Sitting in the middle of opportunity: Lansing, MI

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Below find the full text with links of the Op Ed I wrote for LSJ – find the published version HERE


Lansing, MI: so much like so many places in the Midwest. Whether you call it the Rust Belt (a term that came out of the 1984 Presidential Campaign and many find pejorative, but I embrace), or the more euphemistic “Productivity Belt”, “Manufacturing Belt” or the slightly better “Legacy Cities” – or any other attempt at rebranding – there’s something going on here.

Lansing is proud to have been selected to work with the National League of Cities Cities of Opportunity program and the Lincoln Institute Legacy Cities pilots on efforts tailored to Lansing and similar cities – cheers! to our friends in Akron and Rochester. This part of the world matters a lot. Whether it’s food production, the presence of fresh water, the fact that ~70 million people live here or the lessons of what happens in the evolution of American cities there is much worth discovering in this part of the country. Where’s the Rust Belt? While the boundaries are debatable, Belt Magazine provides a good map and description.

With 9,000 other Opportunity Zones across the country, what makes this place a unique investment opportunity? I’ll make a case for Lansing specifically, but feel free to extrapolate out to the Rust Belt as a whole. Many people are trying to figure out where the middle has gone. It’s here and it’s in places like here and with places like Lansing.

Lansing historically has been a company town, of three types. The regional economy has been a three-legged stool: State Government, Michigan State University, and General Motors. Although that represents three sectors (government, academia, and big industry), the large institutional mentality is similar across all. For a long time, careers were linear, the pathway to the middle and upper middle class was identifiable and predictable, and the system provided a model. This mentality is tough to apply to the realities of today’s economy.

Thankfully our young professionals are moving away from this thinking. Recognizing that the linear ladder no longer exists, they’re making their own way. The economy is diversifying with the insurance sector (6 companies are headquartered here providing 10,000 jobs), advanced manufacturing, and small creative enterprise everywhere. The types of businesses arriving and growing are important, but the mentality is even more important. People of all ages are embracing nimble careers that are more jungle gym than ladder and breaking out of the institutional thinking that has served us well for a long time, but no longer does. It should also be noted that the Midwestern Work Ethic is real.

The quality of life proposition is strong in Lansing. Commute times are minimal (mine is a 40 min leisurely walk, 10-minute bike or electric scooter, 30 minutes by bus, or 5 minutes by car). In fact, on average Lansing residents enjoy 16.4 more days of life per year than the rest of the country because of the saved commute time. A key feature that cannot be downplayed is the ability to “adult early”, or rather “adult on time” here in Lansing. Our offices are full of young professionals in their mid-twenties who have purchased a home, set down some roots, and have begun building wealth through real estate. That’s an unheard-of proposition in many parts of the country. While that kind of commitment can be seen as constraining nimble career moves, the mentality I’ve heard is more of freedom – leveraging that asset or renting it out as career moves may come. It’s investment without constriction and is the new energy of this place.

Lansing and other Legacy Cities have great bones and community investments that just need a little renovation to make them shine again. Lansing residents enjoy 40% more parkland per capita than the national average. The centerpiece is the 16 mile Lansing Regional Trail that connects the major regional centers together and makes them easily accessible by bike. It has a renewed appreciation for the rivers that run through the city and the Middle Grand River was just designated as a Heritage Waterway by the Department of Natural Resources, demonstrating a renewed commitment to the river as a recreational asset.

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With Michigan State University, the region enjoys the cultural and athletic attractions of a much bigger market and a constant influx of new students and faculty that bring energy, diversity, and ingenuity to the community. There’s also cutting edge technology with the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) – called the second greatest human machine after the CERN— and the #1 Nuclear Physics Department in the country at Michigan State University.  Lansing is located within 90 minutes of both Detroit and Grand Rapids, providing easy access to those key markets in the state.

Neighborhoods in the City of Lansing provide vibrancy and high quality of life. Historic homes, new urban construction, creative commercial pockets, a robust urban agriculture scene and wide open spaces all within the city limits provide a variety of housing options. An abundance of restaurants, festivals, and events can be found in REOTown, Old Town, Downtown and across the region.

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Within the City of Lansing there are unique school offerings within the Lansing School District Pathway Promise, such as biotech, advanced manufacturing, Chinese and Spanish Immersion, and much more. The community has developed a Pre K-16 continuum of education and offers the Lansing SAVE universal children’s savings account through the Lansing Promise post-secondary scholarship program.

Like so many Legacy Cities, we have a heyday in the rearview mirror. We have a bright future ahead, but it won’t be rebuilt in the way that it was. We are building on our strengths and magnifying our unique position in the country. As our Mayor Andy Schor is fond of saying “Lansing’s Time is Now” and our Opportunity Zones are ready to move us into the next wave of Lansing prosperity.

Drinking and the Art of Economic Development

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I’m making a re-entry into this blog…been quite a while.  Took a break for a million reasons, the biggest one being that this natural born consultant took a job (gasp!) In city government!!  Unexpected life twist!!!
Careers are fluid and I’m certainly down with that vibe, but I was asked to serve in an administration that I believe in – so here I am an appointee in Mayor Andy Schor’s cabinet and we’re closing in on the end of our first year.  It fits the bill for me in all ways – more work and more education than you can imagine and meets the Neen James  work credo I adopted years ago of working on projects you love, in places you love, with people you love.  So I’ll be here as long as the Mayor wants me and I’ll share some of the things we’re working on but to stay really up on those just set your google alerts for Lansing, MI and watch it happen in live time – because as the boss says “Lansing’s Time is Now!”
I was able to take some bleisure time last week and head out to the Bay Area.  Lansing was selected as the second Retail Revival city by ebay so I had some work to do there and was in need of a visit to two of the four cutest children on earth.  So – headed out to Napa, CA for a couple of days…
Napa, CA is an actual city.  Like a real city, the engine and anchor of the mythical Napa Valley.  I’m an urbanist and lover of how cities work, the mechanics and logistics of it all.  From the civics and leadership, to the design- both haphazard and intentional, to the public works and all the engineering that goes along with making a city happen everyday.
It’s even more interesting in a place like Napa where they serve as a backbone to the most civilized of adult playgrounds and agricultural wonders.  Magical wineries made for sunset photos and milestone occasions.  Behind all that beauty, somewhere someone is thinking about water, housing, hazard mitigation, smart growth, resilience, zoning, waste management, equity and every other urban challenge.  I love finding that place and seeing what people are thinking.  Preferably while drinking great beer and wine, enjoying wonderful cheese, and contemplating great art…

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Professionally I’m familiar with Napa as they are a fellow Invest Health city, where their team is working diligently on revising housing ordinance to reflect the needs of their community to  address the mass shortage of affordable housing and keeping the now very house rich older residents in their homes.  All this, while adhering to smart growth strategies that keep their most vital resource, the pristine valley, intact. They’re focused on ordinances addressing and incentivizing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Junior ADUs.  That’s a sticky wicket for sure…
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So with this backdrop I set out with Paper Napan Walkabouts to see some sites.  Paper Napan refers to a “non native local” in Napa, a sophisticated dis as the native locals are Linen Napans.  Tour operator Kim McGinness is a Paper Napan married to an Aussie (hence, Walkabouts).  A veteran of the travel industry, when relocating to Napa she looked to create a unique experience to compliment the existing kayak, wine tasting, hot air ballooning, b&b market.  Simultaneously, the Rail Arts District RADNapa was taking off in Napa along the Napa Valley Wine Trail where 12.5 miles of an ambitious 47 mile trail have been constructed.  Kim took these public private investment assets and sought to craft a tour that takes you inside Napa and takes a walk through what most people fly by in the Wine Train.
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Back lit multiple wall map of Napa Valley at CRU @ the Annex

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Flood gates that close and divert water flooding Ox Bow Commons and sparing downtown #sexyinfrastructure indeed

The tour takes you along the trail into some great stops and lands you at what is by far, the biggest work of art in Napa — the Ox Bow Commons project — a wonder of engineering and public investment.  Read about its development HERE  This investment made possible the downtown revitalization happening in Napa.
Ambitious non motorized transit trails, magnificent infrastructure investment, world renowned works of public art, and an insider look at boutique wineries and breweries in the heart of Napa.  Combining all my favorite things into one place and bringing me back to my writing here to share them with you.  Hope you travel widely and get into the guts of the places you go…
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Wine tasting at Robert Craig with the hilarious Corey accompanied by topographical map – yes, please

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Campaign reflections from an operator

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As I continue to work through this week’s election results, thought I’d sit down with Lucy, age 6, who successfully ran her mother Missy Lilje’s bid for the Lansing School District.

Since most political business in this town gets done at The Soup Spoon, I thought we’d meet up there for brunch.  Not surprisingly, it was at least a thirty minute wait for a seat at the bar, which was not going to work for Lucy’s schedule or patience.  So, we headed down to my new favorite Eastside gem, the new Sparrow Hospital cafe–seriously a great addition to the neighborhood.

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We had a great talk over some snacks and hot chocolate.  Lucy, a 1st grader at Post Oak Elementary School in the Chinese Immersion program, frequently answered my questions in Chinese.  Once we clarified that I was unable to handle that, we got down to business.  Here’s an excerpt of what we learned:

Me:  Lucy, are you excited about your Mom’s win?

Lucy:  Yes, and it’s all thanks to me.

Me:  That’s what I heard.  School board elections are tough.  There are many candidates and multiple spots.  That can create confusion.  How did you cut through the noise?  Tell me about your strategy.

Lucy:  Well, I talked to a lot of people.  I handed out many postcards.  I also made a video of my mom saying “Vote for Me” and I put it online for everyone to see.

Me:  I see, so a mix of retail politics and a solid online campaign?

Lucy:  Exactly

Me:  Are you looking forward to your mom serving on the School Board?

Lucy:  Yes, I’ll be watching her on TV.

Editor’s Note:  Um, Lucy do you realize that means watching School Board meetings on TV?  Help. You’re a better citizen than me.

Me:  Lots of people who ran for the Lansing School Board and many other positions didn’t win.  What would you say to them?

Lucy:  Do it again.  You might win next time.lucy-2-3

Clearly time was up, so we headed back down the Avenue with a requisite stop at Fabiano’s for some handmade chocolates and a sucker.

You’re killin the game Lu

 

5 Friday Reflections this Veteran’s Day 2017

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Its a solemn day to reflect on the sacrifices of veteran’s at the end of this tumultuous week in the United States.  This is an important time to pause in humble gratitude.  DF-SC-84-11899

I’ve been working through what this election means and what happens next.  So, now that I’ve over-consumed on simple carbohydrates and taken many thinking walks — my thoughts this Veteran’s Day:

  1. On military service…  Who makes up our current armed services and is it representative of our nation?  Check out this great series of slides. The Air Force has the highest female enlistment and this of course made me think of you, Leann Rawlins, and you choosing service in the Air Force because they weren’t going to make you chop off your hair.  You’re a badass and thank you for your service.  What about Congress and the Presidency?  Well, what a story out of Illinois and Senator-Elect Duckworth  What a humbling bio. Of course, she cannot ascend to the Presidency as she was born in Thailand, talk about the immigrant contribution… tammy-duckworth How about the rest of Congress — here’s a breakdown of  Veteran’s in Congress  As Congress is responsible for declaring war, this is a critical demographic and worthy of consideration and investigation.  What about the Presidency? Well, take a look through this history of service.  Of course we have to go back to George H.W. Bush to find a combat veteran. A Commander in Chief better surround him or herself with exceptional military personnel to effectively lead.

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    Sparks, NV Iron Horse Battalion ROTC Editor’s Note:  I took this photo last month during the presentation of the colors at the Nevada Municipal League Conference.

  2. On Protests… Authors of the Bill of Rights, service members who defend those rights in conflict and peace keeping, and citizens who have fought to preserve and expand those rights to all in this country, know that protests are key to our democracy. I remember sitting in Dr. Gloria Cox’s political science class talking about how wonderful our country is when the United States National Park Service produces a brochure on how to stage a protest in Washington, D.C.  Think about that if you’re fortunate enough to be an American… Our system of  government values your freedoms of assembly and speech so much that it offers guidance on how to express these rights and issues permits to stage the protest against that very same government.  Let that marinate in your mind for a moment… Have something to say?  Great — here’s how to do it effectively  It is your right and your government will help you do it.
  3. On civic engagement… Just a little refresher, as citizens we have both rights and responsibilities.  Here’s a sample:   

    Rights

    Responsibilities

    • Freedom to express yourself.
    • Freedom to worship as you wish.
    • Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury.
    • Right to vote in elections for public officials.
    • Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship.
    • Right to run for elected office.
    • Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
    • Support and defend the Constitution.
    • Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
    • Participate in the democratic process.
    • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
    • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
    • Participate in your local community.
    • Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities.
    • Serve on a jury when called upon.
    • Defend the country if the need should arise.

    These rights and responsibilities are available to all citizens.  How these get executed by the 322 + Million people in the United States will obviously vary.  But one thing I know for sure, civic engagement is not sitting in your Lazy Boy recliner, watching people scream at each other on television about something you already agree with, while typing nasty remarks to people on line who all think the same things you already do.  Slacktivism and snark are the cheap tools of the lazy citizen.  Sitting through an hours long budget meeting and hashing through line-by -line how the overwhelming needs of a nation, state, city, village, or school are going to be met through limited resources is citizenship.  Serving an unpaid 6 year term on a local school board facing multiple complex challenges is citizenship (I see you Missy Lilje and thank you in advance for the work and time you’re about to take on in service to our children and community).  Yes, the outcome of the Presidential election has a monumental impact on our nation and the world.  However, the needs of the local community are always present and there are boards, committees, councils, and organizations in need of our time, talent, and treasure.  This type of work is hard, mundane, and unglamorous.  It is also deeply personal, highly-contentious, and sometimes just bat-shit crazy.  The decisions made at the local and state level impact the daily quality of our lives.  There is work to do — turn off the TV and plug in somewhere for real.

  4. On complexity…  I would like to ban any reference to “both sides”.  The idea that there are two sides to every issue is absolutely absurd.  There are an infinite number of sides to even the simplest of issues.  The hallmark of an educated person is the ability to see the multiple, and possibly conflicting, sides of an issue. The hallmark of a person with emotional intelligence, or EQ, and which is often cited as more important than IQ, is the ability to empathize with another or see another’s perspective.  That requires the ability to connect, listen, switch perspective, and criticize one’s own vantage point.  In other words, complexity.   We are facing incredible challenges locally, nationally, and globally. Beware the simple answer and the shortcut to understanding.  The best we can do is study, learn, debate, listen, implement, tweak, and advance. Then evaluate, review, revise, and advance again.  If you’re not willing to consider that it’s hard, confusing, and complex then please, by all means, stay in that Lazy Boy while those willing to do the work sit at the table.
  5. On immigrants…Between 2% and 3% of the United States population are Native Americans, or between 644,000 and 966,000.  The rest of us 322 Million + people have ancestors that came from somewhere else at sometime along the way.  Maybe your ancestors came here 500 years ago on the Mayflower.  Or maybe 300 years ago in chains and sold into slavery.  Some of our ancestors came fleeing religious persecution in their homeland.  Some of our ancestors came seeking fortune.  Some for jobs, for education, for safety.  Some were hungry for food, for freedom, for love.  We came and became Americans.  I’m, of course, married to an immigrant, by which I mean naturalized citizen.  swearing-in(Editor’s Note:  I first met my husband in that same class referenced above which happened to be Women in Politics, which he enrolled in to meet women. He’s clearly a genius.  In fact, Crawford women have a bit of a track record here — looking at you Kim & Matt McGinness and Rachel & Diego Silva–serious value-adds to this country with those two pickups.  You’re welcome, America).  Want a good cry, watch a few swearing in ceremonies of new American citizens.   I guarantee that whenever your people came here they were hated/feared as well. And if you’re lucky enough to have been born in this country, well–that’s just it, you’re lucky.  Don’t think because you were born on third base you hit a triple.  Point being, none of us are more American than any other American. We’re just flawed, striving people organized under an amazing, complicated, frustrating, infuriating, and beautiful system.              Pause, reflect, then work…..

 

 

 

 

#LOVE Lansing Celebration Opening remarks

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Thank you to everyone (nearly 400 of you!) neighbors who attended the LOVE Lansing Celebration last night.  Congratulations to all of the honorees and thank you for your work to build strong neighborhoods in Lansing.  By request, below are my opening remarks from the event:

In Lansing, we believe that “neighbor” is a verb.  To neighbor is to build the social infrastructure of our community.  It is to do what needs doing.  While it may be to have the meetings and hash out the bylaws and organizational policies of your neighborhood group.  It is most importantly cleaning the park, organizing the potluck, arranging the garage sale, cleaning up the litter, planting the flowers in the snow like we did last weekend, mowing or shoveling for those who cannot, and keeping a watchful eye out for each other’s safety.  It is taking the extra moment in the driveway to talk with one another before heading inside, it is the cup of coffee at each other’s kitchen table.  When we move the lawn chairs from the back deck to the front porch and talk with those around us, we are neighboring and are building our critical social and civic infrastructure. 

 

And moving from the block level to the city level, we are citizens, another great verb.  Residents simply live in a place.  To Citizen is to take responsibility for and ownership of a place.  Citizens see something needing done and don’t think “who can I call to complain about this?”  They think, “how can I get some neighbors together to change and improve this”?  To Citizen is to commit, to engage, and to be responsible for the well-being of a place.  In this work it is not the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, rather, it is the “organized and collaborative find the resources to get things done.”

 

When we connect with each other, when we neighbor, when we citizen, we are engaging in public health, crime prevention, and economic development.  When we start with building a social infrastructure, we can then build everything else. 

 

Tonight we recognize and thank those of you who embody these principles and take action to neighbor and to citizen in Lansing. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Born Movers® Mother’s Day Edition

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Lois on the road

Out shopping for a Mother’s Day card this week, I realized that I found the selection somewhat disappointing.  All seemed to be along the lines of the Martyrdom of Motherhood variety — you know the themes, thanks for giving everything to us and nothing to yourself, pastels and flowers, etc.  I was looking for one more like, “Hey Mom, I think it’s neat you’re a bad ass“.  Of course my mom did all the traditional things you associate with motherhood for us. We don’t call her the MacGyver of Motherhood for nothing– she can cook, knit, build, sew, repair, finagle or haggle for anything you need. She is not, however, a booboo kisser (thanks Dad for picking up the slack in that area). Her many talents would require an additional post.

Here at Move It Media, we celebrate Natural Born Movers®, so I thought it would be a good time to check in with Mom about her athletic endeavors.  I had to schedule an interview as she has a full day of college courses on the day I tried to connect.  She typically takes a few courses each semester and loves to joke that her GPA is so high because she was “sleeping with the Dean” (that’s my Dad by the way, now retired–and he will be mortified that I wrote that, but it’s Mother’s Day, not Father’s Day, and she will love it).

What’s your course load this semester?:

6 credits — Yoga, Pilates, Water exercise, and Ceramics.  (editor’s note:  what are you doing talking to me–isn’t this finals week?  Get studying!)

H and Gma bike ride

Heading out with Grandson to ride the length of the Erie Canal #Grandparentlikeaboss

Tell us about your upcoming cycling trip:

This summer I’ll be riding a self-contained bicycle trip with my sister, Janie.  We’ll be some senior ladies out on the road.  We plan to leave from Lansing then head west to Ludington.  We’ll take the ferry across Lake Michigan, turn north and head up through Wisconsin. Head east across the UP, cross the Mackinac Bridge and head back down the state to Lansing–about 1500 miles.  We are planning to travel for 5 weeks, camping along the way. We could do it in a much shorter time, but there are several breweries we want to hit.  Who knows, we may never get out of Michigan.

Lois & Janie High Ropes

Lois & Janie on High Ropes course

Since this is a Mother’s Day post, what do you think your mom would think of that?:

I think she would be excited about it.  She wouldn’t do something like that, but she’d support us doing it.  She would be absolutely excited to see us doing it together.  She wanted to live long enough to see us getting along, which she did.

What’s your favorite cycling trip you’ve done?:

My favorite was from Baytown, TX to Sault Ste. Marie Michigan.  Turned out to be 2400 miles.  Along the way we saw great stuff Natchez Trace Mississippi — loved the great roads and history in that area.  We rode to Owosso, MI for my 50th high school class reunion along the way. Then we hooked up with the DALMAC ride to get from Lansing to Sault Ste. Marie.  I’d been planning to do a cross country ride from East to West (of the U.S) and it got cancelled, so we made this one up.  (editor’s note:  read about that trip here).

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What made you get into cycling:

I’ve always had a bicycle.  One time your Dad thought that I should be riding and he bought me a bike and we just did casual rides.  I was out riding my bike and I was challenged by Dr. Tom Seabourne at Northeast Texas College to do the Texas Chain Ring Challenge.  That was my first organized ride.  I started tour cycling at age 53.  I went on the ride and loved it.  I’m 73 now.  I plan to ride as long as I can.

Does it bother you that one of your sons-in-law (the Swede, not the Aussie) calls you the L Train?:

Haha, no.  Only the people that care about you give you nicknames.  I don’t like it when he calls me LoLo, but it’s still polite, just don’t care for it.

Peter & the L Train

The Swede and the L Train

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  It’s neat that you’re a bad ass.