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Rizzo

Our City's Image in The Region.

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I would like to get a discussion going on some of the misconceptions or image problems facing Grand Rapids.

Discuss:

  • What kind of image does The City project onto the suburbs? Is it negative, not changing, positive, etc...

  • Identify the most common misconceptions and stereotypes of Grand Rapids. Do those misconceptions hold water?

  • Is there a disparity between positive and negative as how Grand Rapids is perceived in the area?

How does this discussion relate to unifying our region with the city (Downtown) so that we are all successful? Does our image really matter in this region?

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[*]Identify the most common ......stereotypes of Grand Rapids.

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I think a big problem with downtown GR is that so many people fled the area in decades past. Businesses began to close, and recreational activities dwindled. Downtown became a place for business only, and they forgot about the great city in their backyards.

For example, my parents met on the corner of James and Evans in the mid 1970's. Both were hippies...and spent a ton of time downtown and uptown. However, in the early 80's, the face of everything began to change. The demographics of the areas changed. The income levels of the areas changed. The surrounding areas became more dangerous. In fact, when disposing of an old pile of garbage in my Fairmount Square home, I found a rather dated Gatorade bottle (late 80's) filled with used heroin needles! Furthermore, companies like Steelcase, GM, etc. drew people to Wyoming and Kentwood and away from the inner city.

This is what happened to my parents...both ended up in houses in Kentwood with careers at Steelcase. They still believe that the area is dangerous. They rarely make it downtown for shopping or entertainment. To encourage them to do so, I always buy them gift certificates to downtown venues and restaurants for the hollidays. I patted myself on the back last week when my mom called me and asked me if I was interested in meeting her at San Chez for drinks...that was a huge step.

I think this will change as more people begin to live down here, and retail and entertainment continue to increase. Grand Rapids has to establish itself as a center for entertainment, and I think it's on its way. I believe that it only takes a couple of exposures to get people on the Grand Rapids bandwagon. When they get out and enjoy the city, they see that it is a perfectly safe, fun, and beautiful city.

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^^ Hey, that is clearly Holland.

The slogan, "Michigan's West Coast" is meant to unify the region. If you look at the marketing, it's the lakeshore for day, downtown for nightlife. I think it sells it fairly accurately, especially with regards to what many downtown businesses need--evening activity.

Destination shopping would also do the same. For example, an Apple store, or North Face store, or a Hush Puppies/Wolverine store. And then there should be open house events that draw people inside.

Downtown Holland had an event like that the weekend before Thanksgiving and it seemed hugely successful. GOBS of people shopping, eating in restaurants, drinking complementary wine, eating cheese, it was basically a 1/2 mile block party along 8th St.

For the first time since moving to Holland, I felt like I was part of a community. And THAT is what downtown Grand Rapids needs.

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I once heard that if you exclude The Netherlands, the area has the largest population of Dutch ancestry in the world something like 200,000 strong. So, obviously that is a fitting image.

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I know a few people who will not go into the bars in downtown because with the exception of the area between the BOB and VAA, they don

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1.) The city needs to go on an agressive marketing campaign, more so that this "Keep it a Secret" thing that's going on now. Advertise that GR is no rust belt city. The term Rust Belt is demeaning as it alone would scare off any business looking for a good place to set up shop. So GR needs to get away from that term by playing up the Life Sciences aspect, diverse economy, the ability to host sizable conventions, shows, and events, as well as the good location between Chicago and Detroit makeing for a great place to do businesses.

2.) Despite Steelcase and Hermin Miller, Grand Rapids is really not the "Furniture City" any more as this industry no longer holds clout like it once did back in the late 1800's to early 1900's. Plus the local economy is full of a whole host of industries. Finding a new and more suitable nickname is needed.

3.) The east vs. west political rivalry needs to be put to bed once and for all. If a Detroiter came to Grand Rapids, he/ she will find our fair share of people leaning left while a Grand Rapidian visiting the Motor City would discover a fair number of Detroiters leaning to the right. The only rivalry that should take place in Michigan is the one between U of M and State. Other than that rivalries gets us no where fast.

As for the Citiy's image on the surronding area. I think it depends on who one talks to. But I think that, like most suburbanites, people living in the surronding communities stereotype GR proper as being the typical big bad inner city full of crime and drugs and bad schools. While GRPS needs some help, the crime and drug aspects only occurs in small pockets while other areas of the city are quite livable. The help matters, Grand Rapids needs to do everything it possibly can to improve the school system first and foremost. Secondly, it needs to work with problem communities to cut down on crime by stepping up neighorhood watches, providing wholesome activities for children and teens, step up efforts to attract more jobs into the city then set up pograms to help train the lower income for those jobs. Lastly, the city needs to continue and expand on the urban beautification projects going on as of late, and to be able to force owners of shabby buildings to either fix them or tear them down.

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... I found a rather dated Gatorade bottle (late 80's) filled with used heroin needles! ...

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I used to find needles on a regular basis when mowing my lawn when I lived in South Hill. Perhaps they were discarded by a diabetic litterbug?

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I don't think so...but my neighbor used to run a needle exchange program for addicts to exchange their used needles for new ones. I showed her my find, and she was certain that they were not just insulin needles. Also, I'm sure most diabetics have the know-how to dispose of them at the correct location. These were thrown over my fence from an alley.

Are heroin needles different from other intravenous sharps?

[has sometimes lacked a red container]

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The "East v. West" rivalry goes deeper than politics. I know too many Metro Detroiters who consider W.Michigan "the country," akin to rural Wisconsin--farmland and prairie grass. And while we know better, that's their perception.

We have fewer freeeways, fewer people, fewer events, less shopping and less sprawl than the D, so it's easy to understand why. For a Metro Detroiter, the question needs to be asked, "why would I drive to Grand Rapids? And even then, why would I go downtown?"

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I know a few people who will not go into the bars in downtown because with the exception of the area between the BOB and VAA, they don

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The major reasons I've heard are this:

Unsafe (Typically people sheltered in homes and rarely leave them in the suburbs and rely on news coverage to get a perception of downtown rather than experience, often citing 1 bad event that may have happened years ago, and assuming that's every day life there, ignoring the bad events occuring around them)

Of those who don't believe downtown to be unsafe, I've heard reasons being that downtown is confusing. Road closures, one-way roads, and finding parking. I think this is more due to them being so used to the suburbs, where you drive straight to your destination with very little prior knowledge of where it is you're going. People don't do any research when going downtown, and simply don't know their parking options. When parking is found, then its a matter of finding their destination. Confusion and a sense of being lost prevents them from going back often.

The only time I've heard "there's nothing to do" as being a perception, is when I suggest to people to go hang out downtown just to be downtown -- "But there's nothing to do." Sadly, a lot of the time, they are right. (Especially Sundays and at night, which is usually the time when I'm with friends)

The people who perceive downtown are so wrapped up in their perceptions of what they think is true, and blanketed in their false securities, I think it would be more trouble than for what its worth to try to encourage them downtown on a mass scale. That's really only something that can be done on a person-by-person basis.

What needs to be worked on IMHO, is the issue of feeling lost, and things to do. Granted there's maps showing buildings and locations everywhere, which is great, but people who aren't downtown don't know this. They don't realise they can park anywhere without getting lost and have maps to guide them. Another thing that would be helpful is to have signs showing parking options, rather than having to just drive by a garage to know it is there. Signs which are regularly adapted to avoid the construction areas.

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The story of how the suburbs and the Grand Rapids react to eachother is the story of every major Michigan city and its suburbs. In fact, it's the story of most of America's cities and how they interact with their suburbs. Cities have gotten a worse rap (if even partially deserved) than they should. I always find it funny, but more sad than funny, that no matter what downtown you speak of, be it downtown Grand Rapids, downtown Lansing, downtown Detroit...that suburbanites always have this false sense of imminent danger when discussing them when the downtown areas of every city in this state usually are some of the safest of areas in any of these cities.

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The story of how the suburbs and the Grand Rapids react to eachother is the story of every major Michigan city and its suburbs. In fact, it's the story of most of America's cities and how they interact with their suburbs. Cities have gotten a worse rap (if even partially deserved) than they should. I always find it funny, but more sad than funny, that no matter what downtown you speak of, be it downtown Grand Rapids, downtown Lansing, downtown Detroit...that suburbanites always have this false sense of imminent danger when discussing them when the downtown areas of every city in this state usually are some of the safest of areas in any of these cities.

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Had an interesting conversation this morning at work

Person A " We went to hear Trans Siberian Orchestra at the Van Andel. It was great. Then when we got to the car, we found out parking was $12.50!"

Person B "That's why I don't like to go downtown..."

Another example:

I went to the UICA last Friday. Snow all over the place, hard to park. I parked on the street right around the corner at 4:30. Meters were in force to 5:00. I got a ticket. Maybe the vultures in the ticket department would do better for the city to shovel a little snow and make the sidewalks useable and not be trying to make people's lives miserable.

***Ahem*** stepping off my podium

And I really like downtown and go there alot, but it still is challenging to park there. That is the image that downtown has to those in the suburbs...

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I went to the UICA last Friday. Snow all over the place, hard to park. I parked on the street right around the corner at 4:30. Meters were in force to 5:00. I got a ticket. Maybe the vultures in the ticket department would do better for the city to shovel a little snow and make the sidewalks useable and not be trying to make people's lives miserable.

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I never pay the meters. I figure I get away with it enough that when I get a ticket it makes up for it. Who ever has enough quarters when each one only gives you about 10 minutes?

-nb

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I know I don't live in GR now, but it's my city. I was downtown everyday and night, and I never had an issue parking. You just have to have to know your spots, and I know every inch of downtown. Ok so i'm probabally not a good example of someone from outside the core tho.

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I think its a real generational thing. Many baby boomers and older have the image of the city as its status was during the "dead" times of the 70's and 80's renewal schemes. Whether its true or not most people stay out of the city due to...

1)Crime

2)Poor Schools

3)Traffic Congestion

4)Blight/Graffiti

5)No places of interest (if you aren't into bars or the arts)

6)Racial Issues

7)Urban "elitism"

8)Desire for the "simple" life

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I've always though GR looks nice comming into the city from almost every angle The only way I could see anyone being intimidated is comming up Division from the south, because its kind of rundown, otherwise I've lived in forest hills and EGR and stayed in kentwood for a while and never noticed anyone that was intimidated. I knew a lot of people who did'nt ever make it out of the subburbs, but to be honest most of the other cities in MI seem more intimidating than GR especially DT. Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Flint :shok: not to mention DET they all have a little more grit and have that gloomy feeling comming into the cities

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I have a few different observations in this discussion.

1. Majority of suburbanites (and I'm one of them, but not majority :lol: ) don't like to go downtown because of the previously mentioned reasons. I think the big problem has to do with the negative media. For example, WOODTV and WZZM portrays Grand Rapids generally as a great city, but at the same time the news starts out with about 5-10 minutes of stories of people being shot, stabbed, raped...then we have arson, car accidents, etc. On a daily basis. That could be enough for someone in the suburbs to say, "Well why would I want to live there and/or even go there at all?" You could agree or disagree, but I know many suburbanites who go by this philosophy.

Suburbanites live in the suburbs for their reasons...they don't want big towns, they want to go to stores that have lots of parking, and have the less chance for traffic congestion (even though nowadays it's getting just as bad). These people want to get from Point A to Point B with no exceptions. But if you think about it, there's some urbanites (and I'm not saying all, but there's bound to be some) who don't like going to the suburbs because of the massive parking lots and big chain stores and not having much to do besides sitting at a park (so they think). So it really can go both ways with the stereotypes.

2. You'd be surprised to know that Division Street has a bad reputation among some in the suburban communities, and it's the first thing that comes to their mind when mentioning Grand Rapids. I am always encouraging my friends (and sometimes even force them to go with me when I'm driving) to go to downtown and just check it out, observe it, see that it's not so bad after all. One time I did so and I was just driving down Fulton, and my friend sees the big "Division St" sign and she flipped out screaming "Get me out of here, I do not want to be down here, this is scary ghetto land." So I said fine, I turned down Division heading south and I'm like, "Look, it's not as bad as what you think." Funny part is, we were driving in the middle of the day. Some people just cannot grab the concept that yes people do walk down the streets here or wait at bus stations. And this is also the same person that wants to go to New York City to tour it. HELLO :lol:

3. While we can say now that Grand Rapids is not such a bad place and we can really say that we have come along way. But I think we also have the mindset that we still have much work to do. We are not "the destination" by any means. But I think the better we get, the more people start to recognize it. I even took my mother one day downtown just to show her what it is like there, we went to the museums, walked down Monroe Center and watched people ice skate at Rosa Parks, went down to McFadden's to get a bite and slurped a couple drinks, and by the end of that trip she said "Wow...I never realized how much you could do here downtown...that was really fun, we should come down again." So I think Grand Rapids is just really misunderstood sometimes, and those who are afraid of it are only afraid of it because they haven't actually experienced it. I love to use the term "Don't knock it until you try it," on my fellow suburbanites.

4. East vs West: I just don't get it. I personally know lots of people that live in Lansing and Detroit area. I've invited some of them over to GR to hang out and do some shopping and they leave without one negative comment about our city. I even know some people who eventually moved to GR and said they would never turn around and go back again. Although, most ppl I know are going to Kendall or GVSU.

5. "Religious City" : I really don't hear this term used as much anymore. I think people are starting to concept that yes we had a dutch past, and yes we have many churches and there may be some that are heavily religious, but I always tell those I talk to that we are no Westboro Baptist Church. I think the more people that come to live here, the better diversity we get...and it'll become more recognizable throughout the years.

6. Shopping: I think you would see more people downtown if the shopping presence was more emphasized and/or having more well-known stores. Apple seems to be heavily mentioned throughout the threads, and I agree it would bring a lot of interest downtown, but we all know that Apple is not going to save the day. I was watching HGTV the other day where they were showing how the big stores around the country compete during xmas for their storefront windows. Is this something that is done in GR? Specifically in Monroe Center? Do a lot of those stores have storefront windows where that could be possible? I realize that this is just a seasonal idea (or could it be used more?)...but I always thought it would be cool for GR to close Monroe Center for one day, and look at all the different storefront windows decorated for a competition, go into their stores and buy some things, stop down at the local coffee shops to warm up with some java, hang out at Rosa Parks or heck even go ice skating. Could you imagine just for xmas how much that could help GR and more so help out the downtown businesses? I think that would be a fabulous idea and a good marketing strategy especially when these stores are trying to get people away from the big chains. I think we need to invent and/or develop events such as this to get more people downtown and take a look to see what we have to offer.

Wow this is a long post...I'm going to stop right here :lol:

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Real Quick:

I didn't grow up in Grand Rapids but visited the area about once a year for family get-togethers. I never thought of downtown as unsafe... empty yes, but never unsafe. I guess I think of parts of division as being kind of run-down and not a place I would want to just walk through at 11:00pm. Hanging out downtown is something I am familiar with having grown up in Chicagoland. I think Downtown needs more storefronts with places that draw people to spend time there. I hate to say it, but I think more people hang out at Woodland mall than downtown. The city needs to have more places for people to "hang out" they need free museums, more stores like little bohemia and riverbank books... Right now, there is not enough keeping me downtown when I do go there.

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I have a few different observations in this discussion.

Wow this is a long post...I'm going to stop right here :lol:

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