Wednesday, August 24, 2005


New Home: Ann Arbor

Despite the ridiculous levels of tourist congestion, leaving coastal Maine in the middle of August is never an easy thing to do. Yet, that is exactly what I did last week as I packed my bags, bike, and hand-me-down furniture to head to my new home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Fortunately, I have never had a problem with anxiety or new places. If I did, I'm sure leaving New England for the midwest could have caused a panic attack. Well, to be completely honest, I almost did freak out as I drove through the Canadian province of Ontario and witnessed all the new sprawl that is occuring outside of some of the region's largest cities. Seriously, do our friendly neighbors to the north not see the monumental planning mistakes that Americans have made in constructing our built environment? It's almost as if development outside of Ontario's cities is roughly 10-15 years behind the suicidal precedent that America set in the 1980's and 1990's. Almost every open farm field along the QEW Highway, for which there are many, has a sign with some iteration of "Will build to suit." We all know that development can actually enhance a community when done right. But, if what has already been built in this region is a sign of what is to come, I do not hold out much hope. Ugh! Can you hear the death rattle? I sure did. Anyways, after being thoroughly dissapointed with Canada's recent patterns of development I realized that I have my own country to deal with, which is why I was heading to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the first place.

In less than two weeks I will be starting my masters in Urban and Regional planning, with a concentration in physical planning and urban design. As someone that willingly admits to being a little too interested in urban planning, this is a dream come true. However as a life long New Englander, getting used to the midwest is going to take a few minor adjustments. Frozen custard chains, crazed football games with 110, 000 fans, and an automobile lobby stronger than Jose Canseco on steroids are not things that I consider "normal." Nevertheless, Ann Arbor itself is a very cool, liberal college town. Though there is all the requisite sprawl near the highway, downtown Ann Arbor is full of independent businesses, restaurants, shops, theatres, and cool bars. Furthermore, real neighborhoods, with real sidewalks that make real connections are the norm, public parks and open spaces are ample, bicycling is more than accepted, and so far the local Michigan microbrews that I have tried are quite tasty. Some places even serve Harpoon!! I am settling in nicely here, but will wait to make a full analysis of my new home after I spend a little more time here. I expect that I will only enjoy it more.

Interestingly, Downtown Ann Arbor has hired Calthorpe Associates from Berkeley, California to assist in its new downtown masterplan. All fall there will be a series of lectures, public meetings, and workshops that will result in a brand new 25 year vision for Ann Arbor. Original CNU founder Douglas Kelbaugh is currently the Dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and new urban downtown finance guru Christopher Leinberger was recently added as a faculty member. What a great time to be here! Moreover, Detroit and all its urban maladies are a mere 40 minutes away. Every year the Urban Planning department holds a charette in a different part of Detroit, which allows students and Detroit citizens realize the potential of their forsaken city. The chance for me to learn here are great, and I look forward to taking full advantage of every available opportunity. On Friday, I have an interview to work part time for the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce's Get Downtown Program, which encourages those who work and play in the downtown to get there by using alternative forms of transportation. I hope to land this job, and if hired I expect that my work at MassBike will certainly come in handy. Wish me luck.

I miss New England already, but am excited to be here. A wise man once said that change is as good as a holiday, and I think that he was right. Its time to go exploring!

Mike, Boston's loss is Ann Arbor's gain. I look forward to your posts regarding the Michigan program and Ann Arbor itself. Best of luck!
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