Elements of Urbanism: Kalamazoo

January 26, 2010 11 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores the downtown of Southwest Michigan's largest city and the home of the country's first urban pedestrian mall: Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo Population 2008: 72,179 (City); 323,713 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1883)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Kalamazoo (57,704)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Kalamazoo: +2.81%
Jacksonville: +16.97%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Kalamazoo: 187,961 (ranked 161 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Kalamazoo: 1,744.5
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Kalamazoo: -4,966
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Kalamazoo: Kalamazoo County Expo Center & Fairgrounds  (19--) - 57,571 square feet (not located downtown)
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Adjacent to Convention Center:

Kalamazoo: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

Kalamazoo: Skyrise Apartments & Condominiums - 230 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Kalamazoo: Skryker (375)
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

Kalamazoo: A railroad and W. Michigan Avenue cut downtown off from nearby college campuses.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Jacksonville: East Bay Street  


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Kalamazoo: 91 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Kalamazoo as keyword)
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Kalamazoo: 24.7 square miles
Jacksonville: 767 square miles

About Downtown Kalamazoo

Downtown Kalamazoo is the central business district to over 1,000 businesses, with more than 685 of which reside within the Downtown Development Authority and many more on the peripheral that make up Central City - Southwest Michigan’s regional center and county seat.  
We continue to see growth in the entertainment and restaurant industry, new major development projects that demonstrate committed, continued investment from new interests, a strong retail offering, and a residential vacancy rate of less than 1.5%.  Strong enrollments at three higher learning institutions put a combined 40,000 students, in addition to 3,500 Bronson Hospital employees, all within walking distance from their respective campuses, not to mention an event calendar that just this summer drew in over 120,000 attendees.  A 10 screen movie house, 23 live performance stages, the museum, public library and many more attractions ultimately help define Kalamazoo as a progressive, accessible, diverse, green and vibrant urban center.  You’re invited to Look Closer at all that downtown Kalamazoo has to offer.


Downtown Kalamazoo's Cultural Districts

"Downtown Kalamazoo" - mention that and visitors and residents might think of a three-block area called the Kalamazoo Mall. And, because we were the first city in the nation to create a pedestrian mall, we were known for decades as The Mall City.

It's a name that doesn't begin to describe what we've become. Matter of fact, our city is made up of six remarkable and distinctive districts. Each one presents a different way to look at downtown. Each one has a personality all its own. But all of them together make for one growing, diverse, central business district. Central City. Kalamazoo's Downtown. Six districts. Six ways to look at Central City. The districts have certain mixes of arts and entertainment, dining and nightlife, retail and business services. Keep in mind that the whole of Central City can only be appreciated by looking at its parts. Find the time to visit each one. Or take them in a little at a time. The experience will give you a brand new way to look at Kalamazoo's downtown.


Kalamazoo Mall

The morning dew still in the air, you catch the early birds making their way to their stores, cups of coffee in hand. You hear a few laughs, friendly hellos, and the jingle of keys. Not long after that, stores open and people crisscross the herringbone brick and cement street on the Kalamazoo Mall. Customers visit merchants, some of them long-time friends. Stop for a bagel or pastry or lunch, if it's already midday. Get their shoes shined. Or pick up an out-of-town newspaper. Some have business at one of the corner banks. Others have creative interests at the Epic Center, where so much of Kalamazoo's artistic talents now reside. Come evening, people come out to dine. Or just window shop. While folks who work downtown relax at quitting time and take in an evening event near the Radisson.

Year round, there are constant reasons to come to the mall. Parades and sidewalk sales. Art on the Mall, Mixer on the Mall, the holiday season, and more. All of it at the heart of a growing, diverse Central City.


The Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites hotel in Kalamazoo is a popular site for conventions.


The sounds of a blues player fill the early evening air, mingling with the scents of restaurants catering to an eclectic parade of patrons, young and old. Here in a district known for its turn-of-the-century architecture, you can see, hear, and smell how some enterprising merchants have taken our heritage and given it new life. Once the site of Kalamazoo's first hotel and hay auction, it now boasts some of the many of Central City's most popular restaurant and nightlife establishment locations.

Mornings here in Haymarket are busy with the bustle of business people moving from appointment to appointment. Delivery trucks come and go. The ritual of washing down the sidewalks outside one of Kalamazoo's oldest buildings is repeated on a daily basis. Any hour of the day, you'll find routine reminders that this is still, in many ways, the city's center of commerce. The rest of the time it does what it has always done so well. Adapt to the times without losing its charm.


Bronson Park

In every city there is a place that houses the memories of generations. It's true of the Bronson Park District, with Bronson Park at its center.

Talk to real locals. Over and over, you'll hear stories of summer days spent playing tag in and around the park. Of summer concerts and Candy Cane Lane during the holidays. Of New Year's Fests and art fairs. Some will also tell you how a proud park, surrounded by neighboring churches, the county courthouse, public library, and civic theatre, stood strong as a deadly tornado swept through downtown. And cut a wicked path through the park. You wouldn't know it today when you see a new band shell in the park, and the beautiful new Kalamazoo Institute of Arts building one street over. Woven in and out of the district's grid of streets are clusters of residential, commercial, and civic activity.

It's where the district's namesake and city founder, Titus Bronson, spent his first night, where Abraham Lincoln once spoke, and people of all persuasions have come to air out their viewpoints. It's a place that could tell so much, if only it could talk. Then again, it wouldn't hurt to ask and see if you get an answer.


Arcadia District

You hear it coming in the distance. The Amtrak train traveling east from Chicago. Or west from Detroit. People arriving and departing. And in their own way, they're defining the Arcadia District.

Historically speaking, it began when the city's founder, Titus Bronson, settled at the district's original gateway, Arcadia Creek. Over the years, Arcadia has become a place of change — at Park Trades Center, where ideas can incubate. The Kalamazoo Valley Museum, where new exhibits routinely rotate in and out, bringing us new infusions of ideas. The Kalamazoo Valley Community College and the people who come to learn and then leave to share their knowledge.

The Arcadia Creek Festival Site welcomes the annual visits of everything from Taste of Kalamazoo to Ribfest. Arcadia is also where we see some of the most promising signs of our future. Renovation of old Kalamazoo landmarks reminds us of our past. While long-time business establishments anchor the diversity of the district. It's a vital gateway to our Northside neighborhoods. And a constant reminder that change is very good for a city's soul.





Kalamazoo Transportation Center

The original depot was built in 1887 by the Michigan Central Railroad, replacing an earlier structure, and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since July 11, 1975. The station was rebuilt as a multi-modal facility in the early 21st century; the actual project was a collaboration between local, state, and federal authorities, with the Department of Transportation awarding a $3.8 million grant.


South Town

Here in South Town you'll find one of the most interesting mixes of neighborhoods and people, business establishments, and gathering places in Kalamazoo. Like a spicy gumbo, it has a little of this and a little of that. Once the city's most populated neighborhood, in some ways it still holds onto its roots as a solid working-class neighborhood.

Kalamazoo's reputation as The Celery City had a lot to do with the celery farms on the districts edge in the beginning. But like so much in Central City, South Town is defined as much by what it has become as what it was. To prove a point, take a midday stroll through South Town and after taking in the surroundings, you could plan an evening around dinner and a show, just minutes from each venue. You might even run into the self-appointed Mayor of South Town. At his shoe store he can steer you to anything from a hair stylist to a tax specialist. Or help you find your way back to the elegant new campus of Bronson Methodist Hospital.

It's a district full of flavor. Whether you like it mild, medium, or spicy.


About Kalamazoo

- In 1829, Titus Bronson, originally from Connecticut, was the first white settler to build a cabin within the present city limits.[9] He platted the town in 1831 and named it the village of Bronson (not to be confused with the much-smaller Bronson, Michigan about fifty miles (80 km) to the south-southeast).

Bronson was frequently described as "eccentric" and argumentative and was later run out of town. The village of Bronson was renamed Kalamazoo in 1836 (due in part to an incident resulting in Bronson's being fined for stealing a cherry tree).

- In the past, Kalamazoo was known for its production of windmills, mandolins, buggies, automobiles, cigars, stoves, paper, and paper products. Agriculturally, it once was noted for celery and bedding plants. Although much has become suburbanized, the countryside still continues to produce significant quantities of farm crops.

One notable business founded in Kalamazoo was the Gibson Guitar Corporation, which spawned the still-local Heritage Guitars.

- Kalamazoo is home to Western Michigan University, a nationally recognized research institution that has benefited from the local presence of Pfizer, Eaton Corporation and Stryker Corporation. In 2005, the university had over 26,000 students and employed over 1,200 faculty.

- Kalamazoo's nicknames include The Mall City, K-zoo and The Zoo

- The Kalamazoo Mall, the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the United States, began with the closing of Burdick Street to auto traffic in 1959. The four block long mall, stretching from Lovell Street on the South to Eleanor Street on the north, has been restyled to match the attributes of the Arcadia Commons development, where the new Kalamazoo Public Museum anchors the north end of the mall. In 1999, however, two blocks of the mall were modified to accommodate auto traffic after a period of political debates on the issue.[11] The creation of the mall gave Kalamazoo the name of "Mall City."

Article by Ennis Davis