Monday, 31 October 2011

Fleeting visit to Grand Rapids

A small group of us from France and Albion College drove two hours to visit the Mayor of Grand Rapids and have a look around at the sustainability efforts of the city.

The city of Grand Rapids is located on the Grand River about 40 miles east of Lake Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 188,040 about the same as Waitakere City that was, in Auckland NZ. It is the largest city in West Michigan.

Grand Rapids is home to five of the world's leading office furniture companies and is nicknamed the "Furniture City". The city and surrounding communities are economically diverse, and contribute heavily to the health care, information technology, automotive, aviation, and consumer goods manufacturing industries. They actually have a street dedicated as the Medical Mile where you can find hospitals and clinics and medical imagery companies.

The city is interesting and has a mix of modern and older architecture but I was mostly interested in what they were doing of an 'eco' nature and how they were marketing themselves. Both were a little disappointing. Compared to what was Waitakere City in Auckland the efforts to encourage sustainability are patchy, less intense and less integrated into the city.

When I asked for a brochure on their sustainability efforts I was told they didn't have anything (extraordinary). I asked for a press kit but apparently they don't exist (unbelievable) and there was no supply at the city hall of brochures on the city (touristy or otherwise). To me this all seems incomprehensible. If you're doing something well you've got to show people. Telling them to visit a website isn't effective. This is surprising since the city is the hub of one of the United Nations regional Centres of Expertise.

The city is fond of art and uses it in its building such as its new bus transit centre where the Greyhound buses collect and drop off their passengers. Eventually it may connect to trains too. Each year the city has an Art Prize competition which encourages a high number of entries. Winners get money and everyone who enters can display their entry around the city. It's a real boom for the city at that time.

The city has buildings which qualify for LEED status. This means they are built to particular green standards, mostly in terms of energy but hopefully other requirements too.

We stopped to look at the Smart Meters which are being installed in the more 'sustainable-minded' areas which tell the supplier and the householder how much and when they are peaking with their use so they can adjust when they use appliances to the off-peak tijes.
Our guide from the city council was determined we should see once of their LEED breweries.

It was shut when we arrived but as we looked forlornly through the windows the owner took pity on us, welcomed us in and gave an explanation of their LEED accreditation. The Vivant Brewery brews its own beer and cider in French-German style. It is located inside a renovated church. I found it ironic that the root of all evil had taken over a house of God. They've done a good job of it. The furniture is a bit beerfest but solid and the flags and new bar fit in well with the stained glass windows.

Grand Rapids was the hometown of Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States. He, along with his wife, former First Lady Betty Ford, are buried on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.


The Ford Museum opened to the public in September 1981. It is part of the Presidential libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration, a Federal agency. Unlike other Presidential libraries, the museum component is geographically separate from the library/archives.

The Ford Museum is in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the Library is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Despite the separation, the library and museum are a single institution sharing one director.

Approaching the museum I was amused by some of the outdoor sculpture. Near the entrance is a footballer made out of metal stuff.


Playing in the fountain outside the entrance to the museum is another piece of art. Permission to display it was given to the artist. I loved the brown bears who really seemed so natural in the shower of water and catching their fish

I enjoyed this museum; we were personally guided by its Vice-President who has an amazing grasp on the relevant history. The first section you come to deals with pop culture. Then immediately you visit the Watergate section with static and audiovisual displays.

Past the section that deals with the President's childhood and early adult life in the navy and his meeting and marrying Elizabeth (Betty) you come to a life-size replica of the oval office as it was in the time of President Ford. Many of the memorabilia on display are the originals.

There's a section devoted to Betty Ford and her good works and then you enter a facsimile of the President's cabinet room as it was. Everything is simple and tasteful.

We finished up the tour with a special treat. We were escorted to President Ford's office in Grand Rapids with all its memorabilia in place, vase from Emperor Hirohito of Japan, an Italian tea service, a rug used by Gerald, his desk set up for a typical day's work.

Outside you can easily find the graves of Gerald Ford and his wife Betty- laid vertically in and behind the concrete memorial. This museum is certainly worth putting on your agenda if you visit this city.


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