A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Point/Counterpoint: Holland is a great place to live

This place is great

I’m walking down Eighth Street with my dad on our way back to the car. We just watched the Hope Basketball team defeat Olivet, and the excitement of the victory has not yet worn off. It’s five o’clock and the sun is beginning to set behind the historic brick buildings that line the downtown streets. The sky is painted shades of pale pink, yellow, and blue, and it’s unseasonably warm out for mid-January. We stop into JP’s to get a coffee, and instantly I recognize half the people there. I see a group of friends from school sitting at a high top table near the back. My pastor is sitting on a couch near a group of people from church. I even see my aunt sitting with a friend at the long table that overlooks Eighth Street.

  Holland is the perfect combination of a big and small town. There are the entertainment benefits of a larger city, such as the college sports and the thriving downtown, but there is also a small town feel. Anywhere you go, you’re bound to see someone you know, making the town feel like a close-knit community.

  It’s easy to believe that anywhere is better than here, to get tricked into thinking that the grass is greener on the other side, but Maggie, if you think there’s another city better than Holland, Michigan, you’re in for a rude awakening.

  Anywhere you go outside of Holland, you will miss the small town feel. There’s the sense of community when the town comes together on Thursday nights in the summer to listen to street performers and celebrate the local talent. Or, when everyone’s crowds in the Devos Fieldhouse on a snowy Wednesday night to watch the Flying Dutchmen defeat their rival.

   You feel the community when everyone flocks to the State Park on a hot summer evening to watch the sunset together, or during Tulip Time when everyone is downtown eating french fries and watching the local schools march in the parade.

  You feel the town come together when everyone works to help fellow community members who may be going through a hard time. We donate food to those in need, buy Christmas presents for families who can’t afford them or bring dinners to families who are experiencing loss or sickness. If you’re going through a hard time, you can guarantee the community will be there to support you with whatever you need.

  But the sense of community is most evident in the smaller ways, like seeing someone you know wherever you go, or meeting someone new and discovering all the connections you have to each other. These moments remind you that even when Holland feels big, the tight community provides the comfort and safety of a small town.

  Another aspect you’re sure to miss when you leave Holland is Lake Michigan. Being on the lakeshore of one of the largest bodies of freshwater is truly amazing and not something to be taken for granted. If you leave Holland, you’ll find yourself longing for the beach when the weather gets warm. You’ll miss the stunning sunsets, and the evenings when the water’s so still it looks like glass. If you leave Holland, you are sure to miss all the beauty Lake Michigan provides.

 Besides the lake, you’ll miss the way Holland finds a way to celebrate every season. In the fall you can take a hike in Riley Trails to see the vibrant leaves and enjoy the crisp air. If you’re willing to go for a short drive, you can also head over to Crane’s Orchard in Fennville and pick some fresh apples, enjoy a cider donut, and walk around the pumpkin patch.

  In the winter, you can get outside and go cross-country skiing at Pigeon Creek, while looking at the fluffy snow build up on the tree branches. If you’re really brave, you can head over to VanRaalte Farm and join the kids to go sledding down the big hill. You’ll also miss the simple things about Holland winters, like the excitement of the first snow.

  In the spring, you’ll miss going downtown and seeing the streets lined with yellow, red, purple, and pink tulips. While it may be a bit quirky and strange, Tulip Time is something only Holland can offer, and I guarantee it’s something you would miss when you move away.   But, of all the seasons, you’ll miss summer the most. You’ll miss going to the beach, watching the sunsets, going to street performers, and getting ice cream at Captain Sundae. Every season looks beautiful in Holland, but summer is when it truly comes alive.    

  While it’s often something we don’t appreciate, you’ll miss the changing of the seasons. You’ll miss the moment when the weather starts to feel cool, and the crisp air move in. You’ll long to wake up and see that the trees have changed color overnight. Believe it or not, you’ll even miss the excitement of the first snow. You’ll miss seeing spring arrive, and noticing the buds form on the trees, signaling that soon the branches will be filled with vibrant green leaves again. During the colder seasons, you may wish the summer weather lasted year long, but then you would never get to experience the moment the warm air rolls in, signaling the days will get longer and the sun will always shine.

  The changing of the seasons, and the celebrations that come with them are definitely something that makes Holland fun and keep things interesting. In places like San Diego or Tampa, the weather is inarguably better, but today is usually like yesterday, and tomorrow will be the same. Is that really what you want, Maggie, every day, every season the same? Boring.

  On a more practical note, if you choose to leave Holland, you’ll miss the low-stress atmosphere.

  There’s not much to worry about here. For one, you never have to deal with major traffic. There may be “rush hours” right before and after work, but they’re never true rush hours. If you were to move to a big city, you would have to deal with major traffic backups every day, making the end of a stressful workday even worse. Instead of spending two hours of your day sitting in traffic, you could be exercising, or enjoying time with friends. Two hours EVERY DAY. It adds up.

  You also don’t have to deal with finding parking. There is nowhere in Holland where you will struggle to find a parking place. This used to be a problem downtown, but since the addition of the parking garage, finding a place to park your car is not an issue.

  Holland is safe. It is rare you would need to stress about being in a dangerous area, because those are simply hard to find. Growing up in a such a safe place, it is easy to take this lack of stress for granted, but if you go somewhere else, particularly a big city, you will miss this. There is a sense of freedom when you live somewhere safe. You can go anywhere you want, and not have to worry about your safety. Obviously, anywhere could be dangerous, but in Holland, danger is low on the list of worries.

 Bigger cities can be more dangerous and driving is more stressful, but you’re also at risk of experiencing natural disasters. In Holland you never have to worry about earthquakes, tsunamis, or hurricanes; even tornados are a low risk. Natural disasters are something we often don’t think about, as they are never a worry, but if you move away they’ll just be one more thing to add to your list of stressors.

  Maggie, I’m sure one day you’ll move away and get the chance to explore big city living. Maybe you’ll go to college in Washington, D.C., or you’ll move out to LA for a few years. And I’m sure you’ll love it there… at first. But, trust me, you’ll be back.


I cannot wait to leave

There’s nothing better than waking up on a beautiful November morning 20 minutes before your usual 6 am wake up. Why would any high schooler give up 20 minutes of beautiful sleep? The answer is simple, they live in Holland, Michigan. A town where winter starts in early November and lasts until March. Every morning of our freezing winters, students and residents have to wake up and go out in the frigid air to scrape ice off their car windshields. Chipping away at ice and getting covered in snow is not what anyone wants to do first thing in the morning. This monotonous task is, however, a necessity here in Holland. Not to mention that you might have to do this more than once in a day. After you finish your scraping, the next part of your morning is spent driving at a snail’s pace because of all the ice that is built up on the roads. Both of these things are not only time consuming but also have dangerous outcome is not done correctly.    

  Winter driving, in Holland, causes multiple accidents every day, even with people spending around five hundred dollars on special snow tires and with people replacing the brakes that have been ruined after desperately trying to stop at that stop sign without sliding through it again. Life-risking, pricey, drawn-out commutes for five months out of the year might be enough to turn anyone away from this little town Hollanders call home, but its not even the worst Holland has to offer.

     Living in Holland can be summed up simply, it’s all the same. The highlight of anyone’s week here would be going to a Hope College basketball game. Attending a Division 3 basketball game that has a record of only 11 wins accompanied by 8 loses, which isn’t much to brag about. The closest place to watch a quality sporting event live is about three hours away in Detroit. If someone went to a game in Detroit, it would be the only topic they talk about for the next month and a half. Everyone just loves that person who won’t shut up about the one thing they did that one time, and Holland is full of people just waiting to tell you their story. Maybe someone will tell you about the time they drove to Grand Rapids just to watch an unheard of performer. Maybe someone will tell you about that amazing high school game last Tuesday. Maybe someone will tell you about Tulip Time, the most exciting time of year when the whole town gathers to celebrate a flower.  

    If you go to a place like Chicago, people might tell you about a time they saw Beyoncé in concert. If you go to Houston, people might tell you about the time they went to a Super Bowl game. In New York City, maybe a story about seeing Hamilton on Broadway. What do these places have in common? They’re not Holland, Michigan, the city that has a week dedicated to celebrating a flower you can buy at the store.

 Don’t just expect that because you live in small town that you’ll have friends that will always help you out either. Maddy tells a tale of a strong, helpful community but daily you can see that is not true. Sr. Erik Heindlmeyer recalls being stranded on the side of the road right next to the high school without any help. “It was right before a summer football practice was let out. Everyone was passing by, and I knew just about every other kid.Not one person he knew stopped to help him.

  Holland is, however, the perfect place for one thing. Retirement. It’s a perfect place for Grandparents to drag their grandchildren. The beauty of Holland is that there is nothing for the kids to do and they would be forced to spend quality time with their grandparents. In Holland, there are no major music events, no sporting events, no malls to shop at, nothing.

  Speaking of spending your days doing nothing, it’s also perfect for people like Maddy. She would be perfectly content to spend every day in winter sitting inside, reading a book. She would be content to spend every day in summer going to one of only 3 stores in downtown Holland that a high schooler would go inside, all of which are extremely overpriced. It is clear to see Maddy has never experienced the thrill of living in a big city. She has never gone outside her comfort zone to see what is out in the world. Big cities have entertainment, they have new and exciting people, and they offer something new each and every day. Maddy has been trapped in a small town and has become blinded to the fact that there is more out in the world. She is stuck in their old ways. Maddy, you may have tried to paint over the truth about Holland with your tales of beautiful sunsets on the beach and a tight-knit community, but we both know that’s not the true story behind Holland.

  The beaches might seem like the only redeeming quality, but if you take a closer look, you see that the Lake Michigan shoreline in Holland is not everything it’s cracked up to be. Once you are about a mile away from the State Park, it could take almost an hour to reach the parking because of all the traffic backed up.  After you waste that hour, you will most likely find out that the parking lot is full and there will be nowhere to park. If you are one of the lucky few who make it to the beach, your first step in the water will send chills up your spine. The average water temperature in 2017 in July was 59 degrees. The only other thing you can do at the beach is play in the sand, this is also a problem at our State Park. The sand at the State Park is almost too hot to walk in and definitely too hot to spend long periods of time in. With sand that burns your skin but water that is too cold to swim in, a fun trip to the beach becomes an unenjoyable event. When you decide you have had enough, you get a free souvenir you get to take home, lots and lots of sand, stuck to every part of you that doesn’t come off.

  Another misconception Maddy might have tried to convince you of is that Holland is a tight-knit community. Holland is the exact opposite. When I see a tight-knit community, I see a city where everyone knows each other, where people know when someone is missing, and more importantly a city where people are there to welcome you home. Holland doesn’t have any of those qualities. If someone in Holland knows who you are, it could be because of one or two things, either you are a high school athlete or you did something that Hollanders think is wrong and out of place. Athletic news is spread through the newspaper but when you do something people don’t like, it’s a different story. Holland isn’t small enough to be a tight-knit community or to be a city that knows when you’re home but it’s also not big enough to be an accepting community. It truly is the worst of both worlds. People don’t notice when you’re gone but people are ready to judge you while you’re here. There is a difference between a tight-knit community and a small town. In a city like New York, you could walk around with bright green hair or piercings and no one would even notice. If someone walking around Holland is wearing too much makeup, it’s something people comment on. Judgmental remarks are a Holland staple. Feeling superior to people who dare to step about against small-town ideals is a Holland staple.   

  If, after reading this article, you still feel Holland is a place you’d want to spend any of your time, with its dangerous winters, lack of any form of entertainment, summer swims in freezing waters, and people stuck in their old ways, then I will wish you good luck. One thing I know for sure is Holland is a city I cannot wait to leave.