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The Ace Deuce

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Ann Arbor is a city. It is an active community with surrounding suburbs and a bustling downtown. It is legally defined as a city, and has a big university drawing in bright young minds. There are a hundred thousand people living in Ann Arbor during the school year, but that includes students. Half the city leaves during the summer, and another hundred thousand people visit each year. I’ve met people from Toledo, Ohio, an important enough city to have a small war over in the 1830s, who love coming all the way to Ann Arbor to go to restaurants and activities. Activities including concerts, lectures, and yes, football. Every home game, Ann Arbor brings in about $2.2 million, and clogs every main artery of the city. I try not to leave my house on game days, but most other days I go downtown. My high school was downtown, and we had an open campus so I ate out at a multitude of small, ethnic restaurants every day. Ann Arbor is fairly diverse for the midwest, though most families are middle class. The University attracts people from all over the world, adding to the cultural capital of the city.

Yet, there are times when Ann Arbor feels like a town. It can be a very personable place, downtown is not full of skyscrapers, and occasionally you can even find parking. The Huron River runs through the city and provides a lot of beautiful parks. Ann Arbor is a place where your kids can bike home at night without any worries, where you can drive across town in fifteen minutes. People will smile at you on the street, and most people know their neighbors. The green space also gives the town a more rural feel. There is a multitude of parks and quad space downtown and around Ann Arbor. It is a generally happy place, living in a bubble, safe from too much economic harm because of the University.

Lewis Mumford, in his essay “What is a City?”, writes about how cities are nuclei of culture and economy. Ann Arbor is definitely both of those things. He also spoke about the best size of the city, and probably would have found Ann Arbor to be interesting in that regard. Bound to a relatively small surface area by three highways, Ann Arbor does not feature urban sprawl. The population is focused on the theatrics of running a University, including everything from great public schools for the professors’ children to the night-life for students. Ann Arbor has a purpose and is the right size to accomplish its mission. Along the lines of Mumford’s thoughts, too much expansion and it would fail to be as efficient or productive.

Georg Simmel speaks of the difference between the small town and city mindsets in “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” I’m not sure where Ann Arbor fits in his descriptions though. Due to the constant stimuli in cities, Simmel says that “the reaction of the metropolitan person to those events is moved to a sphere of mental activity which is least sensitive and which is furthest removed from the depths of the personality.” I’m not sure that I agree with him on this. Then again, maybe it is the difference between living in a big city and living in Ann Arbor. In Ann Arbor there is perhaps a more manageable amount of stimuli. Simmel paints a picture of a city that functions through reason rather than emotion. This more cold-blooded mindset does not fit in with my view of Ann Arbor. Instead, Ann Arbor feels cozier and seems to have a heart.

In her Big Think interview, Sharon Zukin spoke about authenticity and gentrification in New York. Though Ann Arbor is not even close to the scale of NYC, I think there are similar aspects in Ann Arbor. The city was pretty well gentrified over the years- we have coffee shops on every corner and Hipsters wander freely. Back in the day, my downtown high school used to be an all black elementary school. When they desegregated, the African-Americans living in the neighborhood were all moved out to public housing. Now, the area has cute shops, a couple cobble-stoned streets and a farmer’s market twice a week to help create the authentic atmosphere that’s both new and old at the same time.

Out of the readings we did, Zukin really spoke to me the most. She is much more contemporary, and I think her insights can be most easily applied to Ann Arbor. Simmel focused on a dichotomy, and Ann Arbor is neither a big city nor rural town. Mumford thought about the fundamental definition of a city, and the drama that is created by people living and working together. I’m glad I could grow up Ann Arbor because of the aspects of both cities and towns that make a place both comforting and exciting at the same time.


Juneau's picture


Big Think. "Interview with Sharon Zukin." Big Think. N.p., 03 Feb. 2010. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.

Mumford, Lewis. "What Is a City?" Architectural Record. N.p.: n.p., 1937. N. pag. Print.

Simmel, Georg. "The Metropolis and Mental Life." N.p.: n.p., 1950. N. pag. Print.

 "About Ann Arbor." Ann Arbor Area CVB. N.p., 2013. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.

Rotz, James, and Carl Greene. N.d. Photograph. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan, Summer 2012. Web. 8 Sept. 2013. <>.