It has been known for a couple of years now that Grand Valley State University (GVSU) has been making plans to expand into the Belknap neighborhood, specifically north of the 196 freeway.
The GVSU expansion has been met with mixed emotions, with some neighbors supporting, while others have opposed such a drastic transformation of their neighborhood, a transformation that will result in numerous houses being torn down.
The demolition of homes, homes that have been occupied by individuals and families, is a process that has been playing out in numerous neighborhoods all across the city of Grand Rapids. Some refer to this process as gentrification, which often results in the displacement of marginalized communities, particularly poor working class communities and communities of color.
However, this process does not happen all at once. In many cases there are stages of gentrification, where development companies, large institutions and businesses position themselves to expand into neighborhoods. Most of these neighborhoods have suffered from White Flight, job loss and other forms of structural violence, that is until private capital decides to move in.
The current battle in the Belknap neighborhood is very connected to a previous battle that took place just south of the 196 freeway, when Butterworth Hospital was in the process of becoming Spectrum Health.
In a Nov/Dec 1997 issue of the FUNdamentalist newspaper, there appeared an article about the takeover of the Belknap neighborhood association by operatives of Butterworth hospital. The article begins with a quote by former board member of the Neighbors of Belknap Lookout, Deborah Kales.
“We believe that Dorothy Munson through Butterworth Community Interaction has come into the neighborhood and through manipulation and deceit has taken over the Neighborhood Association. Up to this time the only way the neighbors had to be empowered to deal with the city and other big corporations expressing an interest in the neighborhood, was through the Neighborhood Association. Now that the NOBL Board has been taken over by a pro-Butterworth sentiment, where is the residents’ vehicle for voicing their opinion?” – NOBL (Neighbors of Belknap Lookout) board member Deborah Kales, in a letter to Nick Garza of the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Services Dept.
The article written in 1997 sought to speak with all parties involved in the Butterworth/Spectrum expansion and what kind of impact it would have on the neighborhood.
Long-time community organizer, Frank Lynn, was the executive director in the mid-1190s, until resigning in the Spring of 1997, due to the hostile takeover of the neighborhood by Butterworth/Spectrum. Frank stated recently that what is happening with the GVSU expansion into the Belknap area has its roots in the Butterworth/Spectrum expansion that began nearly 20 years ago today.
We encourage people to read the entire article from 1997 and see how what was happening then in the Belknap neighborhood is happening again. We believe it is important to identify the way private power functions, whether it is Butterworth Hospital or GVSU and how that power impacts individuals, families and neighborhoods.