Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Zoo Life

I headed to downtown Kalamazoo yesterday to tool around the place and do some work in a coffee shop. I remember again my many laments that Western Michigan University is not closer to downtown Kalamazoo. Despite its being overpriced, Ann Arbor has two things going for it -- walkability and free wireless internet.

Downtown Kalamazoo is home to the world's greatest magazine store, Michigan News Agency. I take a trip there every time I am home because it's got it all -- much better than Borders or Barnes and Noble. It's also home to the world's best brewery, Bell's (sorry, Leopold Bros). While I cannot vouch for its being the world's best, it also has a damn fine architectural salvage store, The Heritage Company. In addition, it also has a damn fine coffee shop -- Water Street Coffee Joint. The last 3 of these 4 attractions are semi-walkableon the far east edge of downtown; all you have to do is brave several lanes of one-way traffic, and several empty lots as you get there. You also have to get there, which requires a car, since Kalamazoo is, except for a few pockets, a much less pedestrian friendly city. (Check out the numerous surface parking lots on the Google map.)

However, these problems also provide the opportunities for improvement. Kalamazoo has been as aggressive and more successful than Ann Arbor in experimenting with downtown development. A downtown parking ramp went up without crying from downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. This is in part because Kalamazoo was a big city when Ann Arbor was a small town -- there's more (de-)industrial space between the CBD and the neighborhoods. Condo redevelopment has been faster and less contentious, and is more affordable as well. Did I mention cost of living is about a third lower?

Here's a New Year's prediction -- by 2010, Kalamazoo will be a better place to live than Ann Arbor (if it's not already).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A downtown parking ramp went up without crying from downtown-adjacent neighborhoods"

As you noted yourself, this is largely because there are no downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. I'm not sure what this proves other than there is a lot of wasted space in downtown Kalamazoo.

"Did I mention cost of living is about a third lower?"

This is true in most of west-side Michigan and really, outside of SE Michigan, across the state with a few exceptions (Traverse City, for example). At least acknowledge that some of the reason for the high cost of living in Ann Arbor is because people actually want to live there. The day that Kalamazoo becomes a destination, I'm sure we'll see the same effect. And I'm pretty sure that you 2010 prediction won't come true but what do I know, maybe Kalamazoo will figure out that having giant billboards towering over residential neighborhoods isn't such an attractive look (one of my pet peeves about Kalamazoo).

3:32 PM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

Ann Arbor should be so lucky as to have Kalamazoo's "wasted space." Kalamazoo has always been a destination -- my destination. It sure could do with a few more lifelong residents who don't want ANYONE ELSE to move in and ruin the smalltown feel they've spent a lifetime protecting, though.

10:16 PM  
Blogger David said...

Man, you know, it's tough to buy the 'liveable kalamazoo' theory. The pedestrian mall is nice, the new (ish) college extension and library are good, but in the end, the city just empties at five. Like Detroit on the small. Until they solve that, and make it so some of the businesses can survive (Athena books closed, for crying out loud), I just don't see the town budging. That said, it certainly wins on price.

1:35 AM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

Athena Books wasn't a very good bookstore, though. Kazoo Books was much better.

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

by 2010, Kalamazoo will be a better place to live than Ann Arbor

born of a news stand, a brewery, and ample parking?

you may be overlooking some of ann arbor's attractions ... like the people ... and the jobs ...

6:13 PM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

I never had any problem with the people of Kalamazoo.

11:52 PM  

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