I’ve spent my entire life in the Greater Lansing area. I’ve been here for the opening and closing of more sandwich shops than I can name, couch burning at MSU, and the revitalization of many Lansing neighborhoods including REO Town and Old Town (where the MLPP office is). I left for a few years for college but as someone graduating with a political science degree – apart from moving to DC – Lansing really was my best bet.
Once I started working in the Legislature I became aware of how often bills that were introduced came from concerns raised by constituents. Many times during committee meetings, representatives and senators would have the constituent who inspired the bill testify with them.
It wasn’t until I was missing a recipe ingredient that I participated in this personal activism.
Long story short, I was in need of an onion – but had no walkable access to a grocery store or healthy food from my downtown Lansing apartment. I walked to the nearest “market” – NOTHING. The closest convenience store – NOTHING (but a few very ripe bananas). The adventure ultimately ended with me getting in my car and driving to the nearest grocery store, which was absolutely not in walking distance of downtown. When I arrived back to my apartment, I reached out to my state representative Andy Schor (now Lansing’s Mayor) to express my concern regarding the lack of healthy food and grocery stores in downtown.
My concerns stemmed from the fact that while I, a person of privilege, could very simply get in my reliable car to drive the few miles down the street to get my hands on either missing items or my weekly groceries, not everyone could. This was both an issue of health but also an issue of talent attraction. Research has shown that access to grocery stories and in turn healthy food, lower risks of obesity and other chronic diseases, spurs economic development and brings new jobs to residents. Walkable communities are also attractive to young people, like me, looking to move into new neighborhoods.
It turns out many people felt the same way I did, and Representative Schor introduced legislation that incentivizes grocery stores to move into downtown and commercial corridors. An idea that the League is also in support of and testified to during a committee hearing last year. The legislation ultimately passed and was signed by Governor Snyder.
And just last month, Mayor Schor announced the building of an urban grocery store just blocks from the Capitol, close to new developments that are attracting young professionals, and actually just steps from my former apartment. A similar grocery store concept was also just opened in Grand Rapids.
I’m excited to see how a grocery store helps our downtown and how it improves the health of my fellow Lansing-ites. And I’ll admit it is pretty cool to see how my missing onions inspired legislation and hopefully a lot of good for Michigan communities.