The truth about my love for Lansing

Seemed fitting to talk about my love for Lansing this Valentine’s Day week. Have I always loved Lansing? No. When I moved here in 2006, I talked with my husband extensively about a "five year plan." We'd live in the Lansing area until 2011, and then move back to Australia, where I had moved from. I had zero plans to stick around. I left my family and friends in the most livable city in the world, and I planned to return.

Lansing wasn't meant to capture me the way that it did. It was meant to be one of life's many pit stops. A place I'd mention some day at sunny barbecues near the beach when someone would have the audacity to complain about the chill of the ocean breeze. "You don't even know the meaning of cold," I'd reply, and with much snark, mention my time in the tundra that was Lansing, Michigan.

But here I am, in 2015 … with the same five year plan.

I want to tell you with sheer confidence that I am a proponent of the #LoveLansing hashtag that appeared some time back and gets extensively used. It’s a great way to find out about the incredible people, places, and happenings in this community. But it's not the only hashtag that's been mentioned in my presence. There's also #LeaveLansing, or worse: #HateLansing. And although they don't get much use, the sentiments shared when they do speak to the many truths about this city.

What makes a city lovable/livable?

As I looked at the list used to decide the world's most livable cities (measuring aspects such as education, culture, stability, environment, and infrastructure) I couldn't help but feel a growing passion and commitment to this community for all the ways in which the city strives to live up to this list, and the many ways in which we are improving. But there was still that voice buried deep within that wondered whether I'd love this place as much as I do, as a new person entering the community.

I won't get into all of the aforementioned measurements of livability, but for my own sake, I'll delve (just slightly) into a few of them to give you a taste of the glorious and gloomy realities:

Education: Many of Lansing's elementary schools have closed. Budget cuts have eliminated elementary classes in arts, music, and physical education for students in the Lansing School District, relying on classroom teachers to do the work of specialized educators. It's not that they're not doing the absolute best in this situation. But it's a troubling issue facing our community. And of course, there are incredible youth organizations here like REACH Studio Arts Center, All of the Above, Children's Ballet Theatre of Michigan, MSU's Community Music School, and many others – but these should just bolster what children are learning in school, not become their primary source for access. I understand education isn’t just an issue here in Lansing. It’s an issue at the state and national levels.

Culture: The Lansing area is teeming with galleries and community spaces for art/spoken word/performance and more, has a few concert venues (though smaller than other cities) and a budding (albeit slowly) nightlife. We also have a festival or two for every month in the calendar year, longstanding theater performance spaces with local talent, restaurants, some breweries (and a winery!), incredible neighborhood organizations/hubs that are diverse in so many ways and eager to improve and create their own sense of culture …

Yet this is where I'll pause, and take a moment to acknowledge a few realities: maybe Lansing doesn't have as much to offer as some neighboring cities, like Detroit and Grand Rapids. But maybe we have to acknowledge that as a community we might not patronize these places enough. Perhaps we're a community that picks chain restaurants over local ones until someone vouches for them. Maybe we're too busy comparing ourselves to other places and looking for what's wrong rather than embracing what's right? I know that's true of me sometimes, until I actually sit down and challenge myself to get involved. And then I'm in awe of how much there really is to do here.
 
Stability: Lansing was just recently named one of Livability.com's Best Affordable Places to Live. We ranked fourth on the list — and when you consider how affordable it is to live here, it makes it a more stable place to be. We bought our house in 2008 before the market crashed and it was still relatively reasonable, considering the cost we'd be looking at for housing elsewhere. We'll be talking about this more in an upcoming feature.

Environment: There are so many organizations in the Lansing area working hard to improve the environment in this community through conservation of our natural parks and green spaces, taking care of our rivers and waterways, encouraging recycling, and engaging with community members to reduce their carbon footprint by walking and cycling more. And though the capital region's river trail systems aren't as connected as we'd all like them to be, things are going to be changing relatively soon — which gives me much hope. Stay tuned for more on that, too.

All that aside

Taking a look at some of these aspects, I think we have a lot more growing to do as a community — and that's ok. But we have definitely not remained stagnant either, and that would be evident if you just took a look at pictures of Michigan Avenue or Washington Square 10 years ago.

At any rate, I'm encouraged daily just by participating in the many features of this community I mentioned earlier. There really is a lot to love about Lansing, and the capital region as a whole. And I must say, lists don't take into account people … and the people here in Lansing are some of the best people I've met in my life.

Not to quote Howard Jones, but things can only get better. Will only get better. All you have to do is be there. #LoveLansing and it will love you right back.

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Suban Nur Cooley is the managing editor of Capital Gains Media.

 
Photos © Dave Trumpie
 
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
 
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