Sometimes I make the mistake of telling someone I meet here that I’m not that into sports. I know I’m entitled to my own interests and opinions, but there’s an unspoken rule about being a University student that says you have to either care a lot about football, or pretend you care a lot about football. While I may not understand the rules or exactly what’s happening at a given athletic event, there is one thing I’ll admit to appreciating: the school spirit. Undoubtedly, that’s one of the most obvious perks of going to school here; the students love their school, and they show it.
In perfect harmony with the students, the Athletic Department spews school spirit in the form of weekly pre-game e-mails, social networking and now, a monstrous digital billboard, complete with sound capabilities, that was constructed over the past summer. Conveying promotional messages for the Michigan Athletic Department, this sign, situated between the Big House and the Crisler Center, had to be huge to match up with the massive size of our football stadium. And, according to Athletic Director Dave Brandon, the sign “won’t annoy anybody” because it “happens to be right across the street from a golf course”.
There are just a few problems with this — the first being a factor of safety. The big, bright nature of the digital billboard provides a substantial distraction to drivers. This was predicted by Ann Arbor City Council members leading up to its construction, and has been proven true in the opinions of residents.
Further, the city council amended the outdoor advertising ordinance to prohibit the conversion of standing traditional billboards into digital ones. While the University of Michigan doesn’t have to obey these ordinances and is free to build all the huge electronic disturbances it wants, the ordinance shouldn’t have been disrespected in this way. A number of residents have reported it as blight on the city — a misrepresentation of what Ann Arbor is about.
At some universities, the school and its closest neighboring city work as separate entities and are barely associated with one another. The appeal of attending the University of Michigan is that the school is so intertwined with the city of Ann Arbor. For this very reason, Michigan should be collaborating with the city, not against it. Ann Arbor is what gives the University so much of its beauty and ambiance, and the University shouldn’t take actions to endanger this relationship.
Members of the city council plan on bringing forward this issue at a Nov. 7 meeting. While they’d prefer that the billboard be removed completely from its East Stadium Drive location, council members are willing to compromise. They understand that the Athletic Department wants to advertise during games with this sign, and would agree to it only being active during game day. However, if safety is in fact their biggest concern, the amount of traffic on game day actually makes that the worst time for the sign to be functioning.
Finally, if the University is trying to go green, the last thing they need is a giant digital advertisement consuming massive amounts of energy every day. Recent studies have led scientists to predict that the replacement of traditional billboards with electronic ones will completely negate the recent efforts of electric companies to reduce energy demand during peak times. The University of Michigan should act as a leader in lowering energy consumption — which can certainly happen in unison with our position as a leader in school spirit.
If not for the environment, or for the safety of drivers, the University should consider removal of the digital billboard at least in respect of the city of Ann Arbor and the opinions of its citizens.
Alexis Nowicki is an LSA freshman.