Few city issues have so pitted students against Ann Arbor residents as the proposed ban on upholstered porch furniture put before City Council during the summer of 2004. Students successfully lobbied the Council to table the ordinance, which would have put an end to the cherished tradition of lounging on the porches of off-campus houses. While most Ann Arbor residents have moved on, the Ann Arbor Fire Department has again started the push to ban couches from porches. City Council’s response to the proposal’s return has been lukewarm – it will hear the proposal no earlier than next fall. Regardless, students must remain informed and vocal in order to ensure the Council defeats any proposal.
The Council’s willingness to hold off on debate for at least another year demonstrates that it sees the ban as a low-priority issue. Even so, the Fire Department remains adamant that porch couches are fire hazards which put students’ lives in danger and have to go. Ann Arbor Fire Chief Chris Brenner went as far as to assert that a student would die in a fire if the city does not ban couches.
It is hard to believe that banning couches would be the most effective way to reduce fire hazards, particularly when there are many other pragmatic and simple solutions that would drastically improve the safety of student housing. Requiring houses to have adequate fire escapes, ensuring smoke detectors are functioning and other measures along these lines would be more useful in fire prevention than removing couches from porches. If the Fire Department puts forth an enhanced and expanded fire code rather than pushing for a couch ban, it could do much more for the safety of students and the community.
Many residents also support a couch ban – but with different motivations than the Fire Department’s. In a Nov. 24 letter to the editor in The Ann Arbor News, a city resident wrote that couches are not only an eyesore, but that they “help make the student residential areas the ghettos they are.” This argument was common during the summer 2004 debate, and such sentiments will likely resurface if City Council brings up the issue again. Although residents have been near silent thus far, their relative silence hardly implies they will support students.
While the couch ban is off the Council’s agenda for now, it is still a rallying point for many in the community. Despite the Fire Department’s well-meaning intentions, tackling student safety requires more effective measures than pointing fingers at ugly couches. Last year’s defeat of the couch ban proposal indicates that students can have a voice in city politics, and continued pressure from students will be necessary to make sure the couch ban never becomes a reality.