The future of Ann Arbors Southside from a real estate perspective
ANN ARBOR – It’s no secret that Ann Arbor is a desirable place to live, work, study, and play.
Because of the many attractive features of our city (such as walkability, art and culture, unique food, great schools, etc.), housing is often quite expensive – and the supply of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes in the Ann Arbor neighborhoods is falling well behind demand back. What if there was a space right in our back yard that had tremendous potential to fill that void?
We think there is – and it’s Ann Arbors Southside.
If you’ve read about the city of Ann Arbor in the past few years, you will know what that number means. For those of you who didn’t know, it’s our commuters – people who drive in and out of Ann Arbor for their jobs every day. For a city with only 120,000 inhabitants, that’s a lot of commuters!
The best thing about this situation is that there are a lot of great people working in our exhibition town while they have lunch here and help Ann Arbor thrive. The downside, of course, is that all of the people who drive these cars don’t live here – and if they did they would create even more connection and contribution to our local culture and economy.
Some, of course, don’t volunteer to live in Ann Arbor – they prefer to live in nearby communities for some reason. However, if you interview people traveling in from these communities, you will find that by and large they would prefer to give up the commute and live here in Ann Arbor.
If you work in a city that US News lists as one of the 25 best places in America, why commute when you could live here? In all honesty, it’s because living space is expensive and hard to find.
Ann Arbors Southside is home to numerous lease office buildings and complexes that house a wide variety of businesses and organizations – and that employ large numbers of people.
What would it be like to redesign, redesign, and create new places to live, work, and play in this area of Ann Arbor so that anyone who wishes can live and live well here? In this way, we would not only build badly needed housing – we would inspire the community and develop a sense of the “real neighborhood”.
The good news is that the big players in this game – the landowners and city planners – are there.
The birth of the south side
Between the early 1970s and 1980s, State St. and Eisenhower Parkway in Ann Arbor had many buildings. It’s just off Interstate 94 at Exit 177. Briarwood Mall was completed in 1973, and several office parks and buildings followed. Hotels also appeared. And so the south side was born.
Today it is known as urban sprawl. The invention of the automobile resulted in different layouts of spaces across the country rather than just getting you somewhere faster. Highways seemed to divide more than bring them together, and people lost things like time and community. So the Southside was the perfect example of urban sprawl and a product of auto culture. It became more of a resource for the “visitor” than for the “resident”.
But the south side of Ann Arbor is busy – office and retail space for rent is filled with a diverse group of renters, and there is ample parking. Hotels continue to pop up as land prices remain reasonable and demand for Ann Arbor remains high. But the city is in need.
The need for overall housing and the lack of human experience in this area leave much room for improvement. And for those with a vision, it’s full of opportunities for reinvention.
In the 2000s, a centuries-old urban design trend resurfaced – a human-centered design rather than a car-centered design. Many believe that it minimizes the waste of urban sprawl, leads to more sustainable use of resources, and gives time and community back to people.
The stakeholders (landowners, city officials, residents) of Ann Arbor’s Southside, including Oxford Companies, the largest landlord in the area, envision such a redesign of the area – and turn it into a real neighborhood with a third place.
The third place is a term coined by the sociologist Ray Oldenburg and refers to places where people spend time between home (“first” place) and work (“second” place). They are places where we share ideas, have a good time, and build relationships
A “real neighborhood” ecosystem includes things like more sidewalks and bike paths, more retail on the ground floor, safer ways to walk or bike across busy streets, more residential areas, more vegetation to provide shade, and warmth / wind / Drain control and more public places to collect. And all of these things should coexist with where we go to work every day.
What if we could incorporate these concepts into Ann Arbor’s Southside and create these spaces for connection, trade and community?
What are the advantages of personal design for an area? For starters, increased social connection; an exchange of ideas; a strong sense of community; an increased sense of security; and better health of the local economy. It can also transform the Southside from a business district to a real neighborhood – full of residents, not just hotel guests and malls, and fewer cars clogging highways every day.
People who live, work and play can just walk out the front door to do all of these things. And it gives people a community and more time in it.
How do the main players hope for it? The first step is to create a shared vision for all of the actors involved in Ann Arbor Southside.
Then build a BIS district (which is in the works) for landowners to work with the city to shrink the arteries and local roads, and increase connectivity to and throughout the region – beautifying the south side.
At the same time, imagine building multi-purpose properties such as residential and office buildings with street-level retail stores and restaurants, and really make an effort to provide easy access for developers by connecting spaces that offer scalability, accessibility, and walkability.
Keep an eye on the south side. Changes are on the horizon!
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