Having a football stadium that seats nearly all of 114,000 residents would seem to pigeon-hole Ann Arbor as a college town. Indeed it perennially shows up on the Livability.com list of the Top 10 College Towns. There’s no denying that the University of Michigan is a huge cultural and economic force in town. More than 43,000 students are enrolled.
But it’s more than that, now more than ever according to Mayor John Hieftje. He points to a diversified economy lead by a growing technology and health-care community. The city and university are working to grow startups outside of the campus, and the University of Michigan hospital is one of the top research centers in the nation.
Ann Arbor, Mich., lacks some of the amenities of larger cities, but that doesn't inhibit its livability. “We don’t have an ocean. We don’t have mountains,” Hieftje says. “So, we try to make up or that with quality of life.”
More than 150 parks, the clean Huron river for boating activities, bike trails, hiking and four-season weather make Ann Arbor a great place to be outdoors year round.
The city has seen renewed development in the downtown including high-rise apartments, which are both drawing students from the university sections of towns and providing places for younger families to live. Overall, it’s mixing up the population in ways that Ann Arbor hasn’t seen before. Previously, Ann Arbor had an age gap between those who had graduated and those who were moving back in their 40s to raise their families and send them to Ann Arbor’s highly rated school system. Now, there’s more of a continuum.
The mayor sees transportation as an important factor in livability, especially as 68,000 people commute by car into the city each work day. Ann Arbor is making it easier for residents to live without a car in town – a bike-share program launches soon – and the city benefits from Amtrak upgrades, so residents can get out of town from time to time as well.
Mixing the needs of workers and residents, students and families is a tough balance. From the symphony center to concert venues like the Blind Pig, from frat houses to Bill’s Beer Garden, from Big Ten football, basketball and hockey, there are plenty of things to do and see.