Everyone thinks their college town is the best one. And while that’s highly subjective & the winningest factors are in the eye of the beholder, there are some measuring sticks available when we look at which college town is the most progressive.
Is it located in a “blue” state?
Is Women’s Studies a hot class and does it attract just as many male students as female students?
How many times was the dean arrested at political rallies when she was a college student?
There is plenty of compelling evidence that points to the fact that Ann Arbor is, hands down, the most progressive college town in the US.
Take the existence of “The Arb” for example, a 123-acre conservatory full of fields, hills, trails, trees where college students and young professional families while away sunny weekend afternoons playing guitars under trees, laying out gourmet picnics and playing Frisbee.
And don’t be surprised to see park-goers who feel comfortable enough to make themselves at home there with a craft beer in one hand and a joint in the other. Marijuana is decriminalized in Ann Arbor, you see, and is flush with cannabis dispensaries as well as the annual Hash Bash on the first Saturday of April.
Surprised that this chilly Midwestern town has any outdoor culture at all? Don’t be. Despite the frigid winter months, Ann Arbor retains it’s highly livable status thanks to tons of bike paths, trails, and stellar city planning that champions technology and sustainability.
There’s a long history of left-wing politics
You might say that Ann Arbor was progressive from the moment it was founded, being named for the wives of the founders (and also for the stands of Bur Oak arbors in their 640 acres of land), rather than the male founders themselves like most other American cities and towns.
Throughout 1840s until the Depression, the village grew into a town thanks to a steady stream of immigrants, European, African-American and Jewish alike. This laid the basis for a diverse multi-cultural community that had the University of Michigan at its heart.
Much later, during the 60s Ann Arbor was a center for the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war movement and counterculture student movements. In fact, it was the first meeting place of the radical leftist student group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1960 and the site of the first “teach-in” in protest of the war in 1965.
The mid-70s saw three members of the Human Rights Party voted into council, boosted by the strong support from students of voting age. The council saw many human rights policies being voted on during that time, including a rent-control ordinance, anti-discrimination ordinances and measures to decriminalize cannabis possession.
Heading into the early Millennium, the concerns of Ann Arbor’s residents and politicians changed from human rights to nature’s rights. This paradigm change helped set into action a greenbelt plan to preserve agricultural land and natural space from over-development via urban sprawl and gentrification.
And now, as of late 2015, the town has opened its arms and homes to about 240 Syrian refugees in need.
This showing of humanitarianism, while true to Ann Arbor’s immigrant-rich roots has come under scrutiny by many of the country’s policy makers and political pundits.
On a grander scale, although President Barack Obama wants to welcome a total of 10,000 displaced Syrian refugees into the country in 2016, several governors and members of the House of Representatives object the notion.
Ann Arbor, once again sits on the precipice of compassionate action. You’ll see many more examples of this progressive defiance throughout the rest of this article.
The People’s Food Co-op Is a Crown Jewel of Sustainable, Organic Culture
Like so many of Ann Arbor’s “radical” notions, that of the People’s Food Co-op was hemmed into the fabric of the community by 1971 as an alternative way to source food and provide it at a reasonable price to the public.
It all started when a graduate student of the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work, under Prof. Al Conner (who is still a co-op member today) created the concept as a student project.
Today, it has a membership of 6,500 and and an annual income of $5.5 million.