Come to Old Town on a summer's night and you might get a first impression of fantastic life and activity. Swarms of people pack the sidewalks. World-class musicians cram the stages. At JazzFest, BluesFest, and other festivals, people of all colors, ages, and sizes socialize and dance to fabulous music on a beautiful evening under the summer sky. This is where the entire city comes together to celebrate.
But what will you see on other days?
You might notice the cluster of well-preserved historic buildings; you may note its proximity to the river, which flows around and behind Old Town's main drag. But these features are not unique; many cities have old buildings and many perch on the banks of rivers.
Your impression of Old Town may be one of open space, both physical and psychological. The closeness of buildings to one another and to the street feels comforting, echoes of the classic town square. It is eminently walkable and inviting.
You will likely notice the art-galleries, creative businesses and murals. Old Town was remade by artists and the focus on the arts remains, inspiring our festivals and events.
The soul of the community is reflected in the art here, in its commentary on our times, reflections on ourselves, and visions of the future. The open mental space created here as we remade Old Town gives room to create visions and revisions - of what we can or might become.
But your strongest impression will be of the people and their catalytic energy. They are among the best of what the Midwest has to offer - friendly, inviting, helpful and above all striving to create a better community, day by day.
You will see this in the exceptional customer service offered by small businesses and in the warm greetings of friends and neighbors. Some have been here for decades; others fell in love with the community recently. They are not all alike, but share the commitment to creating a better future.
When people think of historic districts, they tend to think of places like Greenfield Village or Fort Mackinac - places where the way we used to do things is the focus. And these places are good reminders of who we have been. But Old Town is focused on who we can be. It points toward a future in which Lansing is united despite differences, and confident in the identity and community we've built.
We are striving for the possible, with patience and perseverance, to realize this vision of a thriving community. The "ghost town" of the 1980s has become a center for commerce and the arts, a place where young and old make their homes and come to enjoy themselves.
It was hard, at that time, to see the vision of what we could become. We are deeply thankful to the artists and other members of the community who were willing to take risks anyway.
Terry Terry is the president and founder of MessageMakers, an Old Town-based business that produces events, video and instructional materials for clients. He also has helped create many of the festivals and events held annually in Old Town.