Lansing on the brink: Why I returned


(Evan B. Carr describes himself as a “social entrepreneur and spoken word poet who is fired up about Lansing and its incredible potential.” He is analyst for the nonprofit Carbon Neutral Michigan and is a facilitator for Ecstatic Dance Lansing.)

When I left Lansing in 2009 after high school, I was convinced Lansing was a small, dead-end town with no redeeming qualities. After a decade in the heart of the sprawling, affluent and cultured metropolis of Dallas, followed by two years of world travel, I am thrilled to be returning home to “little old Lansing.” And I’m not the only one.

It always surprises me when I tell people of all the places in the world I’m choosing Lansing and they ask why with a puzzled look. Perhaps one has to leave for a while to gain a new perspective.

Michigan is stunningly beautiful. Across each of its four seasons (yes, including winter) is a cornucopia of ways to enjoy our rich natural world. Lansing is full of trees, parks and green spaces, with a spectacular river trail, arboretum and nature centers. Lansing is “where the Land Sings.” Are you listening? A walk through the Westside neighborhood ensures that even in the suburbia of ages past the beauty of Michigan nature still shines.

This natural bounty is not all for show. The utility of being the second largest food-producing state and, of course, holding 80% of the continent’s freshwater (20% of the world’s) bodes well for the decades of uncertain climate trends ahead. Indeed, amid a globally hot summer full of fires, floods, eruptions and heat waves Michigan’s mild weather has been as good as it gets. And while the dice of natural disaster largely spared us this year, the truth is that unlike many regions of the country that must worry about fire, flood, sea rise, seismic activity and heat, we have just the occasional tornado/storm and the long, cold and dark winter of maybe snow. Even this gloomy stretch in the long night has now become for me a healthy part of the cycle where we recluse to hobbies, health and hearth.

You might have noticed that our culture is alive and well. After I browse and FB events, there is absolutely no shortage of festivals, events, trainings, concerts, and hobby groups. My Lansing calendar is overflowing with interests vying for my time. There’s simply more than one can do. Our central location makes Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Detroit an easy drive, the train to Chicago is affordable and fun, and we have great connections from our quaint and quick airport. Old Town is booming, REO Town is resurgent, East Lansing is vibrant and pockets of micro-community are anchored around our metro region.

The smart money took notice years ago. Property values are up, and investments in new multi-family construction tells of how our city will be growing again as people flee the crowded heat and traffic of the West, Southwest and South for our temperate oasis. At the moment and even after increasied value, Lansing housing is still comparatively affordable, but don’t expect it to remain as such forever.

In the reduced shadow of our automotive past is the innovation and culture hub of MSU, a premier research university and tremendous resource for our community. Together with LCC, Cooley and our state government, Lansing is actually a powerhouse of technology, policy and education.

These institutions are empty halls without being populated by our people. Healthy and resilient cultures thrive because of a diversity of ideas and backgrounds. And we have great diversity in Lansing with ample opportunity to connect with a variety of different cultures.

Nowhere are diversity and inclusion more evident than at The Fledge, one of the most impressive community centers in the country on the leading edge of using innovation to build resilience and meet community needs. Any type of weird is welcome there. And we have so many types in our town! Whether you’re a biker or a bear, like hip-hop or the symphony, play board games and sail Lake Lansing, there’s something for everyone here. And it’s only getting better.

On balance, Lansing of course has its problems: affordable housing, mental health and homelessness, food insecurity, crime, economic development, etc. ... but these are the challenges of our greater times. There are so many good people dedicated to addressing our social challenges, and the opportunities are plenty. And Lansing is perfectly sized. It’s small enough to have an impact and big enough for it to matter.

Even with these challenges included, Lansing is a place where you can get all of your needs met. I used to say that the smart ones got out and pointed to the diaspora of talent away from our Capital City. But now I’m beginning to see it’s the smart ones who are returning for a high quality of life positioned well for the decades ahead. A reverse brain drain is now occurring, and with it a swell of talented and capable people who each in their own way will contribute to our economy and culture.

We are no longer “little old Lansing.” We are not “little brother.” The word is out. Lansing is once again a center of commerce, culture and connection. Our future is one where “Everyone is Proud of Lansing.” Do you see it yet?



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