Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Life Within the City of Ann Arbor

If you are coming to the Midwest for the first time or a Michigan local, you will fall in love with Ann Arbor for some reason or another. Ann Arbor is first and foremost a college town, but the University is also one of the top employers of the state of Michigan, so there is also a vibrant professional sphere as well.

Coming from Chicago and Los Angeles before that, I was not looking forward to coming to a small “town;” however, I was wrong! Ann Arbor has all the delights of a small town as well as all the entertainment worth of bigger cities. The entire city only houses 113,000 people or so, and it is one of the safest cities in the entire United States for its size. Thanks to central location of the university, downtown Ann Arbor is extremely lively, with tons of restaurants and shops around the State Street and Main Street areas. Ann Arbor redefines the idea of diversity, both in culture and in its people. Here you will find someone from all walks of life, and our food is a great way to explore the various cultures represented within the city. We have the typical Mexican and Chinese places you are used to, but they are coupled with local flavors of Korea, Thailand, India, Brazil, Israel, Scotland, Iraq, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Iran and so much more! Ultimately, remember that here in Ann Arbor, many people, including myself, love to support local businesses, so you will rarely see chains busy (besides the typical Starbucks morning rush and Noodle & Company’s lunch specials).

Furthermore, because of the diverse population around campus, you will find all sorts of different venues for whatever type of nightlife you desire, from the Last Word’s delicious cocktails, to the unassuming karaoke at Circus. If you are more into the refine experience, Ann Arbor has plenty of local wineries and breweries you can take your friends or significant other to and enjoy tastings! There are many ways to enjoy Ann Arbor outside of food and drink. For instance, there are two art house movie theaters in the midst of downtown that are always hosting events like Q&A’s with directors and midnight showings of classic movies. Also, the University has over thirty different free museums open to the public, from videogames and comic book collections to great works of art to showcasing the latest in the technology world. Also, there is always theater plays being performed, or free movie hosted by one of the various departments at UM, or famous artist or band playing their music at the Auditorium. Here are some great resources to read if you are coming to visit: Things to Do in Ann Arbor & 36 Hours in Ann Arbor.

Outside of the downtown area, you will be surrounded by nice residential areas as well as beautiful nature places to explore - which is something I love about the town! Remember, a lot of Michigan is considered a forest, so whether it is a beautiful Fall day and the trees are shining with reds, yellows or fading greens, or they are embraced with the latest snowfall, you will be surrounded by nature’s true beauty. One of the places nearby is Nichols Arboretum, which is a sprawling park just north of downtown central campus that offers a huge space for picnics, walking, and any other outdoor activities you desire. The Huron River runs right through the middle of the Arboretum, and in the summer, you can rent kayaks and canoes from Gallup Park and spend a leisurely afternoon paddling along. In short, Ann Arbor has a little bit of everything for everyone. However, I am sure you all want to know some nitty-gritty details about actually living there.

It is definitely possible to get around Ann Arbor and its surrounding areas without a car using both the University of Michigan buses and Ann Arbor Transit Authority buses, both of which students can ride free. This is especially helpful, as there really is not a good grocery store in downtown Ann Arbor, making the public transportation essential if you want to get to a large Meijer or Kroger. The buses do stop running at 11pm on weekdays and 6pm on weekends, so if you are a real night owl, you might have to take advantage of the U of M’s SafeRide service or a cab. Single apartments downtown might run you around $800 per month, so look outside of the downtown area or find a roommate if you are looking for something on a budget. If you want to go even cheaper, you can go about 10 miles east of Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, which, while not quite as close to campus, is still a very pleasant place to live. In addition, to top it all off, Ann Arbor is only about thirty miles away from downtown Detroit, where you can go see the Tigers or woeful Pistons play, check out some live music, and take in even more fine dining.

Personally, I love the feel of Ann Arbor, which is small enough to make people feel part of a small community, but big enough to provide all of the amenities of a city five times its size. Additionally, every June and July, Ann Arbor hosts their Summer Festival, which includes events called “Top of the Park”, which projects movies onto big screens at night as well as a wonderful Art Fair where you meet local artists of all sorts. Furthermore, take great advantage of the State Theater’s midnight movies, which show some of the great classics of films everyone should see! Every spring also brings the Ann Arbor Film Festival, where you can check out some great indie films. Finally, on a consumerist note, I love that you can walk three blocks from campus, and find great independent bookstores, two small movie theaters, dozens of coffee shops, healthy and allergy-friendly food stores, and one of the best toy and comic book stores in the country. While Ann Arbor may not be perfect, it is a lovely place to live and work.

If you want to find some more general information about Ann Arbor, I will point you to the local Ann Arbor News and the Ann Arbor Wiki. You Redditors can also peruse the Ann Arbor subreddit and talk to some locals. I hope you all join us here in the fall.

--Marissa Rivas-Taylor, MSI ‘16 (April 2015)