#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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A park in the center of the city: Sycamore Park #WalkingWednesday

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Despite being only 2 miles from the center of downtown Lansing, this WalkingWednesday through Sycamore Park felt like a trip up north.  The neighborhood is filled with old growth trees, piney woods, and open green space.  It’s within easy walking and biking distance from many other beautiful parks, like Fenner Nature Center, Sycamore Golf Course, and Potter Park Zoo.  Hop on the River Trail and you can quickly access Ingham County Parks, downtown, and MSU.

It’s bordered on the north and the east by water (lots of it right now as the Red Cedar River and Sycamore Creek are very high due to heavy rain).

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

River High Water

Looking east along the Red Cedar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The green space assets of the neighborhood are stunning and on this beautiful June evening, the beauty of the area was on full display.  This area is known for its bird wildlife and is home to a heron rookery and a bald eagle’s nest.  Learn more in this Nature Discovery article.

Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association president Paul Wozniak provided a walking map (my first neighborhood to hand out maps for #WalkingWednesday!) Find our more about the Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association on Facebook.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood has many long term residents.  Our tour was a mix of newer and longer term neighbors. Top reasons I heard for choosing Sycamore Park (in no order) were:

  • Proximity to downtown and MSU & convenience to everything
  • Access to the River Trail without crossing any major streets
  • Neighborhood friendliness

Houses are a mix of 1920s – 1940s single family homes with interesting architecture and tons of charm.

Mt. Hope Elementary

Mt. Hope Elementary School

Mt. Hope 4-6 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) School sits on the neighborhood’s southern border.  The school playground, basketball courts, and green space add to the recreational opportunities & beauty of the neighborhood.  School leaders and the PTA partner with the neighborhood organization on many events.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs.  Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs. Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Bordered by both Pennsylvania Ave and Mt. Hope, commercial corridors have an impact on the neighborhood.  Neighbors are happy with the increased commercial activity at the Mt. Hope/Penn intersection with the addition of Central Pharmacy Vacancies still exist on the south side of Mt. Hope and neighbors are hoping for new tenants in those spaces.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.

 

Long time local businesses such as Smith Floral continue to provide commercial activity in the area

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral

 

 

 

 

 

 

We waved to many neighbors enjoying the beautiful weather on their front porch and took a peek into the Little Free Library:

A little house of books

A little house of books

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We headed back to the park for a summer time treat and were all really impressed with the watermelon slicer!

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer

Amazing!

Amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for your hospitality and the chance to meet many neighbors and see your beautiful homes. Enjoy the summer in your park in the city!

This #WalkingWednesday was the first attended by our AmeriCorps VISTA members in our Cities of Service Love Your Block program.  Learn more about their work and see their blog post about the Sycamore Park tour at Lansing Love Your Block

 

 

#Walking Wednesday Greater Lansing Food Bank Resource Center

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This week’s Walking Wednesday took us to the Garden Resource Center with Julie Lehman, Garden Program Coordinator of the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

The Garden Project is one of its programs and the Resource Center is its hub.  When we visited on Wednesday it was full of neighbors picking up seeds, gardening information, starter plants, and food.  There were volunteers everywhere running the operation and working in the gardens.

 

Seeds

2401 Marcus St. Lansing, MI 48912

2401 Marcus St. Lansing, MI 48912

The facility is tucked into the south end of Foster Park Foster Park map(C on the map below–A is the Foster Community Center).

 

 

 

From the Resource Center you can see the traffic on both 127 to the East and 496 to the South, yet you are surrounded by green space and large community garden/urban farm projects.

Community gardens and home gardeners can register with the garden program and find a community of growers and support for their efforts.

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Just southwest of the Resource Center is the UrbandaleFarm.    Urbandale

Amazing the difference a sign makes!

Amazing the difference a sign makes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re interested in home gardening, urban gardening, food access, healthy living/eating, or just meeting people who are thinking about these things are creating them in your community, stop in at the Resource Center and learn more.  Of course, donate to the Greater Lansing Food Bank to continue their support of these programs and services as we work together to eliminate hunger in our community.  Thank you Julie for your hospitality and we look forward to seeing the bounty of these gardens all summer long!

 

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#WalkingWednesday heads to REOTown

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Looking north on Washington Ave.

Looking north on Washington Ave.

This week we headed to REO Town a neighborhood on a peninsula between the Red Cedar and Grand Rivers, south of 496 along Washington Ave. This re-emerging commercial and residential district is a hotbed of art, energy, and overall community building momentum. Our hosts were Ryan Wert, President of the REOTown Commercial Association and owner of Elm Street RecordingBrian McGrain, Chair of the Ingham County Commission and Associate Director/COO at CEDAM whose offices are located in REOTown.

Ryan and his wife moved into REOTown 11 years ago and began creating with neighbors and friends the kind of community they wanted, inventing fun events and connecting people around art, food, & fun. REOTown just hosted a very successful Art & Craft Beer Fest and is preparing for their second annual Thrift Store Gala and Burlesque Extravaganza, on March 21. The name alone says alot, but check out these pictures from last year’s event! http://on.fb.me/1f0jPn2

Our tour began at CEDAM’s offices and headed south to the New Horizons Computer Learning Center and co:space Emilie Randolph showed us this beautiful facility with workspace available on a short or longer term membership basis along with a full slate of computer training courses.  The facility features a gigantic chalk mural depicting the history of REOTown and the automobile industry.

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(L to R) Beverly Hynes, Manager of Fountain Place Apts., Larry Grudt of Capital Area Blues Society, Brian McGrain, Ryan Wert)

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Conference space looking out onto Washington Ave.

Conference space looking out onto Washington Ave.

A great article for more information: http://bit.ly/1tpBckX

We crossed to the east side of Washington Ave. to visit the new Board of Water & Light Headquarters, which brought 180 employees to REOTown.  The former train depot has been beautifully restored and now serves as BWL meeting space and is available for community events.

Interior architecture of the restored train depot

Interior architecture of the restored train depot

A lot of Lansing in one picture:  the BWL depot, trains headed west, & the BWL smokestacks across the Grand River

A lot of Lansing in one picture: the BWL depot, trains headed west, & the BWL smokestacks across the Grand River

We headed north along Washington Ave. and found a full block of commercial activity from the REO Town Pub (more on that below), Cuttin Up Barber Shop which was doing a brisk midday business, and many more.  We stopped in to see Kathaleen Parker at her shop Soulful Earth Herbals where she offers handcrafted soap, body products, herbal preparations and apothecary and is celebrating ten years of business this year.  She also features some really cool dinosaur greeting cards created by her children–somehow I don’t have a photo to share, send me one Kathaleen and I’d love to feature it!

Kathalenn at Soulful Earth Herbals.  I wish I could upload the amazing smells from this store--stop in and see for yourself!

Kathaleen at Soulful Earth Herbals. I wish I could upload the amazing smells from this store–stop in and see for yourself!

Another new anchor tenant along Washington Ave. is Riverview Church Inside is worship and meeting space with a preservation of its past as a bowling alley.

A peak at both the sanctuary and the art gallery hallway

A peak at both the sanctuary and the art gallery hallway

The beautifully restored flooring with a hint of the past

The beautifully restored flooring with a hint of the past

The space hosts both church services and community functions.  Its exterior celebrates graffiti art, much of which was created with fellow REOTown organization REACH Art Studio

Riverview Church graffiti

graffiti 2We headed north to the Good Truckin’ Diner, where Zach Corbin and Nicholas Sinicropi had amazing tacos awaiting us.  In addition to great food, they had ideas to share about issues and opportunities for food truck operators in the City of Lansing.  As owners of both a bricks and mortar establishment and a mobile food truck they have good insight into the business and ways to increase access for food trucks in the City.  Great conversation with business owners who are working to make their neighborhood and Lansing a great place to eat!  They also had high praise for our Ingham County Health Department and their efficient processes and support.

Zach and Ryan talk REOTown & Food Truck culture over tacos.

Zach and Ryan talk REOTown & Food Truck culture over tacos.

With happy tummies we headed over to see some of the residential features along Washington Ave. with a stop into Fountain Place Apts. located along the Lansing River Trail.  Manager Beverly Hynes lives on-site at the apartments and clearly fosters a community among her residents, who are mainly young professionals and students with a few older adults and families.  She began an on-site gardening program where residents can cultivate an area of the greenspace and has a host of programs that connect neighbors to one another.  Stop in and meet Beverly and she’ll tell you all the reasons why Fountain Place and REOTown are a great place to live.

We finished up at REOTown Pub which is obviously the heart & soul of the neighborhood.  Owner Roxanne shared her career path of social worker, to restaurant owner to pub owner (which can at times resemble her work as a social worker!).  While not a full-service restaurant, every Wednesday you can enjoy steak night where Roxanne’s husband is grilling out back in his snowsuit (steak, potato, & salad for $10!). There I also met Paul Starr aka The Beer Hound, clearly a genius who has built a career out of celebrating Michigan’s craft beer culture. REOTown Pub is looking forward to celebrating Mardi Gras on March 17 with a crawfish boil out front.

REOTown Pub servin up their finest vintage--this is beer and spirits joint

REOTown Pub servin up their finest vintage–this is beer and spirits joint

REOTown is a community on the move and an example of how committed, creative residents and business owners can shape the future of Lansing.  Stop by and enjoy meeting the neighbors who are making Lansing a great place to live, work, play, & learn.

Next week’s #WalkingWednesday slot is still open–where should I head next?

#WalkingWednesday hits the trail @Fenner Nature Center

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I headed into the woods for this week’s #WalkingWednesday and joined Fenner Nature Center’s http://www.mynaturecenter.org/ Program Manager and Volunteer Coordinator, Jenny Mensch, for a tour of some of the trails. Located in southeast Lansing at the corner of Mt. Hope and Aurelius Rd., Fenner Nature Center is an oasis of calm in the city.  Two bonus features:  the nature center has free admission (with a suggested small donation for its visitor center of $2 adults/$1 children) and allows leashed dogs on its trails.

A family of deer joined me

A family of deer joined me

Partnerships such as this one with MSU Extension provide support to programs.

Partnerships such as this one with MSU Extension provide support to programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to it’s famous festivals–Apple Butter Festival in the Fall and the Maple Syrup Festival set for 3/21 this year–the center provides nature education programs for all ages.  A popular cure for your cabin fever at this time of year are the Winter Snowshoe Night Hikes, guided lantern-lit walks through the snow.  Snow shoe rental is now available at the center.

Fenner Nature Center is governed by the Fenner Conservancy whose mission “connects people to nature in the heart of Lansing through conservation, education, and stewardship”

Beautiful day for a walk in the woods

Beautiful day for a walk in the woods

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The nature center is currently restoring an 18 acre area of the property to a prairie for outdoor education and plans to build more facilities for events and education.

Prairie restoration underway with the support of several partners.

Prairie restoration underway with the support of several partners.

Fenner Nature Center is definitely a place that makes Lansing a great place to Live, Work, Play, & Learn for our neighbors.  Stop by for a walk in the woods during any season.  Of course, volunteers and donations are most welcome to help the center continue its great work.

#WalkingWednesday with SOCA (Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association)

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Another #WalkingWednesday filled with stories of the past & ideas for the future mixed with coffee, snow, great people, walking, & beer.

Our host was Rory Neuner, Director of the Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association https://www.facebook.com/SOCALansing and we were looking at the far western edge of the area this organization serves.

First stop was Biggby Coffee http://www.biggby.com/index.php at 2002 W. Saginaw, one of the top performing Biggby franchises in the whole company.  While the interior seating is limited in this location, entryways from both Saginaw & Oakland make for easy use of the drive-thru which was busy during our entire visit.  The Biggby staff was hopping the whole time and happy to tell us that their store was among the top 25 last month in company sales last month.  Go Lansing!

Biggby staff get us ready for the weather with some hot java

Biggby staff get us ready for the weather with some hot java

We headed out to check out “The Point” a triangular plot of land bordered by Saginaw, Oakland, and Stanley as you enter the City of Lansing limits from the west.  The community is dreaming of an upgrade to this entry point which could beautify the entryway and provide some traffic calming features.

Looking west toward "The Point" currently only marked by the small wood sign.  Neighbors would like a grander, more welcoming entrance to the city.

Looking west toward “The Point” currently only marked by the small wood sign. Neighbors would like a grander, more welcoming entrance to the city that communicates the vibrancy of the surrounding neighborhoods.

A feature of this stretch of Saginaw is the protected bike lane which heads all the way east to the River Trail.  This is one of the few protected bike lanes in Michigan.

Connecting neighbors to the River Trail and Downtown Lansing.

Connecting neighbors to the River Trail and Downtown Lansing.

We then headed slightly east and noted the existing businesses along the corridor including car sales, a Famous Taco, and others.  The Irish Pub building continues to undergo renovations and the neighborhood anxiously awaits its return to business.  The latest Facebook about post about progress was on June 2, 2014 https://www.facebook.com/IrishPubLansing I would love to give an update if anyone in the know can post to comments or contact me!

Irish Pub was purchased approx 2 years ago.  The neighborhood is anxious for this local favorite to reopen.

Irish Pub was purchased approx 2 years ago. The neighborhood is anxious for this local favorite to reopen.

We were then off to Harry’s Pub.  We headed through the neighborhood which once was home to Verlinden Elementary, a beautiful building which continues to serve children and families as Scribbles and Giggles Child Care http://www.scribblesandgiggleschildcare.com/ and the hulking Fisher Body Plant, which now stands as an empty field with the remnants of the plant foundations.

 

Foundation of the former Fisher Body Plant from the north.  The neighborhood looks forward to its redevelopment someday.

Foundation of the former Fisher Body Plant from the north. The neighborhood looks forward to its redevelopment someday.

 

 

Scribbles and Giggles had a full playground of children out enjoying the snow.  Heard the giggles loud & clear!

Scribbles and Giggles had a full playground of children out enjoying the snow. Heard the giggles loud & clear!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The surrounding neighborhood is served by the Westside Neighborhood Association http://wnalansing.com/, one of Lansing’s best organized and most active neighborhood associations.  Neighbors organize events, community wide garage sales, and neighborhood cleanups.  Their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/WestsideNeighborhoodAssociation/ has 915 members and their neighborhood pride is evident throughout the entire area.

We headed down Verlinden Ave to Harry’s Place, which once served the workers at Fisher Body.  Since the plant closing, the neighborhood has rallied to support Harry’s.  An old (2011) but good background story can be found at http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/article-5625-harryrss-place-changes-with-the-times.html.  I’d suggest stopping in and talking to anyone there for more details as the staff & regulars are happy to share.  Owners Harea & Hugh Bates continue to grow the business with a combination of great food and hospitality.  Hugh told us business continues to rebound and said that he used to only roll 18 rolls of silverware for the lunch “rush” and that was plenty.  Now, he’s rolling 125+ and going through them all. I had more than one patron tell me it’s the best pizza in town.   It’s worth a trip just to meet Hugh and hear about the history of the neighborhood and Harry’s–he was born to run a great neighborhood joint and I’m glad he found his way to that career after retiring from GM.

Hugh Bates (L) and Rory Neuner of the Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association

Hugh Bates (L) and Rory Neuner of the Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association

A Westside treasure

A Westside treasure

#WalkingWednesday Features Michigan Ave. and Allen Market Place

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Thank you to the group of neighbors who joined me at Strange Matter Coffee Co. for a bitter cold installment of #WalkingWednesday, which mostly took place inside the warm coffee shop!

Delicious brew and great service at Strange Matter Coffee Co on the corner of Clemens & Michigan Ave

Delicious brew and great service at Strange Matter Coffee Co on the corner of Clemens & Michigan Ave

(L-R) Joan, Jennifer, and Rick

(L-R) Joan, Jennifer, and Rick

Purchasing delicious coffee for home

Purchasing delicious coffee for home

Joining me were the long-time community leaders of the Eastside: Joan Nelson, Executive Director of the Allen Neighborhood Center, Richard Kibbey of Grassroots Planning, Nancy Mahlow, President of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, Dr. Rex LaMore Director of the Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development, and Jennifer Grau of Grau Interpersonal Communitcation a powerhouse team with decades of passionate service to the Eastside.  We discussed what makes the Eastside such a great place to Live, Work, Play, & Learn.

Michigan Avenue is described as the “Spine of the Eastside”.  Anchored on the west by the Sparrow Hospital District, Michigan Avenue is also home to many small businesses such as the recent additions Tabooli Mert’s Meats   the extremely popular Soup Spoon Cafe (or just “The Spoon” to Eastsiders) and long-established Eastide icons Emil’s, The Green Door The Avenue and Everybody Reads Bookstore This is just a partial list of all there is along Michigan Avenue.  Of course, a famous feature is the #1 CATA Busline with 10 minute buses and quick service for everything from Meridian Mall to Downtown Lansing.

The Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development is located in the 1600 Block of Michigan Ave. where its mission is “to advance MSU’s land-grant mission by creating, applying, and disseminating valued knowledge through responsive engagement, strategic partnerships, and collaborative learning. We are dedicated to empowering communities to create sustainable prosperity and an equitable global knowledge economy”. 

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We then headed over to the Allen Market Place  inside the Allen Neighborhood Center, which is open on Wed 3:00pm-6:30pm.  The market was packed with people picking up fresh and prepared foods.  Neighbors were collecting their weekly produce from the CSA and filling their howlers and growlers with Sleepwalker Spirits & Ale.  Thank you to everyone who participated and shared why they love the Eastside and give so much of their time & talent to build their community.

Ethan picks up his weekly CSA vegetable share. He's eagerly awaiting the return of strawberry season, his favorite fruit.

Ethan picks up his weekly CSA vegetable share. He’s eagerly awaiting the return of strawberry season, his favorite fruit.

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Enjoying samples!

Dream come true! You earn food tokens when you participate in the walking program!!

Dream come true! You earn food tokens when you participate in the walking program!!

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