Your neighborhood — it’s more than a street name.

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The Statement is The Michigan Daily’s weekly news magazine, distributed every Wednesday during the academic year.

If you live within walking distance of Hatcher, you’re most absolutely a student, and you almost certainly have positioned yourself based on the network in which you frequent.

You live on Packard? You like a good party more than anything.

Hill and Tappan? You’re a Ross kid.

Kerrytown? Hipster … or engineer.

Landmark? Zaragon? Frat star.

Or … maybe not.

When I was deciding where to live, it never felt like a decision at all. Yes, I chose to live in a certain neighborhood with a certain group of people, but off-campus housing feels a lot less like a rational decision and a lot more like a confusing blur of houses, apartments, and questionable landlords that all ends with you living in an overpriced closet.

As enrollment rates increase and the number of on-campus rooms remains the same, freshman more often than not end up being forced to explore Ann Arbor for the very first time as they search for a place to live the following year. For the freshmen and upperclassmen who scramble to find off-campus housing, they are reaching out to landlords, talking to residents, visiting houses in different areas, and usually start by deciding: apartment or house?

Apartment seems to be the easier option of the two. Houses are complicated, while apartments frequented by students are glorified dorms.

These “glorified dorms” however, are remarkably unpopular among non-student residents. Townies are often angered by expensive, blocky buildings that neither meet the city’s announced goal of increasing affordable housing downtown nor the desire to preserve Ann Arbor’s unique character. For every apartment building that goes up in an effort to target students, local residents are almost always quick to respond. They challenge the proximity of the building to their parks and neighborhoods, full of fear and foreboding for the future of Ann Arbor.

The tension between residents and students is not uncommon, but is particularly apparent in a college town with such vibrant and diverse experiences in the city and on campus.

So let me tell you a story.

The day I was born, while I was still at the hospital, my eight-year-old brother and father bought me a bear. I, creatively, named him Barry the Bear. My brother had had a similar bear named Fuzzy, given to him when he was born, that he loved and that can be found in my parents’ living room, all torn up and worn. My bear is there too, but he isn’t worn … actually, he looks entirely untouched. Exactly the way it had been given to me.

Instead, in my bedroom here in Ann Arbor, you will find a flattened out, greenish Alligator, who I also very creatively named Allie the Alligator, laying on my bed. He has stains everywhere and his cloth teeth have wrinkled and torn over the years.

Barry was special to me. And because he was special, I wanted to take care of him. I didn’t take him with me outside, or to daycare, or on the bus, or with me to college. But Allie, who was just a meaningless alligator, came everywhere with me.

Ann Arbor is special as well. And while my place is not to say what is right for this city, neither fearing change and desiring things to stay the same nor rushing to capitalize on students desperate for nearby housing with poorly thought out buildings seem like strategies the constituents in this city — both students and residents — desire.

The truth is, we all have a lot to lose. The University has a lot to lose if the essence of Ann Arbor as a town is harmed, as do the students. And residents, who know and love Ann Arbor’s character, would undoubtedly feel an impact if the University was unable to bring such a large and diverse group of young adults to the city.

The University enrolls over 43,000 students each year, and they all have to find somewhere to live.

In the process each student will make some decisions that say a lot about him or her, whether they realize it or not: where you live, what kinds of people you choose to support, who you decide to live with. But you will, ultimately, call Ann Arbor your home. And in doing so, you join a much larger community, one that isn’t included in those enrollment numbers, that is worth exploring. Off-campus housing just may be your chance to do so.

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