My Vision for a Sustainable Outdoor Study Space at U-M

With the weather getting warmer recently, I have been seeing our green spaces across campus such as the Arb and the Diag fill up with students enjoying the outdoors. In addition to playing Spikeball and tossing a frisbee, many students are even opting to study outside. Both the Diag and the Arb are beautiful green spaces, but I think it would be great if U-M were to create an additional green space that had a  variety of tables for students to study at. I know that I love studying outside—hearing the chirping birds and people walking around really helps my productivity—and I think other students would agree too. Furthermore, a study from The National Library of Medicine shows that green spaces are great for both the mental health of students and academic achievement. So, if it were up to me, here’s how I would design this new green space if I had the opportunity.

AI generated image of a green clover field with solar panels and trees.
This image was produced with the aid of DALL-E 2, an AI image generator.

Clover Instead of Grass

To begin with, using clovers rather than grass is a great way to promote sustainability. Traditional grass is invasive and requires a lot of energy, water, and chemicals to maintain; a switch from grass to something like clovers would be beneficial to reduce the resources needed to maintain this new green space on campus. Not only that, clovers feel very pleasant, and many different forms of wildlife including bees and butterflies love to habit clover lawns. Imagine a butterfly flying by while you are studying—that sounds so lovely to me.

Plenty of Spaces to Charge Up with Renewable Energy!

After that, I would put picnic tables with outlets charged by solar panels in the green space. As a student, there is always a need for an outlet. Since my laptop is always dying, tables with outlets are helpful for promoting outdoor studying. With sustainability in mind, the energy from the outlets coming from a solar panel is a great way to promote clean, renewable energy. The outdoor table between South Quad and West Quad that has outlets powered by a solar panel above is a good example for implementing this idea. Not only that, the solar panel is also a perfect form of shade, so that I can see my screen when I am outside.

Lots of Native Trees for Hammocking

I love to hammock, and I see a lot of students hammocking in the Diag, so I would also like to plant some trees in my green space. It would also bring squirrels to the area, which is also very entertaining to see. When creating a green space it is important to promote local biodiversity in order not to disrupt the natural environment of our area. Therefore, any plant I would put in this green space would be a native species. The City of Ann Arbor even has a handy list of trees native to the Ann Arbor area.

Adding new green spaces, like the Diag and the Arb, but designed especially for outdoor studying, would be an amazing addition to campus. It would give students a greater opportunity to study, spend more time outside, and improve our students’ mental health. The university should definitely consider adding more green spaces, and also making sure that it is a sustainable change.