Ann Arbor is an intellectually vibrant, economically sound, politically liberal, and culturally diverse community. Located 30 minutes to the west of Detroit and 40 minutes southeast of Lansing, the state capital, Ann Arbor is surrounded by open farmland and charming small towns. With high quality health care, a great arts and music scene, and a low crime rate, it is regularly ranked by various publications as one of the top U.S. cities in which to live.
Extremely “family friendly,” Ann Arbor boasts excellent public schools, quality day care, and over 150 parks and recreational areas. According to a study from The Ladies Home Journal, Ann Arbor is the third-safest city for women in the U.S. Women own a quarter of Ann Arbor businesses and have played a major role in civic and political affairs.
The University of Michigan pursues a strong commitment to enroll a racially and ethnically diverse student population as well as to hire a racially and ethnically diverse faculty and staff. In part because of the University’s leadership, Ann Arbor is more diverse than most of the state. Asians comprise approximately 12% of a total city population of approximately 115,000. African Americans comprise approximately 9% of Ann Arbor’s residents, but a much larger number of African Americans reside in Detroit. While Hispanics comprise only 3% of Ann Arbor’s population, many Hispanics live in nearby Ypsilanti. The nearby city of Dearborn has the largest concentration of Arabs in the U.S. In addition, 17% of Ann Arbor residents are born outside of the United States.
Around the region, Ann Arbor is known as a center of lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer (LGBTQ) life and culture. Its character as a liberal university town makes Ann Arbor a relatively comfortable place for LGBTQ people, and queer individuals and couples generally inhabit public space on the University of Michigan campus and downtown without incident or hostility. While Ann Arbor is no New York or San Francisco, it offers a remarkably vital LGBTQ community and rich cultural stimuli.
University organizations sponsor a range of events and services addressing LGBTQ personal, social, and academic issues. The U-M Spectrum Center provides information, education, and advocacy on behalf of the U-M LGBTQ community and maintains a comprehensive listing of University and area resources on its website.
The University of Michigan is also a leading center for LGBTQ scholarship and boasts an outstanding faculty in LGBTQ studies across the disciplines. The Lesbian-Gay-Queer Research Initiative, housed in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, organizes a number of events each year. The LGBT Faculty Alliance, which has advocated for LGBT concerns for over twenty years, hosts a reception each fall. An LGBTQ Studies Graduate Certificate as well as an undergraduate minor in LGBTQ Studies are offered by the Women’s Studies Department.
Hotbeds of Ann Arbor queer social and night life include the AUT bar, a friendly downtown restaurant and bar where town and gown, young and old, lesbian, gay, bi, trans people, and their allies come together to meet, eat, drink, shoot pool, and hang out. The crowd on a given night is likely to include all of these, plus a leather contingent or Ann Arbor’s mayor and City Council (who frequently adjourn to AUT for a late dinner following council meetings). AUT’s gay owners often host LGBTQ community and activist events at the bar and next door at their other business, Common Language BookBAR, an LGBTQ bookstore and coffee shop. A few blocks away at the Necto Night Club, weekly Friday “Gay Nights” attract a large crowd of mostly 20-something dance scenesters. Within 20 to 45 minutes’ drive are a panoply of LGBTQ bars, restaurants, night clubs, bookstores, bathhouses, and organizations in Metro Detroit (population 4.5 million) and across the river in Windsor, Ontario.
Detroit and its surrounding communities, just east down I-94, are, according to a Women’s Studies faculty member and Detroit resident, “edgy…it has that sweaty, beat-driven feel—we are survivors.” The newly renovated Detroit Institute of Arts Museum has outstanding exhibits, including Diego Rivera murals, and the Detroit Cultural Center includes a truly beautiful African-American (Heritage) Museum, the Hillberry Theater, and the Science Center. Belle Isle is one of the most beautiful parks in any U.S. city.
Detroit is also home to the Motown Museum, and Motown continues to have a vibrant music scene. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is nationally renowned for jazz and the annual techno festival brings in the best electronic artists from all over the world.
There are many ethnic neighborhoods that are easy to get to from Ann Arbor (e.g. Arab-American in Dearborn, Polish in Hamtramck, Bengali in East Detroit). Korean and Vietnamese communities are located north of Detroit (e.g., Madison Heights and Sterling Heights).
Detroit is home to Eastern Market, one of the largest and most interesting farmers’ markets in the world. An ethnically diverse group of shoppers visits the market on Saturday mornings, and the area, including surrounding warehouses, is home to an active youth music scene.
Forty-five minutes from Ann Arbor, at the northern border of Detroit, is Ferndale. Ferndale is home to a vibrant and very visible gay and lesbian community. The new Affirmations Building is worth visiting; it has opened its doors to high school students in the surrounding area and engages the entire community on political issues. Ferndale has a notable street life and some fabulous restaurants.
Detroit hosts world-class sailing and boat racing. Lake St. Clair offers sailing, swimming, and fishing opportunities. From Lake St. Clair one can sail from Detroit to Lake Erie (Cleveland), Lake Huron (Port Huron), Lake Superior (Sault St. Marie), and Lake Michigan (Chicago).