GR is GRRReat!

Grand Rapids, MI – Source:

There are many very nice medium to large cities situated in the Great Lakes and Midwest. Some, such as Ann Arbor and Madison have gotten their fair share of positive press both regionally and nationally. Others, like Des Moines, Greater Lansing, and Fort Wayne quite often fly under the mainstream media’s radar.

While Indianapolis, the Twin Cities, and Columbus, Ohio tend to get much of hoopla as bastions of economic prosperity amid the surrounding stagnation and/or decline, there is another city that has in the past couple of decades moved from being under the radar to the forefront of vibrancy and Rust Belt chic…that is Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Grand Rapids, MI – Source:

Each and every time I have visited this “grrreat” metropolis on the mighty Grand River and its surroundings in the past 20 years I have been more impressed with the economic and cultural vibe that is taking place there on a daily basis. More recently, this vibrancy has become palpable throughout the Great Lakes, the Midwest, and on a national scale.

Grand Rapids city flag – Source:

Often referred to by locals as simply “GR,” the combined metro area of Grand Rapids-Holland-Muskegon, as well as the various ‘burbs is now home to more than 1.3 million Michiganders. Unlike many other urban areas in Michigan (and elsewhere) communities in the GR region actually try to work together to resolve planning and related issues. Here in Mid-Michigan, regionalism remains a dirty word in most quarters, while in Grand Rapids it is a paradigm that is put into practice each day.

For me, GR is a place that thinks big and gets things done. A few years back when Michigan State University was considering a new site for its College of Human Medicine, the powers that be in Greater Lansing dithered. Meanwhile, GR stepped up with the mega-dollars and successfully attracted MSU’s new Med Center to the city’s amazing Medical Mile. This “game changer” was a coup for GR and a woeful loss for Greater Lansing.

MSU Grand Rapids – Source:

It is also a metropolitan region that grows from within, as the following list of some of the homegrown corporations certainly attests:

  • Amway/Alticor
  • Meijer’s
  • Gordon Food Service (GFS)
  • Wolverine Worldwide
  • Steelcase
  • Herman Miller
  • Gentex
  • Haworth
  • Spartan Stores
  • X-Rite
  • Perrigo
  • Macatawa Bank
  • Mercantile Bank

An impressive legacy of private philanthropy is very evident in the Grand Rapids area. Just a few examples are provided below, including DeVos Place, Van Andel Arena, the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, and the Fred Meijer Trails Network.

DeVos Place Convention Center and Performance Hall – Source:

Van Andel Arena – Source:

Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park – Source:

Fred Meijer Trail Network – Source:

Entering the heart of GR from any direction is virtual lesson on shaping an industrial city into a 21st century dynamo.  Add to that lovely central and midtown residential neighborhoods such as Heritage Hill, and you have a recipe for a success story. Heritage Hill was recently named a Great American Neighborhood by the American Planning Association.

I could go on and on about GR for quite awhile. All I know, is GR has found the socio-economic sweet spot, is moving full-speed ahead, and is leaving once comparable sized cities like Flint, Rockford, Dayton, and Greater Lansing in its wake. Kudos to all those in Grand Rapids and its environs for making GR the prosperous success story that it has become and best wishes for continued “grrreat” news.

This entry was posted in Active transportation, adaptive reuse, architecture, art, bicycling, Biking, cities, civics, Cuisine, economic development, economic gardening, entertainment, entrepreneurship, fun, geography, health, Health care, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, new urbanism, North America, placemaking, planning, politics, skylines, spatial design, sprawl, Statistics, sustainability, third places, tourism, transit, transportation, Travel, urban planning, zoning and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to GR is GRRReat!

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    “Medium” sized cities are where the economy is growing, if at all (it is, just at a snail’s pace…)


  2. Just came across this job posting in the GR I though I’d pass along: I’m sure you are probably over qualified if even interested, but if you’re looking for a change of scenery…

    I’m planning to throw up a Doug Flutie-esque hail mary to see if they’d take a guy with no planning/econ dev. background.


  3. basil berchekas jr says:

    These medium sized cities are just large enough to have “urbane” amenities, but still small enough to not be “overpowering” to growing smaller companies and emerging civic organizations, and still have sufficient diversity to accomodate ways for newcomers to meet and greet…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.