I previously (as in, just this past January) lived in the “suburbs”, actually one of the ring cities just off the Perimeter (I-285 in Atlanta) about 12 miles or so from where I work. I took transit, which ate up about 50 minutes to an hour each way — sometimes more when you’re stuck waiting on a train or bus. Back when I drove to work on a regular basis, the same commute took about a half hour — sometimes more when stuck in traffic (with no real alternate routes) or maybe a little less if I took the toll highway and paid 50 cents. Of course, most mornings during rush hour you could count on paying the 50 cents and getting stuck in traffic.
But Sandy Springs (the incorporated city that immediately borders Atlanta on the north) was convenient: a mall five minutes away, decent connections to transit [including a direct rail line to the airport], shopping, restaurants, easy interstate highway access and everything most folks could think of: even the hospitals were close by. Seems like everything was just 5 minutes away, a short drive, maybe a little traffic…
[“5 minutes away” quickly becomes 20, with traffic, but most folks don’t think of it that way]
But making the decision to *not* drive not only made the suburbs less convenient, you start to get odd looks from people, and you notice how few roads have sidewalks, and when the transit authority decides to cut service because local governments are too short-sighted to invest in quality-of-life infrastructure, well…
So for the past few months I had been looking for a decent neighborhood to move to, where I could walk to all the necessities and grab a bus (or bike) for longer trips to department stores or a shopping mall. (I shop quite a bit online, and I own too much stuff anyway, so there isn’t much I need a store for.)
Fortunately for me, I work for a bookstore, and the real estate department did a very good job picking a neighborhood already.
View The Local in a larger map
Approximate distance (door-to-door)
Grocery store (1): .3mi, 480m, 10min (Trader Joe’s)
Grocery store (2): .65mi, 1080m, 20min (Kroger)
Grocery store (3): .7mi, 1170m, 20min (Publix)
Closest 24hr. convenience store that sells beer: .25mi, 390m, 5min
Local Library: .35mi, 570m, 12min
Local Comic Shop: .66mi, 1080m, 20min (Oxford Comics)
The Local: .31mi, 500m, 10min (Fado Atlanta, an Irish Pub)
Post Office: .33mi, 540m, 10min
Bike Shop: .95mi, 1520m, 30min (Peachtree Bikes)
Nearest Rail Station: .95mi, 1550m, 30min
Nearest bus stop: .3mi, 490m, 10min.
Nearest bus stop, alternate route: .3mi, 500m, 10min.
One bus goes up to the Lenox & Phipps shopping malls (or south to Downtown) while the other goes to the Lindbergh shopping center (with a Marta rail station, and a Home Depot among other retailers) or north up to yet another rail station and the Perimeter Mall. Not bad for transit options.
Work: .7 miles, 1140 metres, 20 minutes
and of course, the nearest book store is where I work.
This isn’t free: I went from a situation where I lived with roommates in an apartment in the suburbs, to an in-town location (in a nice neighborhood!) and on top of that, a one bedroom apt. where I have to pay rent and all utilities myself.
Ready for this? About $280 more a month.
I was spending $68 a month for a transit pass; before that I was spending about $60 a month on gas (and more for car insurance) — so I save a bit there but the rent goes up.
But I think the real differential is that I moved out on my own, no roommates. I could have moved 5 years ago, even — this apartment complex is older than that by a decade or two — so it wasn’t the money that pushed me out into the suburbs.
When I went to Georgia Tech, of course I lived in town: GT is an urban campus. Knocking around the first few years after GT I moved way out (35 miles) and also moved back in with my parents for a year, but only now does it occur to me that I’ve been slowly circling around intown living for years: moving closer to the perimeter, moving closer to transit, and finally: moving to within walking distance of where I work.
We all make decisions. But what we can “afford” is a consideration that goes way past money:
What is your time worth? How much does traffic (& stress from traffic) actually cost? Do you need a back garden, or a yard, or multiple acres of wooded landscape out you back bedroom window? Do you need a car, or is it just a matter of getting your driver’s license at 16 (or 18) and, well, the first thing is to get a car, and…
[yeah, I know, it’s a really big question.]
We can’t all live in tight, well-designed urban spaces. We can’t all live like the Dutch, or the Japanese — or in liveable, vibrant cities like Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, etc, etc, etc. You can even argue that we shouldn’t — but I feel we should. And if I can find a walkable, pleasant neighborhood with sushi bars and pubs and a library and comic shop and major chain bookstore in Atlanta (cited alongside cities like Houston and LA as poster-children of suburban and exurban sprawl) then I think many of us could.
I don’t have kids. I’m single, so I don’t have to balance the needs of a spouse or partner and the demands of their job and their priorities. I can be selfish. I can accept an older building without every latest amenity, and 20 year old kitchen cabinets and a closet of a bathroom and cracks showing even under a fresh coat of paint. I can compromise on these little things to live in a great neighborhood; others will compromise on the neighborhood in order to live in a spacious brand-new house. Neither of us is wrong.
Living “in the city” isn’t like TV dreams of New York or cinematic Paris: There’s nothing all that fancy about my new neighborhood. In many ways it resembles the town square of a much smaller city: local shopping, a few major chains, and the restaurants are nice enough but aren’t 4-star by any means. But I have a library, and a bookstore and a comic shop all within an easy 20 minute walk.
And I’m going to be happy here, in a way I wasn’t for years, in a way I haven’t been since college. If I had kids and that set of considerations, of course I’d look at it differently. But for now: I’m home