Thursday, May 10, 2007

Beyond the Job: Quality of Life

I know I just finished writing about the make up day for our Leadership Ann Arbor Education Day, but here I am again with my next report. Sadly, this report is about our final full class day, Quality of Life.

Today was all about the things that Ann Arbor offers which make life here worth living. Very few of us find our motivation solely through our jobs or even our home life. Both are, of course, vital, but we can experience those aspects of our lives anywhere. Why Ann Arbor?

Our hosts for the day, Ron Olson, the Chief of the Parks and Recreation Division of the State of Michigan (and one of the only living people for whom a park has been named) and Russ Collins, the Executive Director of the Michigan Theater, posited that "quality of life" had much to do with our opportunities for growth. From its parks and nature areas, to its museums and theaters, to the U of M athletic offerings and the plethora of musical venues, Ann Arbor possesses opportunity in abundance.

Somewhat reminiscent of our very first class, Economic Development Day, our hosts had jam-packed so much into one day that by the end many of us felt as if our heads would explode. How can you contain all that a community like this holds in a single day? Obviously you can't, so we had to make do with a tantalizing overview.

Our day started with a visit to Gallup Park, up on the north side of town. I had been there once or twice in the past, but never with a knowledgeable guide. Our hosts started by telling us about some statistics about our city which we might not have known. For example, one aspect of QoL is simply how safe people feel. In this survey, a full 75% of people felt secure in their homes and neighborhoods. Not a bad score at all. Ironically, that number goes up to 80% of people who felt safe visiting downtown Ann Arbor!

We then heard from David Borneman, the Natural Area Preservation Coordinator. He told us of the efforts of his department to restore indigenous plant species to the area and to clear away invasive species. We learned what makes a site a good candidate for restoration (relatively low incidence of invasive species, a variety of native species, undisturbed soil, among other factors). We also heard about his department's re-introduction of prescribed burns to support continued dominance of local species -- apparently local species are fire-tolerant, while foreign invasive species tend not to be.

Lara Treemore-Spears
Lara Treemore-Spears
After all this lecturing, we were all raring to go out on our nature hike. We divided ourselves into four groups and, ignoring the gentle Spring rain, off we went into the green. Our group's guide, Lara Treemore-Spears, answered our questions as we hiked. She told us more about site restoration, about interdependence issues in the nature areas (that ugly clump of "weeds" is actually vital to support local bird species), and about the problems which arise from home landscaping (fertilizers, invasive species such as honeysuckle and crabapple).

Then the lightning struck.

Oh, not too close. We managed an orderly retreat back to the nature center (no trampling of the elderly or anything) and hid out under an awning, continuing to listen to our knowledgeable guide while we watched the "gentle Spring rain" turn into a "torrential Spring thunderstorm".

Then the lightning struck again...

... much closer.

When your guide ducks and heads for cover, it would be the height of foolishness to ignore her wisdom and experience.

So ended the first two hours of QoL Day. Despite being a trifle damp, the experience was well worth the price of admission. As a gardener I might even start looking at more native flora the next time I start planning a garden design. Now, what am I going to do about that honeysuckle that we planted last year?

Tomorrow, the theatre and science fun!

So, do you have enough sense to come in out of the rain?

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