Move to and Live in Kalamazoo, Michigan? I'm Glad I Did
Kalamazoo city and county have much to offer persons of all ages. I recommend it as a place to grow up, attend school, have a career, raise a family, host visitors, be an active citizen and community member, and retire. I say why in this article (and in a separate article on retiring here) using personal and observed examples.
Personal Impressions: Kalamazoo Is Harmoniously Diverse
An early and lasting impression for me has been that Kalamazoo, as I've experienced it, is harmoniously racially integrated. When I go for a stroll, I see neighbors both of pale skin 'white' European descent and of dark skin 'black' African descent, as well as biracial couples, mowing their lawns or raking fallen leaves or shoveling snow (depending on the season), watching their children playing outside, walking their dogs, and patronizing nearby eateries and shops. I'm not saying that systemic racism has evaporated from Kalamazoo society. Statistics and many personal stories say otherwise. I'm just pleased by my impression that to a substantial (less than 100%) degree Kalamazooians, whatever their race and ethnicity, relate to one another as fellow humans and neighbors, with equitable fellow feeling, without suspicion or bias.
Kalamazoo neighborhoods range the gamut from wealthy to well-to-do to middle-middle-class to lower-middle-class to the poor, with few if any neighborhoods being all of one wealth-level class. Kayle and I live at the south edge of the Westnedge Hill neighborhood in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. It was a lucky find. Our rent, cheaper than we would pay for subsidized senior housing, is affordable on our lower-middle-class budget. From home, we can stroll up and about the hill, past large, charming houses owned and occupied by professors, other professionals, and businesspersons.
One of my wife's relations owns two businesses and lives with her retired engineer-manager husband in a neighborhood of mansions and huge yards. They are good-hearted, and their house and its interior decorations are beautiful.
Kalamazoo is ethnically and culturally diverse and cosmopolitan, and yet it has a small town feel. The many annual festivals give a sense of this diversity.
Kalamazoo Annual Festivals
Name of Festival
Time of Year
Maple Sugar Festival
at the Nature Center
WMU International Festival
at Western Michigan University
Cinco De Mayo Festival
Black Arts Festival
Boiling Pot Music Festival
Music, food and culture of various nations
Taste of Kalamazoo
Personal Impressions: I Love to Hangout in Downtown Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo's downtown is a vibrant place for shopping, entertainment, work, and leisure. My wife and I each enjoy spending time at:
the central public library, whether to browse and borrow books, movies, or music, use a computer, shop in the Friends of the Library bookshop, attend a lecture, meet an author, or get help finding information;
Water Street Coffee Joint, to lounge with a good cup of plain or specialty coffee and a choice of bakery and deli snacks while we read, write, or chat, the charm enhanced by the fact that, when she was little, this very building was Kayle's grandfather's gas station—though we like lounging in other coffeehouses and coffee shops downtown almost as much.
Kalamazoo Mall, to shop and window shop. This isn't a mall at all. It's a north-south street that north and south of downtown is called Burdick Street. Starting in 1959, four blocks got closed to cars and turned into a pedestrian unenclosed "mall." In 1998, two blocks were reopened to car traffic, one lane one way. This is an enjoyable place to stroll and shop, especially in the warm weather months. The sidewalks are extra wide, and there are lots of outdoor benches and tables with seats.
Ever since she got on a keto diet and became a running enthusiast, Kayle's favorite Kalamazoo Mall shop has been Gazelle Sports.
We both like to stop for lunch or a snack at Irving's Market and Deli. The Spirit of Kalamazoo is a shop specializing in touristy stuff related to Kalamazoo and Western Michigan University. And they sell Plainwell ice cream cones, which I highly recommend. Caffe Casa is a favorite place for a coffee break.
And Kalamazoo Mall has boutiques, special interest shops, fancy and plain restaurants and eateries, and more. The Kalamazoo Mall blocks that are still closed to car traffic go past the Radisson Hotel and the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Arcadia Commons Campus.
Many (not all) of the views in the following video are of downtown Kalamazoo:
The Kalamazoo Promise
Education in Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo is a university town. It is the home of Western Michigan University (WMU), Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC).
In the Kalamazoo public school system, there are 17 elementary schools, including some magnet schools—one focusing on international studies, another of which is a Montessori school, another focusing on writing, and another focusing on science and technology. There are five middle schools, of which one is an alternative learning school and two are magnet schools. There are four high schools, one of which is a "mathematics and science center".
Thanks to anonymous local philanthropists, the "Kalamazoo promise" is a scholarship program whereby every student who completes K-12 grades in the Kalamazoo public school system gets to go to any Michigan state college or university or to any member of the Michigan College Alliance or to any Michigan public community college for free, tuition and required fees paid, with a smaller percent paid if a student moves to town after starting school elsewhere—65% if they go through high school in Kalamazoo.
Kalamazoo also has two Catholic elementary schools and a Catholic high school. The Kalamazoo Christian Schools Association has an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. There are additional Christian schools and other private schools, such as Gagie School. And there is more than one Kalamazoo home schooling association.
Professionals—teachers, counselors, librarians, social workers, psychologists, and so on—employed by the Kalamazoo Public School District are represented by the Kalamazoo Education Association.
What to Do in Kalamazoo and Vicinity
- Visit Air Zoo theme park and aircraft museum.
- Visit Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
- Visit the Kalamazoo Nature Center.
- Watch a Kalamazoo Growlers baseball game.
- Watch a Kalamazoo Wings hockey game.
- Attend summertime Saturday afternoons free concerts downtown in Bronson Park
- Dine in local restaurants reviewed in the Kalamazoo Foodies blog.
- Go occasionally to Art Hop, which happens monthly on first Fridays 5 to 9 p.m.. (Many downtown businesses exhibit works by local artists, as do various art galleries and studios.My favorite place to visit during Kalamazoo Art Hop is the Park Trades Center, formerly a factory and now home to many artist studios.) Learn more at the Art Hop webpage of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
- Visit the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.
- Get season tickets to the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and tickets to the biennial Gilmore Keyboard Festival events.
- Visit the Gilmore Car Museum.
- Join the Kalamazoo Public Library and use any of its many branches to borrow books, music, and movies, to attend events for children and adults, such as storytelling and author appearances, and to research local history and organizations.
- Get season tickets to any of the several live theatres in Kalamazoo.
- Attend a Western Michigan University sports, educational, or cultural event.
Consult these sites for more information about Kalamazoo city and county
- Kalamazoo, Michigan (MI) profile: population, maps, real estate, averages, homes, statistics, reloca
Kalamazoo, Michigan detailed profile
- Kalamazoo Michigan, Kalamazoo MI Hotels, Events - Discover Kalamazoo
- The City of Kalamazoo
The City of Kalamazoo, Michigan
- Kalamazoo Michigan County Government Web Site, Kalamazoo County Connection
Kalamazoo by Bryan Klinesteker
Questions & Answers
Is Michigan an affordable place to live?
Yes, relatively speaking. For instance, the site Best Places says Kalamazoo is 40% less expensive than Chicago overall, with housing nearly 150% less expensive. On the other hand, Kalamazoo is 4% more expensive than Tohatchi, NM, with housing nearly 25% more expensive. There are a number of websites that compare the cost of living. Of course, a low cost of living can still be expensive for someone with a low income when compared to things like the percentage of income paid for rent, etc.
© 2011 Brian Leekley