How some of Lansing's neighborhoods are thriving in 2017

When you look at Lansing on a map, it looks like nothing more than an average, medium-sized city. But for those of us who call it home, Lansing is more than the sum of its parts. With numerous districts stitched together like a crazy quilt, our Capital area is home to many unique neighborhoods, each with its own character and personality. In 2017, some of our community-development driven and commercial areas like REO Town and the Eastside have experienced some positive growth and change.


Examining our named communities, we see that South Lansing is home to a stunning array of green spaces, while the Eastside sports countless walkable shopping opportunities and a tightly-knit community. There's a distinctly business feel to Downtown Lansing, while the North Side feels more like a mellow township than a city. Old Town is home to several galleries, and boasts a small but dynamic art-loving community, while REO Town is a neighborhood on the rise - honoring it's blue collar roots while striving to to establish it's own fresh identity.


Lansing and the capital region as a whole has seen enormous growth and development so far this year, with new buildings going up, new businesses opening their doors, and neighborhoods engaging together to build a stronger sense of community. But with the changes spread out over many different parts of town, it can be easy to miss something important happening in another section of our active city. So, let's take a look at what 2017 has brought so far, as we also gear up for what's ahead.


The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods. - Harvey Milk


"2017 has been amazing," Nancy Mahlow exclaims, "And I'm so proud of our neighborhood." It's a sentiment that many people share, as every year brings new growth to the Eastside. With several new buildings going up, one of the city's most celebrated farmer's markets, and major developments happening for several schools in the area, there really is a lot to be excited about and proud of says Mahlow, who serves as the President of The Eastside Neighborhood Association.


"The Gillespie Company --, which is pretty much two guys who were born and raised on the Eastside, -- has brought our neighborhood to a whole new level!. We're so honored to have them," Mahlow adds, referring to the new construction on Michigan Ave. that will provide both housing for residents and retail space for new businesses. And though the Eastside community was divided and unsure about the demolition of the historic block where the new construction has started, people are ready to see businesses like Rajje’s Taphouse and Strange Matter’s doughnut bakery. And it isn't the only new or renovated building to pop up near Lansing's Eastside recently. The Willis, a fully renovated space in the same block as Moriarty's pub, is another example of the Gillespie's developmental footprint on Michigan Ave.the Eastside.


However, apartments and retail spaces weren't the only new venues to open their doors here this year. July saw the opening of Sparrow Hospital's Herbert-Herman Cancer Center, where state-of-the-art treatments and resources will be available to patients from all over the state.


Even if you live in a big city, everyone lives in a small town. We identify ourselves by our neighborhoods.  - Karen Slaughter


The Eastside isn't the only place to see new construction. Lewton Magnet School on the Southside was expanded to include an amazing K - 6 Spanish immersion and global studies program, and a brand new sports field was also constructed on Pleasant Grove Rd. A fact that Elaine Womboldt says is going to make a huge difference to the neighborhood.


Womboldt, who serves as the founder and facilitator of Rejuvenating South Lansing, believes that if neighbors are willing to come together, and to ensure that their voices are heard, neighborhoods can be turned around and revitalized. "When my husband and I moved into South Lansing years ago, we didn't think we would end up staying. The neighborhood had a bad reputation. But here we are all these years later, in the same house, with our grandchildren playing in the back yard."


They grew to love their neighborhood, and met up with others from the area who felt the same way. Others who loved the south side as much as they did, and wanted to implement positive change -- like bringing in new developments and attracting greater business opportunities. So, they formed a dynamic neighborhood group that meets regularly to discuss policies and issues affecting the area. "We're committed to South Lansing." Womboldt says, "It's given so much to us, and we want to give something back."


Convert your time into solutions for the problems of the world and your immediate neighborhood. - Sunday Adelaja


The Southside isn't the only neighborhood undergoing an image change. Downtown Lansing Inc. launched their new downtown destination branding which identifies four unique districts in the area, all of which aim to provide residents and visitors to the area with loads of options for dining, shopping, and entertainment. There were even improvements made with Lansing's youngest residents in mind. Impressions 5 Science Center rolled out their newest permanent exhibit this year - FLOW, which explores fluid dynamics with two stories of interactive components and activities.


2017 has seen several new businesses pop up around Downtown. Strange Matter Coffee opened the doors to their newest location in the Washington Square district Downtown, and Envie -- a delicious French-inspired bistro -- hung up their shingle as well. But tasty treats aren't the only upgrades to the Downtown area this year. Just as important as great destinations, is being able to get there.


According to Mindy Biladeau, Executive Director of Downtown Lansing Inc., phase 1 of the new wayfinding system will be installed by the end of October. This will make navigating Downtown and the surrounding areas considerably easier. "The system, which was designed by Corbin Design who are leaders in the industry, will include over 50 vehicular signs for drivers. In 2018 we'll be installing phase 2, which will include pedestrian signs and kiosks."


Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered just one kind word to another person... - Mr. Rogers


New businesses and infrastructure upgrades are only part of what makes a neighborhood great. Communities that come together, develop programs and policies to help one another, and implement meaningful change in their neighborhoods are critical to the growth and success of a city. The Allen Neighborhood Center is a prime example of this.


Take the Veggie Box Program, for example. It's a worksite delivery project offered through the Allen Neighborhood Exchange Food Hub, which is their online, wholesale market linking over 100 mid-Michigan growers to commercial and institutional buyers. According to Joan Nelson, Director of the Allen Neighborhood Center, 2017 has brought this particular program enormous growth. But it's not the only one that's thriving.


Other community projects that have reaped enormous benefits for residents of the Eastside are the Incubator Kitchens and Market Walk. Both have seen substantial growth so far this year, which means greater health and a richer sense of community for the Eastside. "We're a highly-networked, richly diverse, and mobilized community," Nelson states emphatically. And she would know. Nelson is probably one of the busiest people in Lansing. But as someone who's fiercely devoted to this city and to the success of its neighborhoods, it's something she believes is worth every minute it takes.


We need to preserve our neighborhoods. Our small business. Our local economy.  - Maria Semple


Lansing has seen major growth this year, and 2017 is far from over. Art's Bar and Grill is slated to reopen as Art's Pub under the new ownership of Nick Sinicropi, who also owns Good Truckin’ Diner in REO Town. A new athletic field is in the works for Eastern High School, and The Crafted Bean will be opening their second location on Michigan Ave. in the near future.


Silver Bells in the City is scheduled for Nov. 17 in Downtown Lansing, and Halloween will fill every commercial district in the city with kids in costumes and an endless river of candy. But not before Bluesfest and OktoberFest rock Old Town this month.


We become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another. - Henri J. M. Nouwen


All over the Capital region, neighborhood groups are coming together with a focus on rejuvenating the places they live and work in. Whether it's working to attract a variety of restaurants and unique businesses to their neighborhoods, cleaning up blighted areas, or working on various ordinances that support their communities, the people of Lansing are determined to make the Capital area a better place to live. And so far, their efforts have paid off in spades. So thank you Lansing for a wonderful 2017. And remember - it's not over yet. We still have so much to look forward to.

Sarah Hillman is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains. 

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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