Eco-Living Magazine

“Livability” Found: College Towns

Posted on the 20 March 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

I love Ann Arbor, MI. There, I said it. As an urban planner from a large urban metropolitan region like Washington, DC, I am a little ashamed to say that. But after living in Charlottesville, VA for a couple of years, I had an inkling that I couldn’t shake. Now that I’m back in a college town, I can confidently say that it is true. College towns are simply the most livable places.

Livability is a wily term. The term  has its own website, with enough top ten lists to make every realtor happy. For those who share my skepticism of wikipedia, their world’s most livable cities page is topped by cities in Australia and Canada. I guess that is true if health care, education, and speaking English are your top priorities. For planners, livability is based on both quantitative and qualitative characteristics, it is often used synonymously with quality of life. It is meant to capture that feeling of generally being happy or at least where a large number of lifestyle conditions are in place where one could be happy.

My livability priorities are a bit different. I’ve come up with a few metrics that have significantly improved or stayed about the same since moving from Arlington, VA.

  • Commuting – My Walkscore increased by ten points moving to Ann Arbor, MI. I actually walk and sometimes bike to work. It is almost too close to take a bus.
  • Salary compared to housing costs – While Arlington is doing all it can to preserve affordable housing, the cost of housing relative to income is much lower in Michigan.
  • The outdoors – While Michigan doesn’t have any mountains, at least I can be on a lake or out in nature in a fifteen minute drive.
  • Music and art – Even though Ann Arbor could never have the incomparable 9:30 Club, the cost of living here gives artists the room to work and Detroit’s long history of music nourishes a vibrant scene.
  • Food – I work one block from a food co-op and I can buy food from a local farm fifteen minutes away. Farmer’s markets in cities are wonderful, but this level of intimacy with food and where it comes from is something different.

To demonstrate that I am not a total homer for Ann Arbor, I will readily admit that there are some things college towns don’t do well. If one is young and single, there simply aren’t enough people in a college sized town to find lots of people to date. The pool is too small. The depth and breadth of truly excellent ethnic food is a problem. At least there is fantastic Lebanese food in suburban Detroit. Finally, a college town can never have the buzz, the “it” factor of big cities. That feeling arrives on college football Saturday, but then it is gone.

Towns this size, with these characteristics, are simply nice, easy places to live. If only Ann Arbor could learn from the South and realize that spring is supposed to start in February. I guess that is why I should just move to Savannah, GA.

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