‘Diversity’ is defined as a principle and is not an optional city planning tool

July 10, 2015
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Grand Rapids is moving forward on a six-point plan that will impact every aspect of doing business for the foreseeable future.

GR Forward Executive Director Kris Larson noted, after the Downtown Development Authority approved the 325-page plan July 8, it will be an investment and coordinating guide for the DDA and other organizations around the city.

It is a critical document moving into the city planning department process July 23, but once again the Business Journal finds a complete analysis and discussion of the document lacking, and even while serious issues were questioned, the DDA approved the document without change.

The Business Journal finds Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen’s questions relevant in regard to assuring that inclusion and diversity is a foundation. Talen, who represents the city of Grand Rapids, reiterated that, throughout the community information-gathering process, diversity was the most discussed issue and a top priority. He pointed out that the manner in which diversity and inclusion efforts have been incorporated will not lead to results or clear outcomes. He noted, however, that diversity isn’t being addressed in the same amount of detail as other top priorities.

Talen said, “I do have a strong concern about the lack of spelling out in terms of the diversity. It doesn’t feel like it’s nearly as directly addressed as many of the other things. It is a huge piece of what I envisioned this plan would create: a downtown that looks different than it does now. I don’t see how that is going to happen with this plan.”

If Talen, seated with his DDA fellows in a position of power, does not see “diversity” represented, then certainly the people represented by those seated in power will not find their priorities noted.

The Business Journal believes, to that end, consulting an expert who works with groups on how best to represent such priorities would be appropriate. Those with such expertise clearly define what diversity and inclusion look like and how it should be represented in planning documents that will be used as guides for all city planning decisions.

The GR Forward team has alternately used “diversity” to represent multi-modal transportation options, even while no one would commonly use the word to represent anything other than its first definition. And that is not an “option.”

Within a week of the planning commission review — and it should be reviewed — the draft plan is scheduled to go the city commission July 28, then opening the plan up to public comment from July 29 through Sept. 14.

The final plan is scheduled for city commission adoption Oct. 13, when commissioners will decide whether to adopt it as an amendment to the city’s Master Plan.

The Business Journal calls to mind the emotional pleadings of South Carolina State Rep. Jenny Anderson Horne, a descendant of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, in regard to removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol: “It’s not about Jenny Horne. It’s about the people of South Carolina.”

Likewise, the Grand Rapids document appears to represent its predominately white authors, not the citizens who have given their time for a different discussion.

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