Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on October 23, 2012


I used to substitute teach in Grand Rapids Public Schools.

One day while reviewing a book on the history of Grand Rapids I stumbled upon the map below. Documenting the racial pockets of the city in 1927.

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Posted in FOOD, GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on October 22, 2012

I just found out. I had not heard the bad news.

I was back in Grand Rapids for a friend’s wedding. During any return I must go to a few places Robinette’s, Yesterdog, Monarch’s Club, and the Kopper Top.

The Kopper Top made the best sandwiches in the city and most affordable sites for sandwiches in Grand Rapids. This was the only place to find a Muffaleta, and the only place worth going to for a Cuban.

It was an experience, a strange venue of kitsch and comfort. For my first visit, I knew nothing about it, I stumbled upon The Kopper Top with friends and we walked in knowing nothing. Then we ate, and came back regularly until life drew us away from Grand Rapids.

It’s failings were weird hours. I never knew when they were open, and several times I would drive to the Kopper Top only to find it closed.

Considered a well-kept secret. I will forever consider it a failing of mine to not assist in spreading the name of the Kopper Top. This is a massive lost to the west side.In the spirit of making sure a beloved Grand Rapids business does not go under (not to suggest it is in any danger) Go to the Monarch’s Club across the street. It’s the best bar in Grand Rapids. A well-kept secret is worthless if it means it shares the same fate as the Kopper Top.

The loss of the Kopper Top is a strike against the West Side. As Grand Rapid’s downtown and surrounding communities continues to grow and develop the West Side is being neglected (aside from GVSU territory).

Below is a sampling of photographs and Instagrams I collected to hopefully give a sense of Kopper Top’s atmosphere.

ARTPRIZE and the McKay Tower

Posted in GRAND RAPIDS, URBANISM by urbanmi on September 28, 2012


Despite all of its many criticisms and failures, ArtPrize is great for Grand Rapids and good for Michigan.

As an urban development strategy, the event highlights the city and activates the streets and businesses, awarding Grand Rapids the feel of a bustling and vibrant city. The rhythm of the city changes.  Downtown Grand Rapids already has a healthy nightlife, but, although it is improving, the life in the day is limited. With ArtPrize, residents get a glimpse of how Grand Rapids would feel if everyone used and lived in their downtown. We get to see and use our city as if it was an urbanized city. We get to see people inhabiting every space in the city simultaneously.

For this reason, I look forward to each ArtPrize.

A brief moment each year, where everyone can understand and experience the importance of cities and what Grand Rapids should strive to be every day.

I criticize ArtPrize not to condemn it, but because I celebrate its potential and want it to live up to its capacity for changing the city and improving its image.

The event, however, has failed to live up to its lofty ambitions. The purpose of the prize was to elevate Grand Rapids in the national and international consciousness and to continue to elevate Grand Rapids as a serious arts center. Unfortunately, the dependence on the community and social media retards this development. ArtPrize feels like a glorified Arts Fair, Ann Arbor on steroids. Only the museums continue to perform a commendable job elevating the quality of the entries.

Ultimately I am less concerned with the level of the “art” or crafts but who we as a public vote as our champion. Either the citizenry must learn to take their roles in the event seriously, or the event will begin to lose its credibility. No one currently views the prize as a serious participant in the culture of Art, but it should be. The ArtPrize needs to be an event each year the nation and the world looks to and is invested. I fear this will never happen with tweets and text votes.

Currently the top 25 this year includes a few deserving entrants such as Kumi Yamashita’s “Origami” but also 2 dragon, a fish, and many other animal sculptures.

Visit ArtPrize Worst for an informative study on the many of the works.

This moleskine was given as a gift to first year entrants.

I wish I had one


Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on September 23, 2012

Grand Rapids Furniture Company siting.

In San Diego, the now long gone Grand Rapids Furniture Co. logo decorates a building near Pacific Highway.


Posted in DETROIT, FOOD, GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on July 20, 2012

Michigan is an underrated and great brewing state. I believe Michigan is often overlooked as a great beer state since no single city dominates brewing. What Michigan provides is quality craft beer from top to bottom. Michigan breweries dominate stouts, no single concentration of breweries execute as many tremendous and varied stouts as Michigan.

The Michigan Brewers Guild  has great features and links to all the notable breweries. (Shout Outs to my Hometown Founders, Bell’s, Jolly PumpkinKuhnhen, Dark Horse)

While wasting time and following a chain of links I stumbled upon the 10 best cities for Beer Lovers and happily saw Grand Rapids (along with Kalamazoon) receive recognition for their beer. I often find Michigan is overlooked in these lists. Particularly since these lists are often traps to shovel paid advertisements down our collective consumer gullet. (If you recall the horrendous Newsweek list ranking Grand Rapids as one of the cities)  This list, however, was far better than GQs beer list in 2010 which ranked Chicago as one of the best beer cities by looking at numbers of bars and breweries alone without taking into account their quality. (No list of beer cities should be recognizing the Rock Bottom Brewery as a representative).

Do yourself a favor and attend either the Summer or Winterfests and look at Craftbeer.com recognizing piece on Michigan Brewing.

Now we just need more people to realize the overwhelming collection of fantastic brewing occurring here. Maybe I would be able to get more on the coasts.

30 Minutes or Less

Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on June 20, 2012

I miss Taco Boy.

I forgot about its existence.

I finally made the time to watch “30 Minutes or Less.” The was filmed in and around and takes place in and around my hometown of Grand Rapids. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Danny Mcbride, Nick Swardson, and Aziz Ansari; the movie is the most significant movie filmed in Grand Rapids to this point. Other films made in Grand Rapids have been straight to video, like the Val Kilmer romp “The Steam Experiment.”

Unfortunately with the end of the Michigan Film Tax Credit it will probably be the last film made in Grand Rapids (Thanks Gov. Rick Snyder). This is unfortunate for Michigan Audiences. Previously, we, as a state, have enjoyed a few significant films either filmed in or that take place in the State (Evil Dead Series, Robocop, etc.)

The experience of watching one’s own city and one’s own environment presented on screen is its own experience. Fictional, Factual, and Interpretive accounts of what a city is and what a city means. What it means to experience a city and be a part of a city. These films add to that lore and enrich the mythology of those cities. Cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles get overlooked through the regularity of being a setting.

Film captures the temporality of the Urban Experience. The emphasis of narrative elevates a city to more than setting, to a character in itself. The city becomes friend, foe, protagonist, or antagonist. Film, as a medium, reveals content about the city invisible and difficult to garner through other mediums.  Distance is understood through mood; humor is brought out by circumstance.

Detroit has been both celebrated and victimized in film.  (A dissection to be conducted more specifically at another time.)  Film transmits the essence of a city to a large audience quickly, immediately, and more completely.


Guy Madden’s My Winnipeg documents of the city he grew up in.


Refer to Jack Lessenberry for great commentary on the Michigan Film Tax Credit

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Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on April 1, 2012

Doing research on coffee houses for a current design project and happily discovered Madcap coffee was recognized as one of the nations best coffee companies by food and wine magazine.

i miss home.

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Rapid Transit Bus Lines

Posted in DETROIT, GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on February 26, 2012

I am not opposed to rapid transit bus lines.

I support them in Detroit.  Just not along Woodward Ave. A light rail line is more than mass transportation and an economic engine.

It is a symbol; it is a statement. It announces to both the residents of Detroit and surrounding areas, to the State of Michigan, and the country as a whole that Detroit takes itself seriously. A light rail system is an investment, a large and serious investment; making the investment says to everyone: Detroit will do whatever it takes to revitalize itself and change its past.

Their is an inherent stigma to buses in the United States, and their use within Detroit will do little to making visitors and residents feel comfortable using them.

I was ardently in favor and voted for the rapid transit bus line in Grand Rapids along Division Ave in 2008.  It;s surprising failure in spite of Downtown, East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills in support of the measure.  East Grand Rapids, Ada, would not directly benefit from any bus line. Failing because south Grand Rapids  voted against it. A significant advertising campaign targeting

Rapid transit buses can be done with great success.  Curitiba, Brazil illustrates one of the most successful and famous examples of their use.


Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on May 31, 2011

In January, Grand Rapids was listed by Newseek as a dying city based on a vacuous interpretation of data. The data used was limited in scope and painted an inaccurate view of the city. They compared the total population of Grand Rapids to the percent of the population below 18 years of age against the 10 year change in those population numbers.

Rob Bliss (organizer of city-wide events such as:the zombie walk, pillow fight, Artprize 2009 Paper Airplanes), organized a Lip-Dub of over 5000 people in response.

The success, coverage, and reception of the Lip Dup event has caused Newsweek to retract their statement.  Roger Ebert has called it the greatest music video ever.  His point is hyperbolic, but the video represents an impressive choreography of people, industry, and passion. Rob Bliss continuously highlights the beauty of Grand Rapids and brings out the love the residents of Grand Rapids have for their city.

The video is kitsch. But as a son of Grand Rapids it makes me smile. It makes me miss home. To Rob Bliss I say thank you.

Below the much better produced 2009 Art Prize Event. 10000 Paper Planes.

Links: and a return from vacation

Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on January 31, 2011

It’s probably bad practice for me to throw up a draft of a post for the purpose of having a post this month. I should not do this again.

via Urbanophile and US Census Data. Michigan the only state to lose population from 2000-2010. Also interesting, Detroit’s white population grew this past year.

Grand Rapids was named one of America’s Bleakest Cities by Newsweek. As one of the stronger cities in Michigan, with a downtown that is exciting and revitalizing, this is absurd. The report focuses on population changes and demographics without doing any analysis of the situation within the city. Grand Rapids historically suffers from issues with its younger population leaving for college and not returning but with Grand Valley State University’s continual presence downtown and the recent move of Michigan State University’s medical program to Grand Rapids this trend will shift in the future. Grand Rapids has diverse and flexible industries and is better positioned to survive Michigan’s greater struggles than most other Michigan cities. The population changes reflect economic and employment issues in Michigan in general and not specifically to issues in Grand Rapids.

RapidGrowth has their own, more in depth analysis.

A belated congratulations to Brady Hoke.  I am an alum in full support. Go Blue.

In Grand Rapids, Pomegranate Studios is hosting an event in February with a lot of potenetial:  5×5 Night

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