Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The East/West Divide

I'm not a native Michigander, and there is one thing I find completely fascinating about this state- the east/west divide.  Those who are from the southeast part of the state (i.e., Detroit and all suburban communities) totally gravitate towards SE Michigan. Those who are from West Michigan spend time at Lake Michigan and tend to head west on the weekends. These people are also often Cubs fans versus Tigers fans (a sacrilege in my house). 

My husband is from the Detroit suburb of Livonia, so if we are heading somewhere for the weekend, there is a 99.9 percent chance it is somewhere east - to visit family, to go to a sporting event or concert, head to a cultural institution (we maintain memberships at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and the Detroit Institute of Art), or hanging out with friends.  We've been to a few concerts in Grand Rapids, but we've never once, in the entire seven years we've been together, gone to West Michigan to the beach. We've gone for two concerts and a few weddings, but that's it.  It's the east/west divide at its finest.

Everything I've learned about West Michigan I've learned through work.  I've gone to meetings and events in beautiful coastal communities.  I've learned about communities whose housing stock is comprised largely of second homes. I've discovered that the southern part of western Michigan is essentially a Chicago suburb (hence all the Cubs fans). I've realized that while the east side will always beckon us, there's a lot to be said for heading west.

Last week I visited the small village of Three Oaks, Michigan in Harbor Country. The region is dubbed Harbor Country for its proximity to Lake Michigan and the vast stretch of coastline that encompasses the various communities. Three Oaks is a small locale, but it is one of the most charming communities I've been to in a long time. It's downtown has very few vacancies, and it is filled with beautiful old buildings that have been converted to stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. One of the hallmarks of downtown is Drier's Meat Market, a butcher shop that over 100 years old and is a local institution. 

The coup de grace of the community is the revitalization of the old featherbone factory. It was discovered in the late 1800s that instead of whalebones in corsets the turkey feather bone was a more cost effective alternative.  The factory, once a large employer in the region, has been repurposed into a very cool home and garden store, a community theater, and Journeyman Distillery.  We toured Journeyman, and aside from being a really cool space, the whiskey is delicious (of course I bought some). It was a fun day in Three Oaks.

Distilling at Journeyman
Decor at Journeyman Distillery. Check out the actual Featherbone Factory workers in the pic.

Community theater in the repurposed Featherbone Factory
The next day I headed to Spring Lake, Michigan for a presentation. Spring Lake is part of the greater Spring Lake/Ferrysburg/Grand Haven community region right on the shores of Lake Michigan. Upon arriving I laced up my running shoes and ran my week's long run on the lakeside trail.  It was a beautiful view, and I largely had the trail to myself. The trail abutted a dog park, children's park, and a marina. It was a beautiful way to explore the community.

I've visited a few west Michigan communities for work (including St. Joseph and Grand Rapids - check out the blogs).  There are a lot of amazing towns west of Lansing, and I look forward to exploring more of them. But don't look for me to cheer for the Cubs anytime soon.

On a more serious note, with the recent troubles in the City of Detroit, the east/west divide is in some ways troubling. If West Michigan communities (or all Michigan communities) think the plight of Detroit doesn't affect them - they're dead wrong. I'm not from Michigan, and I know that when non-Michiganders look from the outside in, Detroit is the face of Michigan. We should all be working together to support Detroit to being a city that is a vibrant place that attracts and retains talent. Right now, we're all east siders. 

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