Walking Wednesday: REO Town

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For this Walking Wednesday, we headed to REO Town, to see the improvements made by the REO Town Commercial Association, using Love Your Block Grant funds. We met with Ryan Wert, who was able to tell us about the history and changes that the neighborhood has made over the years.

REO Town was originally home to the REO Automobile company and its workers. This vibrant neighborhood has recently seen a increase in interest, in the residential neighborhoods, commercial corridor, and parks.

Our first stop was to see the Love Your Block Improvements. The Riverview Church parking lot has undergone landscaping improvements, as well as new picnic tables. This is now a place that is accessible to anyone attending a festival, or just getting a bite to eat along South Washington Avenue.

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We then walked around the neighborhood for a while, seeing what the residential part of the neighborhood was like. We ended up at Scott Park, which connects to the Lansing River Trail at the point where the Grand River and Red Cedar River converge. There were a lot of people out and about, eating, playing on the playground, and fishing. Its not surprising that people want to live in REO Town.The parkland and water made it surprising that we were so close to the city center. DSCN0390DSCN0392DSCN0391DSCN0394

We looped around and ended our walking tour by getting Saddleback BBQ. This restaurant alone is reason enough to stop by REO Town, with some of the best food I’ve had in Lansing. There are a lot of exciting things to do in REO Town, including walking through the parks, going to the new stores, or checking out the art scene. It was definitely worth the visit!

 

 

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Greater Lansing Food Bank Annual Community Garden Tour

On August 22, 2015, I (Clara Martinez) had the privilege to adventure with Brittany Gordon on one of the most inspiring rides about town I have experienced here in Lansing. The Greater Lansing Food Bank celebrated another year of beautiful  and beneficial community gardens and amazing volunteerism. With over 100 gardens in 7 different counties, our Food Bank relies mainly on community members’ outstanding capacity to tend to their neighborhood green spots and maintain upkeep of a variety of crops. We were fortunate enough to visit four different gardens between East Lansing and South Lansing and get to know more about these not-so-hidden pockets of gold.

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Courtesy of the Greater Lansing Food Bank (above), our itinerary shows our first stop as the Lilac Garden! Being the oldest community garden in the Greater Lansing area, Lilac Garden had a rich sense of history, variety of produce, and exuded apparent ownership from its caretakers. Michigan State run and providing something intriguing to do to its mainly immigrant users, Lilac Garden has a special green space in the City’s heart.

Next up, we ventured to Enchanted Forest!

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With fresh cucumbers from the garden for cucumber water, a nice salad and sweets, this Garden’s facility community was ready for us to enjoy their garden’s first year in bloom. It was exciting to appreciate with them the success they planted after months of planning through the dreary January and February of last year.

After resisting leaving, we were on to the Jolly Ranchers of South Lansing:

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Greeted with a song by the garden team, even more delicious sweets, and a beautiful dusk setting of a vibrant variation in produce, Team Jolly Ranchers’ devotion to their garden was easy to recognize, but not easy to beat. Fellow community gardeners, keep your eye on this garden. More amazing things to come!

Our last stop along our way was at the magical Summerplace. Nestled between Jolly and Waverly roads is an apartment complex hub for multiple populations of refugees forming even tighter knit communities, and over 99 plots in their community garden. As many of these families come from agrarian backgrounds and economies, gardening has brought them together in the southwest side of Lansing, creating a home away from home for them. It was inspiring to spend a half hour with these residents, enjoy another Michigan sunset, and be fed. Brittany and I took home a fair amount of food and feasted that evening, all thanks to the kindness and warmth of a community based in sharing, growing, and enjoying the company of a stranger.

All in all, it was an experience I will remember and think of fondly in my time in this diverse, hidden gem of a capital city, Lansing.

Fighting Blight: A Tour of Hardest Hit Blighted Homes and a Land Bank Renovation

This morning, Clara and I woke up bright and early to meet Ingham County Lank Bank employee, Rawley Van Fossen. He graciously took us to a demolition, along with tours of blighted homes that will be demolished and a renovated home. But, before I get into those details, let me explain the Blight Elimination Program and how that integrates into Cities of Service’s Love Your Block blueprint and grant.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) awarded the City of Lansing with a grant of 6.25 million in order to demolish tax-foreclosed, blighted homes. The City of Lansing decided to partner with the Land Bank, since the City has a successful partnership with Land Bank and the Land Bank has the history and manpower to help carry out the demolitions. The City and the Land Bank chose five areas to focus the Hardest Hit Blight Elimination funds and over the course of the next year, about  250 homes will go down. See a map of the blighted homes going down updated regularly to show the upcoming groupings of houses going down.

Most of the lots will become side lot sales–meaning the neighbors next to the property will have the opportunity to buy the lot and expand their yard spaces. Another opportunity exists in connection with the Love Your Block grant. For properties that aren’t set aside for a side lot sale or another purpose, a community has the ability to apply for a Love Your Block mini-grant in order to transform the empty lot into something the community needs–from a perennial flower garden to a butterfly garden, there are numerous possibilities.

Now, back to 7 am. Clara, Rawley, and I were joined by Land Bank Grant Manager, Roxanne Case, to watch a contractor take down a home deemed structurally deficient. As the demolition was about to start, a neighbor stopped to ask what was happening and then after explaining, she proceeded to state that the home has been abandoned for several years and that it was good to see that something was finally going to be done. After some tree removal to get the excavator through, the demolition started. We watched as a home, that most likely took a couple months to build, was taken down in less than thirty minutes. While I can try to explain the sounds of crunching and snapping, along with the fresh wood smell that filled my nostrils, I’d rather just show you the pictures of the demolition, so you can see the excitement for yourself.

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After the demolition, Rawley took us on a tour of a couple homes that will be going down shortly. We saw where there were holes in the ceilings,wood was rotting, and experience the overall atmosphere of a blighted home. We were encompassed by many smells, dodged nails and knives on the floor, and avoided molds growing throughout the homes. Everything about these homes illuminated that they were tired, unkempt, and the land needed a new journey. The first home we visited didn’t fit into the architecture of the neighborhood and looked miles behind the other homes. Below are some pictures of the first home.

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We then moved forward to the second home. After this home is demolished, the City’s Planing office is going to build a new home–proving that there is hope in these spaces after these blighted homes go. The tragic part about the second home displayed that a family used to live in this home. There were several children’s toys left behind. Also in the kitchen, intricate tiling was atop the counters showing that in its prime, this home was quite beautiful. In the entryway, the contractors had to remove the tiling due to asbestos. Poisoned materials are always removed before the demolition, so that the particles do not enter the air and into someone’s lungs. Here are pictures of the second demolition.

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Finally, to end our tour on a happier, less desolate note, Rawley took us to a tax-foreclosed home that the Land Bank renovated. These are properties that are not judged as blighted that the Land Bank or City fixes up and sells at an affordable price to lower income individuals and families. The cost of renovation is about equal to building a new home, but they choose to renovate in order to keep the history and architecture of the house, so that it fits into the neighborhood.   To end this posting, I will show you pictures of the renovated home in order to fulfill your whimsy.

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A String of Pearls: Our Self-Guided Tour of the Westside

Yesterday, Clara and I held an impromptu Walking Wednesday on Lansing’s Westside. And while we were the only participants for the first hour, Andi Crawford joining us in  hour two, we had a resourceful guide to inform us on the historic homes strung together throughout the Westside. Put together by the Westside Commercial Association, the guide showed us where many of the premier businessmen of the early 1900s lived. To take a look at this guide and learn more about the homes below, please follow this link: http://bit.ly/1Cdiun4

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Here are some of the gems we saw on our self-guided tour. The image to a left is a former firehouse turned home and the right most image is a Tudor style home that was built in 1925.

Also on our self-guided tour, Clara and I came across another Little Free Library, which are quickly becoming our favorite Walking Wednesday Easter Egg. We each took a book, and I plan on going through my extensive book collection to see what I can share in these libraries throughout neighborhoods in Lansing.

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Decorated with Oldsmobile stickers, this Little Free Library was an ode to the Lansing Car Assembly, which had a large presence in the Westside of Lansing. Closed in 2005, one of the most prominent businesses on the Westside was a GM Assembly Plant. The property is now owned by RACER Trust, which was created by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to clean up and sell former GM properties. Where these factories once were on the Westside now sits a vast green space  with the potential to become something great. Below to the left is a picture of the property, which does no justice to its size.

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When Andi joined our tour, we went to see one of Ingham County’s Land Bank homes. This house isn’t in the first four groups for demolition and may be one of the homes they are going to revitalize. Either way, we filled some of our excitement by watching workers as they were taking down a tree behind the house piece by piece. Next week, Clara and I get to watch a full demolition of a blighted home and will have a full blog post on the Blight Elimination Project and how this ties into why Clara and I are here.

Andi also showed us Sexton High School, built in 1941, this school has some of the most beautiful carvings and architectural features that illuminate the beauty of its age. Located behind Sexton High School sits a large land of green space that connects to the football field. Then located beside that lives Saint Joseph Park, owned by the city, which also has a nice spread of green space. Westside residents have numerous options of greenery to roam through. From a handful of tree-filled and floral roundabouts, to these fields behind Sexton High School, the Westside isn’t lacking on foliage. Below is a side view of Sexton High School, as well as a couple of pictures of Saint Joseph Park.

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The Westside seems to be a place full of potential that was once recognized and now needs to be realized again. Surrounded by beautiful homes, starter homes, and great green space butting up against a main corridor, this is an opportune place to call home. Clara and I were both blown away by this neighborhood.   We ended our journey at Harry’s Place–a bar and grill that everyone in Lansing seems to rave about. Opened to serve GM workers, this place feels like a family’s favorite food and drink establishment. I had a tasty Greek wrap, saw a waitress playing life-size Jenga with a customer, and somehow lost track of two hours because conversation was not lacking. Harry’s Place feels like a family party without the stress of planning, just the laughs. I look forward to more visits to the Westside: A Pearl in Lansing.

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This blog post was created by Brittany Gordon.

That Lansing Feel: Sycamore Park

It is a special treat to be a tourist in your own town, and on yesterday’s Walking Wednesday casual guide of Sycamore Park, it was exactly that for me.

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For those unfamiliar with Walking Wednesdays, the fabulous Neighborhood Resource Coordinator, Andi Crawford, assists in neighborhood members facilitating walking tours of their own communities. This was my co-VISTA, Brittany, and my first taste of (literally) walking and talking with Lansing citizens. While the atmosphere was casual, the thrill of being “out in the community” was energizing me.

As a graduate of East Lansing High School, but just now becoming a full-time resident of the Capital City, I knew little of the neighborhoods I did not travel through during Drivers Ed class, or whatever else one does in high school. It was a great snapshot moment as a new VISTA member to spend time with residents, the true experts of the city, and to hear how everyone viewed their little slice of paradise.

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With Sycamore Park being just South of Downtown, its residents have quick access to the world-class amenities of MSU, Cooley Law School Stadium, the local river trail, Fenner Park, seemingly endless green spaces, and Lansing nightlife.

About a dozen of us took to the paved road to see the uniquely crafted and gracefully aging homes of Sycamore Park. With the trees in full bloom, green summer leaves and the summer solstice having just occurred, it was perfect weather to hear stories, laugh, ask questions, admire Mt. Hope School, and discover a Little Free Library.

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To end the evening Neighborhood Association President, Paul Wozniak, amazed us with the wonders of a watermelon slicer. All in all, it was exciting to be a part of community building by simply enjoying a person’s neighborhood with them. I anticipate hearing more from and working with these residents in the future, as they would be wonderful Love Your Block participants.

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Blog post written by VISTA Clara Martinez.

Integrating Into Lansing–The VISTAs First Week

June 14th marked the first week that the AmeriCorps VISTAs, Clara Martinez and Brittany Gordon, started their work on Lansing City Hall Campus. They set out to help incorporate the Love Your Block blueprint–provided by Cities of Service–into the neighborhoods within Lansing and illuminate the importance of impact volunteering.

However, it being week one, the VISTAs first had to learn about the many opportunities and “bright spots” within Lansing in order to fully understand what makes this city so amazing. From going to the offices of their Michigan senators and representatives to seeing the beauty of Hawk Island Park, they learned the beautiful details of the Capital City.

They look forward to delving into their work with neighborhood and resource development. Below are some pictures they took of their adventures in week one.

Enjoy.

Blog Post created by Brittany Gordon.