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Voices and Stories of Travellers

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The City of Tomorrow Challenge offered three opportunities last month for Grand Rapidians to meet-up face-to-face and wrestle with the sticky challenge of transportation. These community workshops were facilitated by Kate Hunt, partner at Furtherd°, on behalf of OpenIDEO to present stories, share ideas, and dream up solutions that take on real mobility needs. This people-centered, collaborative approach was a new and engaging activity for some. It used a “bottom-up” path to understand the experience of everyday people and focused on real-life events and solutions that respond to those experiences.


Each design workshop featured a panel of four local community members who shared their transportation and mobility stories. We heard from Sylvia, a refugee from Rwanda, about trying to get to college classes by bus and car. We heard Rachel’s story. She encourages her child to walk to places in her neighborhood. We heard from Dominga who has become an expert in navigating a complicated bus system. She is an early-adopter of (and evangelist for) the new transit payment card in Grand Rapids. 

In the first community working session the conversation leaned towards riding the bus, which made sense since this event was held at the Central Station of The Rapid, the local transit system. One table coined the term “Am’bus’ador”. This creative label described a helpful person that teaches others how to ride the bus. Fungai, an operations analyst at a large local employer, commented on the opportunity for employers to attract and retain employees by helping them access public or shared transportation. One of the learnings from this sessions was that smaller employers could join forces with others to sponsor transportation that is available at the beginning and end of shifts. 



The second community working session was held in the Garfield Park and battled a blustery day of wind. Kids were practicing football nearby and some gridiron parents joined the transportation discussion. Amelia described the challenge of sending her young daughter to school by bus —due to a degenerative muscle disease, unaccompanied bus travel is not a safe option for her, so her mother has arranged her schedule to drive her everyday instead. Chris described his experience of traveling on the bus with a wheelchair. This workshop, like the others, coached participants to identify themes or insights from the stories. Then, those seated at the picnic tables started dreaming up projects, programs or products that could  “extend mobility options”, which is one of the opportunity areas of the Grand Rapids Challenge.



The Hispanic Center hosted the last community working session that focused on the mobility experiences of the Latinx community. The workshop was conducted largely in Spanish with English translation. Ken described using a bicycle and the bus to get from home to work and back. Sometimes he adds a ride-sharing trip to his daily routine. When asked what she would do to improve transportation, if she had a magic wand, Dominga said that she would tell all her friends and neighbors how to ride the bus, especially how to request a transfer ticket so that they don’t pay twice. This event was joined by 9 students and two professors from a collaborative design class at the Kendall College of Art and Design. They will be using the City of Tomorrow Challenge as a seven-week class design project. The session tackled the complex, multi-model transportation systems we use to move around our city and how we can enable smart transportation choices for Grand Rapidians.


Designing changes to society shouldn’t happen in isolated cubicles. It should happen in community meetings, in neighborhood parks, in several languages, and with all types of people. It should include the voices and stories of travellers: those that walk to work, drive a car to school, catch a bus to the store, or ride a bike to the gym. Everyday people experience their worlds in unique ways. 

At the end of the third event, one participant, a transportation activist and panelist Cassaundra, spoke about how these community workgroups show that the need for improved transportation and mobility affects all social groups, demographics and communities. She stated that she found it interesting that the goals and needs of the Hispanic community are the exact same as those expressed in the Disability Community "We all want access, belonging, inclusion, safety and to be included in the larger process of transportation planning in our neighborhoods." She also mentioned how this universal understanding could help break down the silos of advocacy towards improved mobility, and could help us reach these common goals.

The three community working session helped us learn from those stories and broaden everyone's perspectives of how transportation is experienced by different communities. Their stories will help create solutions to mobility problems and design seamless transportation systems that serve all of us.


Learn more about the Grand Rapids Challenge and submit your ideas and solutions here.



Tom Bulten, Online Facilitator at 100%Open for the City of Tomorrow Challenge

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Grand Rapids

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Great Read!