ities in the region commonly referred to as the Rust Belt are working to re-define their identity in post-industrial America. Historically industrial cities are challenged to develop a dynamic, vibrant character for the 21st century. This challenge is daunting in some towns, but in Lansing, Michigan, residents and government are working together to find creative ways to modernize their City. Lansing local government has partnered with Cities of Service to support several citizen-led revitalization efforts, including the Point West Art and Trail Project. This large, visionary plan aims to connect several vibrant neighborhoods with biking-walking trails, activities, and art displays. It will serve as a gateway to the City, a community gathering place, and a landmark unique to Lansing.
The project was conceived when resident volunteers and members of the Old Oakland Neighborhood Association, the West Side Neighborhood Association, and the Saginaw Oakland Commercial Organization realized that there was no clear feeling of entrance into Michigan’s capital City, and visitors could hardly tell the difference between the suburbs and Lansing itself. The organizations and interested citizens formed a team and devised a plan to connect several parks in Lansing via a biking-walking trail that would include fitness areas, gardens, and a public art display with large sculptures created by local artists. The Point West Art and Trail Project would be a point of pride for residents, and act as a distinct, memorable point of entry into the City.
The team knew that this would be an enormous undertaking with many moving parts, but they tackled the project one step at a time. They knew funding was a major factor, so they contacted a public art-focused nonprofit organization to acquire grants for the sculptures. The funder required grantee cities to have a public art ordinance in place – which, at the time, Lansing did not have. After campaigning tirelessly for two full years, the team got the ordinance passed, and secured a grant for the planned art installation.
They did not idly wait for the ordinance to pass, and used their time wisely. The team leveraged a $5,000 Love Your Block mini-grant and launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to bring in additional funding. They raised more than $13,000 from nearly 100 individuals in the community. This crowdfunding was matched by the Michigan Development Cooperation’s Public Spaces Community Place Program, bringing the total funding for the project to $26,000 before the public art ordinance was passed.
The team also laid the physical groundwork for the Point West Art and Trail Project while waiting for the public art ordinance to pass. With the help of Cities of Service Love Your Block AmeriCorps VISTAs, volunteers installed signage, crosswalks, and other street features in preparation for the larger project. The VISTAs also helped the team connect with a wide range of partners to encourage cross-sector buy-in from additional organizations including the Lansing Department of Parks and Recreation, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Department of Planning and Neighborhood Development.
The project is moving forward. Later this year, a 14-foot tall stainless steel sculpture called “Prosperity” by Michigan-based artist Fritz Olsen will be installed. Lansing municipal government departments are working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to sort out traffic laws for the path. Once completed, the Point West Art and Trail Project will encompass more than two square miles of Lansing.
It may take a long time and require partnerships between many entities, but Lansing’s Neighborhood Resource Coordinator Andi Crawford believes that volunteering initiatives like the Point West Art and Trail Project remind citizens that they can help shape the identity of their City. “It’s not about the project, or the garden, or the park bench,” Andi says. “It’s about people recognizing that they have an opportunity and the support from the City to dream about what their place in the world can look like, and then make it a reality.”
Learn more about the Point West Art and Trail Project on their Facebook page. Photo credit to Joe Duris, City of Lansing.