K'zoo has my heart always - 2/16/2010
For its size, Kalamazoo is fairly rich in the arts. While I lived there, I was active in the local scene and used to attend shows several times a week---jazz, classical, folk, country, indie rock, blues, bluegrass, and spoken word mainly. There are many talented local artists, too, and even live radio theatre. The library and a local movie rental have great selections of art film, independent movies, foreign flicks, and classics. K'zoo is an educated community, so it's fairly easy to strike up a stimulating conversation with strangers, share some writing or sketches in local coffeehouses and such.
Chicago and Detroit are only about 2.5 - 3 hours away when you need a big city fix. Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Ann Arbor are within a 1.5 hour drive, too.
The cost of living is very reasonable especially for starving artists and college students. I never really had much trouble finding a job in health care and human services in the 6 years I lived there, but finding work in other fields can be hard. Michigan has good laws to protect tenants, but beware of slumlords and management companies that prey on college students, like the ones that own lots of property near campus and in the Student Ghetto (a section of the Vine St. Neighborhood). Downtown housing is super cheap but certain areas are fairly high in crime, notably near campus where the college kids are victim to break-ins and intoxicated co-eds are prone to assault and robbery. Use common sense and be careful.
K'zoo is a "blue-dot" in southwest MI, but a hotbed of progressive activism and community involvement for sure. If you like Ann Arbor's political scene, you'll probably enjoy K'zoo, on campus and throughout the community. Last I knew, there were 3 independent health food stores in the area---including a co-op---which seemed to have a good selection of vegan/vegetarian products last time I visited town. The population is diverse ethnically and culturally---far more than many of the surrounding rural towns. K'zoo is more liberal than Grand Rapids with more focus on local culture and community.
However, the winters are pretty brutal and after 6 years, I could not handle another one. I grew up only an hour away, but the lake-effect weather in K'zoo results in longer winters (about 6 months long), significant snowfall, and less sun. Nothing really shuts down for winter storms, so I learned to drive well on bad roads. But the town is incredibly beautiful in the summer and Lake Michigan is only 45 minutes away. If you love winter sports and outdoor activities, you'll be pretty happy in the area.[read more...]