Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, Reporter
Photo courtesy of GR Forward
Grand Rapids may soon regain its aqueous namesake after nearly a century as a project to remove the Sixth St. Dam and reconstruct the river bed gathers strength. Grasping the full scope of the project is difficult to do alone, but a unique upcoming event will provide an inside look at the scientific and social significance of the rapids restoration project.
On Feb. 15 the Aquinas College Center for Sustainability will be hosting a forum from 6:00-8:30 p.m. in Wege Ballroom to provide information to the school and city community. “Grand River Revitalization and Rapids Restoration: Exploring a Holistic Approach to a Complex Project” brings a panel of social and scientific experts to discuss the widespread effects of returning whitewater to Grand Rapids. Representatives from Grand Rapids Whitewater, the City of Grand Rapids Engineering Department and the Experience GR tourism organization, as well as an ecologist, will be discussing the benefits and challenges of the project with facilitation by Sr. Damien Marie Savino.
Goals of the event are threefold, according to the Center for Sustainability’s director Jessica Bowen. First, the forum aims to inform the community about the rapids restoration project, including details and recent progress. Second, the panel has been developed to “look at the project through multiple lenses and impact points, highlighting benefits and potential problems or obstacles from both the human and ecological perspectives.” Finally, attendees will be shown the project’s connection to integral ecology and Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical “Laudato Si.”
The final goal drives the forum’s focus on the relationship between humans and their environment. Integral ecology, emphasized within “Laudato Si,” is the concept of a bond joining people and the natural world. It requires an cohesive approach to environmental issues that considers the needs of both realms. Economicology, the theory created by Aquinas donor Peter Wege, integrates this idea with the world of business. Defined by Wege as the “11th Commandment,” economicology is reasoned, respectful, engaged stewardship of the Earth in service of both people and the planet. It focuses on six “E’s”: Economics, Environment, Ecology, Ethics, Empathy and Education.
This connection to some fundamental values of Aquinas is what makes the event a good fit for the Center for Sustainability. Director Bowen is excited for the forum because it gives the community an opportunity to explore sustainability and learn about its impacts on a large scale. The restoration of the rapids has far more factors involved than the personal responsibility of recycling a water bottle or turning off the lights that define many people’s experience of sustainability. The project holds the potential to change tourism, recreation, river health, fishermen’s quality of life, city planning and businesses along the riverfront, to name a few. Bowen feels that these many impacts are what make the project interesting, and will “help people understand some of the complexities of sustainability” that they may not have been exposed to before.
Social reactions to rapids restoration are just as complicated, described by Bowen as largely gut reactions. These “oh cool!”s and “oh no!”s are largely biased by past experience and colored by discomfort over uncertainty of the outcome.
This dimension adds to the importance of the event. While many campus happenings are geared towards students, the forum is open to the public, and the Center for Sustainability hopes to connect with the greater community over a uniting project. The event is free and dinner is provided, but registration is requested. Registration is also available on the campus events calendar.