Grand Rapids

aeiral view of flooded Grand River
City of Grand Rapids / Facebook

Most of West Michigan and Mid-Michigan are still under a flood warning after last week’s heavy rains and warm temperatures that melted snow on the ground. 

Carbon Stories

The Next Idea 


After more than three years, our innovation series, The Next Idea, will soon come to an end.
Stateside has been checking in with some of our previous contributors to see how they’re doing. 

Mayor Rosalyn Bliss speaking in Grand Rapids
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss highlighted housing affordability and bettering community police relations as important areas to improve upon in her annual state of the city address.

Mayor Bliss says the city’s economic turnaround will only be a success if it benefits all residents.

“We need to be a place where a rich variety of residents not only feel accepted and want to call Grand Rapids home, but can afford to do so,” Bliss said.

Bliss says the city will continue to prioritize mixed-income housing development proposals in the future.

marijuana plants
Rusty Blazenhoff / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

In 2012, Grand Rapids residents voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

And in 2016, Michigan lawmakers passed the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act, which set up the licensing and regulatory framework for the medical marijuana industry.

But as a story in MiBiz points out, despite all that, Grand Rapids has not moved towards allowing medical marijuana facilities.

Yes, 2018 has arrived! Time to look back at some highlights from West Michigan’s music scene in 2017 as well as looking forward to some artists generating attention as the new year unfolds.

Top West Michigan musicians of 2017

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say this was a banner year musically for the west side of the state, which already had produced stars like BØRNS, a native of Grand Haven who continues to electrify the pop scene from his new home in Los Angeles.

A cup for spare change and a cardboard sign
BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Rapids City Commission last night voted down a controversial proposed panhandling ordinance.

The ordinance was billed as a pedestrian safety law, but it would have allowed police to give costly tickets to people panhandling at certain intersections at specific times of day.

Grand Rapids city officials putting shovels into the ground
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids broke ground on the $38 million dollar biodigester sludge treatment system that could help Grand Rapids reach sustainability goals.

A biodigester is like a mechanical stomach. It takes in organic waste and converts it to renewable energy.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss says the city wants to be using 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2025.

“It's creative ideas like this that will help us get to renewable energy goals, but also be a positive force on the environment,” Bliss said.


The Next Idea

Homelessness has a different look in a city than it does in rural areas, and somehow it feels easier to overlook.

Dennis Van Kampen, executive director and CEO of the Grand Rapids nonprofit Mel Trotter Ministries, joined Stateside to talk about a pilot program aimed at helping homeless families in rural Cedar Springs, and take on the problem of rural homelessness more broadly.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is unveiling changes to lead in water rules this week.

Communities in Michigan with lead water pipes will have special interest in a public meeting Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality is hosting Wednesday night.

Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Because of the Flint water crisis, several Michigan cities are making long term plans to replace old lead water pipes that connect homes to the water main.

That is good for public health, but well-meaning municipal water operators can actually make lead exposure worse if they’re not careful.

There’s a mix of lead and copper pipes buried near the corner of Trinity and Florence in a neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side. When I visited a month ago the block was lined with nice, two story brick homes and orange construction barrels. It smelled like diesel.

construction workers
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Public and political pressure from the Flint water crisis is beginning to shape new, tougher water regulations in Michigan - and other states are taking notice.

If passed, they’d be the strongest such measures in the country.

Two years ago, when news broke about the Flint water crisis, lots of people wondered if Michigan’s governor would resign. That’s because emails show Rick Snyder’s top aides had concerns about Flint’s water long before pediatricians and scientists proved there was a huge problem.

arrow sign says voting
Flickr user justgrimes / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Election Day in Michigan is Tuesday, November 7. Michigan Radio's "Morning Edition" host Doug Tribou and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry preview some of the issues for voters around the state: 

actors on stage
Lisa Gavan


Each time a show opened at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, Alexandra Berneis would send an email. As the theater's executive director, Berneis had a strong relationship with Jen McKee, the local critic at The Ann Arbor News. It was a symbiotic one: invitation, access, coverage, repeat.

Then one day in January 2016, she didn’t get an email back. The critic and other colleagues lost their jobs. Mainstream arts coverage in Ann Arbor was gone.

Michigan communities have been experiencing this with increasing frequency over several years. As the internet changed how people got their news, media entities shifted and consolidated, and arts communities across the state are feeling the loss.

Reverend Fred Wooden
Unitarian Universalist Association Website / https://www.uua.org/offices/people/w-frederick-wooden

A minister and community activist in Grand Rapids wants to represent Michigan's third congressional district.

The preacher of the progressive Fountain Street Church in downtown Grand Rapids announced that he hopes to become the first Democratic candidate to represent the district in over 40 years.

User soumit / flickr.com

Tuscon, Arizona, uprooted a 21-foot-tall saguaro cactus and tried to have it delivered to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Birmingham, Alabama, constructed giant Amazon boxes and placed them around the city. The mayor of Kansas City bought a thousand items online from Amazon and posted reviews of each one.

The retail giant Amazon is looking for a second home and there are a lot of contenders trying to land the project being called “H-Q-2.” At stake are many thousands of jobs and a new economic anchor for the winner.

"A. Lincoln" by Richard Schlatter, one of the winning pieces in this year's Grand Rapids ArtPrize
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Downtown Grand Rapids will surely be less busy now that the ninth annual Grand Rapids ArtPrize competition is over.

Artists from all over the world come to West Michigan to share their art. But only two artists each year are grand prize winners.

Both Seitu Jones and Richard Schlatter will take home $200,000 for their pieces "The Heartside Community Meal" and "A. Lincoln," respectively. 

Tobias Leeger / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Today (10/4)  is Count Day. For school districts in Michigan, it’s crucially important to have as many enrolled kids sitting in their seats as possible. That’s because this is one of the two days during the school year when attendance determines how much state aid schools will get.

There’s much work to do in boosting attendance, not just on Count Day.  A recent report from Johns Hopkins University finds Michigan's chronic student absence rate of 18-percent is well above the national average of 13-percent.

Pippalou / Morguefile

Grand Rapids has earned a reputation as one of Michigan's most "hip" cities, but it also wants to be at the forefront of the movement to create places where age isn't a barrier to being active in community life.

The city is working to become part of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, which includes factors like housing, outdoor spaces and transportation to maximize the economic and social power of older residents. Associate state director at AARP Michigan, Jennifer Munoz, said with changing demographics, cities can't afford to focus only on the young.

"If a community doesn't address the needs of all populations, from stroller to walker, then we will lose residents in our communities," Munoz says. "So, it's important that we allow them the resources and the necessities so that they can age in place."

Nic Morgan holding drink
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s hard to find. The address is 80 Ottawa Avenue NW in Grand Rapids.

But unless someone has told you about it, you probably would never realize that once you take those concrete steps down from the sidewalk, enter a door into an entryway, turn your back to the pizza place, and enter yet another door, you’ve arrived.

This is SideBar. It’s a tiny 18 seat bar where people who love craft cocktails gather.

Downtown Grand Rapids
Grguy2011 / Public Domain

Grand Rapids will be looking at candidates from across the country to find a new city manager.

Greg Sundstrom announced last week that he will retire from the position at the end of the year. 

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss says Sundstrom was vital to the city's financial turnaround. 

“So my hope is that we have someone to replace Greg to build on what he's done, but then also bring new ideas and look at where do we still have to improve and how do we get there,” Bliss said.

Hot dog food cart
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

A Michigan native and Army veteran is looking to expand his West Michigan company.

Michigan native James Meeks is the CEO of Move Systems International. The company makes and operates food carts -- like the ones hot dog vendors use on the sidewalks of New York City.

The New York-based company is investing $13 million to manufacture more of its food carts in the Grand Rapids area.

He says his military background has influenced how he does hiring.

Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom announced his retirement today.

Sundstrom has worked for the city since 1981 and has been city manager since 2009.

Grand Rapids
Steven Depolo / Flickr

Two Grand Rapids area nonprofits will use new grant money to help supply affordable housing.

The grants came from Project Reinvest: Neighborhoods, a program of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit NeighborWorks America. It awarded a $500,000 grant to both Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and LINC Up. 

NeighborWorks America is a coalition of public and private partners that want to create affordable housing for communities throughout the country.

a piano

It's time for our monthly check-in on the music scene on the west side of the state.

John Sinkevics is the editor and publisher of LocalSpins.com, where he highlights up-and-coming artists and music happenings in the area. This time, we’re putting the spotlight on three West Michigan bands.

Cars on the freeway
Flickr user a.saliga

Based on data from an insurance comparison website, Detroit has the best drivers in the country. But the statistic has some caveats. 

Seattle-based Quote Wizard looked at the 75 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. for the study. It created the ranking based on reports to insurance companies of accidents, DUIs, speeding tickets, and minor citations. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

A non-profit in Grand Rapids says it’s reached an agreement to buy 177 homes to preserve affordable housing in the region.
The Inner City Christian Federation, or ICCF, plans to buy the homes from a Chicago-based investment company, known as RDG. Michigan Radio first reported in April that RDG had quietly become the single largest investor in single family homes in Grand Rapids, with more than 140 properties in the city alone.

ICCF says its purchase agreement is for 177 homes in Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Eaton Rapids, near Lansing. 

I am switching roles a bit at Michigan Radio. The change requires me to sell my lovely house in Grand Rapids to work out of Ann Arbor.

Community members talk about policing in Grand Rapids at the first of five scheduled public meetings scheduled for June.
Dustin Dwyer

Police department leaders and elected city officials in Grand Rapids listened quietly today at the first public meeting to discuss police and community relations. 

It was the first of five scheduled public meetings on the topic. The meetings came about in part because of a study released in April that showed Grand Rapids police pull over black and Hispanic drivers at disproportionate rates compared to whites. And, there was an incident in March in which a police officer held five unarmed black boys at gun point.

Lindsey Smith

City commissioners in Grand Rapids are expected to vote next week on a budget that includes more money for affordable housing.

A preliminary plan released by the city in April included slightly more than $866,000 for the 2018 budget to launch an Affordable Housing Community Fund. The plan proposes about $1 million per year for future years. 

Grand Rapids is in the middle of a housing crisis, with relatively few homes or apartments available in the city, and prices skyrocketing.

Police Officer
Matthew Sutherland / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The city of Grand Rapids has been working on trying to find ways to make sure police officers are not treating citizens unequally and improving relations with the community.

The city has been working to implement a so-called 12-point plan, something that’s been in the works for a couple of years.

But, a recent traffic stop report indicated its officers are treating people of color differently than white citizens, arresting them more frequently. Then, there was the recent incident about an officer pulling his weapon on five unarmed African-American boys.

Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky joined Stateside to discuss.