When I came to Michigan three years ago, I was a very different person. It only took one spring term for me to figure out why this was. It wasn’t entirely due to the books, the problem sets or the lectures. My education has been as much Ann Arbor as it has been coursework.
Our school consistently ranks among the top learning institutions of the world, and you might agree that this is in large part due to the town in which we live. We’re at a school that is deeply integrated with its surrounding city. Contrast this with Michigan State, our neighbor on the banks of the Red Cedar. This facet provides an opportunity, but not one that comes in the form of a class. We have to actively seek it, and I don’t think enough of us do.
The real problem here is that there is no syllabus for exploring Ann Arbor. So, to whet your appetite while LSA drafts a course in it, here’s my outline:
In the first place, Place. This is going to take some footwork and involves leaving the comfortable confines of residence halls and South University bars. Ann Arbor boasts 157 city parks, not including Nichols Arboretum, where there’s a line of 10,000 daffodils in bloom right now. Hunt Park overlooks the entire city. There will be a quiz on the sunset from that vantage.
Any rigorous class should draw from established material, and so our itinerary will mostly be set by a pamphlet from 1859 called “Pleasant Walks and Drives About Ann Arbor.” I recently walked the path of Drive A, which includes a “genuine mountain road … like … in Switzerland,” and found myself transported in time. The road described is now blocked off to cars, which makes it easier to imagine a horse and carriage overtaking me on the switchbacks.
The route brings you close to North Campus where the Bentley Historical Library, which digitized that pamphlet, holds 3-D stereo photographs from the 1860s, just in case you thought 3-D technology was new. This library closes the first part of the course, from which we have gained context for what follows.
Next up is Weirdness, in the best way possible. Ann Arbor has a unique voice, and because of that, it has been heard on the national stage many times. A character that is self-evidently representative of this is Homeless Dave, also known as Dave Askins, who is the editor of the Ann Arbor Chronicle and who interviews people on a teeter totter.
We’ll move rapidly through Food, in which required eating will be at Mark’s Carts. Then we’ll close with Events, for which your cheat sheet will be the Ann Arbor Events Calendar.
This course needs no exam. You’re embedded in your location and are shaped by it no matter what. This course happens whether or not you have a syllabus. The only variable is how much you grow from your surroundings.
If you treat your education as if it only comes from lectures and library sessions, you’re getting ripped off. Go get your money’s worth and live it up while you’re still in Tree Town.
Michael Smallegan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.