Poplin: Allowing others
to define Ann Arbor

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I have to admit, I’ve been itching to include a story about architecture in The Ann ever since the beginning.

We moved to Ann Arbor in 2009, in the old Armory catty-corner to City Hall. I awakened every morning to the uncommonly loud construction of the Justice Center addition to City Hall on the corner of Fourth and Huron.

I was an Ann Arbor newbie back then, mesmerized by all the things the city does right. But this construction project didn’t fit the profile. It was way wrong, in my opinion; out of place, out of character, out of this world ugly. How could this be allowed to happen in a city so full of architectural delights?

It’s only gotten worse since then. In fact, the City Hall addition looks like an architectural marvel compared to the high-rises mushrooming all over downtown. These boxes with windows that now define the skyline are absolutely inconsistent with the image I have of Ann Arbor. And I’m not willing to make concessions when it comes to my image of Ann Arbor.

In the May issue, Lynn Monson tells the story of how the high-rises came to be — and how they came to be so ugly. (My words, not his.) I suppose it all makes sense, in a convoluted way. But I know the city could expect more. I moved here from the South Carolina Lowcountry, where image-conscious bureaucrats made national fast food chains change the color of their logos before allowing construction to begin. Where Walmart — WALMART — designed as they were told.

I maintain that Ann Arbor’s “sense of place” is being defined by profit-maximizing student housing projects. Is that too harsh? Is it even accurate? Let me know.

Kyle Poplin

Kyle Poplin is co-founder and editor of The Ann magazine.