My wife and I had very different experiences growing up, at least when it came to where we lived. She grew up in a small town of a couple thousand people in a rural part of the state, and I grew up in the heart of a metropolitan area. She grew up with a corn field behind her back yard (not hers), and I grew up with a constant stream of cars outside my bedroom window.
However, the more we talk about where we want to live in the future, the more I come to understand that it’s really not so much about rural vs. urban. When we’ve returned to my wife’s hometown I get to see a beautiful little town with it’s small shops and parks, and a real sense of togetherness. Yet, when I think back to my youth I realized that I also had many of the same things. That’s because I grew up in an area of the city that was a bonafide neighborhood. We had a convenience store a block away, and a full service drug store two blocks down. Our church, restaurants, and video rental places were all just a few short blocks from each other. Growing up, we didn’t even have a car until I was 15, and I learned to get around on my feet, bike, or bus just fine.
What that made me realize is that when it comes to where you live, it’s not so much a question of rural vs. urban, but a story of community. Do you live somewhere that has a feeling of togetherness and a sense of place? That’s what I feel like my wife and I both desire. What I experienced growing up, and what my wife experienced in her small town, were not that different from one another. I simply had a 15 minute bus ride to downtown that linked me to anywhere I needed to go in the metro area.
What bothers me is where I’m currently living. We’re in a suburb that is basically a drive-thru bedroom community. There’s some churches and stores, but the overall layout of the city is not conducive to a neighborhood feel. Everything is so spread out that it’s hard to walk anywhere meaningful. That means that you’re pulling out the car to get anything done. This also means that there are almost no sidewalks, making walking a less fruitful endeavor.
Most of our neighbors hang out in their backyards, on their decks, and even after living here for a decade and a half, I barely know any of the people who live around me. People get up in the morning, get in their cars, and hide in their house at night. I intentionally avoid my backyard, and try to do everything outside, in the front of the house. It’s a small attempt to bring some sense of a neighborhood to where we live.
As my wife and I continue our contemplation of where we want to live, I think the discussion is going to be less and less about urban vs. rural, and more about where there is some sense of community. I want to live in a city that actually is a destination unto itself again. A place with neighborhood restaurants, shops and taprooms, that you can actually walk or bike to easily.
I’m not sure where that is, but at least I know what I’m looking for.