July 28, 2009
Settling In In Ann Arbor
So you're here, you've found that dream(ish) apartment but...it's kinda empty. How's a grad student to outfit their digs and get the stuff they need in a new city?
First and foremost, know that Ann Arbor is rife with second-hand marketplaces, way too many to name here. That initial shopping trip (the one where you find the dishes, furniture and other things you weren't able to fit into your hatchback and drag across the country) can cost a bit if you try to buy everything brand new. However, with a little resourcefulness you can lower your moving costs through smart second-hand shopping. Here are a few resources:
Craigslist - Of course. It's a win/win, right? You want things, people want to get rid of things, everyone's happy (given the price is right)! The University marketplace website has recently gone the way of the dodo due to the power of Craigslist, so take advantage of this resource and respond to an ad (or place one yourself).
The ReUse Center - Great for general housing goods, furniture, and the occasional bicycle. Some items need a little care, but they usually put a pretty fair price on things.
Salvation Army - Ann Arbor has a huge Salvation Army center just south of campus, with a LOT of kitchen wares and furniture.
The Kiwanis Sale (Saturdays Only) - Open Saturday mornings (9am-noon) but full of great stuff! This resale center is a popular Ann Arbor scrounging spot for furniture, electronics, and whatever else you're really hoping to find somewhere for cheap.
Value World - Value World is a great resource for cheap housewares, clothing (or Halloween costume materials). They usually don't sell furniture, but I've found a few cheap kitchen appliances (blenders, crock pots and other things you may want as a self-sufficient grad student who cooks for his or herself.
UofM Property Disposition - Where does old UofM property go when it's been replaced by newer, sleeker editions? To property dispo, where the general public can grab it up at a reduced price. Worth a try if you're looking for home office gear, or even a computer or printer.
If you get here with enough time to explore, I recommend taking a day to ride around on the city bus, see what stops are closest to you and where those routes will take you-specifically, if there's anything useful along the way. Find out where the local post-office and public library branches are, also.
Also, find out where the grocery stores are. If you plan on cooking, and like things like fresh produce and meals with more than two ingredients, it helps to know what places are close, and what they sell. Ann Arbor is a town that very much caters to food enthusiasts, so it has a number of specialty markets and places with varying levels of quality and price. Don't get stuck shopping at an overpriced corner store if you don't want to/have to.
Kroger, Meijer, Busch's, etc. - Large chains that usually sell not only a LOT of different foods but household goods as well.
Arbor Farms, Whole Foods, Plum Market - Catering to those who are willing to shell out a few extra clams for a specialty item, high-quality produce/meats and a wide variety of organic or vegan options. Good for a special dinner, but sometimes out of fiscal reach for poor grad students.
Trader Joe's, People's Food Co-op, local farmer's markets, etc. - Still offer great organic and locally-grown options, but at a price more in line with shallower pockets.
Once again, there are way too many options to cover them all, but here are some rough categories to help you figure out which businesses offer what. For some people, a bus to the local Meijer will take care of some of their needs, but if you're concerned with finding specific foods (such as organic, vegan, or locally-produced options), it can help to know what your options are.
July 24, 2009
It's about that time again, when those Craigslist postings start popping up with fall move-in dates. Some of you may have already figure out your housing situation, but for those of you who haven't...
Northwood Community Apartments are University apartments on North Campus. They're generally pretty nice, but not your only option for the price. If you're paying rent/utilities out of a scholarship/loan setup, this takes your money in one neat bundle instead of multiple payments to different parties. Cable and internet are included. Simplicity is nice. Economy 1-bedrooms start in the $700s. Rates are available on the NCA website.
When choosing neighborhood you should take stock of what is important to you: expense, proximity, quiet, etc. My favorite neighborhoods for these features are...
Expense - If money is the #1 thing on your mind, you may want to look a bit farther from campus, in the Ypsi-Arbor area. There are some apartment complexes in East Ann Arbor/West Ypsilanti that run a bit cheaper and are near a bus line to Ann Arbor. Your campus commute will be a bit longer but what you lose in convenience you'll gain in fewer student loans. Recommended for people with cars.
Proximity - If I were to live anywhere near campus or downtown, I would live in Kerrytown (East of Main Street, North of Huron Street). It's nice, somewhat affordable (compared to apartments and houses directly on campus or downtown), separated enough from campus and downtown that parking isn't impossible but close enough that one can live without a car and still have access to the bus station, a farmer's market, a first-class deli or two, and my favorite Sunday brunch location (the Aut Bar in Braun Court, Kerrytown). Of my top neighborhoods list, it is the most expensive, but also the closest to SI-and it will be even closer when North Quad is completed. While it is currently a 15 or so minute walk to SI, it will soon be about as close as you can get when SI moves to North Quad in 2010. Also, the residents are mostly graduate students and Ann Arbor townsfolk, so it's still quiet enough for graduate life.
Quiet - I may be biased, but I love the West side of town (West of Main Street). Though some students live here, it's far enough from campus (a 15+ minute walk, or a convenient bike ride) that prices aren't outrageous and most of your neighbors will be Ann Arbor townsfolk or perhaps graduate students. The houses are a bit nicer, and it's easier to find 1-2 bedroom apartments that aren't part of a 10-bedroom house. When it comes to finding privacy and quiet, the rule I use is this: If I can tell that a neighbor has had a party in the last week, it probably means they won't be considerate about "quiet hours," and it might not be for me.
What to avoid - living really close to campus is nice, but unless you have a benefactor footing your bills and really like the "Red Solo Cups on Lawn (2009)" aesthetic, you may want to avoid houses very close to central campus (especially just South and East of campus). Properties marketed primarily to undergraduate students can be overpriced and under-maintained-so even if you do play well with others you may find that the only way to afford something on East University and Hill is to have 12 roommates.
Of course, the cost of housing will vary widely depending on your luck and standard of living, but a good rule of thumb is this: One bedrooms may start around $500 and go up from there. $600-800 seems to be a good range. Studio apartments may be cheaper, but probably won't go below $400 without some serious concessions. Two-bedroom apartments start closer to $700. If you're moving here with a partner, a one-bedroom may be the obvious choice. If you're on your own, however, you may want to look into getting a roommate. Depending on your comfort with such arrangements, you can try wide-ranging methods like Craigslist, but a good way to go may be to start right here at SI. If you've already met some future classmates (though Visiting Days or Facebook connections, etc.) send them an email. Even if they aren't in need of a roommie, maybe their friends are. You can also put a call out on the new student CTools site (some people have already done this).
Where to look
Craigslist - Good for finding rentals through individuals, the most interesting places, in my opinion. I've had good experiences in the past with this method of house-hunting, but it helps if you have a chance to check them out in real life, or at least ask for updated pictures.
Rental Agencies - They can help you find a place fast and walk you through the process. In this economy there are more "for sale" homes that are "for rent" in the meantime, so realtors are becoming rental agents. However, be wary of places that restrict access to information (such as info on who you are renting from-this can play out poorly when a pipe bursts over a holiday weekend) or appear inflexible about tiny things. Cross-reference these agencies through yelp.com and other review sites.
MLive - Ann Arbor News classified ads online. Similar to Craigslist in scope and function, but without the potential for pictures. Still, worth a try.
Stusview.com - This site can be useful in seeing where grad students live on a University campus. Can give you an idea about location and reputation of certain companies. I get the impression, however, that certain companies are planting posts about their own properties, so take great reviews with a grain of salt. This is a good secondary resource.
Apartmentfinder - This is a good resource for cross-referencing companies. Usually the reviews left are negative, but consider: if all the bad stuff you read is tolerable, then you'll be able to handle the good stuff beautiful. If the words "infestation" or "flood damage" come up, back to the drawing board. This can also help you compare prices of certain apartment complexes around Ann arbor/Ypsilanti to give you direction for your search if you're looking off-campus.
UofM Housing - A good resource if you're considering Northwood or other on-campus options (even rental agencies on campus).
Some other blogs on the topic
I'm not the only one to write on this. In fact, this isn't even my only blog on the topic! Since variety is the spice of life, check out these other student blogs on finding housing:
July 17, 2009
Getting To Know Ann Arbor
So you're here-now what? What to do, what to do? Ann Arbor is a small city. "Small" may be the operative word for transplants from major cities, while "city" may bring major changes for those used to small-town life. Personally, I call it "just my size." I'm a city-dweller at heart with a small town background, so Ann Arbor is nice because it is small enough that you can own a car and get around in it, but big enough to offer a wealth of culture and resources. Just my size.
Either way, once you're here I recommend taking some time to get to know your fair city. As a full-time resident with UofM roots I've met a LOT of people who center their lives on campus and never look beyond Main Street (or Washtenaw, or Packard...look at a map and you'll get my drift). Still, Ann Arbor and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer.
Make sure to spend a day walking around campus and downtown. See what resources are walking-distance on a nice day. Give the city bus system a trial run. Those of you with a car (or a roommate with a car): take a drive on a sunny day. Drive North, South or West and you'll get to see to Ann Arbor's small town neighbors (Chelsea, Saline, South Lyon) via a beautiful drive through the country.Drive East to Ypsi for music and drinks at the Elbow Room or Pub 13, get dinner or play pool in Depot Town. Walk through Riverside Park or hit up a festival. It's a great city with a lot to offer. When you get back to town take the long way back-check out some of the neighborhoods. See what the city is like outside of the University.
Things to Do
There are two big movie theaters (and a few smaller ones), multiple theater companies, and a lot of chances to hear live music. The public library has some great programming, and branches all over town. As a foodie-I must mention that Ann Arbor has a lot of great restaurants (diners and dives, too). You can use city guides like Yelp or Arborweb to find good places to eat or things to do, but I recommend just asking around on the CTools site, on facebook, etc. Heck, I bet if you asked a few people on the street you'd probably get some good feedback on where to go and what to do. Also, there's a great free guide to entertainment called The Current. It has a website but it's not very useful (could use an SI overhaul)-find a print copy. You can often find them near the door of any coffee shop or store that has a pile of free papers. It has listings and descriptions of regularly scheduled events and special events, often by day so you can just look up the date and find something to do. Great stuff.
Connecting with SI Folks in Summer
Since there are no classes in the spring/summer semester (May through August), most SI students use this opportunity to complete an internship, work full- or part-time, or both. While many students travel to other states, or even other countries (following a dream internship, or just saving some cash by living with their parents for four months), a good number of SI students stay in Ann Arbor for the summer. To keep in touch and plan the occasional get-together, they for email lists and Facebook groups. If you get here before orientation, I recommend joining these in case you want to get a head start on meeting your future classmates.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (go to directory.umich.edu to join the list)
There are also some student groups that continue into the summer when most members are around-I know that the Community Information Corps has potlucks once a month, and the YASL book club is still active during summer. If you're interested in either you should find them on Facebook/email (check the SI Student Groups page to find email contact info) to get involved early.
Once school starts, you'll also have opportunities to meet people and socialize through student groups. These groups not only help you with professional development activities and other enrichment, it can be a nice way to connect with other students outside of class and build social relationships. Involvement in student groups at SI occurs at two levels: There are those who take an active role in running a student group-running for a position on its board and planning events, etc. Others attend meetings and events, but don't participate in leading the group in any one direction. Though most people only participate in one (maybe two) groups at the first level, you can easily get involved with many groups on the second level. Simply sign up for their email lists and attend whatever events suit you-you can drop into your first happy hour in March if that's the first chance you get. It's a great way to let off some steam of take part in a good discussion on things that matter to you.
With Fall comes football-if you live anywhere near campus or the stadium (and I use "near" loosely) you will notice that Michigan Football is very important in Ann Arbor. If you don't love it you will learn to coexist, because it's not going anywhere-and neither are you if you get stuck in it's awesome traffic. Schedule driving on game days (at least the big ones-State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, etc.) so that you're not driving on roads that lead to/away from the stadium in the two hours before the game starts and after it lets out. Just trust me on this. The upside to this is...well...Michigan Football. People love it for a reason, and they don't call it "The Big House" for nothing. Season tickets are about $200-which is what some people pay for a big game ticket when we host Ohio State. Krystle Williams wrote a pretty good post on the topic-I'll let her explain: http://mblog.lib.umich.edu/~krosalia/archives/2007/10/um_football.html
July 07, 2009
Getting Around in Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor is a small city, where getting around with or without a car are both viable options, depending on where you live and how public-transport friendly you happen to be. So, for those of you without a car, you can use the resources in the city to get around just fine-while moving here with your car is also no problem. So here, dear readers, I will present you with a guide to getting around Ann Arbor with or without your car.
For you road warriors out there, the only real problems you may run into with your car center on where to put it when you're not driving. For the most part, as long as you live more than a block or two from central campus or downtown you should not have much of a problem parking your car at your home. However, campus and downtown do not offer free and easy parking during business hours, so students who drive to campus but don't have a rich benefactor to pay for their parking must find a way to get from their car to class. Check out your options:
Parking close enough to walk - This is more or less possible if you find street parking in any of the neighborhoods adjacent to campus. This is a nice option, but a gamble. This free parking is already in demand by students living in these neighborhoods, as many of these houses have more residents than parking spots, and also desirable to pretty much every university commuter. Also, in the winter street parking spots can be filled with plowed snow and are subject to "snow emergencies", which restrict parking to one side of the road or the other to allow for snow plowing. So, at best you may have to drive around for a while to find a spot and walk 10-15 minutes to class, while at worst you may not find anything because all the nearby spots are taken or filled with snow. If you opt for this option, it's best to have a backup plan.
Commuter Lots - As a UofM student you are able to ride all Ann Arbor city buses for free with their student ID, and Ann Arbor has a few places around town where you may park your car and take a shuttle to downtown or campus. From any of these locations (State Street near I-94, Pioneer High School and Miller Road north of M-14) you can take a bus to somewhere near campus for free. It's free and more reliable than parking on campus, but does require the extra time of taking a bus. Check out the AATA website for details and locations.
Student Parking Permits - Once you are registered for classes and have your MCard you can purchase a parking permit from the University. The University has its own version of commuter lots, but they're a bit closer to campus and have busses that run to and from them every 10 minutes during the day (15 later in the evening). Graduate students can buy a yellow or orange permit, which allow you to park in yellow and/or orange lots. You can also add the "After Hours" Blue option, which allows you to park in the totally sweet blue structures after 3pm only. Details on parking permits are available on the Parking and Transportation Services website.
If you don't have a car-no worries! Many people come to SI without a car and use a combination of the public transport options to get where they need to go. Check 'em out:
Walking/Biking - Depending on where you choose to live, you may find most of what you need within walking or biking distance. Ann Arbor is a pretty bike-friendly town, so many students live within a short bike ride to campus, and get to/from class that way during the year, supplementing their transportation methods with city buses during bad weather. The City requires you register your bike in case of theft, and purchasing a quality lock is recommended.
Buses - As a student you can ride both city and campus buses for free. City buses cover a much larger range of routes, while campus buses run later in the evening and run more frequently. You can find campus and city routes online and decide which route will get you where you need to go when you need to get there. This can also be useful when looking of housing.
Zipcars - When you absolutely need to get somewhere and can't find some kind soul to drive you around, with a yearly membership you can utilize the University's Zipcar system to rent a vehicle by the hour.
Taxicabs - Not much to say here...Ann Arbor has a few taxi companies, so if all else fails you can pay someone to drive you somewhere if the need arises.
So there you go-getting around in Ann Arbor isn't all too difficult, you just need to know what the resources and restrictions. As a small city the downtown and campus area are the "nougat" of the city, with a suburb-y coating. Whatever neighborhood you choose will probably have most of what you need, and there are a lot of options to get you to campus or downtown. Enjoy!