Ann Arbor City Council. A harmless little
enclave that deals with harmless little issues. Why should we, as
students with busy schedules and no intentions of staying here
after graduating, care one damn about what they do? We have no
interest in heated debates about when garbage pick-up day ought to
be. Few among us have fiery opinions about the Machiavellian
maneuverings of the City Joint Caucus (aside from the obvious jokes
its name provokes). I’d venture to guess that most students
here don’t even know who our mayor is, let alone how to
pronounce his name. Local government is for the aged, the feeble,
the trivial and the dull. The sad fact is, City Council members
take advantage of this student apathy by passing legislation that
negatively affects students without fear of reprisal. The recent
proposal banning porch couches is one example of how the Ann Arbor
City Council pushes an anti-student agenda with relative
impunity.

Elliott Mallen

The voting districts of Ann Arbor are gerrymandered to ensure
that students will never get a seat on the City Council. The city
is split into pie-shaped wedges, with each containing a sliver of
the student-dominated downtown and a much larger chunk of the
surrounding homeowner strongholds. Each wedge elects a City Council
member, meaning students never have enough numbers in any
individual wedge to field a pro-student candidate. A
homeowner’s most valuable asset is his home, and he will
fight anything that could potentially lower the value of that asset
(like living close to rowdy, unkempt students). Members of the
Council all favor the more permanent homeowners over transient
students, leading to legislation like the ludicrous couch porch
ban.

The idea that students can’t even get their own City
Council member suggests that they are but a small minority, and
this simply is not true. Of Ann Arbor’s 114,024 citizens,
39,031 are students. Renters outnumber homeowners 55 percent to 45
percent, putting homeowners in the minority. The college feel of
Ann Arbor is further reflected in the fact that the 45 percent home
ownership rate is significantly lower than the Michigan average of
74 percent. The relatively small number of property owners in the
city makes their domination of the Council all the more absurd.
There’s no doubt that Ann Arbor would not be nearly as
prosperous if it weren’t for the University. Without
students, there would be no South University. There would be no
football games drawing tens of thousands of fans into the city in
the fall. Sprawl would surely have taken a much greater toll if
there weren’t thousands of students living and spending money
in the city center. Property owners would have you believe that
students are a blight on an otherwise pure city. In reality,
we’re a blight that’s holding this town together.

The students vs. homeowners divide is not the expected Democrat
versus Republican battle we’ve come to expect between the
young and the old. The very people who want to ruin what little
pleasant Michigan weather we get in the summer by taking away our
porch furniture are the same people who most likely have a
“Jobs Not War in 2004” sign in their immaculately
manicured lawns. They’ll gladly vote for Kerry, march in one
of the more mainstream peace rallies, and support striking Borders
workers. Just don’t ask them to sit idly while their student
neighbors enjoy their upholstered furniture outside, potentially
driving their property values down for living in close vicinity to
such riff-raff. Any sense of camaraderie between students and
homeowners that comes from shared liberal values is overridden as
soon as property values come into play.

Seeing as students lack the power to vote City Council members
out of office, more creative methods are required if students are
to defeat the proposed ban. One person I talked to suggested we
camp out on couches outside the next City Council meeting on July
19. Others have suggested burning these couches on the steps of
City Hall — East Lansing riot-style. One jittery, shifty-eyed
man I spoke with at the Fleetwood fervently suggested we burn the
City Council members themselves. Whatever students decide to do in
response to the proposed ban could be prevented if students had the
ability to vent their frustration with the homeowners’
associations through voting. Until that day comes, students have no
choice but to find other ways to vent.

Mallen can be reached at
“mailto:emmallen@umich.edu”>emmallen@umich.edu.

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