Eastside Neighborhood

Gateway to Kalamazoo’s Eastside: Public celebration and open house planned for May 29

Everyone loves a party, and Eastsiders are no exception.

“Residents, for the most part, didn’t need an excuse for celebration, they just needed a venue for it,” says Pat Taylor, Director of the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association. Eastsiders, she says, are always ready to celebrate their neighborhood.

But this time Eastsiders do have a reason to celebrate. 

To showcase the Eastside Voices project, the new Eastside Gateway and Pocket Park, and the culmination of On the Ground Eastside’s 140-day journalism coverage of the neighborhood, an Eastside Celebration and Open House will take place Wednesday, May 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Eastside Gateway, 1502 E. Michigan Ave.

The event, co-sponsored by the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association, the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, Vibrant Kalamazoo and On the Ground, is free and open to the public. Eastside residents, as well as anyone else who wants to become more familiar with the Eastside, are invited to attend.

The celebration will feature interviews by youth participating in Eastside Voices, an oral history project; displays of On the Ground stories; a tour of the Eastside Gateway Pocket Park and one of the small homes; a birthday celebration of the Eastside’s 102-year-old Gwen Tulk; and free food and beverages.

“The Eastside has a really rich history and vibrancy and a lot of dedicated residents and energy,” says Kelly Clarke, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank. “We’re excited to be able to open one of the houses and to gather people together on the Eastside, to honor the Eastside Voices project, and to celebrate the accumulation of On the Ground stories and let people know about the Eastside.”

The Eastside Gateway, a development of small homes and a pocket park, sponsored by the Land Bank, provides an attractive and welcoming entrance to the Eastside neighborhood. Currently, the Gateway is finishing its first phase of construction. Four of the homes have already been purchased, with three more slated to be built in the next year, two by Habitat for Humanity. The Eastside Gateway was recently gifted with a $100,000 grant from Consumers Energy Foundation to help with the second phase of the project.

“This particular project has given a boost to the synergy that was slowly percolating in the neighborhood,” says Taylor. “It’s brought a lot of attention to a lot of different areas. I’m very happy that people are actually starting to feel things are happening on the Eastside. 

“It’s not as much, ‘Oh poor me, Eastside, we should do something.’ It’s less that kind of conversation now and it’s more what’s going on and people thinking what next steps are going to happen over here. I’m quite pleased with how well everything has fallen into place to this point.”

On the Ground, a solutions-oriented journalism project that has been embedded on the Eastside since January is nearing the end of its coverage. A wrap-up article and community contributor articles written by neighbors trained by On the Ground staff will be forthcoming in June.

“Ending our coverage in Eastside with a celebratory event is a way of honoring those who helped us to get the stories, and most importantly, honors those who shared their stories,” says Vicky Kettner, On the Ground Engagement Manager. “It’s a big deal to open up to a reporter, to trust, and to tell your experiences, dreams, and expectations. And so this event looks to lift those persons.”

Many of the people featured in the articles will be present at the Open House, and young Eastside reporters, trained by Sid Ellis, Buddy Hannah, and staff from Public Media Network, will, as part of the Eastside Voices project, be interviewing Eastside residents about their neighborhood.

When the Eastside Voices project is complete in September, a mural representing aspects of the oral histories will be painted on a currently unoccupied commercial building on East Main. Artifacts and phrases and other discoveries during the Eastside Voices interviews over the summer will be used to decorate a labyrinth in the Pocket Park, located on the corner of East Michigan and Phelps. 

“Partnering with KENA and the Land Bank is a natural, given their heavy involvement in the neighborhood as leaders of change, support, and collaboration,” says Kettner. “Every opportunity to cross-pollinate, if you will, our efforts to engage, expand, and create more connections through the great things that are happening at both of these organizations helps us to advance our mission, and that is to create understanding and dialogue about the issues that are important to the neighborhood.”

Please join the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, Vibrant Kalamazoo, KENA, On the Ground, and the Eastside Voices project in lifting up the people and places that make the Eastside a special place to live.

Read more articles by Theresa Coty O'Neil.

Theresa Coty O’Neil is a freelance writer, editor, and writing teacher with over two decades of covering people, places, and events in the Kalamazoo community. She is the Project Editor of On the Ground Kalamazoo.