Elements of Urbanism: Ann Arbor

September 15, 2009 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Integrated with the University of Michigan's main campus, Downtown Ann Arbor is known for being one of the Midwest's most vibrant urban centers.

Tale of the Tape:

Ann Arbor Population 2008: 114,386 (City); 350,003 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1833)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Ann Arbor (48,251)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Ann Arbor: +8.44%
Jacksonville: +15.86%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Ann Arbor: 283,904 (ranked 112 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Ann Arbor: 2,205.0
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Ann Arbor: +362
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor does not have a convention center
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Adjacent to Convention Center:

Ann Arbor: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

Ann Arbor: Tower Plaza - 267 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Ann Arbor: zero
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

Ann Arbor: None
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Ann Arbor: Main Street
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  


Common Downtown Albatross:


Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Ann Arbor: 98 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Ann Arbor's city limits (highlighted in red).

Municipal Limit Land Area:

Ann Arbor: 27 square miles
Jacksonville: 767 square miles

Downtown Ann Arbor Aerial

The University of Michigan

The University of Michigan shapes Ann Arbor's economy significantly, employing 30,000 workers, including 7,500 in the medical center.

Much of the campus is adjacent to and intermixed with downtown Ann Arbor.  Because the campus and the city expanded side-by-side, there is often no firm divide between the two, with university buildings scattered through much of the city center.

South University Avenue

South University Avenue caters to the student needs and activities of the nearby University of Michigan campus.

State Street Business District

State Street began to grow as a commercial area catering to the needs of University of Michigan students shortly after the end of the Civil War.  Commercial growth soared after 1887 when the post office started door-to-door mail service and with the introduction of streetcar service in three years later.

These events contributed to people building homes in the immediate area and merchants setting up shop to serve the growing population.

In the early 20th century, the corridor became a place of entertainment due a number of performance venues and theaters opening in close proximity to one another.

Another boost came in the 1940s and 1950s when students were banned from driving.  Today, people continue to be drawn to State Street, due to it being adjacent to the University and the mix of activities in the area.  Today, State Street is known for it's mix of bookstores, clothing stores, restaurants, and coffee houses.

for more information: http://www.a2state.com/our_neighborhood/neighborhood_history

Borders Books, originally a two-room shop upstairs above 211 South State, was opened in 1969 with a stock of used books by brothers Tom and Louis Borders. The Borders chain is still based in the city, as is its flagship store.

East Liberty Street provides a direct connection between the University of Michigan, State Street and Main Street.

Huron Street is the main east-west throughfare through the city of Ann Arbor.

The 267-foot Tower Plaza, Ann Arbor's tallest, can be seen in the background.

Looking west down E. Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

The NE corner of Main and Ann Streets.

Unique Ann Arbor

- The city is named after the spouses of the city's founders and for the stands of burr oak trees in the area.

- 32% of the city's residents are university or college students.

- During the 1960s and 1970s, the city gained a reputation as an important center for liberal politics.

- In 1965, the city was home to the first U.S. teach-in against the Vietnam War.

- In 2003, voters approved a greenbelt plan under which the city government bought development rights to pieces of land adjacent to Ann Arbor to preserve them from sprawling development.

- Unlike many Midwestern cities, Ann Arbor has continued to increase in population, adding 66,135 residents since 1950.

- The city is home to the headquarters of Google's AdWorks program-the company's primary revenue stream.

- Ann Arbor ranks first amoung U.S. cities in the number of booksellers and books sold per capita.

- With 106,201 seats, Michigan Stadium (The Big House) is the second largest American football stadium in the world.

Main Street

Main Street has been called the "best main street" in Michigan. Ann Arbor's Main Street shares a lot in common with Jacksonville's Bay Street. Both are major thoroughfares through each city's downtown and serve as direct links between the downtown districts and football stadiums. While, Jacksonville is in the process of converting Bay into a one-way highway dominated by reversible lanes, Ann Arbor has taken the opposite approach.

It is here that Ann Arbor makes its mark on the urban design community. It is also here where Jacksonville should pay attention. Along a three block section of Main, Ann Arbor has reduced the number of through lanes in favor of a combination of wider sidewalks, parallel parking and pedestrian friendly landscaping. Combined with the preservation of historic building fabric, the result has been the creation of a lively district dominated by restaurants, bars, retailers and sidewalk cafes.


While Downtown Jacksonville may not have a major university, successfully implementing urban design techniques still have the ability to take walkability to the next level. In Ann Arbor, the commercial corridors of Main Street, State Street and University Avenues show what can happen when connectivity, clustering, and designing for the pedestrian play a leading role in the urban development process.

Article by Ennis Davis