We live in an old house just south of Wealthy on Union, in between where downtown Grand Rapids ends and Eastown begins. Our apartment is on the top floor, supported by uneven floors and littered with hundreds of nail holes in the wall. We’re only minutes from Wealthy Street Bakery, The Winchester, and Donkey Taqueria, staples of the new Grand Rapids. Down Wealthy a few paces are more buzzing GR haunts: Electric Cheetah, Brick Road Pizza, The Meanwhile. This is a good place to be.
And yet I’m slightly unsettled, and for some reason I feel a little weird. From what I can tell, the discomfort comes from two places and then sort of eases its way into parts of me where it can fester. The first I anticipated: much of this area is filled with twenty somethings eager to make their mark on a city they’re proud to live in. But that eagerness takes on a physical and social shape, so that each person has to be better dressed and more uniquely styled or tattooed than the next. I’m no exception to this social pressure—my hair inches dangerously close to one of those manbuns that sits on top of trimmed sides. Still, it seems the hospitality of the city suffers from all this.
For example, the other day I was at lunch with a few good friends. We were talking about the food scene in Grand Rapids, and one friend confessed that she could easily pour all her money into eating at GR restaurants. Another friend, smiling wryly, said quickly: “I couldn’t. I’m not sure I have the wardrobe for it.”
The comment was meant as a joke, but it betrays a certain sensibility that I think is shared by people who live on the outskirts of Grand Rapids proper. As the city grows into its new identity, the temptation to forget certain demographics in favor of a new generational thrust is large. We have to remember this city doesn’t belong to the twenty- and thirty-somethings who look the part, but it rests on the shoulders of those who have been here.
The second source of my discomfort still needs to be fleshed out. I think to some degree I’m worried about the part I’m now playing in this city’s gentrification process, a process I’m terribly unfamiliar with. Maybe, in fact, I’m not participating in that at all, and my worry is symptomatic of my own unhelpful white guilt. But I just feel slightly uncomfortable when I tell people my address and their response goes something like, “Oh, that part of town is so much nicer than it used to be.”
All of this, though, I’m willing to deal with. Because this is where we are now; this is where we live. And these internal struggles are hopefully indicative of a real attempt at taking geography seriously, of wrestling this place into part of who we are.