development

Video: Resist 2010: 8 Reasons to Oppose the 2010 Winter Olympics

Back in February, a MediaMouse.org contributor wrote about the 2010 Olympics that are being held in Vancouver and the inspiring organizing being done to oppose the Olympics by a broad coalition of social justice groups.

As a follow-up to that piece, we are publishing a fifteen minute documentary produced by anti-Olympic activists about the 2010 Olympics and the impact that the games will have on the city of Vancouver. The organizing in Vancouver is particularly relevant because a nearby midwestern city–Chicago–is currently working to host the 2016 Olympics. Like the Vancouver Olympics, there is already organizing against the Chicago games via the group No Games Chicago.

Resist 2010: Eight Reasons to Oppose the 2010 Winter Olympics. (LOW RES) from BurningFist Media on Vimeo.

Meijer Tax Break Would Come At Expense Of Key Services

I’m generally skeptical of many tax breaks given to corporations for development projects. All too often, the projects come at the expense of tax revenue that could be otherwise used to provide social services. In many cases, projects fail to deliver on their promises of economic and neighborhood revitalization.

Most often, the local media acts as a cheerleader for development projects and never questions the need for tax breaks nor do they explore the basis on which the request was made. However, a recent article in The Grand Rapids Press–“Michigan rejects Brownfield tax credits for 28th Street Meijer store, but Grand Rapids may grant project local Brownfield status“–recently caught my eye because it was one of the few articles that I have seen that actually says what it will mean to give Meijer a tax break.

Meijer is asking for “brownfield” status on a project to redevelop their 28th Street and Kalamazoo store. According to Meijer, a 1 acre parcel of land that will be used in the development is contaminated. Interestingly, Meijer admits that it was the source of the contamination–its leaky gasoline storage tanks contaminated the groundwater.

However, The Grand Rapids Press reports that if the tax break is granted, it will come directly from money that could be used to provide key services:

If approved, the money will come from new property taxes generated by the store over the next 27 years. Those new taxes would otherwise fund city services, local public schools, Kent County operations, the Kent County jail, the local transit millage and Kent County’s senior millage.

So, the choice is clear–we can either fund critical social services, or we can have a redone Meijer store.

New Year-Round Downtown Market Being Studied

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In Saturday’s Grand Rapids Press, there was an interesting article about a study being undertaken by Grand Action to look at the feasibility of constructing and operating a downtown market that would feature fresh produce, meats, and other local goods. The market would be designed to compliment existing farmers markets in the city.

According to the article:

Frey, Spitzer and Mayor George Heartwell said leaders of the often-bustling but seasonal Fulton Street Farmers Market have supported their efforts.

A year-round market would be designed to provide space for a wider array of products than the typical seasonal market, Frey said.

Frey and Spitzer envision a place where local produce is sold alongside freshly butchered meats, seafood, breads, cookies and other items.

Artists also may have space in the facility.

“One of the goals we’ve enunciated throughout the project is to be supportive of the Grand Rapids local foods system, to develop more interest in local foods,” Spitzer said. “It is very important for us that the development of this project not harm Fulton Street or other markets. It’s really intended to expand interest in local foods.”

It’s a pretty good idea. Purchasing locally grown food is more sustainable than transporting food for hundreds of miles. Moreover, the more money that is spent locally, the more money stays in the community.

“Fault Lines” episode examines life in Detroit

A recent edition of “Fault Lines” on al Jazeera English explores life in Detroit for the city’s poor and working class and is definitely worth a watch. It’s hosted by journalist and filmmaker Avi Lewis, who made the excellent documentary The Take with his wife, activist and author Naomi Klein.

“Despair and Revival in Detroit” hits on the auto industry’s imminent collapse and the push for a declaration of bankruptcy, the decline of industry in general, gentrification and “urban renewal,” community gardening, and a number of other issues. Lewis’s focus on and interviews with poor and working class people provide a perspective of a decaying but hopeful city that we aren’t exposed to often.

Part I:

Part II:

City of Grand Rapids Tracks Stimulus Projects in the City

The City of Grand Rapids has a new web page online to track how Grand Rapids is spending its share of the federal stimulus money. According to the site, the City is committed “to ensuring transparency and accountability and to making sure that every dollar received by the City is spent on strategic projects that will enhance the quality of life in the City.”

Thus far, the money has been allocated in the following way:

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The web page also contains information about how the money in each area will be spent, although relatively little has been disclosed at this point.

More Stimulus Resources

For those wanting more information on how the stimulus funds are being spent as a whole, there are a few websites worth consulting.

The Michigan Recovery & Reinvestment Plan site details projects across the state and contains announcements of new projects.

Recovery.gov–operated by the federal government and receiving considerable hype initially–aims to bring some transparency to the process. For example, it has a page highlighting spending in Michigan, but it contains relatively few details.

The excellent news organization ProPublica also has extensive coverage of the stimulus, with a focus on transparency and where the money is going. Aside from special reports, it also maintains a regularly updated blog on the subject.

Downtown Grand Rapids Condo Project Faces Foreclosure

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press reported that the Icon on Bond condo project faces foreclosure. The bank that loaned the money for the project says that the father-son development team built the project, Joseph A. and Joseph W. Moch, owe more than $40 million–even after getting tax breaks from the city government.

The Mochs launched the project with hopes back in 2003, saying that it would bring critical a critical development. However, the project has largely failed to deliver and has been a source of controversy for years. According to the Grand Rapids Press, only four of the 118 units have been sold and 50 have been leased.

Back in 2006, the project won tax credits from the city:

Moch International, led by the father-son team of Joseph A. and Joseph W. Moch, won approval for $1.7 million worth of tax credits and rebates to help build a $15.5 million, 171-unit apartment complex at 235 Grandville Ave. SW.

They won these tax breaks even after the Mochs “threatened” to build low-income housing if they didn’t get their way on two previously planned towers:

By an 8-1 vote, the city’s Planning Commission sunk Moch’s request for permission to build two 255-foot-tall towers that would house 398 apartments in the tax-free Renaissance Zone.

Moch said his new project will fit the city’s 165-foot height restrictions for downtown buildings. They will be aimed at low-income residents or “whoever can afford them,” he said. He estimated the new project would be about 17 stories high.

“There will be no doorman, no heated sidewalks,” he told reporters. Parking will meet the city’s minimum requirements and probably cause problems on surrounding streets, he said.

Asked if he would build federally subsidized housing on the land, Moch replied, “We are seriously looking at that.”

According to the article in the Press yesterday, the Mochs are hoping to get out of the deal, “Moch said he’s prepared to hand over the building and resign from the condo association board, if that’s what’s required.”

It’s really too bad the bank won’t just take this building back and give it to the city’s homeless–on the Mochs’ tab of course. It seems like the fair thing to do.

At the very minimum, hopefully the city takes these development projects a little more seriously in the future before awarding them tax breaks.

Bliss for GR: Downtown Alliance

City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss hosts a monthly show on GRTV called Bliss for GR that folks on city government and what is happening in the City of Grand Rapids.

This month’s episode features a discussion with Sharon Evoy of the Downtown Alliance. The program gives a good–albeit quite flattering–portrait of the Downtown Alliance, but it’s worth knowing about if one wants to understand the role it plays in development downtown. Additionally, the program talks about some future projects and development in downtown:

As always, it’s good to ask questions about who benefits from these projects, who they are aimed at, and how they relate to downtown residents.

Rosa Parks Statue Funding Approved, The Press Focuses on Online Comments

Grand Rapids Press Frontpage

Sometimes, it’s just too easy to criticize The Grand Rapids Press. Yesterday, the newspaper ran an article about negative reaction to the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) decision to allocate $100,000 to go towards a statue of Rosa Parks. The statue is slated to be placed near Rosa Parks Circle at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Monroe Center.

Perhaps wanting to recall the debate over naming Rosa Parks Circle after the Civil Rights icon, The Grand Rapids Press titled its coverage “DDA statue gift lures monumental anger.” However, while the title implies that there is some legitimate opposition to the statue, the Press could only muster up some posts from its Mlive.com website. It writes:

“The Downtown Development Authority’s decision on Wednesday to allocate $100,000 toward a statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks in the park bearing her name stirred online readers — at times getting ugly.

Some of the more than 30 anonymous comments left after two stories about the project had racist undertones, while others questioned the expenditure at a time when unemployment is high and the community’s needs are great.

Others complained Parks had no direct ties to Grand Rapids.

“Nothing against Ms. Parks or her role in civil rights, but come on — this smells to high heaven of trying to be P.C. and the city just keeps playing the game. Can’t anyone just stand up for common sense?” wrote “noreaster99″ in a comment posted after the story on Mlive.com.”

It would be one thing if The Grand Rapids Press was able to cite a local politician, or someone on the DDA who was opposed to the statue–but the best it can do is mention some posts by goofballs on its website. The fact that online comments are a hotbed of racism and reactionary rhetoric is hardly news–almost any online forum associated with any of the West Michigan media sites has this. I hardly think this constitues “monumental anger”–but nice pun nevertheless.

Unfortunately, as newspapers like The Grand Rapids Press struggle to stay relevant, we are seeing a lot of this. The Press will occasionally feature quotes–always attributed to ridiculous nicknames–on various news topics. In some cases, it has even made what “happens” on its website “news.” See for example, its coverage of the “live blog” during the final episode of The Bachelor.

Can’t we just call this what it is? Laziness and an easy way to promote their online presence.

Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American City

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Last week, I read about a proposed urban farm project that purportedly would transform the vacant, abandoned lots that make up much of Detroit’s inner city. Businessman John Hantz wants the City of Detroit to donate the vacant property. Hantz envisions the farm as a “destination” for locally grown produce that creates jobs within the city. However, this venture makes no mention of neighborhood buy-in. Community gardeners there have their doubts. And, its proposed equestrian recreation area doesn’t seem targeted to the youth from nearby neighborhoods. So, I have to wonder, is this urban farm plan really saving grace for Detroit’s inner city or just one more way for capitalist white America to profit off the backs of Detroit’s poor, urban, African American residents?

A month ago, I might not have even raised this question. That was before I read Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American City by Luke Bergmann. While a graduate student in anthropology, Bergman spent three years living in Detroit, studying incarcerated youth. His studies yielded more than a degree and a dissertation. He became deeply emotionally involved with several of the boys and their families.

Before telling the tales of two of these boys, Duke and Rodney, Bergmann provides the reader an excellent historical review of Detroit, from its founding more than 300 years ago through today. Today, Detroit is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. The freeways of the late 1940s and early 1950s bulldozed residential neighborhoods and black owned businesses. Fires spawned by the July 1967 Detroit Rebellion and subsequent urban renewal ventures destroyed the fabric of community even further.

Once a city of hope for African Americans (think Motown), Detroit now offers nothing but despair, as its urban residents as the system continues it pillage: law enforcement, the courts, the prison industrial complex and media-fueled consumerism continue to squeeze what profit they can from the people living here. On a personal level, the result is a heartbreaking, vicious cycle of poverty where the only means of survival is selling drugs and the only relief, using.

However, Bergmann finds that within this hopeless landscape, community does continue to connect. The center of connection is the neighborhood liquor stores, primarily owned by white, Chaldean Americans. Not only destinations for liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets, these stores are the closest thing to grocery stores in the inner city. They also function as social hubs. And, while legal retail activities take place within, illegal drug sales take place right outside.

As Bergman tells the stories of Duke and Rodney, he does more than spin a good story–or make excuses for their “poor choices.” He shows why the choices they make are rationale reactions to the environment in which they live.

Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day, says, “Luke Bergman sometimes risks life and limb to bring us firsthand the lives of young people who mainstream media and academic research have ignored–except for the occasional crime story or impersonal policy brief. Getting Ghost is a journey worth taking, though you may want to grab hold along the way.”

Luke Bergmann, Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American City, (The New Press, 2008).

“Hire Michigan First” Passes House, but at What Cost?

Hire Michigan First

A packaged of bills collectively dubbed “Hire Michigan First” has passed the Michigan House of Representatives. Backers of the bills say they will help address Michigan’s rising unemployment by rewarding businesses that hire Michigan workers.

At the core of the bills are provisions that would award tax breaks and other incentives to companies that hire Michigan workers. Government programs such as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Growth Authority, and the Renaissance Zone Act would give incentives to companies hiring 100% of their employees from Michigan. In turn, these companies would have to report on who they hire.

Currently, the state government gives away $1 billion in tax breaks to draw businesses to Michigan in hopes of creating jobs.

Initiative Pushed Using Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

However, while the legislation may be forward-thinking in some respects and has been promoted by progressive groups, it has been promoted in some quarters using anti-immigrant rhetoric.

One of the sponsors–Marc Corriveau of Northville–has talked up portions of the legislation that would increase penalties for companies that hired undocumented workers, stating:

“We must reward businesses that hire Michigan workers rather than businesses that choose to hire illegal workers.”

Corriveau also touted the idea that the bill “cracks down” on companies hiring undocumented workers by making them pay back state incentives and banning them from future contracts if they are found to use undocumented labor.

The rhetoric around undocumented immigrants promotes a common reactionary myth that it is undocumented immigrants–and not neoliberal trade and economic policies–that are responsible for job losses in the United States. While it is certainly true that some businesses hire undocumented workers, the rhetoric surrounding this issue rarely addresses what causes immigrants to move to the United States in the first place.