Living in Ann Arbor has been an excellent experience. I have lived in a hospitable neighborhood and enjoyed a solid public school system. I have had the opportunity to be entertained and broaden my horizons by visitors like the real life Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina, comedian Russell Peters and socially conscious rapper Talib Kweli. After I graduated from Pioneer High School, I made the transition to a student at the University. Being a townie and a student resident of Ann Arbor are undoubtedly different roles, but the relationship between the two is more complex than many students think — what happens in Ann Arbor affects the University and vice versa.
Of course, it’s undeniable that Ann Arbor wouldn’t be the town it is without the University and its students. The wealth of ethnically diverse restaurants and famous visitors, which is a result of an affluent population, wouldn’t exist. The University has carved Ann Arbor a place in history as, among other things, the location of the announcement of the Peace Corps in 1960 and President Lyndon Johnson’s call for a Great Society in 1964. The employment and status provided by the University allows for a vibrant environment that all Ann Arbor residents can enjoy.
But even when school isn’t in session, Ann Arbor has found a niche. Nationally known summer fairs like Top of the Park and the Ann Arbor Art Fair have risen from partnerships between city council and the University. These partnerships are crucial to the smooth functioning of the University and town, and foster a learning environment while being conducive to tourism. So while the University does wonders for the city in attracting visitors, the welcoming, safe and hospitable environment of Ann Arbor — a paragon of University towns — shouldn’t be overlooked.
The decisions of the Ann Arbor government can also impact the lives of students. For example, a long-debated issue in City Council has been whether or not to introduce an income tax to close budgetary gaps as well as possibly provide property tax relief. Property taxes are passed on to the consumer in the form of higher rent on campus, so an income tax on Ann Arbor residents could indirectly result in lower prices for student housing. But obviously, student incomes would be taxed as well, so there are varying perspectives to consider. Either way, students will be affected by a decision.
Zoning rules and related restrictions also affect expenses and choices for students. These rules set the guidelines for how buildings may be constructed within the city limits. Recently, the application and creation of these rules has been evident in the City Place apartment saga: A proposed mid-level housing complex has been plagued by obstacles due to the potential historical value of the area and the city’s numerous zoning restrictions. Students regularly experience the effects of City Council decisions regarding housing development, both in price and location, when they search for housing options.
Students could have participated in the city’s affairs during yesterday’s City Council elections. Voting directly voices the concerns of the student body as it relates Ann Arbor’s laws and policies. Students, who make up a large proportion of the city’s population during the school year, have the chance through elections to have their interests fairly represented.
Ann Arbor and the University share a symbiotic relationship. Students are members of both societies, and being aware of the city’s stances on issues is important. And coming from a former Ann Arbor townie, the town — whether or not due to the presence of the University — has much to offer. It’s helpful to step outside the strictly student bubble. Take a walk down Main St. on a weekend evening sometime, and you’ll see.
Harsha Panduranga can be reached at email@example.com.