She was late. Her intern said her council meeting had run late but she was on her way. I didn’t mind much, it was very sunny out and I enjoyed waiting in the sun. Out the back door of the entirely too small office for the South Lansing Community Development Association, I watched as an intern and an Americorp worker quickly worked to lash down the new hoop house flaps from the strong winds of hurricane Sandy.
Within minutes my ride arrived with similar hurricane force as she checked with her intern, checked her computer, freshened up and prepared for her ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled later that day. As we jumped into her car, with a glint in her eye and an equally bright glint off her diamond stud in her nostril, she looked at me and said; “So, why are you discouraged by the south side? “
To say Kathie Dunbar is a straight shooter is an understatement. It’s more like she unabashedly gives everything she does her heart and soul. I first met Kathie at the Mid Michigan Addy Awards in 2009. She was our table mate as well as our emcee for the night. At Ignite 3.0 she came out on stage at the Knapps building with a life sized cut out of Larry Page, CEO of Google in hopes to promote Lansing as the recipient of Google’s Fiber to Home give-away.
In 2011 before performing her often raunchy comedic skit for Earth Day’s “Laugh with a Purpose”, we sat in the Temple Club’s basement chatting over donated Carraba’s baked ziti.
It’s her exuberance that makes her great at everything she does, whether it’s standup comedy, city council Vice President or Executive Director of South Lansing Community Development Association. She’s a good person for Lansing and she’s a great person to know. So when Kathie invited me to do a drive along on the south side so she could show me what she’s been up to, I definitely said yes.
We started by checking out the newly created pathway, which was having its ribbon cutting ceremony that day. Now, this isn’t your typical sidewalk. In fact it’s not a sidewalk. It’s an 8 foot, asphalt path for walkers and bikers that travels from Mt. Hope to Jolly Rd. on the east side of Waverly Rd. Being that it’s a path and not a sidewalk (very similar to Hawk Island/Scott’s Woods) the city is required to maintain it and it will not be an additional burden to the home owners.
The layout of the path actually adds quite a lot of style to the homes situated along the pathway. Today I walked a chunk from Holmes to Mt. Hope and found it very pleasant. It meanders away from the busy road and the breadth allows passing walkers to graciously pass each other without the uncomfortable closeness that other Lansing sidewalks create. The second phase of this urban pathway will be an off road path from Aurelius along Jolly and will greatly advance the mobility of the walking and biking community for this south side region.
Our next few stops were multiple urban gardens. One large garden area was exclusively used by community refugees who were desperately in need of the growing space. Even this late in the growing season, it was evident the growing ability of this group. With this new area for growing they would no longer need to trek miles to get to useable land. It is now, literally, in their backyard.
As we drove, Kathie outlined many of the complications with the south side area. And just for the record the south side is pretty much anything south of I-496. It’s a very large and diverse section of Lansing; almost 2/3 of it in fact. It has the largest green space of the city, the fewest “historical” areas (which means it doesn’t receive the incentives of other areas for rebuilding and advancement), and a high concentration of commercial space. So if it was your job to advance this area, it could be quite challenging. Lucky for this area Kathie likes a challenge. And that’s no joke.