Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bright Lights, Big City

It’s hard to say when I became enamored with the city. Was it as a child, on rare outings with my parents when we’d go shopping in Chicago? More likely it was in high school when having fun meant a 45-90 minute drive to either Milwaukee or Chicago and out out out of my hometown of Kenosha. 45 minutes past farmland (which has now largely turned into condos) and subdivisions; out of hell and into a place where I felt I could be myself. If it was your average night out, we’d go to Fuel Cafe; if we were skipping a day of classes, it was down to Belmont & Clark in Chicago. Surrounded by punks and hipsters, goths and art freaks… that was where I fit in. Even though I’m not any of these things (I flirt with them all on any given day), I felt welcomed, no longer too lame to hang with the “cool” kids in school, who I cared little about anyway. It was nice.

But the bright lights big city, I’m not sure where that love affair began. I’ve always loved the architecture, the sounds, all of it. Now that I work in a high-profile high-rise downtown, a part of me feels like I’ve arrived. I live only minutes away by train, close enough to see the Sears Tower down the train track straightaway on a good day, far enough away from the city’s heart to pay a reasonable rent and acceptable parking fees. This is where I want to be.

When we mentioned to my in-laws that we wanted to buy a house in our little neighborhood (I just can’t call it a suburb), they extolled the virtues of the schools, then wondered why we wouldn’t want a bigger house in a “nicer” (read: newer) neighborhood where the schools were even better. We just left it as “we like it here”.

It’s a very real thing to us, though. At our current income level, we simply can’t afford anything in our area yet, where the home values put a $350,000 sticker on a crappy 2-bedroom ranch. Sure, we could afford it, technically, but then say goodbye to our retirement savings, our lifestyle as we know it as we scrimp and scrounge. We refuse to buy a condo just to say we own property (especially when condo values are stagnant), so we’re stuck.

Unless we move to the ‘burbs.

I’ve never been one to dream of the white picket fence, the 2.4 children scampering around the neatly groomed backyard with a golden retriever puppy. My dream has been the city house, perhaps a smaller yard, but a yard nonetheless. No neighborhood covenants for me, nosiree; if I want to paint the trim on my house plum purple, I will. Want to restore that old Victorian to playhouse colors? It’s my prerogative, it’s my property! Of course I wouldn’t have a house that looked ridiculous, but knowing that I *could*… it’s part of the charm. But the most important part of my dream house? Proximity. Location location location, but not in the way our families think about it.

We could buy a good-sized, cookie-cutter house an hour outside the city for a price easily within our budget. We could take the advice of our families and set up roots near the good schools filled with perfectly coiffed and pressed all-American white kids instead of the dirty Polish immigrants and the Mexicans. To us, this sounds like living in hell, yet it is probably where we’d end up if we chose to raise a family. The fact is, the schools *are* better in the ‘burbs, and if we had kids, that would have to be a major consideration. Additionally, with kids to raise the cost of city living would become even more cost-prohibitive (the great irony – much of the most expensive housing is in some of the worst school districts in the state).

Location, location, location means city living. Minutes away from any ethnic restaurant we can imagine, a cheap cab ride to the arts centres or shopping districts, and a short train ride into work. It’s one of our favorite freedoms in our childfree life. We don’t have to seek out the sterile neighborhoods of Naperville and Wheeling. The Polish deli, the Mexican grocery, the Indian-Pakistani buffet… all of these things are at home in our ideal neighborhood. We’re hoping housing prices start going down soon so we can lay down more permanent roots here, in a neighborhood with a crappy school district (that we will gleefully help along with our tax dollars, even though we will send no child to school there) and a hell of a lot of character.


Britgirl said...

Loved this. I am a Townie and proud of it. Though in England I lived just outside London (in a beautiful, old small leafy town, which I loved) living in Toronto there was no question about it - we were living downtown. And I love it! I live 25 mins walking from where I work and we can walk everywhere - to restaurants, cinemas, shops, transit.. you name it we can either walk to it or it's a short cab ride away. I didn't want to commute and waste my life driving an hour plus each way to work - which is what living in the burbs would have meant, even though houses are cheaper - apparently. I think it all evens out by the time you add the costs up.

We don't pollute the environment with a car, because we walk, take cabs, or transit. We also save so much on car costs. We don't have to live near a school. We have beautiful views. And, since we are happily childfree, we could choose our great condo downtown. We just love it. We have 24 concierge so when we travel we can completely relax... not something our house-obsessed-burb-obsessed collegues can do.
Oh, the burbs... sounds like hell to me :)
Nice inspiring post!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this sounds so awesome to me (and the other comment)! I'm from/in Wisconsin too!! I'd love to live in a big city, but we don't make enough to afford it. Also, we don't have kids, but I'd still be stuck in the burbs anyway, due to my garage-loving husband and yard-loving dog.