There’s a bitter joke passed around Michigan citizens that you’re likely to be familiar with: “Michigan only has two seasons, and they are six months of winter and six months of construction.” At least, it’s intended as a joke.
While summer is always the peak of road construction and renovation work in Michigan, the past few months — and the year before that — has been held in the grip of detours, closed roads, shut down bus stops, streets ripped down to the dirt beneath, and a tall skyline that buoys over a city made of low, humble buildings. I don’t think it’s an offensive guess to assume that the city and the university are looking forward to the new infrastructure with hopes that it will bring more money and populace back to the area and that maybe one day it will be on par with other big-name college towns.
As a resident? I’m a little less than pleased.
Having spent the summer in East Lansing, I, like many other students, faculty, and citizens have had to maneuver my life around the shifting inconveniences and demands of modern construction. Coming from someone who lives on the east side of Michigan Avenue, it became quicker to walk to most locations than it would be to fight the army of construction workers, heavy machinery, and wire fences that thinned down the road into a slow one-lane.
Harrison Road has been open and closed at seemingly random intervals. At one point, all the nearby bus stops were shut down, which I’m sure thrilled the students and Lansing citizens who rely on public transportation. At another, the whole sidewalk was off-limits, forcing some residents (me) to cut through a hole in the Cedar Greens fence to supplement a genuine route anywhere. One day, the road was entirely closed and locals were held hostage in their own residences.
Now, I’m not the only one who’s been affected, though I’m arguably the most upset. All across East Lansing, a city so small it was never hard to navigate, new apartments and a minuscule Target have restricted accessibility and mobility with a long-coming end just barely beginning to make itself known. With the Target open to the public, along with its apartment complex sitting on top, and the Hub just barely completed in time for the MSU Fall Semester, what is left is upcoming grad housing the Abbot, Foster’s Coffee, roadwork on Albert, and of course, the new sewage system running under Michigan Ave.
If you’ve noticed, a lot of these new living areas are exceptionally strict in who they will take as tenants and use any excuse, from the location to the recent build, to price gouge an area that already experiences obvious class divides. Even without considering the economic dynamics, very few of these projects are hiding what they are on the surface; bare with me for a second.
The high-rise buildings, the cluster of new coffee shops, the sheer expense and exclusivity of everything, makes one think of Ann Arbor.
Now, Ann Arbor is a great city — it’s also a very inaccessible city and is a city that East Lansing just plain isn’t.
I know a lot of this is harsh, I know, so I need to clarify; my goal here is not to minimize the labors of construction workers or anybody in the trades or another traditionally blue-collar field. Particularly now when they’ve been left behind by the party meant to support them. I am neither trying to diminish the role that infrastructure plays in the standard quality of living in an area. However, I can respect both of those things while keeping my eye on trends of gentrification.
Gentrification, or the act of buying up cheap property in poorer towns for the purpose of marking up the real estate, often results in dominant white populations in traditionally minority areas is the real issue that could be on the horizon for East Lansing. The installation of infrastructure without consideration of the standing current population is inherently destructive, not productive, and also invasive and counterproductive to the long-term health of any area.
New infrastructure that does not fortify standing buildings and operations, but instead chooses to take advantage of an area afflicted by class strife is not bolstering an economy, it’s pushing current residents out of their own area and fails to reach its primary audience — poor college students. There’s little sustainability in rushing a small city to grow into a wealthy, often very white, real estate envy when it has only taken new money and residents into consideration.
What do I propose? I have no idea. I have zero civil engineering experience. I just want to be able to move about my city without involuntary sacrifice again. I don’t want to have to keep finding new detours to get to where I live. I want students, workers, and citizens to be able to use normal bus routes. I want better communication of city planning to residents. I, somehow, am eager for the six months of winter to arrest Michigan if it means that the life of East Lansing residents can resume.
Olivia Dalby is an English and Professional Writing student at Michigan State University who spends her time driving aimlessly, trying to scam big corporations, and worrying about the environment. She has written for Impact89 Radio and is published with Lycan Valley Press. Currently, Olivia works as a consultant at the MSU Writing Center, a Communications Intern at the Visiting International Professional Program, and a reluctant graphic designer in-between.
You can find her @livdalby on Instagram.