I headed to downtown Kalamazoo yesterday to tool around the place and do some work in a coffee shop. I remember again my many laments that Western Michigan University is not closer to downtown Kalamazoo. Despite its being overpriced, Ann Arbor has two things going for it — walkability and free wireless internet.
Downtown Kalamazoo is home to the world’s greatest magazine store, Michigan News Agency. I take a trip there every time I am home because it’s got it all — much better than Borders or Barnes and Noble. It’s also home to the world’s best brewery, Bell’s (sorry, Leopold Bros). While I cannot vouch for its being the world’s best, it also has a damn fine architectural salvage store, The Heritage Company. In addition, it also has a damn fine coffee shop — Water Street Coffee Joint. The last 3 of these 4 attractions are semi-walkableon the far east edge of downtown; all you have to do is brave several lanes of one-way traffic, and several empty lots as you get there. You also have to get there, which requires a car, since Kalamazoo is, except for a few pockets, a much less pedestrian friendly city. (Check out the numerous surface parking lots on the Google map.)
However, these problems also provide the opportunities for improvement. Kalamazoo has been as aggressive and more successful than Ann Arbor in experimenting with downtown development. A downtown parking ramp went up without crying from downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. This is in part because Kalamazoo was a big city when Ann Arbor was a small town — there’s more (de-)industrial space between the CBD and the neighborhoods. Condo redevelopment has been faster and less contentious, and is more affordable as well. Did I mention cost of living is about a third lower?
Here’s a New Year’s prediction — by 2010, Kalamazoo will be a better place to live than Ann Arbor (if it’s not already).