Here’s a point to ponder: Did the citizens of Grand Rapids in the 1940s and ’50s ever get sick of the Furniture City moniker?
Michael Grass, a 1998 graduate of East Grand Rapids High School and the executive editor of “Route Fifty,” a blog where editorial staff offer observations on state, county and municipal governments and the counties they serve, sees some parallels between then and now.
In a post titled “Unsolicited Advice: Forget Beer, Grand Rapids. It’s Time to Trumpet Architecture, Too,” Grass makes the point there is so much great architecture in Michigan’s second-largest city that Grand Rapids should do more to promote it.
“These days, Grand Rapids locals often call their hometown ‘Beer City USA,’ a title it secured through winning an online poll a few years ago. A poll for USA Today readers also named it Best Beer Town,” Grass wrote.
“While Grand Rapids is certainly a great beer town — I remember when Founders was a small fledging brewery, and it’s great to see the expansion of beer culture in the city — denizens should remember that the ‘Beer City USA’ recognition wasn’t exactly an honor awarded by a panel of distinguished judges or beer experts using a complex comparative methodology. The city won a popularity contest thanks to Grand Rapids’ numerous civic cheerleaders pushing an intensive marketing campaign.”
Doug Small probably wouldn’t disagree. However, it’s got to be easier for Experience Grand Rapids to tout beer as a draw than it is office furniture.
Grass said he also sees the difference, but warns city officials not to get too bogged down in beer.
“Again, don’t get me wrong: Grand Rapids is a great beer town, and its brewery offerings are worth promoting for economic development purposes. But are there other Grand Rapidian strong suits the city should be pushing, as well?
“I have something: The city’s architectural offerings should also rise to the top of the city’s marketing efforts. There’s so much, but many Grand Rapidians might not realize the underutilized civic assets in its buildings. But there are reasons why architecture should be trumpeted more by city leaders. Grand Rapids should be a national destination for architecture buffs.”
That’s a pretty strong vote of confidence, but Grass attempts to bolster his claim.
“Grand Rapids is home to one of the largest historic districts in the United States. Heritage Hill, east of downtown, is home to a truly wonderful collection of residential architecture, including Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, Tudor, Craftsman bungalows and Prairie styles. There are around 1,300 structures in the district, according to the Heritage Hill Association, which sponsors an annual home tour. Even if you’ve explored the neighborhood previously, there are always new homes to discover.”
He also mentions the city’s association with Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his disciples, Marion Mahoney, who collaborated with her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, to design Canberra, the capital of Australia.
“It’s a great place to look at what’s next in architecture and urban design,” Grass said of Grand Rapids. “There’s a lot of adaptive reuse, green building and neighborhood corridors that continue to see revitalization. Many areas of the city, especially downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, are incredibly walkable, and the city has been progressive on the expansion of bicycle infrastructure. There's also the proposed Grand Rapids Whitewater project, which aims to restore the dammed-up rapids of the Grand River and enhance flood protection while expanding recreational access to the river.”
Now would be a great time to boast of the city’s architectural offerings, Grass said.
“Some might argue that ArtPrize is the ultimate architectural promotion since the entire city is essentially an art venue. But there’s so much in Grand Rapids architecturally that really deserves more national promotion, in addition to great beer.”
What started as a battle for bragging rights to see which building could save the most energy is now a statewide movement that has been recognized by Gov. Rick Snyder.
The Michigan Battle of the Buildings last week received a statewide honor, Best Education Award, during the inaugural Governor’s Energy Excellence Award.
“Receiving a Governor’s Energy Excellence Awardis a testament to the hard work put in by all the organizations that participated in the first Michigan Battle of the Buildings — and all the organizations that are competing in the competition’s current, second season,” said Cheri Holman, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council West Michigan Chapter, which organized the competition.
“The members of the U.S. Green Building Council West Michigan Chapter are honored that this project has been recognized as an energy leader in our great state. Michigan’s biggest building losers of 2014 saved the equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions of 2.7 million miles driven by an average passenger vehicle — and we’re excited to see how much the biggest losers of the current season will lose.”
Battle of the Buildings is a statewide competition — a “Biggest Loser”-style event — that allows Michigan businesses to celebrate their success in energy efficiency, as well as the thousands of dollars they save in lower energy bills.
Holman said the award comes on the heels of the release of a major green building economic impact study from Booz Allen Hamilton that finds the green building sector is outpacing overall construction growth in the U.S., and that this growth rate will continue to rise.
The study finds that in Michigan, green construction accounted for 132,000 jobs between 2011-2014, and that number is slated to rise to 242,000 between 2015-2018. The impact of green construction in Michigan will contribute more than $20 billion to the U.S. GDP between 2015-2018, with labor earnings of more than $13 billion between 2015-2018, according to the report.
Timing is everything
When the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan hosts Henry Paulson Jr. as speaker at its 66th anniversary celebration Nov. 4, there’s a pretty good chance attendees will gain some insight into U.S.-Chinese relations not available to the general public.
That’s because Paulson spent time last week meeting with 15 U.S. and 15 Chinese CEOs during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seattle, the only time the Chinese leader was scheduled to make public remarks during his U.S. trip.
“I am pleased the Paulson Institute will co-host what I believe will be a frank and constructive exchange of experiences and ideas between business leaders from both countries during President Xi’s visit,” said Paulson, chairman of the Paulson Institute. “This is an important opportunity for conversation about the U.S.-China business relationship, China’s economy and the future of Chinese reforms.”
Paulson will bring the insights he gleaned during the historic meeting to West Michigan just a few weeks later.
“I would say with us having him just weeks after this important visit by President Xi is … pretty doggone important,” said Dixie Anderson, executive director of the World Affairs Council. “I wonder if he will have a President Xi story to tell?”
One would think the odds of getting a new perspective on the reticent Chinese president are pretty favorable.