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Old 04-06-2010, 10:59 AM
 
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I just returned from GR. I usually visit about 4 or 5 times a year due to the fact that my parents, some siblings and friends still live there. We lived (stayed...as we said) on Lafayette SE. I left GR when I was 17 and I am now in my mid 40’s. I have sort of a time lapsed view of things. What I have noticed in the SE neighborhoods, particularly the near SE side, is that there are a lot more white and Hispanic folks than I remember growing up. When I was growing up, my community was about 95% black. Those same blocks today are about 60% black, 25% Hispanic and 15% white (by guesstimate).

I drive around the city each time I visit and I also note that the near NW side of Grand Rapids, the old “polish ghetto”, has quite a few black residents. This was unheard of when I was growing up. When I was growing up, you did not dare get caught walking in those areas and the same was true for my old neighborhood in SE, for whites. This is without a doubt a good thing that those boundaries are being broken down. However, I would be lying if I said that it did not bother me to see gentrification in my old neighborhood. It seems as if 70% of the property is rental property. People are not buying homes in the community to raise families there, but rather, to simply create a cash flow of rental prosperities.

On this last trip…….it just ceased to feel like my roots anymore. The place just seems foreign to me now. I loved that neighborhood regardless of how others seen it negatively. It was populated with people who moved up from Mississippi, Alabama and other southern states seeking a better life. Nearly all of my friend’s parents were from Mississippi and nearly everyone on my block parents were as well. Those families were nearly all home owners. Some have died and some have moved out and all those homes turned into rental properties and have been degraded by renters who have no long term stake in the communities. The properties are not heavily invested in by the owners….just enough to meet city codes, which attracts the worst kind of renters because if they had good rental histories, they would choose some place better.

This also has bright me face to face with my own prejudices. It’s an ugly feeling to think a certain way. When I drove down Lafayette and saw all the white folks walking up and down the street, I felt like something was taken away from me. I felt that they had taken away my community, along with the Hispanics. I imagine it’s not much different than the way that white folks felt when blacks first started moving into these areas that were totally white. However, the corollary is that I, and other blacks, can go into areas that were once off limits to us and feel comfortable, if not accepted. Prejudice is an ugly feeling and I literally disliked myself for having those thoughts…..but those thoughts have not gone away. I have friends who are white, I live in a majority white community in the State I now reside, and still, there seems unfinished racial business that reveals itself every now and then.

We, as humans and cognitive beings, will often try to rationalize our ugly thoughts. I always tell myself that I would not feel this way if there was racial equality or parity in America. I feel justified because, I tell myself, it’s a reaction to what was done to black people. However, regardless of how true that may be, I don’t know that my feelings would turn as a result of reaching socioeconomic parity. The more I think about it, the more I believe that those feelings of resentment would not go away. I would simply find another means to rationalize them.
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Old 04-07-2010, 05:01 AM
 
Location: West Michigan
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That was a very honest and interesting post. Thanks for sharing your perspective.
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Old 04-07-2010, 07:59 AM
 
Location: Niceville, FL
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I know what you mean about the city changing. I grew up 'up the hill' on the West Side, and I remember how so many of the alleged grown-ups could be so horribly racist.

So on the last trip back, I was thrilled to walk into the Alpine Avenue 7-11 for a slurpee and see that the black customer ahead of me was clearly a regular based on his discussion with the clerk.

But at the same time, I'm nostalgic about how the area around John Ball Park used to be 'my people' and now it's skewing Hispanic with a dash of student ghetto when you get toward downtown. I remember the drives down into that area to go to the Polish butcher for proper kielbasa, and the wedding receptions and high school football postgame parties at the social halls, and for all that the butcher is probably still there, the faces in the nearby houses are so very different now, and I don't know what's happened to the halls.

Though at the end of the day, cities are organic things, and I'd far rather see my old stomping grounds thrive and go in a different direction than shrivel up and die like so many places in the state have.
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Old 04-07-2010, 08:23 AM
 
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What were the old ethnic/racial enclaves in Grand Rapids, say 20-30 years ago? Where I live is very similar in that the Southside is the Blackest part of town and the Ne and Westside neighborhoods had strong Polish neighborhoods. We also have/had the traditional Irish, Italian, German, Ukrainian and Jewish neighborhoods. We also had neighborhoods like the Near West Side that was/still is a multicultural area with a little bit of all of those groups and then some, as well as Native Americans too.
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Old 04-07-2010, 08:25 AM
 
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Also Indentured Servant, what about the many Black folks that are moving to places in large numbers like Kentwood and Wyoming? Even East GR is starting to get a few Black folks.

BTW-My dad is from Mississippi(mom from SC). So, I know what you mean.
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Old 04-07-2010, 10:37 AM
 
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I went into Kentwood, about a year ago, looking for the address of a good friend that I had grown up with. I turned into the apartment complex that I thought was the apartment complex in the directions. When I pulled into that complex……I ran into some tough looking cats. I asked them for directions to a particular address and they were really hostile…..territorial even. Needless to say I was glad to be on my way….lol.

Kentwood has a lot of low income housing and that city has traditionally held a status in the black community as the place to live if you have “made it”. That’s the city where well to do black folks moved to….to buy a home. Its kind of like Southfield is in the Detroit area, but Southfield never zoned for low income housing like Kentwood did, so now there are probably more black renters in Kentwood than home owners. Let me also say that many of the apartments are not public housing, as well. There is just a larger concentration of apartment complexes in Kentwood.

Before I was born, from what I was told, the inner SW side was the original “Negro or colored” community in Grand Rapids. That area must be the immigrant or migrant “portal” of the city. The “center” or nucleus of the black contiguous area has been moving eastward. Hispanics now dominate the Inner SW side and they have filled up that area and there is no place to go but to the east and Wyoming. To the East is across Division Ave, which is into the area that has been the nucleolus of the black population, from the 70’s, 80’s and part of the 90’s.

In about 20 years, if current trends continue, East of Eastern avenue, south of wealthy, West of Plymouth and North of Burton will be about 90% black. Whites will move back into large sections of the inner SE side, as this area is where the historic homes, the trendy neighborhoods and such are located. This is already well underway and there are things in the cities master plan that will gentrify the inner SE side resulting in rising prices for homes and rents, which will push many poor blacks out farther from the core. You can also expect that gas prices will rise to such a degree in the future, that the most economically prudent place to live will be in the cities core were one is located near employment concentration, mass transit and the like. I believe we will see the “Europeanization” of American metro areas in that the poor will be pushed to the suburbs, by economics, and the middle class will dominate the core, like London and Paris. That will be the case also in Grand Rapids, which is well on its way to that model

I trend also worth noting is that the Inner or near North East side is becoming predominatly black. That is probably were the most explosive growth is for the black populaiton in the city. There are about 45 thousands blacks that live in the city proper....up from about 30,000 when I lived there. There are about 60,000 in Kent County.


On a side note......I think GR is a hidden gem of a city. There are a lot of things that I don't like about it....from my experiences growing up there partially....however....each time I come back I am amazed by the city. Grand Rapids is like a modest home with extreme character. Metaphorically, some homes are big and plain. They have more bedrooms and square footage, more garage space and bigger yards. However, some homes have so much character that you would rather live in there than in a mansion. Thats GR. Its not to the point were I would want to move back.....because there are simply not enough cultural offering for an African American like myself and the black professional class is small and disjointed there.

Last edited by Indentured Servant; 04-07-2010 at 10:50 AM..
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Old 04-07-2010, 11:29 AM
 
Location: Niceville, FL
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It's interesting how my Dutch but working class maternal grandmother seemed to have a knack for being the last white person in the neighborhood. Up until the early 70s when grandpa died, I want to say they were right on the SE/SW line not too far from Division. Mom and her siblings went to South High School, which had a pretty high black population back then based on the yearbook photos.

Side note, it was apparently a pretty big deal when Mom left the CRC in the 60s and converted to Catholic when she married the guy with -skey at the end of his name. It was also kind of interesting to watch the assumptions about different ethnic groups because there was (and still is to some degree) the vibe about the Dutch being the arrogant overlords of everything even though Dad's side of the family was more well off than Mom's side was.

Then Grandma Van... ended up selling the house for essentially nothing because homes in that area were pretty much worthless even though the craftsmanship and condition of the home were good at the time, and bought a singlewide in a largely elderly but not technically 55+ park in, you guessed it, Kentwood.

Grandma eventually ended up spending the last two years of her life in an apartment somewhere out by Grandville/Bryon Center if you're looking for clues to where middle class blacks will end up next.

As for GR's future, what's killing it right now is GRPS. My parents were both lifer teachers in the district, and are now disgusted at how a series of bad superintendents has pretty much destroyed a district that used to do well with the sutdent population it had.
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Old 04-07-2010, 12:04 PM
 
12,486 posts, read 7,585,778 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beachmouse View Post
It's interesting how my Dutch but working class maternal grandmother seemed to have a knack for being the last white person in the neighborhood. Up until the early 70s when grandpa died, I want to say they were right on the SE/SW line not too far from Division. Mom and her siblings went to South High School, which had a pretty high black population back then based on the yearbook photos.

Side note, it was apparently a pretty big deal when Mom left the CRC in the 60s and converted to Catholic when she married the guy with -skey at the end of his name. It was also kind of interesting to watch the assumptions about different ethnic groups because there was (and still is to some degree) the vibe about the Dutch being the arrogant overlords of everything even though Dad's side of the family was more well off than Mom's side was.

Then Grandma Van... ended up selling the house for essentially nothing because homes in that area were pretty much worthless even though the craftsmanship and condition of the home were good at the time, and bought a singlewide in a largely elderly but not technically 55+ park in, you guessed it, Kentwood.

Grandma eventually ended up spending the last two years of her life in an apartment somewhere out by Grandville/Bryon Center if you're looking for clues to where middle class blacks will end up next.

As for GR's future, what's killing it right now is GRPS. My parents were both lifer teachers in the district, and are now disgusted at how a series of bad superintendents has pretty much destroyed a district that used to do well with the sutdent population it had.
Yep.... a couple of years back....the house on the other side of my parents house, on Lafayette, sold for 6,000. The last I heard it changed hands for 2000. Some guy who buys lots of houses purchased it for 2,000 dollars....then put a for sale sign on it for 69K.....talk about flipping. Anyway....no takers. So now its a rental. When I was visting.....I could not get any sleep from that arguments that were going on outside that house at 3 am. It went on for about 30 minutes. Nearly every time I visit......I end up calling the police. Last visit it was gun shots. Another visit people were getting beat up in the street. One time I returned home and a guy banged on my parents door saying that he had been jumped and needed help finding his glasses. I was reluctant....but the guy was knew my oldest brother....so I went out to help him look for his glasses. Gun shots rang out from around the corner. Then I see three guys turn the block and start walking toward us with hoodies....I am from Lafayette...so I could not or would not run.....then out of nowhere....a car load of some of my old friends pulled up because they seen me.....WHEW!!!....the cats with the hoods turned back and went the other way. However, people in the community respect my parents....Most speak or show respect after they realize that they are the foundation of the neighborhood.

Anyway...I lost my train of thought....lol. What I was going to say is that its not really the school system but the households. You can learn in the system if you are interested in learning and you have HOPE and belief that learning will lead to a better life. Most of the people in the inner city are conditioned to be factory workers and you do not need to be a rocket scientist to work in a factory on the line....not knocking it...of course. Most of the parents don't have much education either....because you never really needed it to have a good job. The problem now is that those jobs are GONE and people are still conditioned socially to undervalue education and to look to sports and entertainment as a viable means up and out.
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Old 04-07-2010, 12:20 PM
 
Location: Niceville, FL
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Thr school system can help though. One of my neighbors used to be principal at Sibley Elementary when that area was hitting a low point. He'd have classrooms every year where there was 90% turnover because someone couldn't pay the rent or wanted to move acrosss town to live with their babydaddy or they were chasing a job out of town. If you've got a strong school system that provides social and curriculum consistency to those kids and serves as a refuge to the chaos that the adults around them put them through, it really does help them in the long haul.

And the sorts of middle class families that stabilize an area have certain expectations about schools. There were a good number of families where I gres up who would gladly send their kids to CA Frost/Covell/Shawmut elementaries, but wouldn't consider sending their kids to Union High school. If they couldn't get their kids on the City High track and didn't want the expense of sending them to West Catholic or Christian, they moved across the line to Kenowa Hills.

On a less melancholy note, I talked to Dad the other night. He's one of those guys who has worked assorted football and track and field events at Houseman Field for a couple decades at this point, and he reports that the remodeling there went extremely well- they managed to maintain the original charm of the venue while adding actual fully functioning restrooms for both genders for the first time in Houseman's history.

Last edited by beachmouse; 04-07-2010 at 12:34 PM..
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Old 04-07-2010, 12:47 PM
 
60,413 posts, read 85,486,501 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Indentured Servant View Post
I went into Kentwood, about a year ago, looking for the address of a good friend that I had grown up with. I turned into the apartment complex that I thought was the apartment complex in the directions. When I pulled into that complex……I ran into some tough looking cats. I asked them for directions to a particular address and they were really hostile…..territorial even. Needless to say I was glad to be on my way….lol.

Kentwood has a lot of low income housing and that city has traditionally held a status in the black community as the place to live if you have “made it”. That’s the city where well to do black folks moved to….to buy a home. Its kind of like Southfield is in the Detroit area, but Southfield never zoned for low income housing like Kentwood did, so now there are probably more black renters in Kentwood than home owners. Let me also say that many of the apartments are not public housing, as well. There is just a larger concentration of apartment complexes in Kentwood.

Before I was born, from what I was told, the inner SW side was the original “Negro or colored” community in Grand Rapids. That area must be the immigrant or migrant “portal” of the city. The “center” or nucleus of the black contiguous area has been moving eastward. Hispanics now dominate the Inner SW side and they have filled up that area and there is no place to go but to the east and Wyoming. To the East is across Division Ave, which is into the area that has been the nucleolus of the black population, from the 70’s, 80’s and part of the 90’s.

In about 20 years, if current trends continue, East of Eastern avenue, south of wealthy, West of Plymouth and North of Burton will be about 90% black. Whites will move back into large sections of the inner SE side, as this area is where the historic homes, the trendy neighborhoods and such are located. This is already well underway and there are things in the cities master plan that will gentrify the inner SE side resulting in rising prices for homes and rents, which will push many poor blacks out farther from the core. You can also expect that gas prices will rise to such a degree in the future, that the most economically prudent place to live will be in the cities core were one is located near employment concentration, mass transit and the like. I believe we will see the “Europeanization” of American metro areas in that the poor will be pushed to the suburbs, by economics, and the middle class will dominate the core, like London and Paris. That will be the case also in Grand Rapids, which is well on its way to that model

I trend also worth noting is that the Inner or near North East side is becoming predominatly black. That is probably were the most explosive growth is for the black populaiton in the city. There are about 45 thousands blacks that live in the city proper....up from about 30,000 when I lived there. There are about 60,000 in Kent County.


On a side note......I think GR is a hidden gem of a city. There are a lot of things that I don't like about it....from my experiences growing up there partially....however....each time I come back I am amazed by the city. Grand Rapids is like a modest home with extreme character. Metaphorically, some homes are big and plain. They have more bedrooms and square footage, more garage space and bigger yards. However, some homes have so much character that you would rather live in there than in a mansion. Thats GR. Its not to the point were I would want to move back.....because there are simply not enough cultural offering for an African American like myself and the black professional class is small and disjointed there.
Grand Rapids sounds almost exactly like Syracuse. Like Kentwood, in my area, Liverpool and somewhat the Cicero-North Syracuse area is similar in that regard, but I think the split for Blacks there is about even, if not more towards being middle class. DeWitt is also similar, but it is definitely more middle to possibly even upper middle class in some cases. We also have a community by the name of Nedrow that is a small suburb that is wedged between the city's Southside(South Valley neighborhood) and the Onondaga Indian Reservation that has decent sized Black and Native American populations. It's almost a rural like suburb like Taylor in the Detroit area. We also have some parts of the city's East side that are predominately Black working class to middle class with low poverty rates(Salt Springs neighborhood). Our Black community was concentrated in the city's 15th Ward, which was also a Jewish area that had some other ethnic/racial groups, but became predominatley Black. Urban renewal killed the neighborhood with most going further South or further East. So, our Ottawa Hills High is Corcoran High, which is the south side high school and is about 70% Black. Our East Side high school, Nottingham is about 60% Black now. Actually, all of the Syracuse City public HS's are either pluralistically or predominately Black now.

Also, you are seeing a similar gentrification taking place in the city's Near West Side and they are even marketing it: Syracuse Art, Life & Tech SALT District « Near Westside Initiative So, this is a national phenomenon. The difference here is that this particular neighborhood is very diverse, but is one of the poorest in the US.

Does Grand Rapids have an area of concentration within the city where you can find a predominately Black neighborhood that is middle class and relatively stable like Syracuse's Salt Springs neighborhood?
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