Together, Grand Rapids can be No. 1

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As we collectively navigate the current “charged” political waters, I simply wish to remind us all of what has come before us. That many mayors, commissioners, city managers, businesspersons, philanthropists and community volunteers who have worked together to build our city of today.

We have a lot of things to be thankful for — and indeed have become the envy of many other cities our size.

I have come to know this community as one in which anything is possible — mostly because, over the past 30-plus years, we have learned that being a community means parking your differences and working together when it comes to things that matter for our collective home. We have learned that it means trusting each other — and being held accountable to one another.

We have done a lot of great things, but we are human and we clearly now realize that haven’t done everything right, nor have we brought this city to its fullest potential or the full potential of all its residents.

But this is a good community, and good communities are always evolving and striving to be better, just as the world is evolving and sustainable change comes as the result of good decisions made over time.

We have good people here who are willing to lend the full measure of their talent and treasure toward making it a better place for all — because it is home for all of us. We do not have the years of graft and corruption found in many of the struggling cities in the news today, cities that are literally tearing themselves apart. We are different. We have shown ourselves to be different by our collective (and admittedly, yet incomplete) success.

We have benefited mightily from the wave of urbanization over the past 20 years. The new trend, based on recent concerns over cost, density and outright safety, is called “exurbanization.” Why would we want to mirror tactics in cities that are participating in this? To literally sign up for losing population and businesses? Is it just because a particular tactic is the loudest narrative of the day?

What happens when the next narrative comes along? Do we do that too, simply because it is getting a lot of social media hits?

No. This is a time to differentiate ourselves; not to uproot the tree that we have all grown but to recognize our need for change, lean on our collective trust and to prune that tree — to make its trunk and branches stronger still.

Grand Rapids has become an exporter of ideas. Indeed, over the past couple years we have met with many civic leaders from all over the country who are wanting to understand more about how we have rebuilt this city. That is the fruit of our tree — our heritage. Now is the time for us to use that platform to seek what changes we need, through measured, collective reforms vetted by the whole community that make a more equitable and inclusive heritage. That is the Grand Rapids way, not divisive and emotional demolition tactics with no clear outcomes.

Our city has been in the process of change and evolution in regard to the police department since 2015. We have taken good steps. Now, our chief, Eric Payne, has given us a strategic plan to consider. It is inclusive. It has involved the community and promises to continue to do so. Our city manager, Mark Washington, has endorsed it. This is a strategic plan based on the values of service, equity, integrity and accountability. The vision of this plan, developed in association with a great deal of community input, is: “In partnership with our community, we will become the safest mid-sized city and most trusted police department in the United States.”

Safest and most trusted — that’s not looking to be mediocre or acceptable, that’s shooting for No. 1. Damn! OK, let’s go, chief! Let’s be No. 1. We can do that.

Now is the time to show the country and the world that we are different — that we have a collective vision that has its strains and challenges, but we are steadfast in the desired results and therefore confident that we can get there together.

We must do this and we will hold each other accountable, as long as we all have a hand in the process.

If we do so, I am confident that we can be a significant importer of jobs and talent and we can see growth, prosperity and equity beyond our imaginations — but only if we seize this moment to give thanks, honor our heritage and build on the foundation that is who we are.

Support Chief Eric Payne, his deputies and our police. Support our city manager and his deputies. Support their plan, and let’s all help them achieve the plan’s goals.

Sam Cummings is co-managing partner of CWD Real Estate Investment — a full service real estate investment and management firm. He and his partners have been involved in the construction or restoration of more than 40 buildings in the city in the last 25-plus years. He and his family live in the city of Grand Rapids.

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