11 Pros and Cons of Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan

11 Pros and Cons of Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan 

“Kalamazoo” is often used as a slang word to describe a distant and unknown location. Folks may be surprised to learn that Kalamazoo is, in fact, the name of a real city in southwest Michigan. “Kalamazoo” is the name given to this area by the Native American Potawatomi tribe, though the precise meaning of the word is a topic of debate. The town was formally chartered with this name in 1836. 

Today, the 25-square mile city is home to 76K residents. Kalamazoo is home to six colleges including Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. In the following, we will explorer why the town has been ranked in the Top 3% of college towns in America (#20 out of 586). 

7 Benefits of Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan – Pros

A photo of the Kalamazoo skyline. The river is seen in the middle of the photo with tall buildings behind it.

First, we’ll look at the positive aspects of Kalamazoo which might make you consider a move to this town.

1. Low Cost of Living/Housing

Kalamazoo has an overall cost of living that is 20% below the national average, with below-average costs in every major cost category. This is driven mostly by the fact housing costs are a whopping 50% below average ($189K Kalamazoo versus $291K US).

However, please be warned that wages in town are also below national averages and the city suffers from high poverty rates (Con # 7). New residents will need to secure decent employment before they can ever enjoy the low cost of living.

2. A Young Population

With six colleges in town, it is not surprising to learn that 25% of Kalamazoo residents are actively attending college. The strong presence of college students gives the town a younger population. The average age of Kalamazoo is 25 years old compared to a national average of 37 years old.

The youthful and quirky nature of the town has earned it the ranking of the #1 coolest city with the lowest cost of living. It has also been ranked as one of the top towns for artists and creatives. 

The town is a great place for singles with 73% of the population being unmarried (though 30% of these singles already have a kid). 

3. Diversity

College towns are often a nice mix of cultures and Kalamazoo is no exception. The town population is 64% White, 20% Black, 7% Hispanic, 2% Asian, and 6% Mixed. 

The state of Michigan has an interesting mix of politics. Most of the counties in the state are  Republican, but there is a strong stripe of blue Democrats stretching from Detroit to Lake Michigan. Kalamazoo lies in this blue region and has a similar mix of politics with 60% of the population being Democrat and 40% Republican.

4. Central Location

Kalamazoo is conveniently located with a 2-hour drive to the big cities of Detroit and Chicago. It is also about an hour away from the medium-sized cities of Grand Rapids, Lansing, and South Bend. This location provides residents with plenty of options should they wish to head to a larger city for business or recreation. 

One of the popular destinations for recreation is Lake Michigan and the town of Kalamazoo is just an hour’s drive from the beaches, boating, and water sports of the Lake.

Being a relatively small area, this puts residents commutes at just 18 minutes, well below the national average of 26 minutes.

5. Festivals and Events

A photo of a group of Mexican violin players, dressed in bright purple costume,

With six colleges in town and a strong arts culture, there are plenty of festivals and events to keep residents occupied. Top events throughout the year include:

  • Maple Sugar Festival
  • WMU International Festival
  • Cinco De Mayo Festival
  • Kalamazoo Pride
  • Irish Fest
  • Black Arts Festival
  • Blues Festival
  • Boiling Pot Music Festival
  • Taste of Kalamazoo
  • Ribfest

6. Thriving Downtown 

The Downtown area of Kana is located along Burdick Street and Michigan Avenue. This is the home of the Kalamazoo Mall, which is not a traditional mall, rather an outdoor pedestrian shopping street. Opened in 1959, the Mall was the first pedestrian shopping street in America. 

Kalamazoo Downtown has a lot to offer its residents including:

  • 76 restaurants, most locally-owned and operated featuring products from nearby Michigan farms
  • 23 bars, taverns, and a growing number of craft beer breweries
  • 34 arts and culture locations including ballet, orchestra, theatre, library, museum, and live music venues
  • 101 locally-owned shops, boutiques, and galleries.

7. Parks, Golf, and Lakes

The city of Kalamazoo has a robust park system, despite its relatively small size. There are nine parks inside town limits and dozens more in the nearby area. The city is in the Top 95% of cities by having 1 park per 8,425 people and 1 park per 2 square miles. The area parks give residents ample opportunities for hiking, biking, picnics, and camping. During the winter, visitors can head to the parks for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

Kalamazoo features three nearby municipal golf courses, offering low-cost access to 54 holes across 370 acres. 

For folks who enjoy water recreation, not only is Lake Michigan an hour away, but the area features 83 public lakes. These lakes offer residents a huge array of fishing, swimming, and boating options.

4 Drawbacks of Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan – Cons

A 3-story red brick row home. Mostly see just bricks and windows

Being a college town offers Kalamazoo residents a lot of benefits, but it also comes with some downsides to consider.

8. Poverty

Kalamazoo has one of the worst poverty rates of any city in the country:

  • 32% of all residents (Worse than 97% of the country)
  • 46% of black residents (Worse than 99% of the country)
  • 27% of white residents (Worse than 97% of the country)
  • 36% of children (Worst than 85% of the country)

Having 1 out of 3 residents living below poverty puts Kalamazoo in the unfortunate company of places like nearby Detroit. Kalamazoo poverty doesn’t make the news simply because it is relatively small, with a total population that is just one-tenth that of Detroit. 

The city’s poverty ratings are not surprising given the wage statistics. The average individual income in Kalamazoo is $22K versus the national average of $31K. The average household income is $37K versus a national $57K. 

Note: The town’s poverty and wage statistics could be getting influenced by the fact 25% of the town residents are college students, who are likely unemployed or underemployed. However, even with these students removed, Kalamazoo still has a large poverty problem, as demonstrated by its 36% child poverty rate. 

9. High Crime Rates

The crime rates in Kalamazoo are high. Kalamazoo is more dangerous than 98% of US cities. The violent crime rate of 58 is nearly triple the US average of 22. And the property crime rate of 55 is well above the US average of 35. Kalamazoo averages a whopping 184 crimes per square mile, 7 times higher than the US and Michigan average of 25.

10. Population Density

Kalamazoo has a population of 76K residents inside its 25 square-mile area. That comes to a population density of 3,040 people per square mile, which makes the town an urban environment. Folks looking for a slower-paced life should explore one of the many rural towns in the southern Michigan area.

11. Cold Winters

A photo of the frozen Kalamazoo River, with so much cold fog coming off the waters that you can barely see anything except one or two snow covered trees

Kalamazoo summers are cool and humid with temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s, and with only 10 days per year with sweltering heat.

However, the trade-off comes in winter, which is cold and wet. Average winter temperatures are in the 30s and 40s, with low temperatures frequently dropping below freezing. Kalamazoo gets an average of 60 inches of snow annually, double the national average. 

What is the Cost of Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan?

A nighttime photo of one of the large buildings at a Kalamazoo college.

Kalamazoo has an overall cost of living that is 20% below the national average, with below-average costs in every major cost category. This is driven mostly by the fact housing costs are a whopping 50% below average ($189K Kalamazoo versus $291K US).

What is the Average Income in Kalamazoo, Michigan?

While Kalamazoo has one of the lowest costs of living in the country, folks should be warned that wages in town are also below national averages and the city suffers from high poverty rates  The average individual income in Kalamazoo is $22K versus the national average of $31K. The average household income is $37K versus a national $57K. 

What is Kalamazoo Known for? 

Kalamazoo is known for being a diverse, youthful, and quirky college town. The city is home to six colleges and has been ranked in the Top 3% of college towns in America (#20 out of 586). It has earned the ranking of the #1 coolest city with the lowest cost of living and also ranked as one of the top towns for artists and creatives. The city features a thriving downtown area, nine parks, and 83 public lakes. 

Is Kalamazoo a Suburb? 

Kalamazoo has a population of 76K residents inside its 25 square-mile area. That comes to a population density of 3,040 people per square mile, which makes the town an urban environment. Folks looking for a suburb or rural area should head outside of town limits. 

Is Kalamazoo Safe?

With 32% of its residents earning below the poverty line, Kalamazoo has one of the worst poverty rates of any city in the country. 

Where there is poverty, there is often crime and the crime rates on Kalamazoo are high. Kalamazoo is more dangerous than 98% of US cities. The violent crime rate of 58 is nearly triple the US average of 22. And the property crime rate of 55 is well above the US average of 35. Kalamazoo averages a whopping 184 crimes per square mile, 7 times higher than the US and Michigan average of 25.

What are the Best Areas to Live Around Kalamazoo 

The safest neighborhoods in Kalamazoo are located on its southwest side, near the Kalamazoo Country Club golf course. Oakland-Winchell, Hill N’ Brook, and Westnedge Hill are not only considered the top neighborhoods of Kalamazoo but also in the Top 10 best neighborhoods in all of Michigan.

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