Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Big City, Bright Hope?

IMG_0617There are plenty of ways to look at the proposed term limit change to the city charter. For a start there is sore loser frame; or the “anybody but George Heartwell (and throw in Rossalyn Bliss)” frame. And of course, another favorite would be that of the vaguely concealed Tea Party initiative — another right wing, ill considered piece of politics forced on the general population. While there’s some truth to all of these, their easy perspectives hide the actual civic discussion underway.

Grand Rapids continues to think about what it means to be a Big City. Stuff is happening here as the latest Movoto post would suggest. We’re a city making the lists. And while that sounds good if you’re walking down Cherry Street, or hanging out downtown, in the neighborhoods it is more ambiguous.

The battle on term limits is part of the same discussion that came with civic tax initiatives (Silver Line, road repair), as well as in last year’s Third Ward race between Senita Lennear and Michael Tufflemire. Listen closely, and one can also hear it in the  discussion on black business Jamiel Robinson is spearheading. While it is nice to have the rapids back in Grand Rapids, say, how does that translate to the neighborhoods? Is the Big City, in effect, for all of us? How does the Big City become the city that embraces its neighbors?

There’s an economic anxiety lurking, not so far from the surface. One can see it in the signs themselves, or rather where the signs lie. In the Third Ward they’re on well kept homes, young and old, whites and blacks. They may be doing ok, but the edge is there, if one looks. Perhaps nothing reveals it quite so plainly as the Urban Institute’s map of mortgages:

mortgages-grand-rapids

The lack of mortgage activity in the city speaks volumes about the continuing economic struggle in the region where the Big City glitter doesn’t make it out to the post-war neighborhoods of the city — those blocks with the 50s  brick ranches. For those neighborhoods, the larger national narrative of suspicion of elites takes hold, something that proponents of Term Limits certainly are counting on. Thus the campaign uses the language of “entrenched interests” or of vague lobbyists and the like. These are the stand-ins for the economic elites robbing us of our future: whether we call it Obamacare or the Koch brothers it is the same. We are beleaguered; we can only look out for ourselves. This is a corrosive vision, a fragmentation.

Taken at its best, the  Big City offers an alternative to this national rhetoric of suspicion. It’s not the festivals or polished buildings (or the bikeways), but an approach, a process, a working together. It is of course, imperfectly realized as the continuing discussion makes clear, but we nevertheless should be clear how different it is from prevailing attitudes elsewhere.

The question of Term Limits, then, is one of approach to those items still on our civic to-do list, viz. how to bring neighborhoods up; how to improve the schools; how to add high quality jobs. We can opt for the current path of pulling back, of looking out for oneself (that wearisome pattern of our present politics), or that of the Big City and the promise that it can in fact, be for everyone.

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Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , , , ,

The price of the Switch

That seems to be the sense of the Schmidt text messages released this past week. Two items stand out as worthy of comment:

First there was the Lisa Posthumus Lyons urging Roy to get extra protection on the day of his switch. A touching, no doubt heart-felt comment, looking out for his safety. But tucked into that was a set of assumptions, not least was that people would be that upset at Roy. And why should that  be, but for the manner not the fact of his switch. Lyons and the party establishment were fundamentally on the side of gamesmanship of the switch — the same gamesmanship that drove Bing Goei crazy (and why, one should note, a Goei write-in is not likely to get much support from the GOP establishment). Were Lyons a better friend, she would have told Roy to switch earlier, not later.

A second pillow secret that comes up is that of the motive: Roy’s desire to run against Mayor Heartwell. The underlying strategy seems to be that by switching, Schmidt ingratiates himself to the monied powers in Ada, Cascade and Caledonia. Thus we end up with the sad spectacle of a man who had built a long-standing relationship with the unions in the City, particularly or fire and police, now seeking support from those interests who are actually aligned against those same unions. The fundamental position that Schmidt had relative to the Mayor was to stand up for the police and fire against proposed cutbacks from City Hall. Instead, by making the implicit play to the anti-union crowd, he basically took the side of City Hall, invalidating his basic working stiff creds.

Hardly the stuff for success.

In terms of city politics, the switch makes even less sense for the mayor’s race. The nature of the east-west split in the City is that politics of the SE side, shaped by Dutch Calvinism, wants to focus on principles. It’s not accident that all the challengers to Schmidt (Brinks, Goei, Allard) come from these neighborhoods.

 

Filed under: Republican Folly, , , , , ,

The City Gets Schooled

The City will have a new charter school in the heart of an urban neighborhood. So reports Matt Vande Bunte.

GRAND RAPIDS – An out-of-town developer’s about-face has angered city officials who feel they were lied to about plans for three former school buildings.
Grand Rapids for months has vetted Ojibway Development’s proposal to turn the schools into low-income apartments. After getting city approvals and finalizing a $1.6 million purchase of the schools, the Berkley, Mi., developer now has sold one of the buildings to National Heritage Academies for a charter school that presumably would compete with Grand Rapids Public Schools for students.

Playing fast and loose with the city is probably not the best business practice; from a city side, it would also be of use to know who the supervising institution is, and in particular what sort of partner will they be. Locally, the National Heritage Academy schools benefit from the connection with Grand Valley, allowing for a much more integrated approach in the city; will Bay Mills Community from the UP be another such partner? Well, let’s just say that they got off on the wrong foot.

As to the school itself, the consolidation of GRPS has left a number of neighborhoods without a school. With the closure of Alexander and of Oakdale Christian, the nearest school to Oakdale is Dickinson, a good half mile away. Add to this the efforts families already make to get out to Ridge Park, there is a certain business sense for the school. For the school itself, it will be interesting to see how it competes for students against the other Charters.

A look at the Census data suggests why this may be a solid move for the charters: there are more than 2700 school age children in the neighborhood. The difficulty will be that these come from rather different neighborhoods. Particularly in the neighborhoods immediately to the east (Census tract 35 for those who are counting) the children there are already lean toward the non-general schools (charter, parochial). Are there more students there  for the school to enroll? the likely guess is that such a school will be highly appealing to those neighborhoods immediately to the north, neighborhoods that are distinctly poorer. John Helmholdt is right, that this cannot be about competing schools so much as a common effort to meet real educational needs  in the community.

“We recognize that a school is a more desirable option than apartments and would certainly welcome the opportunity to partner with National Heritage Academy in their endeavor.”
Helmholdt said the school leaders are hopeful that National Heritage Academies will join them as part of an effort the district is organizing with Mayor George Heartwell to convene traditional, charter, and private schools to look at best shared practices and how we can all collectively work together for the betterment of our community’s children.

Filed under: Horace Mann, , , , , ,

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