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michaelskis

Middle and Upper Income Traditional Families in Grand Rapids

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No one will doubt that Grand Rapids is seeing a boom in commercial and condo construction. But what about the traditional family neighborhoods. With the increase in poverty levels and the of all too many homes with property maintenance concerns, it makes me wonder why the middle and upper class families will live in places like Caledonia, East Grand Rapids, Aida and similar communities, yet they don

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I think one of the more significant reason is the public school systems are better in the surrounding communities (EGR, Caledonia, Rockford, etc.) The GR Public school system has some work to do...I hope they are on the right path.

I think the natural density of a downtown can be an issue with families that have small children. My brother and his wife moved from the Heritage Hill area because of this. Bigger yards and less busy streets make it easier transporting two small children.

I think better public transportation, more green spaces and much improved pedestrian access to downtown can help. Of course the school system has to be there.

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I would expect that there are a few things that prevent the upper middle and upper class from wanting to live within the city.

1) The city income tax: why live in the city and pay the tax if they don't have to.

2) Land: Many of the individuals and families in the upper tiers want to have more private land associated with their homes than is possible within the older more established neighborhoods within the city limits.

I am sure that there are other factors but these are two that jump out to me at first glance.

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I can tell you what middle and upper-income families GENERALLY are looking for when deciding on a new home. This would be for those families with small children (not in order of importance):

1) Good schools - now for some people, that might mean exactly "good schools with excellent marks and innovative teaching techniques", for others, it might mean "homogeneous", or "we want our kids to be surrounded by other kids like them" (if they have the gall to admit it)

2) Neighborhood - Prestige, no through traffic, a lot of other kids of similar age, sidewalks, good upkeep of homes, 0 crime, not close to a highway, not close to anything objectionable like a water treatment plant, apartment complex or industrial park. Some families don't even want to be close to a medium density condo community

3) Homes - Prestige (upper middle class and upper class), newer construction in the 2000+ square footage range, at least 2 stall garage, daylight or walkout basement, nice yard with PRIVACY, large spacing between homes, trees or greenery in the backyard

4) Area - close to the highway or major thoroughfare for easy commute (but not too close), within 1 mile of amenities like gas/convenience stores, close to schools where children will attend, possibly parks or bike trails nearby, within 15 - 20 minutes of work (here in GR), within 15 - 20 minutes of major retail

If they can't get all of this within their budget in the first ring of suburbs like Wyoming/Grandville, Kentwood, Forest Hills, Comstock Park, Jenison/Hudsonville, Northview, then they tend to look to the second ring (and not inward), like Rockford, Cedar Springs, Caledonia, Sparta, Lowell, Dorr, Allendale. etc.

As you can see from this list, and I can attest to, the availability of these features is quickly dwindling in Kent County.

Edit: Based on some of those criteria, here's what I get for the city of Grand Rapids:

http://public.grar.com/public/pubsrch.mac/...GE=05&CMPY=

Only 16 hits, and none of them anywhere near downtown.

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Do you live in the city? If no why? Would you want to raise kids in the city? If so in what neighborhoods.

I'll take a stab at this one. I'm a 20-something professional (healthcare), recently married but no kids. Currently I rent a house in the Fulton Heights neighborhood and I'm really happy with it. But looking 1-3 years into the future, I don't see myself living in the city. Why?

1. I need a lawn. I have a dog that needs immediate access to outside so as to not poop all over my house. Plus, I need a fenced-in yard to contain the little monster. Down the road, when I have kids, I want a big back yard for them to play in. I don't want to have to go to a park so that they can throw a football around, and sadly, most of the houses within the city limits (that aren't $500k+) just don't have big yards. I don't need 20 acres, but I do need at least one.

2. My wife She's a country bumpkin, and doesn't feel safe in the city. I work a lot of nights and off-shifts, and she will kill me if I leave her home alone in the city at night for much longer.

3. Schools (as others have pointed out). I'm not so sure I want my kids @ Forest Hills due to the lack of diversity (or at least perceived lack), but I do want them to have opportunities to excel. Not so sure that's teh case at GRPS.

4. Neighbors. My #1 gripe about living downtown - physical proximity to other people. We share a driveway with the house to our south, and the driveway for the house to the north is literally 3 feet from our living room. It's suffocating. Not to mention how everybody's yards pack into each other. I feel like every time I make any noise I'm disturbing them (although it doesn't seem to bother them to make noise).

5. Location. Right now, I still spend a bit of time at the bars downtown (yeah Founders!). No doubt that will end with kids, and rather, daycare, grocery stores, and the pediatrician's office will be my main hangouts. Better selection of those things out in the 'burbs.

6. Work. I work downtown - so I'm there 5 days a week regardless of where I live. So I'll never be that far removed from the city.

Anyways, just my $0.02.

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No one will doubt that Grand Rapids is seeing a boom in commercial and condo construction. But what about the traditional family neighborhoods. With the increase in poverty levels and the of all too many homes with property maintenance concerns, it makes me wonder why the middle and upper class families will live in places like Caledonia, East Grand Rapids, Aida and similar communities, yet they don

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No one will doubt that Grand Rapids is seeing a boom in commercial and condo construction. But what about the traditional family neighborhoods. With the increase in poverty levels and the of all too many homes with property maintenance concerns, it makes me wonder why the middle and upper class families will live in places like Caledonia, East Grand Rapids, Aida and similar communities, yet they don

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To some degree, I'd challenge your original data. The number of traditional families in an area is a rather weak measure for its strength, and I'd question that the quality of life in Allendale, Jenison or Caledonia is better than Alger Heights, Creston or Easttown.

I'd wager that what you're seeing is a generational change. The folks who moved into the inner ring in the 50s and 60s are now dying off, and with few exceptions, they are being replaced by single-parents, single buddies or cohabitants, and people that aren't white. In many neighborhoods, large blocks of houses are bought up by landlords--others by turn-n-burn speculators.

Why is this happening? Because most new families prefer new neighborhoods. Couples and singles want fixer-uppers.

Getting to the larger point, most of the GR neighborhoods are vastly improving, but with little aid from the 2-parent, 2-kid crowd. i'd argue that GR residents are becoming younger and often wealthier. Those that have maintained traditional models are indeed poorer, but are more likely to be an entirely black or Latino neighborhood, a seperate topic.

And while few people seem to acknowledge this, the region's most stagnant neighborhoods aren't in Grand Rapids, but its Wyoming suburb.

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Ottawa Hills and EGR are essentially the same type of housing stock...and they both help dispell certainties about middle-upper income families.

Myth #1: Yuppies need land. This just isn't true of all middle-upper income people. I live in a neighborhood (in EGR) full of homes that sit on single city lots. Our neighborhood is full of homes in the $220-$350 range and just a block or two in any direction, homes go up to the $700s or down to the low/mid $100s. In all cases, the lots aren't huge and sometimes they're downright small. Nearly every street in any direction is full of kids, so clearly family dwellers don't mind small lots if they feel the other aspects of a given house outweigh lot size.

Ottawa Hills, while slightly less expensive than the EGR houses that are immediately adjacent to it has similar lot-size constraints, but seems to have no trouble attracting young families.

Myth #2: Taxes prevent people from locating within a given community. EGR has incredibly high rates of taxation. Sure, there's no income tax, but your property tax more than makes up for it. Does that prevent young families from moving there? No, on the contrary I think it limits buyers to families of all age-groups because there's a perceived return on your tax investment in the form of outstanding schools.

Where I agree with you all:

Crime & Traffic - We have a young daughter. I want her to play outside, without me needing to watch every car that drives by. That really means that traffic is the #1 issue for us...quiet streets that aren't cut-throughs reduces traffic flow to neighbors, that means I can read a book on the porch and she can run around in our miniscule front yard without me worrying about her getting run over. Crime is low in EGR too, but not as low as some outlying townships.

Schools - Despite evidence that GRPS can provide a good educational experience, and despite my own understanding that parental involvement is the #1 indicator of a child's performance in school, I couldn't bring myself to send our daughter to school in the city. That's it. That's the single reason we ended up in EGR instead of GR-proper. I hope the new leadership turns things around, I really do.

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Since my family arrived in Grand Rapids when it was just a small town, my relatives have managed to raise generations of descendants on these values: raising offspring, having a yard, education, and safety. Those seem to be basic rights or core values when choosing a place to live. There are yards, good schools, and safe neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. For whatever reason there is a population that just can not handle an urban setting. This is fine, and the free market system has catered to their wishes -- suburbia.

I think we should ask ourselves one question. How many homes in the middle to upper income bracket are being sold in Grand Rapids? Is there a supply?

It is in my observation that one reason may include the date of a majority of the housing in GR. According to the Census' Selected Housing Characteristics study, 65.4% of the built housing is dated earlier then 1959. Out of those homes, 36.5% is dated 1939 or earlier. I would contend that the image of much older homes leaves a perception of inadequate housing. Whether this is true or not, doesn't matter it's perception I'm looking for. Older housing -> potentially more upkeep -> more money...

Another reason could also lie in the average value of homes in Grand Rapids. According to this housing study, 49.2% of the housing in GR is valued between $50,000-$99,999. The value of a home seems to have a huge effect on a potential home buyer. It is my understanding that home buyers don't purchase homes on just the premise of family, but sometimes on investment. If I were an investor I would purchase something that would return my investment plus added value. If someone were to look on paper and see the average value of a home in that range, they may not be persuaded as it would appear as not encouraging for a potential ROI.

I would guess that this income bracket is more interested in the housing valued at 150,000 and above, for which there is currently a 12% housing stock. I don't know how many houses are available for sale out of this segment.

Again, I don't have the numbers for amount of homes that are available for sale, but I'm guessing if there isn't a supply for a market, we won't see these families move into the city.

Housing study:

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Ottawa Hills and EGR are essentially the same type of housing stock...and they both help dispell certainties about middle-upper income families......

Myth #1: The Ottawa Hills neighborhood is located in GR, not EGR.

Fact: The Ottawa Hills neighborhood spans both cities. Platted in 1922, 1923, & 1924 this 160 acre development

is split 80 acres in the City of Grand Rapids & 80 acres in the City of East Grand Rapids.

I will admit, I actually got into a "catfight" at the Chop House with an EGR newbie regarding this.

When I told her that I knew where her house was in Ottawa Hills,

she snapped back, "No, we don't live in OH, we live in EAST Grand Rapids."

Of course I informed her, that yes, she did live in EGR, but in the Ottawa Hills neighborhood.

She replied, "Excuse me, we live in EGR on Rosewood, & WE live on the UPside of Rosewood."

This of course led me to tell her that Ottawa Hills contains the upside of Rosewood...

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I can tell you what middle and upper-income families GENERALLY are looking for when deciding on a new home. This would be for those families with small children (not in order of importance):

1) Good schools - now for some people, that might mean exactly "good schools with excellent marks and innovative teaching techniques", for others, it might mean "homogeneous", or "we want our kids to be surrounded by other kids like them" (if they have the gall to admit it)

2) Neighborhood - Prestige, no through traffic, a lot of other kids of similar age, sidewalks, good upkeep of homes, 0 crime, not close to a highway, not close to anything objectionable like a water treatment plant, apartment complex or industrial park. Some families don't even want to be close to a medium density condo community

3) Homes - Prestige (upper middle class and upper class), newer construction in the 2000+ square footage range, at least 2 stall garage, daylight or walkout basement, nice yard with PRIVACY, large spacing between homes, trees or greenery in the backyard

4) Area - close to the highway or major thoroughfare for easy commute (but not too close), within 1 mile of amenities like gas/convenience stores, close to schools where children will attend, possibly parks or bike trails nearby, within 15 - 20 minutes of work (here in GR), within 15 - 20 minutes of major retail

If they can't get all of this within their budget in the first ring of suburbs like Wyoming/Grandville, Kentwood, Forest Hills, Comstock Park, Jenison/Hudsonville, Northview, then they tend to look to the second ring (and not inward), like Rockford, Cedar Springs, Caledonia, Sparta, Lowell, Dorr, Allendale. etc.

As you can see from this list, and I can attest to, the availability of these features is quickly dwindling in Kent County.

Edit: Based on some of those criteria, here's what I get for the city of Grand Rapids:

http://public.grar.com/public/pubsrch.mac/...GE=05&CMPY=

Only 16 hits, and none of them anywhere near downtown.

Very good analysis. I think you hit it on the head.

My response to this question is schools, schools and schools. Everything else is a distant second.

I think that the notion that the middle-upper class is not living in the city is false. I also think that the notion that the quality of life in the city neighborhoods has decreased is absolutely false. My wife and our three small kids (1, 3 and 5) certainly represent the middle class, we live in the city. We feel, as do many or our neighbors, that are quality of life is far superior than that of those in EGR or Forest Hills or Kentwood or wherever. We have chosen these neighborhoods because of quality of life and because the houses were actually built by skilled craftsman with quality materials and some semblence of civic dignity.

I was at a party last night at my neighbor's house where there were about 10 kids running around in the back yard, representing about 5 families. Everyone at this party was part of this middle class that allegedly does not live in the city. Amaziningly we all chose to live were we live because of the quality of life.

As far as the points above. Schools are no doubt the issue.

But on point #2, I would put my Morris Street neighborhood up against any in the area.

As far as the quality of life issue as it relates to housing, again, I would put the homes on Morris and those in the surrounding blocks up against any, they are wonderful places to live and raise kids. My quality of life is not about walk-out basements (in fact, I think they suck-living below ground is for trolls), other than that the description in #3 fits my house almost exactly, except of course the new construction.

Point #4. I walk downtown in under 20 minutes.

That is all just my immediate neighborhood. If you take the time to walk around Madison, Morris, College, then you will find an amazing amount of middle-high income families with kids. It is amazing to see all the strollers on any given evening. People from all over are buying into these neighborhoods. A family with three kids just moved in from Chicago. The house prices on Madison routinely eclipse the $300k to $400k price-tag. These are certainly being purchased by higher income people.

As far as the schools, that is a whole different issue. I can only hope that they can be improved. Our experiment with the GRPS ended after one day, which is very discouraging and even painful. This experience proved that there is a long way to go. There was no organization, there was no security at the building (anyone could have walked in or out of the building or the playground), and frankly there was no diversity within the class room that my daughter was in. The shear lack of organization through the course of many months in dealing with the GRPS has left us absolutely dumbfounded.

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Myth #1: The Ottawa Hills neighborhood is located in GR, not EGR.

Fact: The Ottawa Hills neighborhood spans both cities. Platted in 1922, 1923, & 1924 this 160 acre development

is split 80 acres in the City of Grand Rapids & 80 acres in the City of East Grand Rapids.

I will admit, I actually got into a "catfight" at the Chop House with an EGR newbie regarding this.

When I told her that I knew where her house was in Ottawa Hills,

she snapped back, "No, we don't live in OH, we live in EAST Grand Rapids."

Of course I informed her, that yes, she did live in EGR, but in the Ottawa Hills neighborhood.

She replied, "Excuse me, we live in EGR on Rosewood, & WE live on the UPside of Rosewood."

This of course led me to tell her that Ottawa Hills contains the upside of Rosewood...

I believe many in EGR refer to this area (the part of EGR that borders the city) as the DMZ. Many look down at the people who live on the EGR side of the DMZ.

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life is not about walk-out basements (in fact, I think they suck-living below ground is for trolls),

Most people look at basements as "cheap space" that can inexpensively be converted to living space for about $20/sf (or done by the homeowners themselves for less), and a daylight or walkout basement feels less like "troll-lair", and all of a sudden your 2000 sf home becomes 3000.

I'm glad to hear about all the families with strollers in GR. The unfortunate reality (as you stated) is what does everyone at the party plan to do when the kids leave the stroller and need to start school?

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Schools was the biggest factor (hard to put a percentage, but let's say around 40%) for us. Although crime is certainly a factor, looking at crime data at the city level is too big of a chunk to be useful. Simply put, there are going to be a number of safe neighborhoods in any city. Location would be the second biggest factor. I work in Holland, and my wife's relatives mostly lives the in Kalamazoo area. So the southwest area was a natural choice and we basically narrowed our search to Hudsonville, Jenison, Grandville and Wyoming.

Also, even though I live in the more surburban part of Wyoming, I can still drive to a restaurant like San Chez in 15 minutes.

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Most people look at basements as "cheap space" that can inexpensively be converted to living space for about $20/sf (or done by the homeowners themselves for less), and a daylight or walkout basement feels less like "troll-lair", and all of a sudden your 2000 sf home becomes 3000

Yup, and developers really take advantage of this. They build a 2 BR ranch, then finish the basement with the 3rd bedroom. They can now offer an affordable house that advertises as a 3BR ranch with lots of square footage. Made it a really pain for us using the GRAR website to search for homes because we wanted 3BR above ground and the search function does not let you specify where the bedrooms are located. Same goes for the square footage.

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The data that I had was based on the Census Tract and not block group, and was over the past 50 years. (1950 to 2000 in ten year increments using census data). Where available I used a total of 28 factors ranging from crime, literacy rates, median family income, dwelling occupancy, to education level, travel time to work, employment rates, median age and family size.

Downtown noted a massive turnaround for the 2000 census, while the rest continued to decrease. Of course there have been some neighborhoods that in reality show the opposite of my project; however they may fall into the same tract as an area that has seen a significant decline.

Point #4. I walk downtown in under 20 minutes.

That is all just my immediate neighborhood. If you take the time to walk around Madison, Morris, College, then you will find an amazing amount of middle-high income families with kids. It is amazing to see all the strollers on any given evening. People from all over are buying into these neighborhoods. A family with three kids just moved in from Chicago. The house prices on Madison routinely eclipse the $300k to $400k price-tag. These are certainly being purchased by higher income people.

As far as the schools, that is a whole different issue. I can only hope that they can be improved. Our experiment with the GRPS ended after one day, which is very discouraging and even painful. This experience proved that there is a long way to go. There was no organization, there was no security at the building (anyone could have walked in or out of the building or the playground), and frankly there was no diversity within the class room that my daughter was in. The shear lack of organization through the course of many months in dealing with the GRPS has left us absolutely dumbfounded.

I agree with your observation of this area. However, would you agree that there are just as many properties within a block of these homes that are just short of disrepair, converted into multi tenant rentals, and are often occupied by college students or low income persons?

Living at the corner of College and Cherry, I too have notices some amazing homes, but I have also noticed just as many that appear to be owned by absentee landlords who are just init for the profit.

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I'm glad to hear about all the families with strollers in GR. The unfortunate reality (as you stated) is what does everyone at the party plan to do when the kids leave the stroller and need to start school?

Most of the people at the party have resolved the school thing. None of them have their kids in the GRPS, an unfortunate, but seemingly necessary action. The school issue has been resolved, at least by these parents, by sending their kids to charter schools or St. Andrews. A quick poll of parents in the neighborhood reinforces this trend as almost all use one of three methods: private schools, charter schools or school of choice. There are always exceptions to this, but very few in this immediate neighborhood.

I agree with your observation of this area. However, would you agree that there are just as many properties within a block of these homes that are just short of disrepair, converted into multi tenant rentals, and are often occupied by college students or low income persons?

Living at the corner of College and Cherry, I too have notices some amazing homes, but I have also noticed just as many that appear to be owned by absentee landlords who are just init for the profit.

I would agree that most homes even on these streets, including my own are in disrepair, some more than others. Certainly as we look at streets to the east and to the south, the disrepair is more extreme and evident (and less people are making a concerted effort to fix them up). Although I would say that Brian and Tracy Prevost are almost single-handidly changing this in the area immediately to the south.

I doubt that there are many single family homes being converted to multi-family any more due to city zoning policy. Most multi-family conversions have been multi-family for a long time. There are also a fair number of very well done two-family units (many owner occupied on one side) that were designed as two-family, that fit into the neighborhood exquisitely. These two-families allow for more diversity in that they bring in college students and other lower income people into the immediate neigborhood - a plus.

Having the diversity of incomes is a good thing for the neighborhood. Having a few college students does not constitute a major problem, particularly the ones who are attracted to our block.

As an aside, a house right down the street from us, on Morris, just sold for about $150,000 due to a recent foreclosure. This is an awesome deal, in that the house right next door is on the market for about $260,000. The good thing about this, is that a very young couple, who could not have afforded to buy into the block, was able to move in. We welcome this kind of diversity because you will not find it in the suburban neighborhoods, which all seem to be podded off by income / price of home and exclude all but a few narrowly defined consumers within each pod.

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I would agree with those posters who mention schools. That was the deciding factor when my father decided to move INTO Grand Rapids many years ago.

My family lived in a rented house in Plainfield Township, not far from what would become, many years later, North Kent Mall. However, the belief was in those days that Grand Rapids Public Schools were far superior to those in the township, and so when I was a toddler, we moved into the Riverside Gardens area.

How times have changed.

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I believe many in EGR refer to this area (the part of EGR that borders the city) as the DMZ. Many look down at the people who live on the EGR side of the DMZ.

I refuse to believe that (especially with the context of this discussion being Ottawa Hills neighborhood)

Cambridge/Rosewood/Gladstone stretch between Franklin and Hall is part of Ottawa Hills and EGR.

The home values in that stretch match or eclipse anything in EGR that isn't on the lakefront.

Cambridge has a string of tudors between Franklin and Alexnader that is among the nicest I've ever seen. Anywhere.

I cannot believe anyone would call that a DMZ. Rosewood and Gladstone, just west and still part of Ottawa Hills are equally as impressive (if not as large) as are many of the homes I bike past in the GR part of the Ottawa Hills neighborhood.

A question: Does the Ottawa Hills neighborhood association include both EGR and GR sections of the neighborhood?

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And while few people seem to acknowledge this, the region's most stagnant neighborhoods aren't in Grand Rapids, but its Wyoming suburb.

This is the real truth here. I think a lot of people are confusing Grand Rapids and Wyoming.

http://www.mlive.com/search/index.ssf?/bas...?NEG&coll=6

Thats the first article I've seen that deals with this issue... It just seems, when someone sees Wyoming, it gets confused with GR. (It doesn't help with the way the two are situated now.)

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.......

A question: Does the Ottawa Hills neighborhood association include both EGR and GR sections of the neighborhood?

Yes it serves the neighborhood, though I believe the association is made up of mostly GR residents.

I loved growing up in the Ottawa Hills neighborhood in EGR. A plat map of Ottawa Hills:

235154344_c0dad2c30a.jpg

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So what's the beef with EGR and GR people? Is is about association with OH or disassociation?

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This is the real truth here. I think a lot of people are confusing Grand Rapids and Wyoming.

http://www.mlive.com/search/index.ssf?/bas...?NEG&coll=6

Thats the first article I've seen that deals with this issue... It just seems, when someone sees Wyoming, it gets confused with GR. (It doesn't help with the way the two are situated now.)

Amazing.. once again a discussion about problems in GR somehow turns into bash Wyoming. I was tempted to ask DSchoon about his definition of stagnation and more specifics, but I figured that this thread was really about Grand Rapids, and not Wyoming. But I guess Wyoming is going to get dragged into the discussion and somehow made the scapegoat.

There's no doubt that changes in the manufacturing industry have hit Wyoming hard, but I think Wyoming's biggest challenges will be in the next decade. Wyoming has a variety of housing and almost of it is affordable. School district reputation, while not stellar, is decent. Crime rate is below the national average and lower than GR, Kentwood, Holland, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Lansing(*)... the budget is in good shape. These characteristics will always be appealing to middle class families.

I'm not seeing how Wyoming is somehow being confused as misrepresenting Grand Rapids.

(*) based on 2004 crime statistics from areaconnect.com

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