Ford launches GR ‘City of Tomorrow Challenge’

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Ford Motor Company’s crowdsourcing effort to figure out a better way to move people in the coming decades is underway in Grand Rapids.

Ford picked Grand Rapids to launch a new vision for mobility, and city residents will be driving the effort.

Dell, Microsoft, AT&T, PlanetM and The Right Place will also be involved in the eight-month program, which taps the community for feedback about mobility issues and possible solutions.

In the final stage, Ford will reward $100,000 to test out the top ideas as pilot programs.

The person leading the challenge for Ford is a West Michigan native.

“Launching this program here is extra special for me,” Ford Vice President for City Solutions John Kwant said at a Wednesday morning news conference announcing the challenge.

“It’s personal. I grew up here,” he added.

But when Kwant left West Michigan in 1985, the Lowell native never imaged what he’d come back to, decades later.

“To see what this city has become is truly amazing. It’s a richer city culturally. It’s more diverse,” he said.

Grand Rapids is also a good test track for the future of “mobility” — the buzzword for getting from point A to point B.

Kwant leads the effort for a company investing heavily in autonomous and electrified vehicles and promoting the idea the way we get around today, isn’t necessarily how we’ll travel decades from now.

The automaker’s recent purchase of the Michigan Central Station is one example. The yearslong symbol of Detroit’s decay will soon serve as the hub for Ford’s mobility research and development.

The City of Tomorrow Challenge, which is already collecting input from residents about what works, what doesn’t work and what might be worth a try, is another example.

“The creative thinking of those who live, work and play in our city is key to ensuring that this is truly a great place for everyone both today, and for generations to come,” said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

Grand Rapids is one of only three cities Ford chose for the Challenge, joining the ranks of Pittsburgh and Miami-Dade.

“It says a lot for us. And I think it’s one of many things in which the city is punching above its weight class,” said Grand Rapids Director of Mobility and Parking, Josh Naramore.

>>WATCH: Ford, Grand Rapids leaders announce City of Tomorrow Challenge

“They could have gone out West. But it didn’t take too long to realize that they only needed to drive two-and-a-half hours west to West Michigan, to the city of Grand Rapids. That’s because Grand Rapids has a true appreciation and commitment for great design. It’s in your DNA — you’ve been doing it for decades, you’ve been transforming people’s daily lives for decades. Whether it’s the carpet sweeper, the office chair, public funded art installations,” said Trevor Paul from Michigan’s mobility group, PlanetM.

Kwant, who was not involved in which cities were picked for the Challenge, says Ford was looking for rapidly growing cities with different populations and mobility challenges.

“So Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, Miami — they’re all very different. But in many ways, they’re all looking for the same things,” he said.

The City of Tomorrow Challenge involves a community discussion on mobility with the hope of coming up with solutions that affect the way people live and move today and in the future.

Kwant says population growth projections are driving the need for cities to plan for the future.

“Over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities today.

Some demographers say it’s going to go north of 60 percent by 2030.

If that’s the case, our cities will become even more congested,” he added.

The challenge will also address equity in mobility, making sure people from underserved areas also have a way to get around, including to jobs that are inaccessible without a vehicle.

“This is a great opportunity for us to focus on the southeast portion of the city and the 49507 zip code, to help address some of those variables,” said Naramore.

Grand Rapids also launched a website Wednesday where visitors can share their visions and learn more about the City of Tomorrow Challenge.

Community members can start submitting ideas the week of July 23. The semifinalists will be announced in September. They will attend a prototyping session and meet with mentors to refine their ideas before submitting a final pilot proposal.

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