Take a moment and consider how you would explain East Lansing to someone who was new to the area.
Would you describe it as your typical college town—complete with restaurants, bars and close-knit neighborhoods all within a proximity to MSU’s campus? Or would you, instead, describe a place best known for its rich connection to the arts?
If you were to ask this question to most East Lansing city officials, they would hope you would describe the city as the latter.
Omari Sankofa II
But would that be the truth?
Recently, the East Lansing City Council vigorously has pushed for constructing an image of East Lansing as a “City of the Arts.”
Over time, this concept has generated a great deal of support from many city officials, and this phrase can be seen proudly displayed on both a large poster hanging from the old City Center II site and on the city’s official webpage.
The city’s conviction to establishing this image has led to the discussion of city policies, including the 50/50 ordinance and potential restrictions on local businesses catered to college students, such as hookah lounges.
These policies slowly have created a divide within the community.
Despite what many of these officials seem to believe, when you think of East Lansing, it is impossible not to first think of the overwhelming presence held by the university.
Although there are aspects of this community that do celebrate the arts, including the newly constructed Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, their influence doesn’t outweigh the role the college community has on the city.
Even more, if the only evidence of East Lansing being a “City of the Arts,” aside from the newly-constructed museum, is an empty Barnes and Noble that occasionally hosts weekend events and a sign on an abandoned building, the city needs to rethink what it means to be considered artsy.
By pushing for policies aimed at restricting the stability of businesses, such as bars and hookah lounges that are commonly frequented by college students, the city not only jeopardizes the stability of these businesses, but also decreases the likelihood of new restaurants and stores from coming to the area in the future.
Instead of pushing for an entirely new cultural identity and focusing their attention on creating an environment better suited for young professionals, city officials should embrace the type of community that already exists in East Lansing.
A town is defined by the people who live in it, not the desires of a select few.
For East Lansing, that’s the almost 50,000 college students who call it their home.
No matter how many changes the city makes to enhance its image, East Lansing always will be a college town.
Without the support of the students, there is little hope of development for the future.