- Illustration by Maya Friedman and Hermés Risien
BY STATEMENT STAFF
Published September 25, 2011
You just settled into your off-campus home and probably haven't even unpacked your last box when your landlord rings the doorbell and arrives with eager young house-hunters looking to rent a place next fall. With October right around the corner, the student lease-signing cycle begins anew.
- Most Nature Friendly
- Closest to Campus
- Lowest Price
- Best Nightlife
- Best Quality
- Best Restaurants
- Best Shopping & Services
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As the house-hunting season begins, The Michigan Daily has put together a housing guide to help you find a neighborhood you'll love. The housing information is based on an online survey of 186 students from the 15 different off-campus neighborhoods recognized by the University who shared their thoughts on the quality, price, location and safety of their home. The Statement staff scoured business maps to find the neighborhoods with the most and best shopping, nightlife, restaurants and green spaces and looked at reports from the University's Department of Public Safety and Ann Arbor Police Department to find areas of low crime. Act fast before your dream home gets taken.
MOST NATURE FRIENDLY
While Ann Arbor is certainly a modern city and students typically stick to the paved parts of town, our namesake is rooted in trees. There are plenty of locations on the greener side of campus: the Diag, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, all of North Campus. But none of these are more popular than the University’s very own Nichol’s Arboretum. Affectionately known as the Arb, this treasure trove of nature trails is not just for smoking pot, but a staple of student life.
The students living between Geddes and Washtenaw streets in the Oxford area know this all too well, as they’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from lying in the grass beside the Huron River, jogging through the fall foliage, tossing a Frisbee with friends or tray sledding while procrastinating for fall finals. Summer months welcome community performances by Shakespeare in the Arb, which has featured classics such as “A Winter’s Tale” and “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” Nichols Arboretum also boasts dozens of species of exotic and native trees, many of which outdate the park’s founding in 1906.
In the search for a house or apartment that’s close to campus, it’s no question that the neighborhood between Hill and East Huron streets offers one of the shortest commutes to the heart of Central Campus. With the Diag at its center, the area is crawling with students at all hours of the day. The numerous libraries, restaurants and bars in the area service the constant flow of students, who might be running any number of errands.
The area — with its mix of sorority and fraternity houses along Hill and Washtenaw, highly populated locations like University Towers and luxury housing like Zaragon Place apartments — boasts a wide range of housing options for students looking for a short walk to classes.
But because the area is filled to the brim with University buildings — ranging from residence halls to the School of Dentistry — the housing options in this area are limited, and the available choices can fill up early in the lease-signing season. You might need to act fast so you can sleep late and still be on time to your morning classes next fall.
The neighborhood north of the Huron River offers some of the cheapest off-campus housing for students. The area just east of Argo Pond and west of North Campus offers housing ranging from less than $300 to $700 per resident in the home. Nearby, the neighborhood just north of the University Medical Campus offers similar prices.
The distance from campus attracts a larger population of graduate students rather than undergrads, but the area has a variety of new and recently updated houses and apartments. Those who are willing to deal with the longer commute to campus in exchange for avoiding the hefty cost of living in the high population density South Campus area can find affordable housing here.
Safety is on everyone’s mind right now. According to crime reports from the Ann Arbor Police Department and the University’s Department of Public Safety, the neighborhood with the least amount of crime since January 2011 is north of West Summit Street and west of Main Street.
This area — which is usually inhabited by grad students and Ann Arbor citizens — includes a quiet neighborhood with high-quality housing. Few (if any) house parties happen in this area, and the lack of students walking around late at night is a possible reason for low crime rates.
If safety is your primary concern, keep in mind that though your neighborhood may be crime free, your lengthy commute to campus and Central Campus nightlife may not be. Summit and Main is roughly a 25-minute walk to the Diag and might not make for fun late night walks from the library or bar crawls. DPS recommends that students avoid walking around alone at night, that they walk in well-lit areas and lock their doors to increase their personal safety.
College isn’t college without the streets that morph into a strip of bars at night — you know, the streets that crawl with freezing girls in skimpy dresses and have lines that are never worth the wait. The spot in Ann Arbor that is primarily graced by students, located near the heart of campus, is also the one with the best nightlife.
If you want to pay an arm and a leg for a massive mason jar of Constant Buzz at Dominick’s (only during the warmer days) or get your groove on in the dodgy Rick’s American Café underground, the area between North University Avenue and Hill Street might be for you. This neighborhood is infested with loud, uninhibited partiers in the later hours of the evening, since most of the college bars in Ann Arbor are located just blocks away.
Not only are the bars fun and age appropriate, the sheer amount of restaurants are a saving grace for the seeker of the “fourth meal.” Plus, no one can judge you since they are sharing the same kind of inebriated hunger as you (you and College Joe danced so much at Rick’s, you basically burned it off, right?). Pizza, burritos and most other tasty morsels will be at your fingertips, especially after an embarrassing night of karaoke at Blue Leprechaun or a shot too many at Chuck’s.
However, if you want to stay in and read poetry on a Friday night, don’t be pissed if you are within earshot of Negative Nancy crying over the beer that some jerk spilled on her on the dance floor.
The area between West Huron Street and West Madison Street usually breeds the nicest living spaces for a decent price in an eccentric and unique part of town. The area is great because it’s Ann Arbor at its finest: think free trade stores and older hippies. The area — located in the old West side historical district — is a five minute walk to the Kerrytown shopping district (which means Zingerman’s and the farmer’s market) and is adjacent to the classy and overpriced shopping and dining available on Main Street. So, if you want a fancy date night with your special someone (or your parents), or feel like taking a stroll down the Huron River to watch the crew team on Argo Pond, this area is docile, quiet and one of the prettiest in Ann Arbor.
Almost every house has a special flavor to it, and most of the living spaces are cozy and homey. Walk outside your house in this district, and you will be greeted with beautiful paved sidewalks to stroll along and clear your head or the opportunity to feed an already fattened squirrel. Usually called home by graduate students and Ann Arbor residents, the houses here are usually kept up nicely, and kitchens don’t look like fallout shelters. The bedrooms also lack holes in walls and unhinged doors. The two downsides to living in this area are that higher quality often means higher prices, and the neighborhood is about a 15-minute walk from Central Campus, which makes walks from the library or Brown Jug on a chilly winter night rather excruciating.
Rarely can a stomach go hungry in this Main and State Street-bound area densely packed with a taste bud-tickling grab bag of eateries. What the area lacks in campus watering holes, it makes up for in dining diversity. Want some local grub? Ann Arbor favorites Sava’s and Le Dog on State Street and Liberty Street, respectively, pack a gastronomical punch with some small town flare. Need the convenience of quick-and-dirty fast food? Potbelly, Jimmy John’s, Five Guys and other State Street chains got your back (and your wallet). For those who are willing and able to break the bank on a date, perennial favorites like Gratzi, The Real Seafood Company and the rest of the Main Street roster will whip you and your beau something up at a premium. And if that special someone isn’t a carnivore, not a problem — hit up Liberty Street institution Seva’s for some prime vegetarian eats.
It’s hard for other areas of town to go tit-for-tat with this area’s high-flavor spread. True, famed pie palace Pizza House dominates Church Street, but longtime veteran Cottage Inn anchors William Street. And, of course, burger haven Good Time Charley’s holds its own on South University, but Main Street brewery The Jolly Pumpkin dishes out top-notch patties of its own. In short, this area’s unbeatable mix of options leaves the rest paling in comparison. Should you be scoping out your food elsewhere, let us kindly point you in the right direction.
BEST SHOPPING & SERVICES
Well stocked with a bevy of outfitters, this area is a haven for Carrie Bradshaw pretenders. State Street is a murderer’s row of retail, with women’s boutique Pitaya, men’s staple Van Boven and other shops helming the block. Like your threads distressed? With Liberty Street’s Ragstock and Avtomobile, and State Street’s Star Vintage and The Getup, the area is host to a healthy crop of subversive, used clothing destinations that tastefully complement the mainstream, trend-driven offerings of heavy hitters Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. And, with outdoors stores State Street’s Bivouac and Main Street’s Moosejaw, the best answers to Ann Arbor’s Hoth-like winter inhabit the area.
There’s no excuse to be starved for school spirit in this area either. State Street’s neighboring All About Blue and The M-Den (and let’s not forget local leviathan Underground Printing’s Main Street destination) boast an almost ridiculous stock of University gear, saving a student that annoying trek to Briarwood should, say, their “Michigan Beer Pong” T-shirt get totally thrashed at that Psi U pregame.
Sprinkle in a few corporate conveniences — chiefly, State Street’s 7-Eleven and CVS — and dash it with Nickels Arcade, Dawn Treader Book Shop and other only-in-Ann Arbor locales, and the area is ultimately a shopping hotspot. As our favorite obese gangster rapper Rick Ross would say: “blowing money fast.” Indeed, Rick.