The River City contingent of the Urban Planeteers have kicked up a minor fuss on their site over my last mention of them on this site. To the set the record straight, I was banned from Urban Planet after I voiced my objection to the restrictions the site's host placed upon a participant who had voiced his sympathy with giving minority residents of G.R. a larger say in urban development. The host had compared this to supporting a Klan rally that had been held near Spring Lake. I thought the host had acted unfairly and was giving the discussion a nasty and entirely pointless racial cast, and I said so. I of course engaged in neither name-calling or incoherent rants, contrary to the recollections of one the regular Planeteers. Not much of a flame war, folks.
None of this important, except that it points to a larger problem evidenced by the Planeteer mentality. The Planeteers are enamored with the idea that Grand Rapids can be planned into a "Cool City". There are obvious problems with this, the most fundamental of which is how do you plan a city to be cool? Another big problem, who gets to say what's cool and what's not? Once the government gets involved, how do you contain the corruption of public-private partnerships?
However, the worst problem with the "Cool City" concept is that it is utopian and elitist. If you don't fit into the plan, you're out. Hence, the Urban Planet host's impatience with the idea that the uncool elements of River City should be guaranteed a say in downtown development. To be sure, you can be dark-skinned in Cool City -- just make sure you are young, beautiful, and a professional. As for wearing a blue-collar around town, fuggetabuddit. Old, fat, or ugly? No room for you in Cool City. Of course, no normal person would want to live in Cool City. It would be like being trapped in a never-ending episode of "Friends". Egads!
The thing is Grand Rapids is a cool city, or at least it was. Thirty years ago it was a cool city for a working stiff to get a decent job and raise a family. The city was peaceful, pleasant, and affordable. Sure, downtown was a drag during the brief era between the collapse of the big department stores there and the return of the nightlife. But the neighborhood parks were great, the public schools were solid, and the civic life vibrant. We may not have had big concerts rolling through town, but tell me that the annual river raft race wasn't a classically cool city thing?
Maybe a lot of people think my idea of cool is pretty square. I can't argue. To each his own ... and that's the point many of the Urban Planeteers don't get.