Friday, July 13, 2007

A Walk Around My Neighborhood

I've been walking 5 miles per day most days of the week since early May. If I get up at 5:30, I can feed the animals and walk and be back shortly after 7, before my daughter is even up for school or camp. It must be said that you never really see anything unless you've walked by it. The details of the landscape may strike you as pleasant, or dramatic, or neither in a car. On foot, the scale is different, the sight lines are different, the world is different. My 200 miles of walks around my neighborhood in the morning have given me an incredible appreciation for it. In fact, I've concluded that it is perfect. So perfect that I don't know why every community in the United States isn't set up the same way.

My street is above -- tall trees, dark, quiet. I leave it for a main road and come upon this:

This old mansion has been around since the early 19th century when it was built by a wealthy industrialist. There's a lot of old mansions in the neighborhood, but that's not what makes it perfect. Here's the place next door to the mansion:

Though large, this is not a single home. It's split in the center by a single wall. There are tons of these in my city. Taxes used to be assessed on a home's "frontage" and these "twins" permit both a lovely overall footprint and a yard. Here's some examples of other twins and rowhomes I pass on a typical walk:

Real estate comes in smaller packages also. There are attractive apartment buildings:

and even two high rises I don't have pictures of. There are subsidized townhouses as well. The more modest dwellings do tend to cluster within a block or two of our central village shopping district
where you can buy books, clothes, records, antiques, groceries, get your drycleaning done, go to restaurants or visit the hardware store.

As you get maybe 3 blocks from the center, the houses begin to grow a bit.

And grow a bit again:

And some more:

I love the sheer variety and beauty of the place. Houses are similar, but never exactly the same. Nor does the place have the studied look of the development -- 3 styles repeated ad nauseum. Also, one of the things I find appealing about the houses (and I haven't even included pictures of the largest and most awe-inspiring) is the lack of prominent garage doors. Having grown up before the car, the most you will find is a carriage house somewhere. I find that this improves the appearance of everyone's place enormously.

The economic diversity is also thrilling. There is literally, in this maybe 6 square mile area, housing for a wide type of need -- single person, small family, large family, rich, not so rich etc.

This didn't happen by accident. Many of the grander homes are constructed of local stone. The owners imported skilled masons from Europe, mostly Italy, to come to the neighborhood to do the work. The masons used the leftover materials to build their own homes in the same neighborhood. As businesses developed in the Village, workers started building and moving into nearby homes.

There's a hospital, a college, a golf course, a community center, parks, and public and private schools all within the boundaries of the place. All of it is breathtakingly lovely. That it is all technically within the limits of a big city is astonishing, and, sometimes, one of its major drawbacks.

The place is not without issues, of course. But I can't think of another place in the country with this kind of mix of housing, landscape, and "walkability." I fully hope to live here for a long, long while and to think more about why it is that new communities cannot seem to replicate this incredibly successful formula.