Strange, unusual things have been happening around our neighborhood lately. It’d be easy to miss if you weren’t paying close attention, but things are just starting to feel a bit different. I’ve noticed it on my walks with Ranger in the morning, or on my drive home from work as I make the last few turns to our house. Steve has noticed it, too, and we’ve begun to compare notes in the evening.
There are more young couples. More toddlers in the park across the street, and women with strollers navigating our narrow sidewalks. Runners. More moving vans parked on streets. Real estate agents pegging For Sale signs in front yards. Great crews of workers gutting and flipping houses. Older buildings being razed and apartments and hotels popping up seemingly overnight. There’s a paved walking trail being installed in stages, and it connects to a larger trail that skirts the city. And, suddenly, every driveway has a Toyota 4Runner parked in it. Basically, all we need is a brewery and we will have arrived.
Perhaps the most concrete sign of change has been the new, I repeat new, build homes in our community. A new home has not been built here in decades, and in the last six months two gorgeous homes sprouted up like flowers when no one was looking. Next is a project for luxury apartments near the town square. Changes, they are a comin’.
So, our little corner of the world is turning. What was it like here six years ago, when there were no couples with babies? No women in leggings running their routes? No Marriotts with businessmen booking a room? And frankly, no one itching to move in?
The word gritty comes to mind. Everything here looks a little worn, a little sunken. Like the whole city sighed loudly and settled down into itself for 100 years. A good number of the houses are rundown, and in need of a fresh coat of paint, new shutters, and some TLC. The sidewalks are cracked, the roads rife with potholes. There are a few locally owned restaurants, and a square with a grocery store and a couple fast-food joints. There’s a library, and a post office, and gas stations, that sort of thing. It’s a few exits out of the city, but still a quite walkable place, especially with it being close to the bus line. It hugs two separate higher-end parts of town, but also boarders on some other areas that are neglected and higher in crime.
It’s a 19th century city fighting to preserve its historical authenticity. In the early 1900’s when downtown became dirty and overcrowded, our neck of the woods was the “it” place to be. Quite a few of the homes fall under the term “sprawling mansion”, there are seriously some behemoths here. We have pastel-colored Victorians, residences with turrets and balconies, and wraparound porches that ache for summer lemonade and rocking chairs. There’s a Presidential District that showcases our biggest and best, living up to its elite name.
It’s small and compact, I can do all my errands on foot. The location is about as good as you can get in this city. It sits directly in the middle of everything and is seriously about a one-minute drive from all the major highways. We are quite spoiled in that way. It’s also super close to downtown proper, which is where all the great food and entertainment is. That means a great night out is just a jaunt a way.
I decided to examine what it’s really like to move into a neighborhood that’s “up and coming” and list some truths.
Truth 1. People can be judgmental about your zip code
I’ve been on the receiving end of sneers, derision, and befuddlement as to why in the world we would choose to live where we do. People also assume, because it’s a little more inner-city, that it’s wholly unsafe. There is petty crime here, like our cars being rifled through at night, but armed burglaries and murders don’t happen here. It’s a surprisingly quiet place.
My friend from a northern suburb was afraid to let her kids play in the park across the street because they, in her words, might get tetanus. She was not kidding. I could see how one could be offended by these reactions, but luckily S. and I have thick skins and generally don’t let the perceptions of others dictate how we live our lives.
Truth 2. Our grocery store is awful
It’s a chain grocery store so you’d think their locations would hold standard across the board, but they don’t. The store in our neighborhood has have less variety, worse produce, and no “health food” section. This is not uncommon in lower income neighborhoods. I travel two extra miles in the other direction to shop at the same chain’s grocery store in the next neighborhood over. That store is bigger, offers a better selection, and everything is newer.
Truth 3. The school district is not the greatest
Not a concern for us yet, but obviously a big deal for parents with school-age children. If enough new people move into the neighborhood maybe that will change, but I have a feeling it would be a slow change.
Truth 4. There is crime here
Although I mentioned it is just petty, I will say being close to the city, being that it is a place where people walk, it does feel a little less safe here, than, say, either of our parent’s neighborhood. I don’t walk our dog after dark by myself, and I’m scrupulous about locking our doors and windows at night. I think it’s the urban feel of it. We have a great police department though, I cannot say enough about them, and I seem them cruising around often. They also have a social media page and are very transparent about the goings on around the ‘hood. It’s a revolving door.
Truth 5. Friends come and go
Our neighborhood is that transient place many find themselves in somewhere after living with roommates and before permanent home. For that reason, we’ve seen friends come and go, especially when babies are on the way and the suburbs call.
For all the cons I’ve listed, it feels so much like home to me. And it has for some time. Before I moved in with Steve I lived in a fancy-schmancy, gated, upper-crust apartment that had street names that bespoke of Martha’s Vineyard.
Moving here was jarring, and I’ll admit I was a snob about it. I hated how industrial it looked, how unrefined, it wasn’t postcard pretty, and I wasn’t particularly interested to get to know our neighbors. Then one October, on Halloween evening to be exact, as I was driving home from work and dusk was creeping in, I really saw how beautiful it was for the first time. The old, spidery trees had paved the streets in rich gold and orange leaves, and little ghosts and goblins scampered from house to house with their buckets swinging at their sides. S. and I sat on our porch and passed out candy and enjoyed spending time with our neighbors.
Warm nights when the windows are open, I hear the distant, foggy horn of the train and smile to myself. It sounds so hollow and old. In the summer children play baseball at the diamond three blocks down. There’s a locally owned little Italian restaurant here that’s officially become our place. We take late night walks with Ranger, twisting our way through the neighborhoods and pointing out homes we admire, this one because of the oak door, that one because of the gabled roof. There’s a calzone place a few streets over that’s open late night, and the workers sneak Ranger pepperoni treats. On hot summer days we walk to the Creamy Whip to get cones with sprinkles.
Home, like everything else in life, is what you make it. You don’t need the neighborhood at the high end of your budget to be happy, you simply need an open mind and heart.