Monday, March 7, 2011

Ann Arbor is a Bore?

Population (2000): 114,024
Area: 27.7 miles
Complaints: infinite

It is fashionable among graduate students to complain about life in Ann Arbor. Bad food, shitty nightlife, too small, nowhere to go out, nothing to do, too many students, too many townies, too many bo-bos, too many families, terrible weather, no charm, too many chains, too… boring.

Please shut the fuck up.

I have spent the last three years as an A2 defender. It’s not a role I planned to take on. I left this state the day after I turned 18 for New York City, vowing never to return to live here. Six years later I was eating crow and living alone for the first time in my life. Since I basically hated growing up in MI, I figured I’d hate living in Ann Arbor.

I don’t. I might even say that I love it. And now I find myself wanting to face-punch my friends, acquaintances, and peers who say that it’s horrible here, that it’s the worst place ever. It's not. Get over it.

I don’t plan on living here the rest of my life. And there are certainly better places to live, especially for a brown gay man with a mod sensibility and a love of Latin American food (vegetarian, please!). But A2 is hardly the ninth circle of hell. And complaining about living here shows a terrible lack of perspective. There are many, many worse places to live.

For example: the suburbs, where I grew up. I would have given my left arm to live in Ann Arbor fifteen years ago. Mainly because being a minority kid where you needed a car to get anywhere interesting was pretty bad, especially when you live in a fairly un-diverse, non-progressive place. Ann Arbor is hardly a model for diversity – the racial and economic spectrum here isn’t as large as it could or should be – but it’s a lot better than most of the state. That doesn't mean it's good, but it does mean that are a lot of inferior options a stone's throw away.

Having lived in New York, DC, and San Francisco over the last few years I can’t say with a straight face that A2 is a peer of those cities. But I also won’t deny that A2 has its own advantages. Cheap drinks and relatively low rent being two of the most obvious perks, in my opinion.

What bothers me most about the criticisms of Ann Arbor is that implies that anyone who would want to live here is an idiot. And there are many, many people who choose to do so for perfectly valid reasons. It takes a special type of deafness to make categorical statements about one’s opinion, no matter how true it might be.

So next time you feel like slagging on A2, just remember: you can probably get a one-way ticket to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles for under $200. We’ll probably all be better off if you buy it.


  1. Ann Arbor is not perfect. It is a pretty good place to spend a year or two.

  2. My god I agree with this sentiment. I would only add a few comments about this incredibly irritating, elitist, metropolitan chauvinism.

    1) It seriously irritates me that people don't take into account the dis-amenities from living in a mega-metropolis. The largest disamenity being the huge population of douche-bags who must fanatically remind everyone visiting such a city that they are inferior in every way. (As a side note, what do most people living in San Francisco or New York actually contribute to the coolness of these cities? I imagine most of them actually detract from the small population of actually cool people).

    2) Saying A2 is boring offends the people who like living there, true; but worse, it suggests that people who live in A2 have no purpose(and as you mention, this also goes for the great population of the US living in places worse than A2). It seems to suggest that these people contribute no value or that they have not created some really cool shit.

    To put a twist on an old quote:

    “Men of Ann Arbor, who have perished over the ages, you have not lived solely to manure the earth with your ashes, so that at the end of time your posterity should be made happy by metropolitan culture. The very thought of a superior metropolitan culture is a blatant insult to the majesty of Humanity."

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  4. Being a native, I find it hard to comment on Ann Arbor. It's like asking someone's opinion of a person they use to date; there is too much baggage and history to give an unbiased opinion.

    BTW, WTF does too many townies mean? What kind of an entitled a-hole (can we swear in comments section?) complains about there being too many residents of the college town to which they just moved? It's not your city, jerkwad! Someone has to serve your spoiled (butt) coffee and beer!

  5. Wow, if people are bitching about Ann Arbor...I would hate to see what they would say about my neck of the woods....the home of the Big Prick....or Ypsilanti...

  6. Thanks for writing this. I've lived in Ann Arbor for most of the last 33 years, with 1 year spent in Atlanta, GA, and 2 years spent in South Bend, IN. So, by most measures, I am a townie.

    Yes, there are plenty of things to make fun of here in the People's Republic of Ann Arbor, and our downtown has long-suffered from spurts of development that spoke to current development fads without any consideration of context. Tally Hall in the 1980’s is one example; the current push for a downtown hotel/conference center is another.

    But despite all attempts to make Ann Arbor into Birmingham, Dearborn or Southfield, its essence remains intact. The historic neighborhoods and Main Street, the parks, the cultural richness, the University and all it brings, and nowadays, we even have Hollywood movies being filmed here.

    My wife and I chose to stay here and raise our kids right through high school. We recently moved closer to downtown to be more in the mix and we love our new old neighborhood. Unfortunately, we have a number of City leaders right now who have lost touch with Ann Arbor’s essence and have bought into the line fed to them by pseudo-young professionals that Ann Arbor just ain't cool enough. Well folks, Ann Arbor is a mid-western college town and that's good enough for me.

    I've enjoyed reading this blog because it seems the authors really have made an effort to embrace the community--not just use it and abuse it before moving on to a job on the east or west coast.

    Ann Arbor may not be as cool as some try to make it our to be, but it is pretty darn cool.

  7. A2 isn't SF. But I can't afford to live in SF and still work a job that allows me to have a life, and I especially couldn't afford to live in a neighborhood in SF with schools as good as the ones my kids attend here. Will I be here forever? Probably not. But when I hear people bashing A2 as "not cool enough," it almost always seems that the person saying so is pretty insecure--that if they don't declare A2 not cool, someone will think they think it's cool, and think they're less cool for thinking so. Make your own cool life, wherever you are.

  8. You're underselling it. Way. I've considered telling the BBC it's one of the best places for a woman to live. You can walk alone almost everywhere in the daytime, and at night with a dog mid-sized or larger. Ditto live alone, eat alone, go to entertainment alone. You don't have to always be on the alert for creeps. More friendliness than NYC or SF and its usually genuine. More than enough to do. Plus a lot of babyboomers/flower people who never left the Sixties because why would we want to. It's just funny watching us get greyer and greyer at the Ark's annual folk festival every January.

  9. really the main complaint i had was the weather. you could walk anywhere and even get a cab if need be. it's hands down one of the best places to be a student or academic in the country. but it was gray a lot and snowy.

    given the choice between living in NYC and A2, with the same net income after rent, I'd choose A2 in a heartbeat. SF or LA on the other hand...

  10. With the caveat that I agree with much of what you said, there are some clear problems with it too.

    First, I don't think bitching about one's residence is unique to AA. There are bitchers (bitches?) and non-bitchers in NY and SF, who bitch about the high rents, small apartments, tourists, crowds, public transportation, etc. That's just the state of the world. Bitching about AA is not a particularly annonying - unless you hate people who bitch (which we all know is not true...).

    Second, there is something particularly annoying about people in AA who tout it as such a great place. I'm not talking about people who are realistic about it. There's a difference between saying "this is a great place to raise a kid" and saying "the food here is great." I don't think it's wrong to bitch about those people, or to bitch in response to those people. Of course the food here won't be as good as a big city like NY or LA. However, it's much worse than in similar-sized cities like Athens, GA or Portland, ME. There are plenty of people who are unwilling to recognize that. So, while I find it annoying when people say things "the public transportation here suck" (duh, it's a small city, and it's actually quite decent for its size), I'm not as concerned when people say "it's not very diverse" and "it's cold" and "the food sucks." I'm not sure it's elitist to say these things. Harping on the food example, as I usually do, it's not clear to me that the size or location of the city should have much to do with the quality of food establishments. In addition, Ann Arbor is a wealthy town, that has great grocery stores, a good farmers market, and supports a place like Zingermans. Why I think the restaurants suck so much is not the result of any elitism I may indulge in - it's just a mystery to me why so many people think it's so great. Again: Portland, ME.

    Third, I think a lot of the bitching comes from the fact that you're in school. People love to play misery poker when they're students. Bitching about where they live is just another layer of that fact.

    In general, while I actually like living here, it's definitely not where I want to live forever. Then again, I could totally see why people would want to. I think that's how a lot of bitchers feel. While they may bitch too much, I don't think they're really saying it's all that bad - they'd just prefer to be elsewhere.

  11. I would agree with a lot of what's been said here, but also add something else. Not all, for sure, but I'd say that a great deal of the complainers just have this complete passivity which I find a little disturbing.

    I realize people are busy with being students, jobs, etc., but MAN, I have known some crazy productive people who manage to fill that role and also take action and make things happen that they would like to see happen to make their own community (maybe not the whole city) more how they would like it to be.

    Go out and meet people, start something, however small, based on your passion or curiosity. Be resourceful and understand what this town and this area have that other areas don't while you're here, instead of focusing only upon the things that other places have that aren't present here.

    People who complain about the environment around them being boring? Zzzzz... They're boring to me.

  12. A2 is actually a pretty nice place to live, all things considered. Yeah, maybe the restaurants aren't great, but there's a couple good ones - Star's Cafe in Westgate Plaza near the West Branch Library, for instance. And most grocery stores have really good food. And the U of M is a great great great university! Also A2 does not have that "big city" feel of so many places like NYC or SF or LA (I hate that cramped feeling . . . overall I love A2 and think this is waaaaaay better than where I used to live!

  13. Ann Arbor is a hypocritical city run by corrupt morons and mainly populated with pretentious/ ignorant/rude/snobby ass people that don't deserve to have what they do. (I have lived in many areas across the state, and in other states as well. and I am by no means well off in any way)

  14. Hey all,

    Thanks for this blog and comments. I need your help/advice. I am a 54 yo white gay man who is widowed now for seven years. I too have lived in many locations: originally from the Chicago burbs, then NYC, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Oberlin, Cleveland. Now I am looking for a long-term/retirement destination. I love cold weather and I have visited AA once and did like it. I have heard mostly good things about it and feel it could be a good place for me. I do not want a LARGE city anymore but definitely want an open/liberal environment with a reasonable amount of culture and entertainment.

    Your thoughts?

    PS In Oberlin (pop. 8,000) I was one of a handful of middle-aged gay men. It was dreadful. Could not make a friend to save my life! And I do mean just platonic friendship. Everyone was paired off (Noah's Ark?)and not even wanting any new friends. I know this can be the case as people get older but in a small town it is particularly painful.

  15. Interesting article. 💎Lol💎

  16. Been going to A2 since the late 90's and everything I enjoyed has gone out of business, elixir vitae, the chocolate house ice cream, cavern club, some cool clothing stores just to name a few. Seems like it has been going down hill. Used to go every Sunday because of the free parking and it would be a fun half day even briarwood mall was a good time but I feel lost now because all the stuff I enjoyed doing no longer exists. But I guess times change. I wouldn't know what to do there now other than a couple restraunts. The dispo next to NY Pizza depot closed so that was a gut punch, used to people watch while eating some good pizza slices. Just seems like the charm of the city has been lost.