mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why walk when you can drive?

Megan McCardle had a post a few days ago about walking in the city vs driving in suburbia. I didn't see it until it was pretty commented-out, but it's an interesting topic.

Ryan thinks that people who think driving in the suburbs is more convenient are wrong - in the city, you can make lots of short walks everywhere. Megan thinks that's true, except for people with little kids.

Ryan lived in DC, while Megan has lived in NYC and DC. Because of that, I think they have a somewhat jaded view of what most urban areas are like. The fact is, even within city limits, there are very few cities that have the urban density to make it convenient to walk everywhere.

I've lived in 3 places in Baltimore City, not counting college dorms. None of them had much of anything walkable. Now, two of them were barely in the city - the Mount Washington apartment complex I lived in my senior year of college was literally on the line between city and county. My apartment in Hamilton - the top floor of a craftsman bungalow that was split into a 2-family - was probably about a mile south of the city line.

But the third place, and the place I lived the longest, was Reservoir Hill. It's not downtown Baltimore, but it's not the suburbs either - it's smack in the middle of the city, about 5 miles north of the Inner Harbor. It's a neighborhood of huge old brownstones, many of which have been divided into apartments. And there isn't a whole lot to walk to. There were a couple businesses that could euphemistically be called grocery stores, but they were the kind of places where the merchandise and employee sit behind bulletproof glass. There was a doctor's office, but it was a walk-in clinic that catered primarily to those on various government medical programs. There was Linden Liquors, a liquor store that was shut down by the city for being a "hub of violent crime". And that's pretty much it.

Is that typical city living? I don't know - but I would guess that most parts of Baltimore - and pretty much every city except DC and NYC, and maybe Chicago - are closer to it than they are to dense urban areas where everything is in walking distance.

I now live in the suburbs. While my commute is longer, I'm pretty much around the corner from my doctor, dentist, vet, grocery stores, Target, and a number of other things that I often had to drive out of the city to go to.

Of course, that's not the main reason I moved out. Other than kids - on the off-chance I ever have them, I wouldn't want to live in the city, because of crime and schools - there are a lot of other reasons to move to the 'burbs. One of the biggest is that when you want to buy a house, it's much easier to do it in the suburbs. Buying a house in the city means trying to figure out which neighborhoods - often which streets or blocks - are good and bad. Even if you do find one, it means hoping that it doesn't change for the worse. Housing stock in the city is older, which means more repairs. Older houses often don't have the features of newer ones. Often, it's hard to find a house in a standard first-time buyer price range - when I lived in Resevoir Hill, most of the houses were either $25,000 burned-out shells that needed $200k of work to be livable, or $500k restored showpieces. Parking is a pain, and yes, you will need a car, and insuring it in certain city zip codes will cost you 2x what you would pay in the county - when I was 24 and had a clean record, I was paying ~$350 a month to insure a 2 year old PT Cruiser.

People who advocate walkable city life think that every city is like NYC or DC, when my guess is most are closer to Baltimore.


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