If there is a theme in Ann Arbor's history, a persistent preoccupation of its citizens, perhaps it is a shared concern for the character of the town. The settlers and subsequent inhabitants of Ann Arbor are not unique in this cast of mind. The Pilgrims and Puritans were determined to construct the perfect society based on their understanding of Biblical precedent. Dissatisfied participants were encouraged to leave established villages, move a reasonable distance away, and organize their own settlements. Long after the religious content of such separations had evaporated, the tradition of moving on to more congenial surroundings remained.
John Allen was a participant and contributor to this restless tendency. His motives in platting "Annarbour" were personal and mercenary. Yet linking his wife's name with a synonym for a cultivated garden by its very sentimentality suggests Allen thought of a town as a safe haven, as did many others. Lucy Morgan's boosterism is produced without ulterior motive; her "modest" fortune took shape some twenty-nine years after she penned her initial favorable description of the village. One remembers also the Silver Greys demonstrating, symbolically, their desire for a safe, secure place to live.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the next, management of society became the specific concern of people history has labelled "reformers." To Ann Arbor's reform mayor Samuel Beakes, the security of the town's citizens was best assured under a city government run by specialists accountable to the public. Ann Arbor's pre-WWI "moral reformers" were part of a nation-wide movement to refurbish America. The rhetoric accompanying their activities suggests a seventeenth-century heritage as well as a continuing American tradition. The campaign against the fly is to insure "the ideal human environment" in a "City with a Conscience."
The commission completed by the Olmsted Brothers after WWI to draw up a master plan for the city is part and parcel of this "conscience." Despite its overemphasis on exclusive residential districts, the report did stress a long-acknowledged relationship between trees, grass, and quiet and contented human beings. Moreover, the report, simply by its very existence, provided assurance that the integrity of the town was being rationally defended. The town's extraordinary response to the early years of the Great Depression indicates that a sense of community responsibility was still strong.
All this is not to deny actual and potential conflict within Ann Arbor. Scarcely disguised ethnic animosities were all too prevalent during the First World War. Moreover, since 1940 it has been less common to speak of the community of Ann Arbor than it has to refer to the communities which make up Ann Arbor. Today, we have the African-American community and the University community as well as any number of neighborhood communities.
There are signs, however, that Ann Arbor's communities, which insisted during the sixties that they be recognized as autonomous cultures, have rediscovered an old pleasure. Immense good will was both the initiator and product of the city's first annual ethnic fair which celebrated the virtues of diversity. The public schools have moved quietly and effectively to create an atmosphere of intercultural affection with their increased emphasis on the fact that diversity is normal and indeed necessary for a healthy society. Thought permanently lost a decade ago, the traditional American sense of community seems to be reasserting itself in Ann Arbor.