Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
KALAMAZOO, MI – Three of Kalamazoo’s core neighborhoods are working with the Kalamazoo Earth Day Committee to plan Earth Day events and promote collaborative efforts that benefit residents of all their neighborhoods.
“Connecting Communities” is the theme of Kalamazoo Earth Day 2023, which is promoting environmental improvement projects and community-building activities on April 22 in Kalamazoo’s Edison, Oakwood, and Vine neighborhoods.
“In the spirit of promoting collaborative action that leads to a more sustainable, supportive, and equitable community, the Kalamazoo Earth Day Festival is coordinating an exciting series of events that connects neighborhoods to celebrate and share in the work of creating a better place for all,” says the Kalamazoo Earth Day Committee, a group of volunteers that has worked since 2015 to uplift the work of environmental activists and help area residents become more involved in supporting environmental sustainability year-round.
Volunteers from the local chapters of several sororities and fraternities participated in neighborhood clean-up and beautification activities to celebrate Earth Day in 2022.The committee has a strong emphasis on environmental health and environmental justice. It defines environmental justice as the belief that every member of the community has the same right to have an equally healthy and supportive environment.
This year, the volunteer organization will help host the first in-person Earth Day Festival since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That will include activities downtown in various places in town.
Working with the Edison Neighborhood Association, the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, and Vine Neighborhood Association, the Kalamazoo Earth Day Committee is inviting area residents to participate in community improvement projects that allow them to work with neighbors and hopefully get to know their neighbors better.
Efforts will start with neighborhood cleanups, tree plantings, local conservation efforts, and recycling (toxic and non-biodegradable waste). Partnering with the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Public Media Network, and Kzoo Parks, the festival will include interactive exhibits, live music, food vendors, workshops, and activities for families and children.
Volunteers will be directed to help with tasks in each neighborhoods. But key events are being staggered in two-hour intervals in the three neighborhoods. They are scheduled for:
- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Upjohn Park in the Edison Neighborhood;
- 2 to 4 p.m. at Woods Lake Park in the Oakwood Neighborhood;
- 5 to 7 p.m. at Davis Park in the Vine Neighborhood.
“To encourage participation and increase diversity, this year the festival will begin at Upjohn Park in the Edison Neighborhood, then shift to Woods Lake Park in Oakwood and conclude with a celebration at Davis Park in The Vine,” according to information provided by the Kalamazoo Earth Day Committee. “All community members are encouraged to participate at each location.”
People planting a sapling in Edison.
Twenty different organizations have planned interactive exhibits that involve an informative or educational activities or game, says David Benac, chairman of Kalamazoo Earth Day Committee.
“One group at Woods Lake (in the Oakwood Neighborhood) are going to be doing water testing,” he says as an example. “People can participate in collecting water and looking at it under a microscope and really get a feel for what’s there. We have other groups that are going to be giving out seeding trees and showing people how to plant them.”
Visitors to events in all three neighborhoods will have the opportunity to learn how to plant trees, flowers or vegetable seeds, he says.
Opportunities to learn about the neighborhood associations and about environmental and community-building activities began on Feb. 1 and continue in the form of “Connecting Communities”
podcasts, a collaborative project between the Kalamazoo Earth Day Committee and Public Media Network. Available on almost all podcast platforms, the podcasts feature community members and representatives of organizations that are working to create a more equitable and sustainable Kalamazoo.
Benac is among those involved in Reforest The Vine, a grassroots initiative dedicated to planting trees and plants that are native to the area. Stephen Dupuie, executive director of the Edison Neighborhood Association, says collaborating efforts with neighborhood associations and that group may have helped plant the seeds (pun intended) for this year’s Earth Day theme.
He says Reforest The Vine plants trees in the Vine neighborhood. Edison was doing the same in an effort called Grow Edison. “And so we started to share resources and help one another and volunteer back and forth,” Dupuie says. “I think that led David (Benac) to say, ‘Hey, these communities are working together and helping one another. What a great theme for Earth Day.’”
Benac says, “We chose these neighborhoods for two main reasons. We wanted to have neighborhoods that represented diversity within the city of Kalamazoo. And we also choose neighborhoods that had strong neighborhood associations because one of our goals is to show people who come to the festival that their neighborhood association is a really good way to get involved and to bring their neighbors together to design and accomplish positive change.”
Dupuie says Earth Day events will include live music and will be fun, but they are also intended to educate and inspire people to take more steps toward environmental equity. That is, to address the needs of poor and marginalized communities’ harmed by exposure to hazardous wastes, unwelcomed land uses, pollution, environmental hazards, and the loss of resources.
His association will be promoting Grow Edison, an environmental stewardship group that started last year to make the neighborhood stronger, more resilient, and more beautiful. The association is very interested in getting young people involved with such things as planting trees and it has creative ideas that include forming a bicycle brigade to allow young people to become stewards of the trees while their saplings.
Edison Neighborhood residents are shown preparing a small section of greenspace for planting in spring of 2022 as part of the Edison Neighborhood’s environmental sustainability effort called Grow Edison.
Stephen Walsh, executive director of the Vine Neighborhood Association, says, “We’ll have some entertainment and some food and some opportunities for people to get out and roll up their sleeves and engage in some beautification. But there’s also the component that we’re always hoping that people get to make some strong connections and meet their neighbors and feel good at the end of the day that their neighborhood looks a little cleaner, and also feel that they’ve made some tangible connections."
With that, he says, neighborhoods become stronger.
Every year, Earth Day has attracted more people in Vine, he says, explaining that his association went from having events at one park three years ago, to them at three parks within the neighborhood this year. He says he appreciates the effort area residents provide and he expects a good post-pandemic turnout this year.
“I think people have been cooped up and they want to get out and feel like they can engage safely in this -- get out and do a little beautification in the neighborhood,” he says. "It’s been a really great project for us to get behind because it has been such a grassroots initiative. And we want to be as supportive of those as we can be.”
Vine Neighborhood residents prepare a small section of greenspace for planting in spring of a month of activities to celebrate Earth Day in 2022.
According to Kalamazoo Earth Day Committee, Earth Day “is about grassroots actions that connect communities in shared efforts to protect everyone’s health, improve equity, and to go beyond sustainability to achieve regenerative solutions to environmental challenges. This year’s events are intended to help support stronger connections between the communities and help us take the actions that will achieve a more environmentally and socially regenerative city.”
Walsh says the neighborhoods had been working independently on Earth Day but have always been supportive of one another.
“We all have a singular focus on our neighborhood,” Walsh says. “But we’re also expanding (the event) because we realize there is this connectivity and there are these permeable boundaries.”
For more information, see the Kalamazoo Earth Day website.