By Rob Wetterholt
For the past 11 years, a bicycle has been my main mode of transportation to class, to work, to visit friends and to explore the city in which I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life.
As I’ve traveled through Kalamazoo on my bike, the city has revealed itself to me in ways that cannot be experienced when you have the protective cocoon of a personal automobile or a city bus surrounding you.
Kalamazoo is a real city.
To unlock her secrets, both good and bad, you have to immerse yourself in the ways of life that abound in Kalamazoo. You have to spend time within city limits, day and night. Only then can you begin to appreciate and feel the warmth of this diverse city as it begins to surround you like a warm blanket.
Last year, Western Michigan University conducted a survey that measured diversity on campus and throughout the community. One portion of the survey asked students, faculty, staff and administrators how they felt about interaction between WMU and the city of Kalamazoo.
Out of the more than 5,600 responses that the survey received, students felt unsafe in certain parts of town where homeless people, rundown houses and poverty dotted the landscape.
Understandably so, the sight of a house with broken windows on one side and graffiti on the other isn’t exactly the most inviting spectacle to lay eyes upon.
However, what large city doesn’t have these problems in the wake of one of the country’s largest recessions?
Kalamazoo’s Vine Neighborhood has roughly 4,700 people living in one square mile immediately to the west of downtown Kalamazoo, in what many students have called a “rundown” or “dumpy” or “crime infested” part of Kalamazoo.
These perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. With the Vine Neighborhood brimming with eateries, a vibrant social and night life in addition to a diverse group of people living within its limits, the Vine Neighborhood is an experience in reality.
In a recent interview, Vine Neighborhood Association Executive Director Steve Walsh, who has been a longtime resident in the neighborhood, said that there are always people willing to take advantage of you, so be prepared.
“This is a neighborhood where worlds collide at times,” Walsh said. “Keep your guard up, keep your head up.”
Lock your doors. Lock your windows. Keep your head on a swivel. Common sense.
Kalamazoo has so much to offer everyone, you just have to take the time to go out and immerse yourself in the city. I guarantee you that if you do, many of the myths you’ve been told will end up being dispelled.
So go ahead, grab your bike or your best pair of walking shoes and bring a healthy dose of common sense along for the journey.
Kalamazoo is waiting.