Waking up in the wrong 'burb?

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, "My God! What have I done?"
-Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime"

This morning I read this article in the NY Times about the most expensive decision many of make in our lifetimes: where we buy a house. The article covers the buyers' remorse many have when they trade the city for the suburbs, and discover the harsh reality of auto-dependent, isolated living. This quote struck me solidly in my urban planner heart of hearts:

“People don’t want their mother’s suburb, where there was tract housing and nothing ever happened. They want a suburb that feels more urban.”
— Dr. Richard Florida
 Image credit: Carrie Grote

Image credit: Carrie Grote

Of course people don't want to live in soulless places that have absolutely nothing going on. They want their children to have impromptu playdates. They want spontaneous neighborhood potlucks. They want to walk to buy a gallon of milk. They want to borrow their neighbor's lawnmower to mow their .2 acres of grass. They want to walk to a locals bar. They want to safely ride bikes with their children to a nearby greenway. I just described my neighborhood in West Asheville, NC. I don't live in a multi-family building, but I am surrounded on all sides by homes on 5,000 sf lots. There is literally a pack of children, ages 3-14, that roam about, with walkie talkies, throwing themselves off picnic benches onto trampolines, driving tiny tractors, chasing the neighborhood cats. As parents, don't worry about them. We have the classic Jane Jacobs eyes on the street at all times.

Throughout our neighborhood, vacant lots are being developed, old houses renovated, and long-empty buildings in a nearby commercial corridor are becoming pizza joints and bakeries. This long vacant house just went on the market after a total makeover. Even lots next to the highway are recently developed into housing. Affordability is becoming a big issue, and is something we're grappling with as a community...but that is another blog post.

When we present Urban3's work in communities across the country, we often get the push back comments of, "I don't want to live in downtown," and "You can't tell everyone they have to live in an apartment building." Of course, we all can't live over a storefront, or in a high rise apartment building. But if we can invest in the near-downtown neighborhoods: make them dense with infill, add in small commercial centers and recreational amenities within walking distance, then we can build community wealth. We can save our cities money on infrastructure, we can spend time with our families instead of with our cars...we can save our collective civic souls! And my personal priority...enjoy more evenings with my herd of cats.

 Image credit: Carrie Grote

Image credit: Carrie Grote