rockford/Amplify plan is to have skill development as well — I would guess as satellite from GRCC. This sort of pattern is already present immediately to the west, along Buchanan Ave. at the Source.
As to schools. There are three schools in the district: Dickinson (GRPS), Hope Academy (Charter), River City Scholars (Heritage Charter). The DeVos family foundations not only like charters, but have been quite active at Alger Middle. There are precedents for the DeVos engagement, and they have not excluded GRPS — if anything, Smith and company have been upset about the connections between GRPS and Ada.
And then there’s housing. LINC has already put up a number of buildings; hardly hipster heaven (tho’ definitely contemporary in appearance). the realities are that any new construction will need to be subsidized in some manner in order to keep it affordable — this is the complaint about development. There is no indication in the proposal the material that Amplify is aiming to tap the burgeoning downtown crowd, or seek market-rate apartments.
Here, we also need to pay attention to the impact of house-buying in Grand Rapids. Outside investors have bought a significant portion of vacant housing in the city with two consequences: it has driven up the home purchase cost, and in turn it has driven an increase in rates. In this neighborhood (49507), this has been the impact, not that from too many apartments, as is the case on Belknap Hill.
Put these together: economic development, focus on education including career or skill education, and improved housing stock — what does this look like? I would submit that it looks mightily like the holistic approach of Christian missions. On one hand, the memory of unilateral mission does add caution (so too, does the experience with philanthropists in schools, the School Reform movement s part of this) although there is evidence that this project will at least attempt to work with residents. The Chrisitan vibe may also lie at the heart of Smith’s actual concern, with its echoes of the earlier Dutch hegemony in the city. The missional feel I think is actual — neighborhood engagement has been part of Christian work in the city (see Baxter Center, after all, or the neighborhood residences on Black Hill by the Mars Hill church), and the positions for Amplify have been advertised in area evangelical churches, including Ada Bible, the home church for many in the DeVos orbit.
Still given the choice of no development or some what is the alternative? I’m going to vote for a holistic approach.