A little big city explored in ‘A City Saunter Story’

Local photographer speaks on two books documenting her three-year project

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In 2010, photographer Ariniko O’Meara decided to go for a walk in her hometown. Three years later, she was still walking — all 537 miles of Lansing’s streets.

Living in a city still reeling from an ugly recession, O’Meara said she had become a “cheerleader” for Lansing. She made it her personal mission to learn more about her hometown and took to the streets, camera in hand, to seek out hidden treasures tucked inside Lansing’s changing neighborhoods.

“I figured if I was going to be a cheerleader, I needed to see all of Lansing,” she said.

O’Meara will join the Historical Society of Greater Lansing Jan. 16 at the Library of Michigan for a presentation on her two books about a nearly three-year saunter in Lansing. In addition to showing photos from her trip, she will reflect on some of the more interesting experiences and people she encountered along the way.

Using her photographic and writing skills, she published two books last year with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The books are an inspirational look at what she calls her “little big city.” Her memoir of the walk, “A City Saunter Story: A Three Year Walking Quest to Discover the Wholeness of Lansing,” details her walk on a more emotional level while her companion photographic book, “The City Saunter Project: A Photographic & Journalistic Quest to Discover the Wholeness of Lansing, Michigan” showcases her photographic skills with more than 200 images.

She began her series of strolls Oct. 1, 2010 to the State Capitol with “perfect skies,” she wrote in her blog titled, “City Saunter.” O’Meara was born in Lansing and grew up on the city’s Northside. So, it was natural for one of her early walks to be in her old stomping grounds.

In her blog for Oct. 10, 2010, she marked the birthday of her younger brother, who died in an auto accident when he was 17. She visited the site of the car crash and took pictures to pair with her reflection. He would’ve turned 39.

She readily admits in the blog that when she began her first walk, she did not plan out her routes. Eventually, O’Meara used a computer program to track and plan her routes. Toward the end of the quest, she was able to use a new “smart” phone for navigation and tracking her steps.

However, no technological device could remedy her the foot aches and sore limbs from those first walks.

“There were times I didn’t think I could do it. I could barely walk 20 minutes when I first started.” she said, adding that in the beginning of the project she was recovering from a major surgery and 50-pound weight gain.

She finished her last day, Oct. 4, 2013, of hiking the city streets with a 29-mile jaunt. Along the way, she had worn out seven pairs of shoes, lost 15 pounds and got to know terrific people who call Lansing home.

On her walks, she was often accompanied by neighbors and fans, many of whom she met through #lovelansing, a Facebook group for residents to share positive testimonials. During her commute, she made it a point to stop at small mom and pop stores for coffee and to chat with customers.

O’Meara said parts of Lansing weren’t the easiest to walk in since there were no sidewalks on numerous streets. (Delta River Drive, Waverly Road, Tecumseh River Road and Aurelius Road, to name a few).

“Aurelius was the most dangerous,” she said.

In winter, she observed that the city’s snow shoveling ordinance is often ignored, and specifically called out large apartment complexes and commercial properties. She was complimentary about homeowners who keep their sidewalks clear.

O’Meara said you get to see the city in a different light when you walk it.

“In cars and on bikes you are going too fast to appreciate it. By the end of my walk, I was looking people in the eye and saying ‘Hi’,” she said.

Walking much of the city alone, she realized the potential danger, but she said there were no close calls. She was diligent to get her walks in before school got out.

Of the thousands of photographs she took, her favorite is of the State Capitol during the annual Silver Bells celebration.

In assessing her walk, O’Meara said one thing she could’ve done without were the dead-end streets — although she grew up on one. Because of the Grand River and I496 expressway, Lansing is blessed with scores of dead-end streets.

But at the end of some of those streets, she discovered some gems. For example, she stumbled upon the Grand River at the end of a long walk down Summit Street. On Lansing’s north end, she rediscovered Jones Lake, one of the city’s few bodies of water.

She also came away with what she thinks is an answer to one of her most perplexing questions: Why does one neighborhood prosper while the one right next to it flounders?

“It really comes down to a neighborhood group or one person who organizes the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s easy to be a cheerleader for Old Town, the Stadium District and REO Town, but we need cheerleaders everywhere.”

In her books, she profiles some of Lansing’s other “cheerleaders,” such as filmmaker Michael McCallum.

O’Meara makes the point that the best way to get to know Lansing is to walk it, starting with your own neighborhood.

“City Saunter” with Ariniko O’Meara

7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 16

Library of Michigan

702 W. Kalamazoo St., Lansing

(517) 335-1477, michigan.gov/libraryofmichigan

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