A Bright Light Between Two Cities LEAP’s Under The Bridge project breathes new life into Michigan Avenue
The joy of visiting any major city comes from embracing the unique culture and experiences that come from a bit of exploration. What embodies any destination isn’t necessarily the tallest building in the skyline, but rather the small details that aesthetically weave together concrete and community. As Lansing continues to become more than just a big city with a small-town feel, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) is penciling in further details of its own with the help of a newly completed crowdfunded project.
Thanks to the result of a successful campaign, roughly $107,000 is being used to transform the Michigan Avenue Bridge of US-127. Creatively bridging the gap between East Lansing and downtown Lansing sits the newly completed, Under the Bridge project. Construction launched this past spring in partnership with Lansing-based artist, Brian Whitfield. Whitfield was commissioned to create four murals on the sloped pavement underneath the overpass. In addition to the added artistic touch, the Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL) has added to the new look by installing 24 decorative LED lights that will illuminate the bridge.
“I am honored to have been commissioned for a truly transformative project in my own backyard,” said Whitfield. “There has been a lot of interest from passing motorists, bicyclists and people on foot. People seem genuinely excited about what they are seeing.”
The murals were strategically designed to create a literal representation of the connections between Lansing and East Lansing by visually celebrating the rich history, prosperous future and present strengths of the regional community. Accented by the BWL’s contribution, the addition won’t go unnoticed by residents, visitors and commuters.
“The BWL is committed to our community, and this project will make the underpass a more desirable corridor, especially for those walking,” said Dick Peffley, general manager of the BWL. “Under the Bridge is a great project that allows us to put our values into action to engage with our community and contribute to the future prosperity of the region.”
Making travel between downtown Lansing and East Lansing more convenient and safe has long been an objective of local leaders. In an effort to make the downtown area more attractive and accessible for MSU students and professionals with business extending to both areas, the new project will be a welcomed addition for those looking for new opportunities to commute. Efforts to accomplish similar goals, such as the Bus Rapid Transit, are more intensive and still hanging in the balance. Officials undertaking this project are enthusiastic that this new opportunity will be an enticing change for the area and its residents.
“Under the Bridge is a fantastic example of successful placemaking. Through a well-executed, artistic and functional installation, this project will be instrumental in uniting the Michigan Avenue corridor and showcasing the global vibe of the region,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP. “There is so much economic development activity occurring along this stretch of the corridor, and this highly visible addition will truly bridge two of our greatest regional assets, the State Capitol and Michigan State University of East Lansing.”
Local developers are working hard to transform the area where residents can traverse storefronts and commute on foot. Unsurprisingly, those developing this area also provided funding for the project. Notable contributors include the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the BWL, Arts Council of Greater Lansing, RISE Development LLC, Sparrow Foundation, Michigan State University, Indian Trails, Feldman Automotive, LAFCU, Lansing Charter Township, City of Lansing, AF Group, Harvest Creative Services and the Gillespie Company.
Safety and walkability isn’t just a benefit to residential safety; it’s a huge selling point for prospective businesses that could potentially make a big impact on the local economy. Creating walkable neighborhoods is a formidable way to encourage stronger community relationships, better health and ultimately decrease the area’s environmental impact.
According to a 2016 study by Active Living research, lack of physical activity is a major risk factor in over 5 million — or 9 percent — of premature deaths worldwide. In economic terms, the burden from lack of physical activity is estimated to be $117 billion, anywhere from 9–11 percent of total health care costs in the U.S. By providing residents with safe spaces to commute, the area’s contribution to these large-scale statistics might be alleviated. As cities across the country start to embrace this trend, the impact could become significant in years to come.
With so many organizations working to breathe new life into the area between East Lansing and downtown Lansing, it’s an exciting time for residents of each. What once was a desolate strip of consistently rotating business and faltering staples is finally finding its footing again. Cohesion and fluidity is emerging in the area and, before you know it, the striking differences in culture between our sister cities may vanish.