Southeast Lansing — especially the 2nd Ward — lacks proximal access to any of the city’s four community centers. These recreation spaces can help avoid social isolation, promote physical activity, address social issues, give kids a safe place to play, offer extra education resources, job training, GED classes, and more. The City Council is aware of the problem and has taken the initiative to move in the right direction to give more access to community centers to the 2nd Ward constituents.
“60% of our residents live south of 496 and I think it’s important especially when we talk about curbing gun violence to have a community center in southeast Lansing,” Council member and Vice President Jeremy Garza stated during a Committee of a Whole meeting. He proposed a cost study to determine the logistics of bringing a new community center to the 2nd Ward. The council agreed to set aside funds in the budget to take the steps towards seeing what it would take to make these talks come to fruition.
The city of Lansing encompasses roughly 36.68 miles squared of land divided into four quadrants, or wards, to serve over 112,000 constituents. Four community centers hold ground within these wards: Foster Community Center on Foster Ave., Gier Community Center on Hall St., Schmidt Community Center on Wise Rd., and Letts Community Center on W. Kalamazoo St. The issue at hand, pointed out by Councilman Garza, is that none of the four centers listed are near the Southeast quadrant of Lansing. This leaves an entire ward of Lansing without the important functions that a community center provides to the constituents within its city.
There is a plethora of positives that community centers bring to their cities and those that frequent them. According to capstone research conducted at Illinois State University, “Community centers sit at a unique juxtaposition in youth development in that they can define their own operations and benefit at-risk youth in ways they see as most appropriate for their own locality.” When broken down, the research shows how important community centers are in creating positive youth development. “Community centers are useful and unique hubs of community interconnection that are indispensable to building American civil society.”
The research also discusses a case study that “accomplishes neighborhood-wide change by connecting people to comprehensive resources.” The case study takes data from working within a local community center and shows how the center becomes a focal point in underfunded communities. These centers are proven by studies to provide a sense of community and belonging for people who don’t have anywhere else.
The National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) conducted a poll that showed Americans agree with the idea that local recreation centers should offer a wide variety of nontraditional services. The poll showed a 51 percent desire for healthy living classes, 46 percent want for programming geared towards older adults, and a 45 percent request for nature-based activities. There is also data showing wants at 43 percent for internet access, 41 percent for inclusive facilities, and 38 percent for health and clinical services. While these may not be standard in every community center, it shows a general need for centers like these and the possible resources they can provide for their community. This study is nationwide, and these resources could benefit the citizens of Southeast Lansing as well.
The research supports Councilman Garza’s reasoning behind bringing a new community center to Southeast Lansing. Until the cost study is performed there is no concrete answer as to whether it will come to fruition, but the City Council has started the process to give the community an answer.