This kernel of truth comes from the mind and experiences of John Krohn. And if anyone has the perspective to speak intelligently on the subject, it’s John.
Born in Las Vegas but raised in Stockbridge, a small town roughly halfway between Lansing and Ann Arbor as the crow flies, it didn’t take long for John to strike out on his own. After graduating high school, he spent a year in college at the University of Hawaii. He’s lived and worked in California, and toured with bands all over the country and across Europe.
But in the end, he chooses to call Lansing his home.
“I loved living in Hawaii; it really changed my outlook on life,” says John. “The economy is terrible there. Most people live multiple generations in one household. It’s not the American dream we think of where everyone has a big old house. It’s different, but it’s great too. They live poor but they live happy and slow. Hawaii has its charms but Lansing has its charms too.”
For John, Lansing’s charm was the local music scene. In 2003, he made the permanent switch to Michigan’s capital and began recording local bands in his home studio. He started by recording his favorite bands for free to get experience, build a network and help out the local music scene. Once he built his reputation, John expanded his budding record label Lower Peninsula Records.
Some of his records do very well while others lose money. However, it’s all the same to John. Most bands in Lansing can’t afford the high prices of most recording studios, and the project is really a labor of love to grow the local music scene.
In the meantime, John also was busy going back to school. Beginning at Lansing Community College and finishing at Michigan State University, he earned a degree in Environmental Policy and Political Science. After graduating last May, John immediately jumped into a job with AmeriCorps.
“It’s not really a job, though, it’s volunteer service,” says John. “You get paid less than five dollars an hour. But I knew that I would meet a lot of other people that were really involved in what’s going on in Lansing while trying to make it a better place, so I thought it would be a win-win situation.”
It certainly has been a winning situation for Lansing. John teaches sustainable agriculture and health nutrition in a school in southwest Lansing for kids who have been involved in the court system. The program tries to help these kids who otherwise likely would fall by the wayside.
Though the program’s end goal is to get the kids a diploma, John’s role is more specific. He describes it as basically teaching urban farming. In about an acre of space, John has a small farm planted with kitchens, compost heaps and a few animals. The farm markets some of its produce and uses the money to employ some of the kids who show the most interest in the garden.
John isn’t just about growing vegetables, young minds and the local music scene, however. He also wants to make a bigger difference in the city. As if he weren’t busy enough, John has thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate for an at-large seat on Lansing’s City Council.
“I’m the sort of person that sticks my neck out and does things. I always have been. I’ve always taken initiative to do things when nobody asked me to, I just want to help,” says John. “I believe in getting involved wherever you are and trying to make it a better place. I didn’t really feel like I had the time to do it right now, but knowing the kind of person that I am, I knew that I would never feel like I had the time. But I at least feel that right now I’m not too committed – I don’t have a family or anything like that. I just turned 30 this past year and I have a lot of energy still, so I feel that it was as good a time as any to start getting involved.”
The issues John speaks about most often are home ownership and cooperation in Lansing. He wants to see more programs to help people move into homes so that they have a vested interest in making their neighborhoods a better place and so that the city can raise some revenue through a larger tax base. And he wants the neighborhoods and downtown areas to begin to cooperate more – to realize that it’s not an “us versus them” game.
“Even if people realize that there are a lot of great houses that are inexpensive in Lansing, it’s still very intimidating, and the process is still very intimidating for a class of people that frankly aren’t college educated,” says John. “They’re intimidated by paperwork; they’re intimidated by meetings with people who wear suits and ties. I think we’d see a great return on investment if we’d invest a little bit on really reaching out to those people. Not just saying. ‘Hey it’s available, just come to us and we’ll help you,’ but actually going out to those people and saying, ‘Hey would you like to own a house in Lansing? How can we make it happen?’
“Meanwhile, some people want to complain about tax incentives for businesses because those people are already millionaires and we’re giving them tax breaks. They want to know where their tax break is. Well, they’re also spending millions of dollars on making the town a better place to live. And over time, their investment of millions of dollars is going to equal millions of dollars of revenue for the city through taxes and added business expenditures. People will be working there and frequenting local businesses, and all of that helps pay for the essential services that people in neighborhoods rely on. It’s all part of the same system, and there hasn’t been enough understanding of how it’s all part of the big picture. There have been these factions and people want to fight, like it’s the neighborhoods versus downtown, and it’s not.
“I work from the ground up. I work in the neighborhoods with volunteering and trying to support the local art, culture and expression scene, but I know we also need the top down too, which is the investment. It requires both kinds of solutions. A lot of people want to tell you that one way is the way to go and that’s all there is. We have real divisiveness in politics and it’s not helping anyone. You see it in the council, you see it in the nation, and it’s unhealthy.
“We have this tremendous asset next door with the University. It brings in tons of money and tons of talent and energy. And the more we do to make Lansing a cool, appealing, safe, community-oriented place to live, the more those talented and energetic individuals are going to want to stay here.
“To me, living in the city, buying from local businesses, starting your own business here in Lansing rather than somewhere else even though the taxes are a bit higher – it’s all worthwhile. It’s all part of building momentum. There has to be a certain amount of density for things to really happen. I think people would find that if they put their money where their mouth is and move into Lansing and invest their business here in Lansing that we’d reach critical mass and really become a world-class city.
“I don’t agree with some of the decisions that she’s made, but Carol Wood has done an excellent job being in touch with her constituents. Being responsive, answering phone calls, going to neighborhood meetings and other avenues are all lines she keeps open. I want to be just like that except I also want to vote in an intelligent way on things that are smart for our city. I have my cell phone here that’s my constituent hotline where people can always call me and I’ll answer. If I can’t I’ll call them back. I want to be super accountable and super accessible. I want to work for the people in a way that is not so divisive.
“Some people want to make it out like it’s like the little people versus the big people, us versus them, but no, it takes everyone. The rich people have investment that they can offer that benefits us all. And those people also need to know that it’s the poor people that keep them rich. It’s a big system. But rich or poor, everyone has the opportunity to talk to me, no matter where you live, whether you’re downtown or deep on the south side, and if anyone wants to meet me I’ll make it happen. I’m sure that if they take the time to meet me, that they’re going to like me.”