G-Sync: The city to the powers of ten

Publisher Tommy Allen reflects on what it means to be in publishing for 10 years and what we have witnessed, or covered, during a period of tremendous growth in Grand Rapids.
To be frank, I've never been a fan of assigning an entire decade’s worth of events to a neatly arranged 10-year bookend.

These best-of-the-decade packages do make for fun parties when we gather at a local club, donning a stereotypical characterization costume and dance to the music of this time period, but those who study history know that trends, just like world events, rarely respect such borders of time.

We can be grateful that events like World War II did not traverse across a full decade for the United States, and yet, with some items in our culture, like “The Simpsons,” The Rolling Stones, and even cake (the food … and in all its forms), we are all too happy to watch them command our attention, defying the odds of being neatly placed in any one decade.

What brought me to this moment of reflection was not that I’m fixated on the upcoming 2020 decade but that Rapid Growth will be celebrating a momentous milestone in 2016.

Over our holiday break, I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on what it means to be in publishing for 10 years and what we have witnessed, or covered, during a period of tremendous growth in our region.

Looking back, I can see how Rapid Growth filled a void in the media during a time when telling the stories we did were not in vogue, as they are today.

As I re-read articles from those early days, I became a bit nostalgic for the wild frontier we were 10 years ago. It is hard to imagine how quickly things have accelerated in our region since we published our first issue.

Call it the curse of having 20/20 hindsight vision, but with no road map before us, we did what any early frontiersperson would have done — we set out to tell the stories of our lives as they were happening.

In those days, the themes that ran through Rapid Growth focused on three main areas: the city from the perspective of a citizen, an investor and a visitor. It is a nice cross section to consider, as all three factors showcase, in their own way, the health of a city.

Those early articles helped groups of people better connect with their city through articles on our local bookies, emerging coffee shops, beloved neighborhood butchers, and we even introduced you to Frances the Dogwalker

As more and more folks moved here, and often shared that Rapid Growth played a role in their selection of our city as their new hometown, it became clear that our readership has always been folks intrigued by what is happening here.

In those first years we shared stories of future developments of old buildings long abandoned, a hush-hush arts event later revealed by us to be ArtPrize, a Cool City project emerging on Division Avenue, and development updates on a new Grand Rapids Art Museum to be built next to the transplanted heart of downtown’s latest public art piece, Ecliptic, designed by Maya Lin.

In fact, Ecliptic, renamed Rosa Parks Circle by the city, reflects the path of time and is told via the journey of our sun passing through the sky above us.

Inscribed on the monument’s plaque, the Frey Foundation (the funder) has written, “Its elements were inspired by water as vapor, liquid and solid embodied in a mist fountain, a tablet of flowing water and an ice rink. Fiber optic points of light in the amphitheater floor mark the constellations over Grand Rapids as we entered the third millennium January 1, 2000.”

To this day, Rapid Growth has subscribers from all over the world who want to keep tabs as to what we are creating here.

In just 10 years we have not just witnessed a transformation of a city once considered a fly-over speck on the map to a place that people consider when seeking employment, but also as travel destination where the pleasures of beer tourism to some of the world’s best sandy beaches to even a giant outdoor inflatable cinema program held each summer on the banks of a soon-to-be redeveloped river bank are up for grabs on a nearly seven-days-a-week schedule of events.

Even our neighborhoods have become a hot topic for a host of reasons that show no sign of slowing down.

Ray and Charles EamesThe studio of Charles and Ray Eames has a long history in our region and is one that is still be felt today via the partnerships they created around the world.

And while almost every furniture manufacturer in our city has a connection to a designer or artist these days, it was the level of play that the Eames wove into their workflow that sparked not just a movement in design but infused in our world a powerful energy based on the possibilities of life.

This is why I still think the connection of the arts remains a vital one for our region and is definitely worth exploring as many of us lobby our area leaders to begin to integrate the “A” (for design/arts) into our STEM-focused curricula while we seek to remake the city into a 21st century destination for living, working and playing with one another.

Within the Eames archive of projects is a series of films including the Powers of Ten (1977). It stands literally heads above all the other films they made, as it invites us to slow down as we contemplate what the powers of 10 means.

For those who have not seen it, here is a handy link to watch it later. 

And while I have watched this film many times over the years, it suddenly hit me in a whole new light as I consider Rapid Growth’s 10th anniversary year.

The basis of this film begins with a couple laying on a patch of grass enjoying a picnic in a park.

As the camera begins to pull back advancing upward, a mathematical computation to the power of 10 is applied. And within a few short steps we find ourselves suddenly in outer space.

When the filmmakers reach what they believe to be the edge of space, they pause. No longer can we see the couple, our planet or even our solar system.

The space we see is dark, with just a few tiny specs of light. It is a cold, dark, solitary place.

Just before the camera begins the descent back to earth the narrator says, “This emptiness is normal; the richness of our neighborhood is the experience.”

Boom! Big bang moment in my head goes off. That’s it.  

Buried in this film is probably the best road map to the next integer of 10 that any of us could hope for our city.

The universe is huge as we gaze into the stars, but when we set our sights to the place we call our neighborhood, suddenly the impossible become possible. And it is then that our local actions matter the most since this is where we can build the richness of living with each other. It is important to remember that one is where we begin our journey within the Powers of Ten.

In the years ahead, cities all over the world will continue to experience the great migrations of peoples to the urban center.

When we do officially kick off our 10 year anniversary in 2016, we will be doing so with a nod to those artists who have come before, like Charles Eames, who also said, “Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.”

As we move forward, let’s commit to continue to make the choices as a city to live up to the legacy of those who have come before us and begin to leverage one of our greatest strengths here in Grand Rapids as we remember that, while we may not be a big city, we are still sizable enough to be given the gift of time to make a big difference in the future of our metropolis. Let’s keep our focus on what we do best here as we multiply our impact together for the betterment of all.

Collective impact is the new collaborative model that could help us avoid the mistakes others have made and show us what is truly possible in a region like Grand Rapids.  

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Publisher and Lifestyle Editor 

Grand Rapids has plenty of entertainment options, but only four will fit in this week’s G-Sync Events: Let’s Do This! 

Photos this week of Ray and Charles Eames and from their Powers of Ten film.
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