When most students at MSU think of Lansing, they probably think fondly of all the great times they have on campus, from hanging out with friends in the dorms to partying on a Friday night along Grand River Avenue. Everyone who has ever traveled along M.A.C. or Albert on a weekend night can attest to how many students choose to live it up around the campus area every single weekend.
But while these are great things to do in East Lansing, students sometimes forget that there is another great source of entertainment right around the corner in Lansing proper. Whether it is the sights, great dining or spectacular performances, downtown Lansing has much to offer that simply cannot be found on campus.
This feeling prompted political theory and constitutional democracy and international relations sophomore Isabel Laczkovich to found a new student organization, Linking Lansing & U. “The goal of the group is to get students down to Lansing, to see how great it is, that they can have a fun time there whether it is working there or living there, or just going out a couple nights. That is the main objective that we as a group want for the whole campus,” Laczkovich said.
Beginning With A Promise
If going to downtown Lansing doesn’t seem like the most popular idea, how did someone take it a step further and create a group whose goal is doing just that? Laczkovich, stuck in East Lansing over spring break while most other students were basking in the sun, was inspired one boring day. She decided to liven up the week with Job Shadow Day, where she followed State Representative Joan Bauer and met Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.
“[Bernero] said, ‘You know, we would love to have more students come down here.’ And I said to him, ‘I’ll create a student group.’ I don’t think he believed that I would do that, but we signed up as an RSO, and now we’re an official student group,” Laczkovich said.
So far, things have been going well for the young Linking Lansing & U organization, and they’re looking to capitalize off the relatively recent success of their Silver Bells event. At the start of the Christmas season, Silver Bells was held in honor of the lighting of the official Michigan Christmas tree, and included a parade, free hot chocolate and a party at Club X-Cel organized by Laczkovitch and Linking Lansing & U. It was a collaborative effort that demonstrated not only the effectiveness of the small organization but the power of ideas. Transportation was provided, Christmas carols were sung, and, as Laczkovitch said, there was something for everyone.
“If you were the sentimental type, you could take your girlfriend down for a Christmas stroll, you could watch the lighting of the state Christmas tree and go for a carriage ride afterward. That’s more the romantic side of it. Or you could have just come a little later with our bus and gone right into the party,” Laczkovich said.
The event was a success, with Linking Lansing & U transporting over 500 students on their buses alone, and Laczkovich said that there were over 10,000 people of all age groups crowding downtown Lansing.
Still, even with this success, Linking Lansing & U wants even more students to enjoy the events in downtown Lansing.
“I was surprised too, the first time I went down,” Laczkovich said. “There are some very nice sights, and I want them [students] to get to know that.”
What About East Lansing?
However, one of the main problems Linking Lansing & U has to deal with is students’ perceptions that Lansing has nothing to offer. Many students see Lansing as a place with very few opportunities for entertainment or employment, and they find it difficult to enjoy what they know about the capitol, given difficult transportation issues (getting to Lansing via CATA can be difficult) and what is seen as a relatively high crime rate- according to cityrating.com, Lansing’s violent crime rate is 1.72 times the national average.
Political theory and constitutional democracy and history freshman Joseph Habib doesn’t see the point in traveling to Lansing when East Lansing offers so much to the student population.
“I wouldn’t see any reason, as a student, to go to Lansing. But then again, I don’t know much about it. Maybe if I knew more, about something enticing as a student, I’d go,” Habib said. “All the shopping is on Grand River. If you want the mall, you hop on the bus and you’ve got the mall. College students aren’t looking at ‘oh, what a pretty view!’ We’re not really into that sort of thing.”
In addition to these concerns, Habib said that Lansing and East Lansing can be seen by some as two completely different and irreconcilable cultures. While Lansing is commonly categorized as very urban, East Lansing tends to be typified as a pure college party town.
“MSU is completely, 100 percent cut off from Lansing. East Lansing is its entire own community and it would be like fusing two different communities together. I don’t think it would be possible, really. I don’t see what the draw is,” Habib said.
Getting Down in Downtown
Despite all of these concerns, however, a growing number of students are finding benefits in downtown Lansing’s rugged charm. Katherine Rohr, a social relations and policy and telecommunications sophomore, was adamant in her support for local, downtown businesses.
“I’m actually in Lansing more than I’m in East Lansing,” she said. “There are a lot of attractions, mainly the non-chain businesses that are in Lansing, which you can’t find in East Lansing.” She listed restaurants – Theo’s Diner and Clara’s Restaurant – and music venues and clubs like Club X-Cel, Club Spiral, Cadillac Club and Mac’s Bar. “They’re all pretty independent,” Rohr said.
Indeed, the large amount of mom-and-pop businesses and the diversity that can be found in Lansing is a marked departure from the corporate stores that litter Grand River.
As for the prevalence of crime in Lansing, Rohr isn’t phased. “There’s a lot of crime on campus too.”
“At one point or another you’re going to graduate from here.” she said “You’re going to have to live in the real world. It depends on whether you’re living with that high school mindset. We can’t always be protected living in on a college campus. Go out and explore.”
Inside Linking Lansing & U
All of these opportunities are exactly the reason that Linking Lansing & U exists. It is a collaborative effort to get students downtown to enjoy city’s unique places, like Elderly Instruments, which sells used instruments from violins to guitars. The consensus within the group is that, though East Lansing is a great place to be, the addition of downtown Lansing to the list of MSU student hangouts can only add to opportunities in student life.
Cameron Cochran, a political theory and constitutional democracy and international relations sophomore and member of Linking Lansing and U, said there were many benefits of getting students involved downtown. “It’s a cool thing to have so close to East Lansing. It’s the capital of Michigan, which has a lot of history and a lot of cool things to do. When students are down there, they can have a good time and stimulate the economy at the same time,” Cochran said.
However, the group is still in its infancy. “The biggest thing is that we need members right now to come to our meetings. It’s important to get the word out and get these
businesses started up, get these students to Lansing,” Cochran said.
Efforts and Results
As a consequence of Linking Lansing & U’s efforts, some students have been enjoying all the events and places that Lansing has to offer. Whether it’s seeing a show at Mac’s bar or simply enjoying the sights, new efforts are being made to get students to Lansing so that they can experience new opportunities for entertainment. So far, the events like Job Shadow day and Silver Bells have resonated throughout both cities with positive results.
Sure, there are a lot of things to do in East Lansing. But the exciting opportunities in downtown Lansing have only begun to be explored. As Laczkovich said, it’s all about improving student life.
“We’re specifically focused on the student aspect. It’s all about letting students know about Lansing, as well as all the opportunities. Lansing is one of the only economies growing now, so there are a lot of job offers,” Laczkovich said.
“We want people to come on board and help the city and themselves.”
Linking Lansing & U can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.