Residential foreboding

I moved into my present accommodations about three years ago. At the time, I was quite pleased with the apartment complex and my new neighbors. The property was quiet, the relations distant but respectful, and the scenery (overlooking a duck pond) tranquil.

I’ve learned that for most of this time, the complex has been operating at less-than-full capacity. This has recently changed, however, and I’m curious as to whether property management lowered their standards to effect this increased occupancy rate.

Over the last six months, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of new residents who act as if they’re the only people in the building. Foot traffic (e.g., stomping) has been a constant nightmare, and now there are people everywhere — by the pond, at the door, on balconies — playing loud music and holding very public cell-phone conversations about fights, drinking, who’s cheating on whom, and court dates. In a grating patois of English, Spanish and “urban slang.” Twice in the last six months, I’ve had to call the police on noise disturbances from my neighbors.

A year ago, I would not have been too worried about leaving my door unlocked. I didn’t always know my neighbors personally, but we knew each other by sight, and there’s a certain comfort in that. Now, though, I don’t recognize many of them — and of the new residents, I feel as if I’ve stepped into a climate marked by a much lower degree of socioeconomic development.

My growing apprehension about my immediate environs is matched by a certain frustration about the economic development of Kent County, Mich. Historically, the suburbs of Grand Rapids grew counter-clockwise from the southwest, starting in Grandville and moving around through Wyoming/Kentwood and then to points north, along the East Beltline. The “West Side” — consisting of Walker and outer Grand Rapids on the west side of the Grand River — has been the last to grow, but the outer ring of suburbs is now effectively closed.

It looks, though, that the process is beginning again. I’ve been driving lately to points south of the Grand Rapids metro area, down to the Kent/Allegan county line. It is astonishing to see how many McMansions are popping up in developments in heretofore rural area along US-131, in Byron Center and various points south. Whether this is a function of the M-6/”South Beltline” development or the next phase of growth in the Grand Rapids area is beyond my ability to predict.

Yet, it raises the ugly specter of a long no-mans land between the revitalized urban core and the new, wealthy suburbs far along the periphery. I’m not sure there’s a coherent plan for ensuring that the miles and miles of developments in between don’t slide into decay.

Just three years ago, for example, the two strip malls by my apartment complex featured reasonable retail establishments. Those have gradually been replaced by a variety of check-cashing fronts, tanning salons, and other harbingers of socioeconomic malaise.

Perhaps this means nothing; perhaps I’m simply viewing my surroundings in a new way because of the changes to my own circumstances. Even if so, the signs of decay are growing. Will we, as a community, have the prudence to avoid the decline of metro Grand Rapids?

I am eager to see how this plays out, although it will soon be from a much different vantage point.

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