The Ann Arbor News today covered the opening of the $3.2 million pedestrian bridge connecting the Life Sciences Institute complex and the medical campus, or more specifically, the sidewalk next to Couzens Hall. I’m glad what has been a 90-year old problem of pedestrians crossing Huron street has finally been addressed, and I think it can be considered part of the Bollinger legacy:

“U-M staff members also said the bridge is part of former president Lee Bollinger’s goal to integrate U-M’s campuses visually and academically.

Bollinger spoke of that goal four years ago in announcing plans for the Life Sciences Institute, which officially opens its doors for its administrative staff today. At the end of the month, U-M will begin moving in one to two labs a week. Karl Bates, communications director for the institute, said U-M scientists set to work in the facility would be “in place and doing science” by the end of this year.”

Walking through the LSI complex and across the bridge last night, I was struck by how totally the development has obliterated the relationship between the buildings and the natural characteristics of the site. Built on top of a natural low area known as the “cat-hole” that has long formed one border on Central Campus, what will eventually be the pedestrian level is actually placed on top of a 1 million gallon reservoir and five-story 1,000 car parking garage. I hope the design includes at least a patch of grass and a few trees for the open plaza under construction to temper the buildings and power plant that surround the space. Shoe-horned into one of the last crannies of open space near central campus, the development is a remarkable use of space.

Last year, I heard from a University employee who was involved with the project that the University gave an exclusive contract for food service in the Commons Building to Zingerman’s, since they “didn’t really want students to use it,” and thought the high prices would keep students away. While I was glad they chose a locally-owned outfit (unlike most of the other food courts in University buildings), I was disturbed that administrators might consciously strive to exclude students. I would hope the University selected a variety of vendors for the food court, taking into consideration not only a variety of cost and type of cuisine, but also the business practices of the applicant. Contrasted to what I heard, The Ann Arbor News gives a different picture: “a food court and dining area just off the walkway that will be open to the public, enabling students to grab a cup of coffee on the way to class.” I hope they are indeed correct, and the building has been designed for all its occupants, not only to cater to the conference attendees the building was built to host.

Author: Rob