Grand Rapids

Courtesy of House Democrats

A former state lawmaker is running to become the mayor of Michigan’s second-largest city.

If you pay attention to Grand Rapids politics at all, you’ve probably heard of Robert Dean. He served on the Grand Rapids school board in the 1990s, and then the city commission for years.

Steven Vance / Creative Commons

Right now, skateboarding is banned in downtown Grand Rapids. But advocates say skateboards, longboards, roller skates, and roller blades are just like any other kind of non-motorized transportation. They say they should be allowed on downtown streets just like bicycles.

The Grand Rapids City Commission is considering the proposed change. It will hold a public hearing at city hall Tuesday night.

DisArt festival

A major art show opens in Grand Rapids on Friday.

The DisArt festival features the work of roughly 50 disabled artists, film makers and others. 

“What the whole festival is doing is flipping our expectations of disability on its head,” says festival director Christopher Smit. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The state is offering a million dollars to help clean up the site where Michigan State University is going to build its biomedical research center.

The site is near Grand Rapids’ “medical mile”; where The Grand Rapids Press was housed for decades.

LaughFest image.

Gilda’s LaughFest 2015 kicks off in Grand Rapids this Thursday (March 5).

The 10-day comedic festival will feature stand-up, comedy films, improv, comedy showcases and more all over West Michigan.

The festival was started by Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, a survivor support group named after the late comic Gilda Radner.

You can see a full list of the events and venues here.

police officer directing traffic
Flickr user lincolnblues / Flickr

An African-American man is suing the city of Grand Rapids over a police practice his attorney says unfairly targets minorities.

A city attorney wouldn’t comment on the specific case, but says the policy follows the law.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s second largest city will welcome backyard chickens beginning this spring.

In the summer of 2010, Grand Rapids city commissioners narrowly rejected urban chickens. But the issue never died and really picked up steam last fall.

Three commissioners who voted against chickens five years ago changed their minds this time around.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On Tuesday, elected leaders in Grand Rapids could vote to allow people to keep chickens in their backyards.

“I’m excited,” Amy Bowditch said of the proposal. “People kind of chuckle ‘oh chickens, everybody wants to turn the city into the country’ and a lot of people think it’s absurd. But we, for myself and my family, we think it’s really important that we stay connected to our food,” she said.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Surprising no one who follows Grand Rapids politics, City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss has announced she’s running to be the next mayor.

Michigan’s second largest city has never elected a female mayor, and Bliss has a good chance to become its first. 

police officer directing traffic
Flickr user lincolnblues / Flickr

The Grand Rapids City Commission unanimously decided this morning to approve requiring city police to wear body cameras.

Michigan Radio's West Michigan reporter Lindsey Smith says the decision is part of a $1.5 million public safety plan that was unveiled earlier this month. The plan also includes hiring more police officers, a study of racial profiling in the area, and creating more inclusive hiring practices for the city, according to Smith.

Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

Michigan’s economy is changing, and our state’s investment culture must change along with it. As we work to diversify by stimulating entrepreneurship, innovation and talent attraction, among many other things, more Michigan residents with money to invest must learn to see that betting on new local businesses is worthwhile, even if the potential for them to fail is high. 

Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell is calling on Governor Rick Snyder to place a temporary ban on hydraulic fracturing in the state.

Heartwell made his comments today during his state of the city address.

“Our planet is sick and it is we who have infected it. So it must be we who heal it,” Heartwell said to a crowd of at least 300 people. Environmental concerns was one of the major themes of Heartwell’s speech.

Peter Martin Hall / Creative Commons

In an average year, 17 people get murdered in Grand Rapids. Six is way low, lower than it’s been in 50 years.

Grand Rapids Police Lieutenant Pat Merrill says there was only one bank robbery, when 8 to 10, even up to 20 is normal. “One is unbelievably low. It is anomalous,” Merrill said.

A new crime report to be released next week shows a jump in the number of stolen cars and a major drop in the number of bank robberies. Violent crime was steady, Merrill said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids’ city manager wants police officers to start wearing body cameras by March.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom and Police Chief David Rahinsky do not believe racial profiling is a problem in the Grand Rapids Police Department. But there have been claims to the contrary in the wake of incidents in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.

Grand Rapids' "medical mile"
John Eisenschenk / Creative Commons

Hospital expenses grew by 108% in Grand Rapids between 2002 and 2013, according to a study released today by Grand Valley State University. It compared the hospital market in Grand Rapids to Detroit and six other cities.

Patients are being admitted less often and have shorter stays.

Founders Brewing Company

A 125-year-old, seventh-generation, family-owned Spanish brewery, Mahou San Miguel, has bought a 30% interest in Founders Brewing Co., based in Grand Rapids.

Founders CEO Mike Stevens said the craft brewery has succeeded in its search for a long-term partner that will allow it to thrive for many generations.  

Michigan can expect “brisk” job growth at the start of 2015, according to a new report.

Twenty-five percent of Michigan employers tell Manpower they expect to hire new people during the first three months of 2015. Only Hawaii and North Dakota posted higher numbers.   

Time to turn Michigan's "three economies" into one

Dec 1, 2014

When it comes to economic growth in Michigan, one size does not fit all. Take a look at the varying scope and scale of companies here and you’ll find a general pattern of three different types of businesses associated with different regions:  large multinational corporations in Southeast Michigan, small high-tech start-ups in Ann Arbor, and family-owned, mid-size companies in Western Michigan.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

ArtPrize, the big art competition in Grand Rapids, announced Thursday it’ll debut in Dallas in 2016.

But the real news isn’t Dallas so much. It’s that there’s talk of even more competitions in cities across the country. And it means that ArtPrize in Grand Rapids will make money from licensing the brand to those cities.

In ArtPrize, the public votes for the winner. Juried prizes are awarded too. Those juried prizes have been getting bigger each year. Winners get cash. More than $500,000 was awarded to the winners this fall.

Eugene Griffith / Flickr

Listen to Ralston Bowles tell his story of failure and what it means to him. In this tale, Bowles recounts his childhood and a learning experience from college. You can find out more about Failure Lab and hear more stories here

Marijuana plant.

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss whether the legislature will be able to come up with a plan to fix Michigan's roads before the end of the year, a challenge to a Grand Rapids law decriminalizing marijuana, and what’s next on Detroit’s road to recovery.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids officials are working on a massive long-term plan to restore habitat in the Grand River and revitalize downtown.

Initially, the plan was just to restore the river rapids that gave Michigan’s second-largest city its name.

But now Grand Rapids city planner Suzanne Schultz says the plan is much broader.

“This is huge, really, really huge, but it’s exciting,” Schultz said.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Voters in Grand Rapids, Flint and Kalamazoo approved changes to their city charters.

Kalamazoo voters approved proposals that will change the way their mayor and city commissioners are elected. The mayor will be elected separately from the rest of the city commission and commissioners will serve longer terms.

Flint voters split on six proposed changes to the way their city runs. Voters rejected proposals to eliminate the city’s ombudsman office, the city’s civil service commission and several departments.   

Update: 11/4/14

You probably know Rob Bliss, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell.

He’s the guy behind the Grand Rapids lip-dub video, the Pure Michigan sing-along ad, and now, the street harassment video that’s racked up 16 million views on YouTube.

In case you still haven’t seen it, the two minute video follows a young women in jeans and a t-shirt walking through New York. Bliss says they spent 10 hours filming with a hidden GoPro as the actress, Shoshana B. Roberts, endured more than 100 instances of street harassment, including stalking.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in Michigan’s second-largest city will decide whether to establish term limits for the mayor and city commission next Tuesday.

The proposed change to the city’s charter would limit commissioners and mayors to eight years in office. Commissioners would be able to serve for eight years if elected mayor.

Opponents of term limits say there’s no need for them because voters can kick people out of office by not re-electing them.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Amtrak riders in Grand Rapids will notice a huge difference the next time they board a train. A new $6 million station opened today.

Grand Rapids' old Amtrak station was tiny, dingy and outdated.

Tim Hefner, director of Michigan Department of Transportation’s office of rail, says the old station was supposed to be a temporary one when it was built almost 30 years ago.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony Monday, state and local officials cracked jokes about the old “Am-shack."


A single artist captivated both the public and art experts at this year’s ArtPrize competition. 

For the first time, a single artist has won both the juried and public grand prizes at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.

Born in Pakistan, Anila Quayyum Agha teaches art at the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University, in Indianapolis.   Her work “intersections” consists of a six-foot cube, illuminated from within, projecting complex designs of light and shadow around a room. The effect envelops the room and all the people in it.

Abir Ali

When you invite the public to carve messages into a giant table you've spent four months crafting by hand, the result is that a LOT of people take you up on it, and the end product looks something like this:

Professional and personal partners Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer are furniture makers based in Detroit. They built a 30-foot table, made from walnut trees from the Midwest. They took inspiration from the biblical story of the Last Supper, and they were especially moved by the story's themes of trust and forgiveness.

Gary Syrba

It's going to be crazy in Grand Rapids this Friday night.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of people will flood downtown for the big announcement: This year’s ArtPrize winners.  

As Michigan Radio's Kate Wells reports, ArtPrize has been going on long enough now that it's having some more subtle effects, from how Grand Rapids museums think about their audiences to even inspiring an ArtPrize marriage proposal. 

Among the thousands of visitors to Grand Rapids for ArtPrize, many are children. This will be the first West Michigan generation of kids to grow up being exposed to thousands of pieces of art.

Grand Rapids area team wins top prize in Code Michigan competition

Oct 8, 2014
Morgue File

A Grand Rapids area team has won $15,000 in the second annual statewide competition for civic-minded software developers.

The team's winning app is called "SnowFi."  It shows where snow plows are, and which roads have been cleared for safer travel.

All teams are given access to public data to create software to benefit Michigan residents and tourists, according to Lauren Leeds,  spokesperson for the recent three day event - called Code Michigan.