Downtown street signs a potentially helpful annoyance
It’s inevitable for Ann Arbor’s landscape to change with the arrival of the students. Rather than crank on about the congestion, the noise, the neophyte conversation (no, you can’t make calls with an iPod touch), I try to focus on the positive: the back-to-school atmosphere, the studying on the Diag, the adorable nineteen-year-olds trying to sneak into Ashley’s.
But I can’t overlook the horrid, ghastly, Disneyland-esque street signs pointing out-of-staters to neighborhoods of interest. An awful IKEA design at a ridiculous multiplication of the price.
It would be one thing if they were merely unattractive, but they’re also rather pointless. Legible, yes, and ubiquitous, certainly—but just how useful are they? Haven’t students been handed about a zillion maps of campus at orientation? Or the other orientation? Or the various ‘Getting to Know Ann Arbor’ field trips? Do we really need these color-coded-by-district signs like Kerrytown is the new home of Magic Mountain?
Suppose a student has no paper maps of campus. He needs to leave for class in five minutes and have no idea where he’s going. I know no person under 25 whose first instinct is to grab a map when they need directions—they go online. Google Maps can get to any address, but not necessarily a building by name. Thank goodness for the online UM Campus Information Centers, with maps of Ann Arbor, Central Campus, and an interactive direction finder. Solved!
Oh, so they’re already outside, and don’t have a computer handy? Let’s assume, like any other human in a metropolitan area, they have a cellphone. Even if it doesn’t have internet capability to access the site above, they can call the info center at (734) 764-INFO. Or hey, play it like you do when you need the nearest Jimmy John’s at 3 AM—phone your roommate and ask them where the Fishbowl is (with the added bonus that they could tell you what bus to get on).
Let’s now assume our hapless student is adrift sans friends, technology, and primitive paper guides of campus. In the extreme cases of destitution, radio silence, and a dark-age inducing EMP—and assuming, though the apocalypse is nigh, this student is still going to class—there’s a way we used to get places back in the old days of 2004. It’s called asking for directions.
We’re a college town, a football town, a granola-hugging tree-eating hippie town. I have been asked, and asked for, directions in Ann Arbor (yes, I still don’t know where some things are) and have never once been mugged, slapped, or told to do something unpleasant to my own person. Any given pedestrian is used to it, especially in the glorious pre-autumn. We live here, you’re new, we’ll help you out. We will.
Because we’d walk you there if it means taking down those tacky-tastic signs.
Sarah Smallwood is a freelance writer living and working in Ann Arbor. She is currently rewriting her first novel, keeps a daily blog at The Other Shoe and hosts a podcast at Stuff with Things. She can be reached at heybeedoo at gmail dot com.