Housing in Ann Arbor can be brutal on a student bank account. A proposal to build a new 26-story high-rise called University Village would do nothing to fix that. Ann Arbor residents, though, are opposed to the plan for another reason: They’re afraid that such a tall building will hurt the city’s atmosphere. But that’s not the right reason for rejecting this plan. While the development would increase downtown density and boasts an eco-friendly design, it fails to recognize that opulent housing is not what a majority of students need.
University Village would be built at the corner of South University and South Forest Avenues. Housing up to 1,400 residents, the building would include luxuries like flat-screen televisions, a workout facility, a café, a washer and dryer in every unit and Residential Advisor on every floor. The plans also include a green roof, which would save energy and recycle rainwater. No announcement has been made about how much the units would cost.
At a public forum last week, some Ann Arbor residents said the high-rise will threaten Ann Arbor’s small-town feel. They said they’re afraid of turning South University Avenue into something resembling Chicago. And they’re worried that the tall building might block sunlight. But a few shady sidewalks aren’t a travesty.
What these residents fail to realize is that Ann Arbor will change. Healthy cities grow. That growth can happen in two ways: up or out. Building out is an environmentally unfriendly practice that creeps into green spaces, destroys wildlife and forces people to consume resources. Building up is more environmentally responsible.
The problem with the planned development is its cost. Ann Arbor doesn’t need its own Trump Tower. It needs affordable housing. The Central Campus housing market is already a nightmare. Near campus, even the worst living conditions come with hefty price tags, driving poorer students further from campus. Although this primarily affects students, Ann Arborites doesn’t seem pleased either. Worried about students encroaching on their suburban tranquility, Burns Park residents got the City Council to rezone part of the neighborhood, effectively preventing homeowners from turning their properties into student rentals. That doesn’t take away from the fact that the city has to put students somewhere.
Housing blatantly targeted at wealthy students creates class segregation. The University has long trumpeted its efforts to increase diversity. This new development challenges that stance. Students of all financial backgrounds need convenient living at a reasonable price. While it can improve the situation by building and renovating new residence halls, it is also the University’s responsibility as such an influential institution to be the voice fighting with the city to achieve this goal.
The plan for University Village acknowledges the important reality that more housing might cost the city a little sunlight. It also recognizes that new construction shouldn’t come at the expense of the environment. But students are in desperate need of affordable housing. This issue cannot be ignored, even if a few disgruntled residents think it will make downtown a little less quaint.