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Urban Revitalization via "ArtPrize" art competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan

There are many aspects to the design and principles behind ArtPrize that other cities can learn from in creating those projects. ArtPrize can serve as a model and inspiration in those efforts.

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Hartwell says that philanthropy can serve as a catalyst for additional investment, and cites ArtPrize as an example. ArtPrize is the brainchild of Rick DeVos, grandson of Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway, and son of Dick DeVos [<u></u>]. Started in 2009, it offered a top cash prize of $250,000 – the largest in the world for an art event. The nearly three-week-long event featured 1,200 artists from 41 states and 14 countries who won a total of more than $400,000 in award money – as determined by the votes of the 200,000-plus visitors (half of whom were from out of state) who added a great deal to the local economy.

<table cellspacing="10" width="300" align="right"> <tbody> <tr> <td><img height="225" alt="" src="" width="300"> <table cellspacing="1" width="300" align="right"> <tbody> <tr> <td> ArtPrize started in 2009 with a local sea serpent and a giant tea table atop a bridge over the Grand River.</td></tr></tbody></table></td></tr></tbody></table>

Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts said about ArtPrize, “Who would have guessed that the perfect lesson for coping successfully with a failing economy would come from Grand Rapids?”

Can ArtPrize, or something like it, work in other cities to help revitalize them? Rick DeVos says, “I think that question misses the point. ArtPrize was an enormous civic project turning this city into a stage and infusing creative energy into every corner for 19 days because Grand Rapids was uniquely ready for and supportive of it. It is each community's challenge, and I think leadership needs to come from the private sector, to find interesting and transformative projects that take advantage of each place's unique characteristics and strengths. There are many aspects to the design and principles behind ArtPrize that other cities can learn from in creating those projects, and we are happy that ArtPrize can serve as a model and inspiration in those efforts.”

Mayor Heartwell says that additional cultural activities have added to the attraction of the downtown core including a blocks-long downtown water slide and a zombie walk. In Grand Rapids? In anywhere?

In addition to learning from the ArtPrize model, can any mid-sized manufacturing city replicate the other things Grand Rapids has done?

<table cellspacing="10" width="300" align="right"> <tbody> <tr> <td><img height="195" alt="" src="" width="300"> <table cellspacing="1" width="300" align="right"> <tbody> <tr> <td> One way of getting people downtown is a "Zombie Walk."</td></tr></tbody></table></td></tr></tbody></table>

One way toward the future lies in the sharing of basic services with neighboring municipalities. It can pay real dividends but, cautions Heartwell, “It requires time, a certain amount of trust between the core city and its suburban neighbors. We have had conversations with the mayors of our five suburban communities. We genuinely like each other and enjoy working together. We’ve also taken on the challenge of looking at new ways by which we can improve our efficiency through consolidation of services.” Grand Rapids now shares emergency services dispatch with neighboring Wyoming, Mich.

Another way in which Grand Rapids is leading the way is in providing wi-fi access across the entire city. “I had been concerned about the ‘digital divide’ and how low-income people would have access to wireless,” Heartwell explains, “so I negotiated with our vendor for a price of less than $10 a month for 5 percent of our population.” Other residents have a choice of 3G or 4G service, still at reasonable rates. Additionally, municipal employees such as building inspectors and police and fire personnel have high-speed access in their vehicles. This streamlines city services because building inspectors can file reports from their vehicle instead of having to go back to their office. Fire responders can know in advance about the floor plan of a burning building, where utility shut-offs are and what types of chemicals or other hazardous substances may be inside, thanks to additional technology.

As noted earlier, Grand Rapids has more LEED-certified buildings per capita than any other city. The concept of sustainability is deeply rooted in its DNA, going back to its earliest Dutch settlers. Heartwell explains, “I think there’s a growing focus on sustainability among cities that are really successful today. They understand it not simply as environmental stewardship, but as a path to economic growth, stability and vitality.”

Heartwell says that when he took office seven years ago he threw out the traditional process of strategic planning in favor of a sustainability template based on the triple bottom line.

[A side note: the triple bottom line is now a generally accepted standard for public sector full-cost accounting. It refers to a recognition that the “3-P’s” of people, planet and profit (or social, ecological and economic sectors) represent a better measure of a successful organization than simply a single bottom line number on a balance sheet. The three factors are now so intertwined that they can’t, and shouldn’t, be separated, but can be reported holistically.]

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