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G-Sync - The Best of Times Is Now

A year moves pretty fast and this week Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen attempts to capture the best of our local times from 2013. Here is his loving look back before we leap forward.
This is typically my favorite time of the year. There are best-of music lists from NPR’s All Songs Considered to pore over, year-end special editions of my favorite magazines arriving daily, and of course an endless stream of nominations from all areas of our culture.

But as I listened to the songs on Bob Boilen’s Top 20 Albums, and later his staff’s picks of the year, I noticed two items that were both rather obvious.

The first observation is that I noticed a lot of artists were digging into the past to create even greater genre-bending styles of music. This made 2013 an exciting year for those reach-around-grab-the-glories-of-the-past music with tried and proven results.

The other observation is that on this list there was a heavy reliance on those acts that were playing within a much more stripped-down or authentic type of sonic experience via everything from the choice of style to lyrical charm and depth.  

This honesty of moving beyond that which is simply pop and into meaty choices of music reflects much of this past year in G-Sync. Some topics are a continuation on the form of years past, but some topics gave birth to outright beautifully rich ways of looking at or approaching our future.  

Typically, these lists in the past have been obsessed with the Top 10 or, in the case of last year’s round up, G-Sync’s Baker’s Dozen, where 13 items were selected.

This year, I purposefully kept it to eight.

Reflecting, reworking, and carrying over…

A lot of topics really had a carry over from not only the year prior but also, in some cases, from decades past. Change comes on footsteps, rarely overnight.

Everything from the recent decriminalization of marijuana in the city of Grand Rapids to the long impact of housing stress still continued to appear in the news headlines on a regular basis.

While we secured the top slot all to ourselves this year for the second year in a row as Beer City USA, we also spent a lot of time in G-Sync looking at our local food systems, from the products we produce here to our newly opened farmers’ markets to a refreshing and inspired new campaign that seeks to reward local small businesses via the Less = More for Michigan campaign.

Yet, it was the Farmland Preservation piece, The Greater Good, that really was the editorial of the year for so many, catching the imagination of our city but also sounding a cautionary tale of the delicate balance of power, money and the need for smarter planning measures at the county level.
In the span of just one week leading up to the Kent County Commissioners’ vote, I cannot even begin to share the sheer number of folks who were visibly shaken after realizing for the first time that this nearly ten-year-old program was on the verge of extinction here. Never mind that this was at a time when consumer demand in our region has never been higher for the beloved, local farmer and the bounty they produce and sell in the city via farmer’s markets and places like our area restaurants and often via FarmLink. It would go on to become a much-lauded work even as the program received a zero budget allotment, essentially shutting the program down. [Incredible!]

The year was really about better understanding these reoccurring topics in society and approaching them with a fresh set of eyes. This could be seen in two groups that tied for this next slot because of where they started and where they are clearly going as they take us on an exciting journey in the future. These organizations’ paths in 2013 truly were about systems change as they harnessed simple yet impactful projects that take us in the right direction.

Both Building a History and A Well House Cures Homelessness showed us examples by the end of the year of the work they set out to do in 2013.

LINC began their first steps in ensuring that neighborhoods business districts begin to look more like the neighborhood by embarking on the first steps of their Buy Local, Hire Local program (in collaboration with Local First.)

Later, with a pencil and some very simple math, Well House’s newly hired Executive Director Tami Vandenberg, board and staff created the brilliant and mind-shifting 19:1 Campaign to address homelessness in a whole new light. These two groups truly created positive impact on our region, moving us a lot closer to a “more perfect union.”

Much like other parts of the country, West Michigan is a region that is wrestling with coming to terms to better understand how to address the inequities of our society.

These issues truly impact so many people, from gender to race to even privilege. In Happy Mother's Day Revolution, we covered the utterly unfair practice of watching our daughters emerge into a society that still cannot figure out how to shore up the income gap between men and women. G-Sync is committed to keeping this dialogue alive - as well as other topics of fairness - in the hopes that one year we can finally get it right. The ability to beta test in this market presents fertile soil for such new ideas to germinate.

Another editorial, A Just, Equitable City, began to look deep into our past. We used hyper-local data from visiting associate professor Chris Benner of the University of California Davis, who co-authored the mind-shifting book Just Growth with Professor Manuel.

Benner came to Grand Rapids this past year to begin research for his new book, which will feature insights on our city. While here, he spoke to a packed room at the Meijer Gardens and presented some interesting statistics on where we are. He also issued a challenge to us to begin the hard work now if we are going to reverse the inequity trend he noticed beginning to emerge. 

Growth, change, and going forward:

After five years at the helm of G-Sync (celebrated in October), I learned a valuable lesson in last week’s venture into poetry. Feeling emboldened, I thought that I could just slide into this type of style with much ease. (Sorry, Patricia Clark; I will never take the art of crafting a well-thought out verse lightly ever again.)

But this piece, Once Angels, Now Drones Fly High, while a bit playful, was really a cautionary tale to city planners in our urban centers. The conversation about the space above us must begin now in this vacuum. We need to begin next steps towards a meaningful policy for drones, with policies that honor technology but also address what this invasion could mean to our cityscape. It pointed to a very near future and a need for us to be mindful of our public spaces.

The role of the public, or right to the city, was a topic that not only was fueled by my visit to The Office of Public Culture at the start of 2013 but also became news as cities and spaces all over the world witnessed firsthand what happens when the balance is tipped, leaving the public’s spaces vulnerable or in jeopardy.

It even became the topic of the 2013 Creative Time Summit, which live-streamed their world conference to Grand Rapids’ Grand Rapids Art Museum in partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Office for Public Culture (OPC). This event inspired the editorial Creative Time Summit View (from GR).

I had the opportunity to speak with the local moderator, Anthony Stepter, the Coordinator of Museum and Exhibition Studies at MUSE at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Stepter shared his views of the attendees and his reactions from the break-out sessions.

One topic that came up repeatedly this past year and in a variety of forms was growth. We need to be aware of how it can happen in our city without making the same mistakes of other cities, at other times. 

The word gentrification was uttered more openly in our city than I can recall in the past. The volume got even louder as The Division Avenue Arts Collective was evicted rather hastily in 2013 from their Division Avenue street space – on the very street they helped to stabilize with their impressive 10 years of art and musical performance programming. The Right to the City editorial became one of the most read and talked about in almost every circle, from arts conferences to Facebook, as we moved into the fall season.

The other area of fresh ideas was born out of failure - well, in this case, in being vulnerable and talking openly about our shortcomings on stage and in front of an audience. FailureLab asked that people pay to listen to others share their failures in the hopes that the audience would be inspired to be more open about their own shortcomings, freeing more of our community from the anchor of perfection.

After Failure’s Lab Experiment, we witnessed a sold-out debut at Grand Rapids’ Wealthy Theatre before watching their second production in Detroit with a guest speaker from West Michigan, Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Diana Sieger. It was thrilling to see this raw new program begin what will surely be a long journey beyond our city borders.

While there are a host of other stories that were just as important as those singled out above, this group of eight reminds us that we did move to perfect the city by remaining open to discussing these uncomfortable matters of modern living and not just shutting it down via power, money or privileged influence.

As a city, we may not always get it right but we do fill up our days with some pretty remarkable moments that make up our life here.

Speaking of recording our days, I would be remiss if I did not mention that while we are a publication that comes to you once a week about 47 weeks out of the year, your own lives happen each and every day.  

To help you better track those moments in 2014, local publisher Issue Press has just released a truly remarkable and fun new calendar that celebrates Grand Rapids Firsts. Inside this beautifully simply calendar are many exciting firsts, like the January kick-off item celebrating Grand Rapids becoming the first city to fluoridate our water supply.

Other fun firsts illustrated here include the Citizen’s Telephone Co.’s introduction of the automatic telephone here, the first successful carpet sweeper, and the first solo recording of Al Green’s Back Up Train captured at a rundown studio on 28th Street.

Either way you record your days, this very limited edition of 100 calendar offers us a reminder - as I have illustrated now for more than 5 years and more than 225 editorials - that this region is a place where ideas come to either live or die. It is up to us as a community to engage the entire community in dialogue, both looking back to our history and being open to future growth and change.

As to what makes this place truly remarkable, it is more than buildings, access or even power; it is, in my humble opinion, the work we all perform together that creates a future that truly needs all of us.

Here’s to a Happier New Year in 2014. Let’s Do This!

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

To share personal thoughts or reflections on your year, please write Tommy at RapidGsync@gmail.com

See Tommy's last of 2013 recommendations at G-Sync Events: Let's Do This.
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