For Grand Rapids mayor holistic sustainability policy must embrace racial equity, affordable housing

Apr 27, 2017

Despite a well-earned reputation as one of America’s “greenest” cities, Grand Rapids still has much work ahead on the sustainability front, especially in the area of racial equity says Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.  

Joining Kirk Heinze on Greening of the Great Lakes, Bliss explains that if Grand Rapids is to become a true “city of empowerment,” affordable housing, business opportunity and quality education must be available to all members of the community.  To that end, she has announced the Grand Rapids Racial Equity initiative, which, she says, is “a significant systemic change we’re trying to make.”

A key component of the initiative is the creation of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which has been seeded with $1 million in grant funding.

“Grand Rapids is experiencing incredible growth and momentum, and with that comes challenges. And one of them is that a lot of people who don’t make a lot of money or who live in poverty are being pushed out of their neighborhoods. And so we’re seeing significant displacement and gentrification.

“My hope as mayor is that we’re a city where, regardless of your income or how large your family is, you’re able to find a place to live here if you want to call Grand Rapids home. And right now that’s hard for a lot of people to do.”

Another key aspect of the racial equity plan is to support minority and women-owned local entrepreneurs. This goal has led to a partnership with Local First.

“We’re working with them to encourage people to shop locally. And we’re calling that the GR Local Challenge and specifically encouraging people to get out into neighborhoods they haven’t been to before and visit locally-owned businesses.”

Mayor Bliss also updates Heinze on the status of restoring the rapids to the Grand River.  Floodwalls are being repaired, easements secured and recreational trails are being built.  The city recently received an $8 million grant to advance the project, and fund-raising continues.  “A lot of good things are happening. It’s a long, detailed process, but we’re moving along.”

Among a plethora of programs spearheaded by the city’s Office of Energy and Sustainability are bicycle safety improvement, a robust, annual tree planting and connecting young people to nature via green school yards.    

Bliss tells Heinze that her background is in social work, so she’s always had a holistic approach to these issues.

“I think the important thing to do is identify your partners in each of these areas. Every community’s greatest asset is its people. It’s people who are willing to step up and get involved and engaged and help figure out how to make things happen. My hope, as mayor, is to inspire and encourage people to step up and to also provide them with the concrete opportunities to do so.

“Identifying those spark plugs in your community who want to get involved and then empowering them to be a part of it is crucial to actually moving things forward. If we all collectively work together, we’re going to have a greater impact more quickly.”

Greening of the Great Lakes airs inside MSU Today Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on 94.5 FM and AM 870.