Old Town, New Look

Old Town, New Look: ladies night and street makeovers 

~ Guest post by Megan Olds who lives in Traverse City’s Old Town neighborhood with her husband and two daughters and is open to advice and support for DIY street makeovers (or personal ones).


Last Tuesday night I met with some neighborhood ladies to talk makeovers. For those of you who are not familiar with ladies’ makeovers, it usually starts with a “before” picture that highlights all of the things that are undesirable about your appearance. For example, if my face were to be analyzed, it would point out my relatively bushy eyebrows, thin straight hair, and what my grandma once described as my “eagle beak” nose. My makeover would serve to “correct” these issues by advising cosmetic fixes and the “after” picture would show an improved visual version of me complete with eyebrow thinning, a good haircut that frames my face and creates movement and texture, and maybe some eyeshadow, lipstick or blush to highlight other, more attractive, facial features. Except instead of making over ourselves, at ladies night we talked about giving our neighborhood streets a makeover.

Our neighborhood’s theme, according to the City’s signs posted along Union and Cass, is “Old Town, New Look.” This is nice marketing for the businesses in our neighborhood. There seem to be more entrepreneurs investing here – in restaurants, art galleries, styling salons, furniture stores, and a variety of services including legal, counseling, and film production. Hagerty Insurance is in our neighborhood too and is one of the region’s largest employers. Their presence, continued expansion and investment have dramatically changed the look and feel of the neighborhood. With public and private support, I hope that the growth trend continues.

It is a natural complement for us, as neighbors, to focus on helping to makeover the look and style of our streets to create the New Look. Our neighborhood has a lot of heart and we want the way our neighborhood looks and feels to reflect the care we have for each other and for the place where we live.

The new look

At our “ladies night” gathering, a few of us talked about the “before” pictures of Cass Street and Lake Ave. Right now, neither would win any beauty contests.

Lake Ave.--an alley or street?

  • A look at Lake Avenue: Very wide corridor. Walls of concrete and lots of pavement. No sidewalks on east side, coupled with undelineated business parking indistinguishable from the street. There are crumbling sidewalks in front of residences. Relatively high traffic volume at peak periods during the day. Two great community “landmarks,” McGoughs, on the north end and Oryana Food Co-op at the intersection of 10th Street. This is also where the Boardman Lake Trail trailhead connects and leads to the lake, parkland, and the library.

Cass St.-in need of love.

  • A look at Cass Street: Some commercial land uses around the intersection of 14th and mostly residential uses as you travel toward 8th Street except for the Holy Angels school at 12th St. The Old Town Playhouse is at the intersection of 8th and Cass. This is the gateway to downtown and has relatively high traffic volume as a main artery. It serves both north-south and east-west traffic that might have traveled straight through on 8th to Division (or via versa) if that street wasn’t one way (2011 Traffic counts (PDF)). There are stop signs at regular intervals, but not at every intersection. There are lots of U-shaped trees that have been cut by utilities to keep tree limbs out of the way and our power supply reliable. Otherwise, very little vegetation. No current load limit for trucks, extra-wide (36-ft) with underutilized parking on one side, and no bike lanes.

At ladies night, we talked about how people are now disconnected from each other by these streets, the safety issues facing our kids’ walks to school. We talked about the mobility issues that our neighborhood elders face, which seem to mirror some of the issues that our kids face. These are public roads and everyone has a right to use them. We want to create a look that feels good to everyone who is using Lake and Cass whether they are on foot, bike, bus, or car.

With that in mind, some of us are ready to host a DIY makeover of Lake and Cass by:

  • Installing and maintaining planters to create a more lovely space near Lake and 10th Street.
  • Hosting a perennial plant swap to help neighbors beautify their own lawns and gardens, get advice from those with green thumbs, and talk about ways we can work together to landscape “common” or community spaces.
  • Reaching out to our neighbors on Cass between 8th and 10th Street to see if they are interested in working with us on some landscaping along that part of the street
  • Identifying locations for benches
  • Identifying places where crosswalks could be placed, based on user safety and destinations of interest (we talked about some mid-block locations that would lessen conflict points between drivers and pedestrians)

An initial phase of a recent DIY makeover on Old Town’s Lake Ave. 

If you are interested (send a message), we would like to invite you to help make the “after” effects happen. Come to our plant swap. Share your expertise and help design some roadside gardens. Make an honorarium or memorial gift in someone’s name for a planter. Sponsor a bench near a BATA bus stop. Or, just come by the neighborhood to check out the improvements…and, please, slow down as you drive through–say hello.

In the future, some of our neighborhood streets will need more than a makeover – some would benefit from plastic surgery or a complete facelift – but but for now, as neighbors, we can do what we can with what we have to make the “face” of our ‘hood as lovely as it can be.


* This is Traverse City’s second waddle of a traffic calming penguins, although the previous has been replaced by bunnies.

UPDATE: A Boardman Neighborhood resident has updated us on that the Traffic Calming bunnies have gone missing…one pink traffic calming lamb and two pinwheels survive live on. 





April is a great time to consider a donation or to subscribe to a monthly contribution.  

  1. Jennifer
    April 2, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Two penguins went missing during the night. Still, I believe that the installation had a positive impact, especially on northbound traffic. Cars were definitely going slower all afternoon. Additionally, there are cars parked along the building and, while they are still parked a little too close to the building (i.e., not far enough into that oh-so-wide alley), they’re not as close as previously noted.

  2. April 2, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for the update. Penguin patrol needed…is that surveillance camera installed yet? Big Penguin is watching.

  3. Greg
    April 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I wonder what type of permit was required to assemble this in a public ROW. I am sure this was looked into and approved on a fast track.

  4. Jennifer
    April 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Caught someone in the act of stealing the last remaining penguin of the non-inflatable variety. I think I succeeded in putting a halt to the activity by explaining the purpose of the penguins. Also put a plea in to return the others…you know, just in case he had knowledge of their whereabouts.

  5. April 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Some of the Old Town Playhouse staff and volunteers would be interested in joining this cleanup. How do we join your group?

  6. April 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

    The community thanks you! I’ll pass on your message to the Old Town VP.

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