I notice them. Sometimes I use them as a gauge of the economic climate of the neighborhood I am visiting. But any time I see a home or business empty and vacant; for sale or lease signs plunged into the ground like a surrender flag, I cringe a little. I tell myself that things are getting better and in fact there aren’t as many neglected homes as some other cities. Sometimes seeing two or three boarded up homes with overgrown yards and broken windows breaks my heart. I wonder if the families lost their home to foreclosures. Or did they just move on with no one willing or waiting to take their place. With hardships hitting so many hard working families it’s moments like today that really fill me with hope for Lansing. Today I was part of a rebirth celebration. A Ground Breaking Ceremony! Board of Water and Light has commenced their highly anticipated construction of its first natural gas power plant. Located in the heart of REO Town, the new 182 million building will be built at The Grand Trunk Lansing Depot on Washington Ave. The old train depot, which is also getting refurbished in the deal, will be used as a conference center for community events. It’s a revitalization that this area needs desperately. If this area could be rebuilt with sheer determination it would be thriving. This is an area where graffiti artists create masterpieces. It is where non profits occupy many of the store fronts and store owners put signs in the windows saying “customers wanted”. It’s a place where a homeowner would buy the foreclosed house next door and through donations and volunteer work provide a micro community center. It’s the type of neighborhood where they put up their own sign, with pride. Despite all that, this area still struggles with its isolation from other thriving areas to the north. There’s a hope in the decision by BWL to grow their business in REO Town. Today we pulled into the once closed off parking area, preceded by a line of cars in an already full lot and followed by a string of cars behind us despite the lateness of our arrival. The very large tent erected for the event was packed full, bulging out at every entry way with attendants hoping to get out of the rain. Introductions were soon made by J. Peter Lark, General Manager of Board and Water & Light. We were graced with the optimistic comments of Governor Rick Snyder and the boisterous, entertaining speech of Mayor Virg Bernero. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of something new, something revitalized and something hopeful. For the next 18 months, until its completion, it will actively showcase a sign that Lansing’s still here, still progressing and still full of people who truly would give anything to see this city thriving again.
Check these REO Town Staples out!
Just B Yoga
Studio Intrigue Architects
I didn’t walk and I didn’t saunter; at least not on any of Lansing’s streets. However, I did walk. A lot! Due to a very busy volunteer schedule I was unable to take any time to saunter the streets of Lansing. On Thursday I volunteered at Allen Neighborhood Center. This center is located on Kalamazoo St. between Clemens and Pennsylvania. They provide numerous services to the East Side community. So many in fact that our host, Heather Hymes, went on for a good half hour describing all the events, programs and services they do provide. As she spoke our small group of volunteers folded 5000 newsletters that will be hand delivered to the East Side neighborhood by another set of volunteers! Besides offering registration for health and safety programs they sponsor the Allen Street Farmers Market that operates every Wednesday from May 18-October 26 from 2:30pm to 7:00pm. They also sponsor World Day at Hunter Park. This year it will be held on June 11th from noon until 8pm at Hunter Park. Another great feature is the Hunter Park Community Garden house located in Hunter Park. If you haven’t taken time to check these out, you should!
Wine & Stein at Potter Park Zoo
Later Thursday night I was asked to be a volunteer photographer for the Wine &
Stein event hosted by Potter Park Zoo. Despite not walking any streets, I am sure I circled the park at least 10 times. It was an amazing night where
community adults could mingle, taste samples from many local restaurants, sample a variety of beer and wine and meander through the zoo while doing so. The paths were all adorned with lights and flower topped tables and the soft melodies performed by Ying and Yang set the mood. It was an excellent night and all there seemed to enjoy themselves.
TEDx Lansing 2011
Early the next morning I was once again a volunteer photographer for TEDx Lansing 2011. What an honor it was to get to participate in this event for the second year. It was located at the Wharton Center in the middle of Michigan State University campus. And again, despite not walking in Lansing I did find myself walking quite a bit in East Lansing. TEDx Lansing is an all day conference where speakers address the audience in 20 minute sessions describing a topic that they are passionate about. The idea is to catapult folks into thinking about things in a new way. This year’s speakers did not disappoint.
I hope to get back on schedule with my walking. Spring (possibly summer) has finally arrived and will make my walks that much more enjoyable.
Check out my photos from these extraordinary events here! Here is my Flickr Link
I love gardening. When I was little I remember my dad letting me turn over a section of yard one year. We then went to the store and I was allowed to pick anything I wanted to grow. I picked bachelor buttons. And they grew! This ability to create something from almost nothing forever instilled in me a desire to garden. I have put a garden in every year for the last 15 years. When I lived on Cooper Ave. the garden would out grow its bed and travel across most of the back yard. I would often take the extra tomatoes and zucchini and pass them out to neighbors. One year we even grew pumpkins and I gave the little girl next door her very own. I love the idea of growing and sharing. The first Ignite had a speaker who shared the idea of urban gardening in the Flint area. They were taking plots that homes once sat on and turning them into community gardens. It seems this wonderful idea has taken root here in Lansing as well. As I walked along Barnes Ave. I came across two such plots. One was the St. Casimir and Moores Park community garden directly across the street from St. Casimir School. The second was on the east side of Barnes Ave. If I had not been brought to this section of street by the Lunch With a Purpose group (and before starting this project), I am sure I would never have traveled it. There’s a set of three streets; Barnes, Garden, and Isabel, that run west to east, parallel to each other. These three streets dead end into Martin which dead ends to the north into a small park and rail road tracks to the south. The isolation of this area creates a unique environment. The neighbors outside, and there were many, all talked to each other and were not shy to talk to me. One resident began chatting away almost as soon as she saw me, telling me about the great garage sale going on across the street. The house I parked in front of had a little boy playing and the adult supervising him greeted me politely. Down on Martin street I came across a house where two little girls were playing. The younger one was more than eager to explain to me that she and the other girl were wearing the same colored clothes. She then insisted that I take her picture. I was so moved by her sincerity that I plan to make a print and take it back to her. This type of community friendliness permeated the neighborhood. There is a sense here that everyone looks out for each other and Village Summit is a great example of that. When a house in the neighborhood went into foreclosure Marcus Brown and his wife, the owners of the house next door, decided to purchase it; with great hopes of turning it into a Micro Community Center. Located in the heart of this neighborhood they provide tutoring, books, computer resources, resume and job search assistance. They also have a community garden. Today I helped organize and clean inside the 100-year-old home and add compost to the garden. This is the essence of grass roots. The signs are all hand painted. It appeared that a large portion of the contents of the center were donated. While I was working in the garden I was hand delivered a large mason jar full of ice water, along with an apology for not having bottled.
Before I arrived at Village Summit I did a quick walk down W. Barnes Ave and Moores River Drive. I came across this sign:
Wise words from one of Lansing’s prominent resident and a fellow gardener.
I have been actively using Facebook for almost 3 years now. I originally opened an account to locate classmates from my Eastern 1988 alumni class. We were searching out ways to connect with this class for future reunions. I took it upon myself to locate as many classmates as I could. That research led me to Facebook, where a group of about 10 classmates had joined this new on line networking site. I began sharing through emails that I had started a group on Facebook specifically for our alumni class. We steadily grew to over 100 within months. As more friends came on line more groups were formed, I soon found myself included in groups for Gier Park, my elementary school; Otto, my junior high school; Eastern, my high school and even a specific group of people who grew up on the north side of Lansing generally from the mid 1970’s to 1980’s called North Side Old Timers. Recently Facebook upgraded its group format. The new formatting of these groups now post updates more clearly. There will be a notification letting me know that someone from my group has put something on the “wall”. There is also a function to open chat windows and communicate with anyone in the group that is online at that time. In the last week I have been inundated with communication from people I went through school with; passing virtual notes, without the fancy folding, back and forth. With some of these people it feels uninterrupted, like twenty years hasn’t passed since we rode the bus together, walked to class side by side, or laughed hysterically at some ridiculous inside joke.
Today I walked another chunk of the neighborhood I grew up in. And much like falling into rhythms with childhood friends on Facebook, walking the streets and neighborhoods that bore my steps day after day and year after year, felt like putting on a well-worn favorite coat. As I walked I felt a comfortable familiarity. It’s like knowing you can automatically get into grandma’s refrigerator for a snack without asking for permission. You feel like it’s yours. I felt like these were my neighbors all in homes I’ve known for so many years. Each car that passed by was someone I knew I knew. I didn’t, but it felt like I could or that I should. The smiling faces of children playing matched almost too perfectly with the face of a thirty year old memory I’ve cherished of a child just about their age. I have in me the history of being a north side girl. It is who I am. I have always been a part of this group, and many others. It’s extremely interesting to me that it’s taken an online program that can organize people in such a way that they naturally form the groups that are significant to them. I feel honored to be part of some amazing groups with amazing people who I still call friends.
On this walk I was joined by the sweet and lovely Rebecca Eldridge. I thank her for her complete support of City Saunter and Lansing. I also greatly appreciate the opportunity she gave me to share some of my north side stories with her.
Lansing has recently started a new project. Determined to entice the young, hip and East Lansing based into unknown territory, a group of wise folks have established Lansing’s First Friday. Lansing’s First Friday is a collaborative effort of over 75 businesses offering great deals on the first Friday of every month. The part that pulls it all together is the free trolley/busing system that offers free transportation between these businesses. I decided to participate in today’s First Friday. I pulled up the participating businesses and their offers and set a plan of action to walk to as many of these as I could. I started my walk at Re-Threads in East Lansing. Today they are offering 10% off all purchases. Re-Threads is a cute name for a cute store that re-sells clothing. As I walked in I was greeted by a friendly woman at the register. It wasn’t an over the top hello but nice enough. All the of the shirts were organized by color; a rainbow of organization any Type A personality would enjoy. My moment of joy quickly faded when I realized that, despite being all matched together by color, they were not organized by size. Within a few minutes of perusing the colorful clothing I also had another depressing realization; I was in a used clothing store in the middle of MSU campus. A campus full of slight, pre maternal young woman. Here’s an example of the clothing sizes; 0,2,4,6,8,10 12+. I realized I wasn’t going to find much at this store. After a quick walk through a wonderfully flowering campus I arrived at Harrison Roadhouse; my second destination. I entered and with great confidence I told the host that I needed a table for one. As a mother of 4 and married for over 19 years, I don’t think I have dined alone for 20 years. He looked back at me and offered me a spot at the bar. He mumbled that MSU graduation was today and they were expecting a lot of customers. Hmm, what was I? I told him I would prefer a table and told him I wouldn’t be staying long. Once at my little table, tucked along the side, I sat my camera down and pulled out my notebook. There is much power that comes with having a camera around your neck. I get looks. I get questions. But when you add in a notebook in a restaurant, I get good service! The young man politely took my order which included their First Friday special of a $3 Long Island Ice Tea. Despite having a little too much ice, it was quite good. I pulled out my camera to take a photo of it and that’s when I realized I forgot to put my battery back into my camera. I drew a picture, though.
After having my battery hand delivered (thanks Pat) I continued my walk into Lansing. I had previously walked all of Michigan Ave. into Lansing so I crossed over to Kalamazoo St. This is the same area that a large group of prostitutes, johns and I would assume pimps (do we even use those terms anymore?) were picked up in a big sting a week ago. I was determined to walk it though. I am happy to say that I made the whole journey without incident and was even passed by an old friend who yelled a quick hello as he drove by.
Once onto Washington Sq. I quickly made it to my final destination, Decker’s Coffee. I had been anxious to check out this famed place. On my walk with Mike McCallum he mentioned that he used Decker’s in one of his films. For First Friday they were offering $.95 ice cream cones all day. I went in and fell in love. The walls were brightly colored and covered with posters of all the wonderful and exciting things that continuously take place around Lansing. The one customer there addressed the server by name and felt comfortable discussing menu options. When it was my turn to order I told the two young woman behind the counter that I was doing a First Friday tour to which they replied; “Do you want an ice cream cone?” I smiled! Of course I do! I explained how I walked in from East Lansing and they both seemed genuinely interested in my travels. The server helping me then asked me which flavor ice cream I wanted and listed off a variety of flavors; not just vanilla. I was truly impressed by this time! I also ordered a coffee since I was a bit wet from the passing rain storm that ended in a flourish of hail. After they quickly put together my order I found a cozy table by the window and enjoyed my Michigan Black Bear ice cream with my small coffee with cream.
When I was about to leave I left my City Saunter card with the two woman. A few minutes later one of them, Jessica Decker, came around the corner. She knew who I was. She had learned about my project from Michael McCallum, who had described it to her when he went on one of my walks with me. It put a smile on my face.
When I finished I went outside. Washington Square is really a gorgeous area in Lansing. While looking at the buildings around me I noticed this absolutely amazing building across the street. I walked over and took some photos of the intricate design work. When I finished I looked up and in front of me was Michael McCallum walking quickly past. I laughed to myself because this was the third time in recent weeks that we’ve crossed paths. After a quick hug and some chit chat, I mentioned the building I had been looking at. He then tells me that it was the old theater and that it’s amazing inside. He suggests I should go inside and take some photos. When he continues his walk, I do just that. And he was right. It is amazing and it wasn’t even on the First Friday schedule!
Happy First Friday!
You might be thinking I wrote the title incorrectly. I didn’t, really. As I walked the downtown area today I was struck by the awesome size of its structures. I noticed large crowds of superbly dressed citizens walking jovially up and down the streets. I took in the perfectly groomed landscapes of large businesses and neighboring parks. It made me realize that Lansing has capital. There are many who benefit from the capital that strategically flows in and around the Lansing area. But there is also a large part of the population that is struggling. The recent millage defeat is a prime example of people feeling overwhelmed. I push a lot for people to recognize how wonderful Lansing is. And really it is a great city. I also believe that Lansing is a much greater place for those that have extra income to enjoy it. They get to experience the fantastic fair of local restaurants and merchants. A trip down to a Lugnut’s game isn’t a burden. They can afford the entrance fees to Potter Park and all the other Ingham parks. And all the gas it takes to get to any of these activities isn’t a choice between going and dinner. Despite needing extra cash to experience some of Lansing’s finest activities there are still an abundant amount of free events and plenty of places to go without a charge. Lansing doesn’t stray far from its roots; that of hard working low to middle class Americans, and provides many opportunities for fun without the high costs. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town is one of my favorite “It’s Summer Time” activities. The booklets are $1 for adults and children under 3 do not require a passport. Of course this could involve a lot of driving but there are bus routes along the way that provide all day transportation for $.50. The River Trail is also a wonderful way to get from one end of Lansing, to the other end, to the other end. So many groups in the Lansing area realize that times are difficult and seek out ways to help. I think that is one of the greatest qualities of this little city. On the other side, you don’t have to be rich to be a volunteer. Sometimes the reward of giving despite not having a lot yourself makes you feel very, very rich. It’s easy to get downtrodden with all the negativity around. Maybe you aren’t being waited on at Troppo enjoying your Filet a la Troppo, but there’s nothing wrong with making a fire at a local park, grilling up some tube steaks and watching the kids run around the playground. You might run into me and my family there!
This photo inspired this post today. Some can pay their respects with expensive roses, bought quickly from a storefront. But many of us, not able to purchase such a prize, look around for a hidden treasure to show how much we care. It might not seem like much, but it took so much more effort and thought. Some of us show our love and respect with dandelions.