The South University Area Association, an
organization that represents area businesses, has asked the city of
Ann Arbor to rezone parts of South University Avenue in order to
facilitate growth in this important commercial and residential
district. The change in zoning would allow for greater density:
taller buildings in the student-heavy area, with retail space on
the first floor, office space on the second and housing above.
While there are potential problems with this proposal, the increase
in density on South University will ultimately prove beneficial so
long as the focus of the area remains on students.
South University is often considered the student equivalent of
the more upscale and expensive Main Street area, and this upward
expansion should not come at the expense of this student focus.
While Main Street boasts attractive shops, businesses and
restaurants, it remains an area physically and economically removed
from the mainstream of student life at the University. An increase
in density could make South U similarly student unfriendly.
Another negative effect this development could have on the
college atmosphere of the area will be the increased need for
parking. Some city planners have called for the construction of
additional parking structures to accommodate the increased traffic,
and this will only further diminish the vibrancy of South
University. The desire to build more parking garages should be
resisted, as they only encourage people to drive instead of walk,
worsening existing parking and traffic issues.
However, increasing the density of areas like South University
may prove inevitable. The Greenbelt proposals limit Ann
Arbor’s outward expansion, and making the city denser by
allowing for taller buildings will fight sprawl. Further
development of the South University area will lead to increased
foot traffic, which is an indicator of a healthy, vibrant
Gentrification and congestion are easily avoided simply by
keeping students in the picture. The college feel of the area can
be maintained and developed by designating much of the new housing
as student housing. Also, more low-rent apartments will have the
benefit of increasing competition for student housing, which will
lower the cost of housing across the city by taking pressure off
the surrounding student neighborhood.
Developing upwards has the potential to both fight sprawl and
improve the student housing situation as long as the college feel
of the area is maintained. South University has always been a
student-oriented environment, and increasing its density can make
it an ever better environment for students as long as steps are
taken to prevent it from becoming yet another gentrified Ann Arbor