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Children again the focus of Grand Rapids state of the city speech

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

The mayor of Grand Rapids called the state’s second-largest city the “pride of Michigan” in his tenth state of the city address Saturday morning.

Mayor George Heartwell touted the city’s record of sustainability, natural resources, and diversity. His list of awards and recognitions is several minutes long.

“And of course, who could forget Beer City USA?” Heartwell said with a big belly laugh.

Heartwell’s tone was much more serious when he got to the part about kids in Grand Rapids. He says young people need more support to succeed.

“I call on each of you to own this moment to take ownership in your own circle of influence and to act for our children. Our children need us now more than ever,” Heartwell said.

Helping children was the main focus in Heartwell’s last state of the city speech. So over the last year, groups have been meeting to talk about how to do that. Heartwell says they’ve been asked three basic questions:

  1. Do we value our children equally?
  2. What clear, identifiable needs do our community’s children have?
  3. What can we individually and collectively do to address those needs?

“You and I know that talk is not enough, that actions must follow,” Heartwell said.
Dr. George Grant Jr. is the dean of the College of Community and Public Service at Grand Valley State University. His office recorded many of those 750-plus conversations and organized the responses into a report.

Grant said what really struck him was the idea of "community stigma" around certain neighborhoods. He said kids worry about the perception of them as individuals for living in what's perceived as “bad” neighborhoods.

“Their concern was that because you think the community is so bad – that you think they’re bad and so they’re not worth investing in,” Grant said.

Grant also said during the state of the city address that there’s a serious disconnect between the multitude of service providers and those who need help. He says many people don’t realize there’s a lot of help out there already.

Heartwell is working with other leaders in Kent County to create a new organization to help turn talk into action. The organization will work with service providers, schools, and other groups to make sure people who need help know where to get it.

Heartwell also discussed plans for more green initiatives, including a large-scale solar panel installation at a former landfill site.

A years-long project to keep sewer overflows out of the Grand River will be complete by the end of this year. Heartwell says combined sewer overflows have been nearly eliminated, improving water quality downstream and at Lake Michigan beaches where the river ends up.

Heartwell also discussed city government’s “transformation” efforts, mostly paid for through a temporary income tax increase voters passed in 2010. The five-year increase will expire in less than three years and that means the city will have $9 million less in revenue each year.

Heartwell said the city is making progress on some 70 initiatives to improve efficiency and structurally reduce costs.

You can read text of Heartwell's full speech here.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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