Its Christmas Eve in downtown Lansing and Randy Glumm, owner
of Way Station Books & Stuff, had expected to see dozens of
last-minute shoppers. Like always, since opening his new and used
bookstore on South Washington Square last October, there are free
cookies and coffee on the table. Holiday jazz pipes through the
stereo and the air is inspired by a light smell of incense. But
although one can find the complete stories of Edgar Allen Poe
and everything from poetry, sports and erotica to the history
of Michigans Finnish immigrants, at 10:30 a.m. Im
the only customer. Lansings downtown shopping district looks
like a ghost town. Some shops arent even open,
Glumm says disappointedly. I didnt expect this.
Daniel Sturm/City Pulse
Randy Glumm, proprietor of Way Station Books and Stuff. Below:
Eastwood Towne Center Mall.
hour later I am at the newly completed Eastwood Towne Center,
at the intersection of I-127 and Lake Lansing Road. Theres
music here, too. Christmas carols hum over the mall loudspeakers,
spreading a festive warmth into stores like the GAP, Starbucks,
and Schuler Books and Music. The centers new village-style
setting is the final touch, bidding shoppers to reject the
phrase chain store. In Michigan, there are only two
other such lifestyle and power centers. The idea was
to create a shopping center that would attract anyone within a
50-mile radius, letting them exit the highway to buy whatever
they wanted. It will definitely be a boost for this area,
Lansing Township Clerk Susan Aten claimed last summer, when the
new mall was still under construction.
part of a trend American cities have been struggling with since
the late 60s, some more successfully than others: Downtown
local businesses empty out, while national chains expand their
thriving businesses outside of city limits. Residents begin driving
their cars 60 miles or more to go shopping, environmentalists
worry about increasing air pollution, City Council members worry
about decreased tax dollars, and regional planners face an almost
hopeless situation of urban sprawl. I honestly think something
really drastic has to change in the layout of the city, which
hasnt been changed since the 1860s, before it will encourage,
or act as a magnet, for more businesses and the arts, said
Glumm. David Wiener, the assistant to Lansing Mayor David Hollister,
admitted that the creation of another mall contradicted the proposed
downtown revitalization. However, this was the Lansing Townships
decision, so this was out of our jurisdiction.
Lansing-area business owners would like to see the homogenizing
tide of corporate consumption turned, and believe going
local may be the answer. As the phrase implies, this counter-trend
is about nurturing locally owned businesses who use local resources
in a sustainable manner, employing local workers at decent wages,
and serving primarily local consumers. It means becoming
more self-sufficient, and less dependent on imports. Control moves
from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back to the community,
Michael H. Shuman writes in his 2000 book, Going Local:
Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age.
There are signs that sustainable growth could be a growing trend
for Lansing-East Lansing area businesses.
What is sustainability?
Shuman argues that increasingly, governance is driven not by any
consensus within a community but by the regions most powerful
corporations. The City of Atlanta follows the lead of Coca-Cola,
Houston accommodates Shell, Seattle is beholden to Microsoft.
More and more communities in America have become Company Towns,
he writes. For Mid-Michigan residents, this is a statement that
- East Lansing Food Co-Operative, Kerry Bair (517) 337.1266
- Foods For Living, John & Wilma Snyder, (517) 324.9010
- The Better Health Store, (517) 332.6892
- Growing in Place Community Farm, Roberta Miller, (517) 487-6467,
- Owosso Organics, Pooh Stevenson, (989) 725.3151
Options, Patrick Hudson, Energy Fitness Program (517)
- Capital Area Community Services, Weatherization Service,
Dwane Griffus, (517) 393.7077
Join a sustainable network
Alliance for Living Economies, Patricia Wood (517) 351.7033,
Sustainable Business Forum, Eugene Townsend, (517) 204.4252,
Buy Green Power, Energy Star
- Michigan Small
Business Association, Mark Clevey, (517) 482.8788,
- Urban Options (see above)
- Michigan State University
Office of Campus Sustainability, Terry Link, (517) 355.1751
- U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, Enforcement and Compliance History Online
- U.S. Green
Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Seattle, 40 Indicators
sustainbale regional planning
U.S. think tanks, such as Redefining Progress in San Francisco,
are pressing to draw the measure of economic success away from
such abstract indicators as the Gross Domestic Product, and in
recent years governments throughout the world have begun to advocate
sustainable development. The term was coined from
the World Commission on Environment and Development, who in 1987
claimed it to be the new global goal for economic progress, defining
sustainability as development that meets the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs.
Leading by example, Seattles Mayor Norm Rice took the idea
of sustainability seriously when he entered office in 1994, advocating
a Seattle Comprehensive Plan to manage the citys growth
over the next 20 years. Sustainable Seattle, which
had begun as a volunteer network, developed a report of 40 indicators
to measure the communitys long-term cultural, economic and
environmental health. Aiming for a picture of the citys
overall well-being, the report included measures such as ethnic
diversity, high school graduation rates, health care costs, and
voter participation. The sustainability network organized workshops
to train neighborhoods in the ideas and principles of sustainability.
An Office of Environmental Management was organized for City Hall
to internally monitor its progress in areas like water usage,
waste reduction, pesticide reduction, and energy conservation.
Lansings largest industrial employer is General Motors.
In 1973 there were 22,800 GM jobs. This number decreased to 20,000
in 1988 and sank to 10,500 jobs, where it remains today. Lansings
relationship to General Motors could be best expressed by a long
list of tax breaks, benefit-packages, grants, and subsidies. In
2002, General Motors received $140 million in tax abatements for
its new factory. Founded in 1998, Mayor David Hollisters
Blue Ribbon Committee has been praised as a success, but critics
say catering to an international automobile corporation left the
administration to often ignore the needs of local businesses.
happens in Lansing is no exception. Today, more than 40 states
offer property-tax abatements, loans for machinery and equipment,
state revenue bond financing, accelerated depreciation, and special
funds as incentives to keep big business.
Such a relationship forces municipal governments to place all
of their eggs in one basket. The holistic concerns raised by a
community sustainability network are placed on the back burner.
Take for instance the issue of environment: Lansings relationship
to GM could be described as one of poisonous emissions. A new
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site, the Enforcement
and Compliance History Online, allows citizens to find out which
out of 62 listed industrial facilities are breaking environmental
laws. The agency lists two Lansing facilities as a High Priority
Violator under the Clean Air Act, one of which is the General
Motors Lansing Car Assembly on Verlinden Avenue. The second is
the Lansing Board Water and Light Eckert Station on Island Avenue.
Nearly 89,000 people live in a surrounding radius of three miles
of the dirty GM automobile plant, and roughly 4,000 households
have suffered from solvent odors, a diminished quality of life,
and poorer physical health for decades. Westside neighborhood
residents have been complaining about plant emissions, despite
the fact that Hollisters Westside Air Quality Task Forces
recently released reports that in essence called the odors harmless.
Recognizing the concept of sustainability would enable City Hall
to retire this at times hostile relationship with community needs.
Offering ever-larger incentives for corporations is no solution,
as Shuman argues in Going Local. In a new global
economy, any community that attempts to hold onto corporations
may have to pay a steep price. Notwithstanding the subsidies and
tax abatements that fleece the local treasury, it must cope with
the deterioration of the local quality of life, as unions are
busted and pollution laws are suspended to keep jobs in towns.
City Pulse lunch on Going Local
Want to learn more about Going Local and how to create a
more self-sufficient economy in Lansing? Join Berl Schwartz,
the editor and publisher of City Pulse, for lunch (youll
order from the menu; sorry, theres no such thing as
a free lunch) at Trippers in Frandor at noon Thursday,
Jan. 23. Schwartz will moderate a panel that will include
Mark Clevey, vice president of the Small Business Association
of Michigan; Patrick Hudson, director of Urban Options;
Julie Sawaya, general manager of Woodys Oasis Bar
and Grill; and Daniel Sturm, author of this article. BakeNCakes,
3003 E. Kalamazoo St.. Lansing, is co-sponsoring this forum.
River Rouge Ford plant in Dearborn, MI, is the first of its
kind to utilize green roof technology.
new investment, the proposed Delta Township plant a few miles
west of Lansing, which is supposed to open in 2005 and bring some
$1 billion into the region, will receive tax cuts but will not
become a major job engine. John Pearson, in charge of economic
development at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, confirmed
last summer: It may not be 2,500 brand new jobs to the region.
I think people employed by GM will move around within the system.
Last fall, the automobile company even announced the delay of
its $1 billion Delta plant until 2006.
In September 2002, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
released its annual report, a quite pessimistic analysis of the
regions economic status:
There have been some nominal successes in attracting and
retaining large regional employers, but that has barely made a
dent in the steady drain of high quality jobs lost over the past
ten years. Low unemployment, like that enjoyed by much of the
country in the past, is not being compensated for with increased
wages and the unemployment numbers are growing. ... Residential
development frequently conflicts with commercial and industrial
Chris Hnatiw, a Tri-County cconomic planner and co-author of the
report, said that diversifying the economy was the biggest challenge
for the region. She said she personally was very much in favor
of a new sustainable master plan but believes the region has the
reputation of being more reluctant to agree with concepts of a
sustainable economy because of its strong emphasis on the manufacturing
sector. Sustainability is not a top priority in any
of the regions local governments.
there are new projects underway in the area, such as the initiative
started by East Lansing resident Patricia Wood. Last summer Wood
felt she needed to do something and co-organized a forum at Michigan
State Universitys Center for Urban Affairs on the theme
of Turbulent Times. I thought of the area businesses
struggle with a lot of the publicly held businesses and of how
they were trying to get a foothold. Wood contacted activists
from the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a network
operating in 18 cities in the United States, in support of a
living economy that works in harmony with natural systems, supports
both biological and cultural diversity, and fosters fulfilling
and enjoyable community life for all peoples.
demonstration house for solar energy located in E. Lansing,
flier she distributed in downtown East Lansing attracted 15 local
business owners to join in the first meeting. The flyer read:
[Sustainable] projects take many forms, from direct challenges
to big box outlets to ambitious plans for an alternative stock
market, but together they offer hope that we can overcome current
development trends that suck all the resources out of our local
communities and despoil the environment. One of the first
people Wood talked to was Julie Sawaya, the general manager at
Woodys Oasis Bar and Grill on Grand River in East Lansing,
whos now a member of the steering committee. I find
that her business is very socially responsible and locally minded,
said Wood. She pointed out that the franchise style was interesting,
because it focused on business ethics in an unique way.
We teach our own employees everything we know, and then
franchise them out, said Sawaya. She herself left Woodys
Trowbridge Road location in East Lansing, which opened in 1984,
to start her own franchise in August 2001. And the franchise owner
of the new Woodys in Okemos used to be Sawayas kitchen
manager. She said that so many times businesses lose quality when
they expanded. This way we can keep the quality and the
Waste reduction, energy efficiency
For Mark H. Clevey, vice president of the Small Business Association
of Michigan, sustainability is a clear economic goal: If
you are wasting dollars in pollution then you are not sustainable
and are a bad investment. If the United States were as energy
efficient as its Western European competitors, it could save about
$200 billion annually that adds up to much more than the
Clevey suggests replacing plastic with bio materials rather than
subsidizing old and dirty industries with taxes. This
would stimulate the agricultural economy in Michigan, and it would
also make our products greener, and reduce costs He believes
local government should provide tax breaks for sustainable businesses,
such as Lansings KTM Industries, which produces edible childrens
arts and craft (so-called magic noodles) and corn-starch
bio packaging. That would enable the city to attract new sustainable
businesses and reduce waste. Currently, KTMs natural toys
are sold in 12 countries. Watertown Township gave us a tax
abatement to induce us to stay in the area, said its president,
Tim Colonnese. He said that no local government in the area offers
a specific tax-break for sustainable businesses. When asked for
ideas on strengthening sustainability in the area, Colonnese said
the city or state could easily pass green taxes on plastic materials.
The Canadian province of Ontario has a 10-cent levy on non-refillable
beverage containers, and Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Belgium
have successfully used eco-taxes since the 1970s for this purpose.
Right now were working with state Sen. Virg Bernero
(D) to get some legislation done in Michigan, said Colonnese.
Clevey helps churches throughout Michigan to find places where
they can buy green power and energy efficient office equipment.
The issue is aggregation. The bigger the purchase, the more
you can afford to pay for the more expensive green products.
Clevey assists getting smaller companies together with larger
organizations, such as Michigan State University,to make joint
purchases in order to reduce costs and waste.
Hudson of Urban Options
Small Business Association of Michigan also provides information
on a federal program called Energy Star that is able to make homes
30 percent more energy efficient than a comparable home by following
the Model Energy Code. Clevey said that today there is not a single
Energy Star-rated building in Lansing. He said the city hasnt
adopted state-of-the art energy conservation practices yet, Clevey
said: Its lacking knowledge, has other priorities,
and there doesnt seem to be a clamor of citizens.
In order to assess how much waste is produced, Clevey suggests
implementing a mapping process called ecological foot print,
which would study the environmental outputs of the local economy,
land, air and water pollution. It would also analyze city permits
and taxing policies, and find out whether the municipality encourages
the destruction or restoration of the environment. Nobody
has done this yet, but the City of Lansing could easily do it,
In the last three years, the 7,000-member organization, with its
headquarters in Lansing, provided $20,000 to explore sustainable
business activities in the region. As a result of a conference
in October, attended by 260 Lansing area businesses, a new group
is forming called the Central Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.
There will be information available to Lansing area businesses
on how to improve profitability by adopting sustainability practices,
said Clevey. The group is following in the footsteps of similar
organizations in Grand Rapids, Saginaw, and Southeast Michigan.
Did you know that a typical U.S. toilet, for example, uses five
gallons per flush, while common new models in Germany use half
as much, and those in Scandinavia one third? For private homes,
the East Lansing-based nonprofit organization Urban Options offers
what they call an Energy Fitness Program. For the last 12 years,
theyve remodeled the homes of 2,500 residents with lower
and moderate incomes throughout Lansing to make them more energy
efficient. In 2002, Urban Options fixed 237 houses, an achievement
made possible by a grant from the City of Lansings Planning
Department. The results are impressive: Every household saves
$33.80 monthly just by insulating windows, doors, implementing
water flow controls and exchanging light bulbs. The calculated
water savings for all homes per year is 13,142 gallons, energy
savings is 1,145,080 kWh, and there are 152 tons fewer carbon-dioxide
emissions. Its as if there were 85 fewer SUV trucks
in Lansing now, said Patrick Hudson, who directs Urban Options.
The organizations office building at 405 Grove St. hosts
a library on sustainable issues. Moreover, it serves as a demonstration
house for solar energy and environmental protection.
community gardens, local purchasing
Kerry Bair, the general manager of the East Lansing Food Co-Operative,
moved from Seattle to Lansing area in 1987. It was very
hard for me to adjust to this landscape, because it was so flat
and so exposed. It was so disconcerting to me that for a long
time I felt very afraid, because there was no place to go. So
I learned where every single place was with trees, within five
Bair and Melissa Robbins of the East Lansing Food Co-Op
said she took a job at the food co-op because she felt it was
a crossing-point for people who shared similar values, and in
1992 she became the general manager. In Seattle shed been
a member of a meditation group and had also been involved in cooperative
pre-schools and co-op food groups. She grew up in Colorado Springs,
Colo., another hot bed of thoughtful regional planning. I
looked at Pikes Peak every single day. I didnt even have
to walk out of the house. It is probably no coincidence
that sustainable planning originated in places where youre
so close to things that are too amazing on a physical level to
not appreciate it, she said. But sustainable ideas were
just beginning to spread in the Midwest.
After living in the Lansing area a few years, shed located
the best green places to walk in, realizing at the same time that
tremendous expansion was still taking place. Especially in Meridian
Township, a lot of new commercial developments were springing
up. I wasnt happy with this. She was amazed
when she compared Lansing area developments with those in Seattle,
a city whose face had changed little though its population had
grown enormously. Now I expected to go back and see that
the things I care about were torn, ripped out, and had disappeared,
but instead you see people living creatively and using space differently.
The East Lansing Food Co-Operative is owned by the people that
shop there, today 3,000 members. The idea is that people
doing something jointly can do it in a better way than theyd
be able to by themselves, individually, said Bair. Following
this logic, no one benefits unless everyone does. In comparison
with a firm owned by a small number of individuals, a community
held corporation is arguably more responsive to the common good.
There are more than 47,000 cooperatives in the United States,
including 4,000 consumer co-ops, 6,500 housing co-ops, 12,600
credit unions, 1,200 rural cooperative utilities, 115 telecommunications
and cable co-ops, and more than 100 cooperative insurance companies.
Last year we bought a third of our produce from local farmers,
which is pretty substantial considering that many of the stores
around here buy one sixteenth from local farmers, said food
co-op manager Melissa Robbins. She said that the co-op is committed
to buying from local organic farmers as far into the fall as possible.
Aside from fruit, during the summer months 90 percent of their
produce is purchased from local farmers. The food comes from local
growers within a 50-mile radius of Lansing.
Few communities in the United States today are self-reliant. We
require oil that is brought in by truck, coal by train, natural
gas by pipeline, and electricity that travels through expansive
power grids. Food typically travels 1,300 miles before reaching
the dinner table. The idea of a sustainable economy is to save
resources through local production, distribution, and marketing.
Bair says more people today are aware of food and food sources,
which she considers an educational success. But she thinks there
is more work to be done. The biggest risk we have now is
that the last small natural foods manufacturers are being bought
up by major food corporations in this country. Bair said
that in this situation food co-ops are even more important, because
were small enough that we can actually buy from several
different local farmers, whereas larger stores cant.
Stevenson and Richard Tylor, who run a certified organic farm
in Owosso, in Shiawassee County, are two of 10 organic farmers
who collaborate with the East Lansing Food Co-Operative. They
have 12 acres of certified organic tomatoes, squash, cauliflower,
broccoli, Swiss char, kale and peppers. In their winter production
green house they grow spinach, spicy greens, Swiss char. The
greenhouses are unheated, its very low tech and we were
one of the first people to do it, said Tylor.
Urban farming is another concept increasingly endorsed by communities
throughout the United States. Over the past 20 years, New York
City has opened a thousand community gardens on public land and
18 public markets to sell their produce. In Lansing theres
a community gardening project run by the Mason non-profit organization,
Growing In Place Community Farm. They essentially provide
anything that a home gardener would need to grow and raise their
own food, such as the seed, seedlings, hoses, tools, organic
fertilizers, the space and the tilling, says Robbins, a volunteer.
They work with people who dont have enough money to
go to have the luxury of buying it. Theres about 20
different gardens throughout the Lansing and East Lansing area,
and people are assigned plots as close as possible to their neighborhoods.
Beyond self-production, one way to encourage eco-friendly consumption
is to avoid plastic wrapping, containers, and bags. Goodrichs
Shop-Rite supermarket in Trowbrige Plaza in East Lansing offers
a five-cent credit for every bag not used, a policy that encourages
consumers to bring their own cloth bags or buy tote bags available
near the counter. Unfortunately, this simple act is one most shoppers
dont consider, and not even all cashiers at Goodrich were
familiar with the stores bag credit policy.
As seen through the example of Seattle, city governments can support
local purchasing. Lansing, like many other cities, has an ordinance
stating a preference for local bidders who can offer
an equal price. This policy has become the mantra of politicians
wishing to support regional businesses. But for others, the point
is missed. In March 2001, for instance, Mayor Hollister signed
the Finance Departments recommendation to buy most of the
citys coffee at Interstate Gourmet Coffee Roasters in South
Easton, Mass., replacing much of their purchase from the local
Lansing roaster, Paramount, located on Larch Street across from
For a savings of roughly $1,500 per year (just 3 cents per package),
City Hall would let employees sip Bostons Best
rather than its own homebrew coffee and would ignore a local coffee
roaster that has been in business since 1935, employing about
100 Lansing-area residents. Councilman Harold Leeman hadnt
found the citys decision palatable. We should do everything
we can to purchase locally, Leeman said. It is sending
the wrong message when were buying our coffee outside of
Green building instead of Urban Sprawl
Back at Way Station Books & Stuff, Glumm is reflecting on
mall culture in Lansing, a phenomenon that apparently contradicts
all efforts to revitalize the downtown area. Potential customers
dont realize that they park at the mall and walk miles sometimes
from one end to the other. But here they can get within four square
blocks, he mulls.
Townsend, called a green builder because he builds
environmentally friendly homes, has a theory for why decisions
are so often made in favor of urban sprawl. One of the really
characteristic things about Lansing is that people live fairly
isolated lives for reasons that are maybe historical. Its
just the way its always been done here, just as people in
Grand Rapids have always devoted more time to community activities,
said Townsend who contracts for Coulter builders in Okemos and
is president of the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council.
In 2001, Grand Rapids embraced new planning principles by rewriting
its Master Plan. The city held more than 100 public meetings to
solicit comments, ideas, and opinions from local residents about
planning, sprawl, and how land use could be improved. Among the
ideas people recognized the right to exist in a healthy, supportive,
diverse, and sustainable environment. Other participants stressed
the need to design buildings and communities that have long-term
They really identified the problem. Grand Rapids has the
same advantages of Portland, Atlanta, and other places that have
kept their downtown areas vital, said Townsend. The green
builder said he had a desire to find similar ways of knitting
together communities of Lansing and East Lansing. Today, he is
a board member for the East Lansing Food Co-Operative and is a
major actor in forming the Central Michigan Sustainable Business
Forum. Townsend said a kick-off event is scheduled for February.
Hearing the award-winning Virginia-based architect William McDonough
speak at last years sustainable business conference in October
at Michigan State Universitys Kellogg Center was a great
incentive for him, the builder said. Last October, work began
on McDonoughs design for the green roof of Fords new
truck assembly plant in Dearborn. The first thin rolls of sedum,
a water and heat-absorbing, low-growing ground cover, were being
installed on a project scheduled to open in 2004: called the worlds
largest living roof, McDonoughs design is said
to cost roughly the same as a conventional roof but will last
twice as long because it wont expand during the heat of
the day and shrink at night. It will store 4 million gallons of
rainwater, while eliminating pollutants that would ordinarily
pour off the rooftop into the river. Skylights will fill the new
vehicle plant with so much natural light that Ford engineers anticipate
being able to turn off half of the interior electric lights during
the day, saving nearly $50,000 annually in energy costs.
I think its conceivable that General Motors could
do something similar in Lansing, but its not very probable
to happen in the coming years, said Townsend. He believes
that even larger area businesses will soon find ways to
do well by doing good, because increasingly only those who
are very good at waste management, worker retention, and energy
utilization will be profitable.
Townsend argues that endorsing sustainable development isnt
difficult at all. The city of Seattle now develops all of its
buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification,
a green building standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The program focuses on five criteria: sustainable site development,
water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor
environmental quality. Its just a matter of political choice:
Seattle has just decided to go in this direction, forward-looking,
and accepting some increased initial costs. But typically, the
paybacks on these investments are pretty quick.
Like many other local community developers, the green builder
said its regrettable that none of the areas city governments
have adopted these state-of-the art programs so far and says he
wont go shopping at the new Lansing mall: Its
a horrible waste of the existing natural environment. Townsend
suggests more deliberate decisions for Lansings future,
so that sustainable projects have a chance to grow: The
solution to all this is regional planning. There are places in
this country that are a decade ahead of Mid-Michigan in this regard.
This means that individual townships are not competing with each
other for development, that theres a master plan for the
entire urban area, and that people really stick to it. It takes
an incredible amount of political will to do that.