I could say I was ahead of the trend. When I bought my 1911 Victorian home in coastal Connecticut seven years ago, one of the reasons I chose it was because it was located in a turn-of-the-century neighborhood close to the center of town. Specifically, close enough to walk. It's not the most expensive or cheapest part of town, but right in the middle. And though I could have gotten a newer home in a "nicer" area, when I invested in my house, I took into account that I could cruise down the hill on foot and be at the post office, library, and movie theatre in six or seven minutes. I considered that quality quite valuable.
If I continue past the library, a few minutes' further walk brings me to the train station. I can be in the middle of Manhattan in just less than an hour (or access other towns along the Connecticut shore, all the way to New Haven, or connect with Amtrak to go to D.C. or Boston). An eight-minute stroll will bring me to bars, restaurants, locally owned shops (even a psychic!) and a great local coffee shop. Keep going another minute or so and I'm at the busy river, where the harbor empties into the Long Island Sound, and boats of all shapes and sizes, from commercial to sail to rowing shells ply the waters. I drive to the supermarket, but if my car (which I only use about twice a week these days) breaks down, I'm certainly not stranded — there's a Super Stop & Shop about 15 minutes' walk in the other direction.
Turns out neighborhoods like mine in South Norwalk, which wasn't planned to be a walking community, but are old enough to have at least partially grown up before car use was common (Norwalk was originally settled in 1656), are newly popular — and their real estate is worth more.
According to an op/ed piece in this past weekend's New York Times, with the perfectly descriptive title of Now Coveted: A Walkable, Convenient Place; "Until the 1990s, exclusive suburban homes that were accessible only by car cost more, per square foot, than other kinds of American housing. Now, however, these suburbs have become overbuilt, and housing values have fallen. Today, the most valuable real estate lies in walkable urban locations. Many of these now pricey places were slums just 30 years ago."
This is happening all over the country, from the Capitol Hill nabe near downtown Seattle, to Highlands in Denver (once considered a "troubled" part of the city) to Short North in Ohio, part of Columbus' downtown.
There's a simple explanation for the reduction in price of car-centric suburban developments and the increase in value of neighborhoods like mine: Community.
You don't find community driving solo around town in your car, nor does it miraculously appear at the front doorstep of a cookie-cutter home in a gated community. It occurs via everyday interaction, face-to-face contact and good old-fashioned conversation with the people who live where you do. Good urban planning (or just pre-car communities) that get us out in the streets, to walk, talk, support small businesses — run by people we know instead of faceless corporations — are the way forward for people of my generation and younger, and real estate values are starting to reflect this.
And oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that walking is a lot more healthy — and fun — than sitting in a car to drive 1/4 mile from parking lot to parking lot. It's just a bonus that you find a stronger sense of place in walkable communities, which are designed to appeal to people on foot, not whizzing by in cars. I can never forget that I'm living in seaside New England when I hit Washington Street (the main drag in Norwalk).
I'm excited to hear that maybe my home will be worth more to future buyers because of its location, but more importantly, my current quality of life is better than it would be if I had chosen a "nicer" part of town seven years ago.
- On a sustainable street, there are no jaywalkers
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