On the drive in, there's no sign saying, "Welcome to Ann Arbor, Michigan's Boom Town." But the evidence is hard to miss, especially if you've just driven from the war zone that is Detroit. (United States murder capital for years running.) On the outskirts of Ann Arbor there's a lot of what a horticulturist I know calls "landscraping." On what were once working farms, builders are spiking down high-tech research parks and townhouse subdivisions in the pricy nouvelle-Williamsburg mode. Downtown, smart European cars pull away from the Laura Ashley shop. The drivers seem oblivious to the occasional bumpersticker on a tradesman's van:
Built By, Driven By,
Paid For By
But that's in keeping with Ann Arbor's rise in the era of the Rust Belt. The city was never betrothed to the state's auto industry. It has long refused suitors, and now it has health and wealth to show for its independence. Lots of imaginative people and small energetic companies, most of which you've never heard of, have a stake in the new prosperity, as do special research divisions of large corporations, such as Schlumberger and Chrysler.
Entwine all these in the scientific and professional tentacles of the University of Michigan, and you get stability. Yet, for all this, Ann Arbor seems reluctant...