Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A wicked run away from sprawl

Before this weekend's 10k I was talking to another runner in the crowd who lives in downtown Plymouth, Michigan. She walked to the race and was raving about living downtown. She was telling me she's a teacher, and she grades her papers in the Panera Bread just down the street from her house. This conversation affirmed to me that this is what people want - living and working in a community they love.

Earlier this year I ran the Shamrock 'n Roll 10k in Plymouth, Michigan and loved the race. I decided to head back to Plymouth last weekend for an encore in the Wicked 10k. In March I raved about the organization of the race, but this time I was less impressed.

For starters I was running a little behind which is very unusual for me. Usually I'm an hour early for a race forcing us to wander around and find something to do. There is a random shooter along I-96 between Detroit and Lansing, and I found myself paranoid about taking I-96. Granted I've taken it a dozen times since the shootings started but I was feeling unusually anxious. As a result we took a different route adding another 15 minutes to our trip. 

Parking was a zoo, and by the time we parked it was 7:45 (the race started at 8). I headed to packet pick-up, grabbed my stuff and was pinning my number on as the National Anthem was blasting through the loud speakers. After a quick kiss to my husband I jumped into the crowd of runners. My watched beeped that it was 8 a.m., and we were standing in the cold watching a local dance company perform. Look - the kid dancers are cute. How about if they perform BEFORE 8 a.m. or for those waiting for the 5k? I couldn't even see them from where I was standing, so I was not thrilled to be just standing there waiting.

I love downtown Plymouth, but I may love the surrounding neighborhoods even more. There are some just beautiful houses, and there's a great mix from charming cape cods to stately colonials. Even the new builds (of which there are many) have character and charm. Running through the neighborhoods I found myself getting into a steady pace and just enjoying myself.

Finishing the race in Kellogg Park in Plymouth

I've set several PRs this year, and I've gotten away from just enjoying races. I settled into my pace and thanked volunteers and high-fived kids along the course. I just had fun. It wasn't my fastest 10k (it was about a minute and a half off my PR) but it may have been the most fun one I did all year. After the Shamrock Run in March water and snacks were in a pavilion just past the finish line. This time they were in a heated tent. I get the idea of putting them in a warm space, but it was very annoying. I waited in an extremely long line getting handed random advertisements and papers I didn't want just to get a water. I'd recommend going back to putting the water at the actual finish line.

Posing in lovely downtown Plymouth
As we walked back to our car I was enjoying the new condos built in downtown. I was still reveling in my conversation with the other runner at the start as we headed toward downtown Brighton, MI where we were meeting friends for breakfast. Heading out of downtown on N. Territorial Road I found the opposite of dense, walkable downtown Plymouth - instead it's suburban McMansion sprawl hell.  Tons of giant houses in subdivisions named things like "Whispering Pines" and "Happy Meadows". Okay I made those names up but they're probably close. I looked at these disconnected "neighborhoods" on cul-de-sacs completely shut off from the rest of the community, and I just don't get it. I can't think of any good reason why someone would live there instead of an actual community.

After breakfast in Brighton (another cute downtown) I took Grand River Avenue back to Lansing (again avoiding I-96). I drove through several vibrant downtowns including Howell and Williamston. There was a busy farmers' market in downtown Howell. There were people enjoying a crisp fall day at brunch in downtown Williamston. I found myself wondering what makes a person want to buy a house in the middle of nowhere by the freeway in McMansionville instead of in a dynamiccommunity. How has that become the American dream? In the bustling cities in Europe people live in the city. The suburban McMansion is a uniquely American creation. And it's disgusting.

This makes me throw up a little bit.
I'm not adverse to new housing. There were a number of houses being built in downtown Plymouth, and there were a number of recently built homes. It's not about being new but rather effective land use and building IN a community where there are existing resources instead of a field in the middle of nowhere like "Orchard Pointe".  The extra "e" makes it fancier.

I drove through the small communities along Grand River Avenue and back into my own neighborhood and was thankful for our little neighborhood where I can walk to a nearby shopping center (it's not perfect but it's there and it's something). I can run along the river in the surrounding neighborhoods and on the Lansing River Trail. There are two schools within walking distance, and parks everywhere. Yeah I'll take our little neighborhood over the McMansion cul-de-sac any day. On the bright side, there are several great houses for sale in downtown Plymouth.    

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