For the past three years we've lived in a little apartment in Manhattan. For the first two years, I was lukewarm on Manhattan. In the third year, I eventually grew to like the city. I enjoyed walking everywhere and having so many interesting activities nearby. Manhattan is not friendly for families or Christians but the difficulties create a common bond and eagerness to help others. Learning to live with two, then three people in an oddly arranged 350 sq ft apartment was difficult.
When my husband and I were first married and moved in together, we both had some furniture and a lot of possessions. Our apartment was so full that it was frustrating to move about. The apartment became more comfortable as we gradually got rid of a lot of stuff but even with creative furniture solutions, the layout of the apartment remained problematic. Our building was originally a hotel and our apartment was part of the lobby. There were two rooms - a separate10ft by 10ft kitchen, really just a 10 ft by 10 ft room with a stove, sink and refrigerator, and a main room with an amazingly high ceiling, even higher than the room was long or wide, and an enormous window with beautiful stained glass detailing at the top. It was a lovely space, especially by NYC standards, but difficult because common activities didn't fit well in this layout. I'd prefer to sleep somewhere quiet, dark, and secluded but the main room was always light, even at night, and always had significant ambient noise of people entering and leaving the building during the day and delivery trucks entering and leaving the building across the street at night. I'd prefer to study and cook somewhere light and vibrant but the table had to go in the dark, secluded kitchen.
Life in our Houston apartment feels luxuriously comfortable. We have a 650 sq ft apartment with one bedroom. The apartment has a beautiful layout with a light-filled great room composed of a living space, a dining space, and a kitchen with counters, cupboards, and even a dishwasher, a bedroom with a walk-in closet, and a bathroom with a washer and a dryer. Eating, sleeping, and other daily activities fit comfortably in the space. Even better than the layout is the fantastic location. I didn't dare hope to find a walkable neighborhood in Texas but they exist! Within a quarter mile radius of our apartment there is a Catholic church, two grocery stores, and a host of interesting shops. It's awesome.
There are some obvious benefits to living in a walkable neighborhood related to physical health, community, and environment. We're all healthier from walking a few miles a day and we've met some nice people nearby. On weekdays, my husband's short commute gives us family time. When he takes the car to work, we're still able to go run errands and play at the pool or the park. He can also comfortably ride a bike to work, take the bus to work, or I can drop him off. If our children were older, they could exercise their independence safely and productively by walking or bicycling to a variety of good activities. Rent in our walkable neighborhood is somewhat higher but a quick calculation bundling monthly rent together with commute-related gasoline costs leveled the differences.
I've recently heard many bloggers, writers, and TV hosts sing the praises of walkable neighborhoods more eloquently than I have done above. There's a great post from the Witherspoon Institute with a stronger and more interesting position - that living in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods is good for humans and encourages virtue http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/07/3379. I find Phillip Bess' positions intuitive and compelling.
It seems obvious now, but it hadn't occurred to me previously how big of an impact neighborhood and environment can make on our daily thoughts and inclinations. I am weak and would like to arrange for as much external encouragement towards virtue as I reasonably can. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and comments. God bless.