Monday, May 24, 2010


This post is inspired by Michelle's post at Birth After Cesarean: Suburbacide and the New York Times article As Suburbs Grow, So Do Waistlines.

I'm living in ultra-urban territory this summer, and I'm loving it. We're in vieux Nice--the very, very old part of a very old city on the southeast coast of France. Most buildings are 5-7 stories tall, with shops on the ground floor and apartments above. A few of the roads are wide enough for cars, but most are so narrow that only pedestrians and the occasional delivery vehicle can pass through. We're on one of the few "big" streets in old Nice.

When I look out my window, this is what I see:
To the right:
To the left:
Within a few blocks there is a large daily produce/cheese/bread market that runs every morning until about 1 pm, pharmacies, confiseries (candy), chocolateries (chocolate), bakeries, patisseries (pastries and cakes), cookie stores, ice cream stores, olive oil stores, wine stores, clothing shops, a few small grocery stores, handmade soap and spice stores, and more. And so many restaurants you could never hope to visit them all. There's the bread store around the corner where I buy our daily baguette--sometimes the "plain Jane" baguette de tradition, other times the baguette à l'ancien or the baguette rustique. This particular bakery is just one of many artisinal bakeries in the area. Nothing remarkable to locals, but extraordinary to those of us from North America, where in most places you can only buy varations on a theme of Wonderbread. We're just a few minutes' walk away from the tram and the main bus station in town, from which you can take a bus anywhere in the entire region, from Cannes to Monaco, for only 1 Euro.

Living in a very small 2-bedroom apartment has taken some getting used to. Our bedroom is just big enough to fit a double bed and not much else. The kids' bedroom is even smaller. Zari sleeps on the twin bed, and Dio sleeps on the floor in the space between the bed and the wall. It's in the middle of the apartment, so there's no window in their room. Then there's a living/dining room, a small kitchen, a very small bathroom, and a teeny tiny WC. So small that they had to install the toilet at an angle because there wasn't enough room front-to-back to put it in straight.

The apartment is small (to us) but fairly typical for French standards. Between the lack of toys and limited space, we spend most of our waking time outdoors. We don't have a balcony or terrasse in this apartment; the laundry hangs on a rack installed below our bedroom window.

I do admit that my ability to enjoy super-urban, super-crowded conditions comes in part from knowing that I have a larger house, and a yard, back home. Our house in an old residential neighborhood that dates back to the late 1800s. Our house was built in 1883, one of the first in the area. It has 3 bedrooms (1800 sf) and a double city lot (so about 75x200'). Still, even there, we live a mainly urban lifestyle even though we're in a small town. At home, we're within 3-5 blocks of everything we need on a day-to-day basis: Eric's work (campus), post office, playground, bank, public library, gym and indoor track (both free and on campus), 2 pharmacies, 2 thrift stores, pizza store, taqueria, Mexican food store, and all the other downtown shops (which aren't doing super well as a whole; they're suffering from the big box stores south of town). We drive for bigger grocery trips, church, home improvement stores, all of which are about 2 miles away and on busy roads. Actually we used to ride our bikes to church in the warm seasons, but it's on a busy 50-mph road with no shoulder, so we eventually gave that up for safety reasons.

I like urban living--even if it's urban small-town living like we have at home. I still prefer having a house and some yard, because I love having space for the kids to run around in and, most importantly, a place to grow food. But I think I could adapt to apartment living if I were close enough to a park and had sufficient patio/balcony/rooftop space to grow things. I feel incredibly liberated not having to use a car to get where I need to go. I love my neighbors. Seriously, we have the best neighbors ever. And if I lived in a typical suburban enclave, where you rarely walk to school or work or shopping, I wouldn't know my neighbors very well. But I'm always walking around, and I say hi and chat when I pass by. We bring each other food, mislaced mail, keep an eye on others' houses when they are out of town, comment on renovation or gardening projects, and just enjoy the human interaction.

Now I'd like to hear from you: What is your ideal living situation--urban? rural? suburban? small town? How have you adapted to less-than-ideal living/housing circumstances?


  1. My ideal would be a small town. I grew up in suburbs (an d currently live in suburbs). I did do a stint in Paris and loved the city life... loved being able to walk/use public transportation everywhere. I loved the interesting things to see and experience- just sitting in a park and people watching was great. I did NOT love hearing my neighbors, um, private business, nor do I love what city life means for dog owners. It was great but not somewhere I would want to raise kids permanently.

  2. Our family just moved aboard a sailboat, after we all got tired of living in suburbia. Loving it, and planning on leaving to sail the world in a few years (once we learn how to sail).

  3. I dislike suburbia, too, but for a different reason than what you're citing. My ideal situation is a small (10-50) acres farm somewhere in the country. I'd like to be close enough to get to a decent-sized town within 10-20 minutes, but isolated enough to have plenty of space. We actually just looked at such a farm today. I want a place where my kids can have LOTS of room to roam, trees to climb, tall grass to play in, a pond to discover, a barn to play in, a large garden to work, and animals to take care of. My mom lived on a large farm as a child, and I can feel myself being pulled back to her roots.

    I'd like a decent town nearby with a library, grocery store, post office, a church, and other small, but necessary establishments.

    I want to get away from suburbia as soon as possible, and we are hoping to move some time this summer.

  4. I love where I live...I'm not sure if it would be small town, it's about 100,000 people, but it's not a subrub...the biggest city is DFW, and it's 2 hours away. I love Texas, wide open spaces, big blue skies, really good Mexican food,and driving a big truck. I think I would love city living for a DH and I love NYC, London, and Paris. I would also love country living for a season...I love the Texas countryside, and I have traveled the French countryside as well. But I'm very content where I am and I wouldn't change a thing. I would love to do summers in the city or country like yall are doing (epecially in Europe), I think that would be ideal:)

  5. I live in Phoenix and I hate everything about it. I hate that it takes me 45 min to drive anywhere. I would love a more rural area where I could grow stuff and not worry about having a drop house 2 doors down and police knocking on my door every few months. I would love to live somewhere the neighbors actually talked to you. Basically where you live thats my dream lol.

  6. I'm jealous! I think the place you live now looks wonderful. And the 2 bedroom thing... Jason and I are actually considering downsizing to a 2 bedroom townhouse in the town we orignally wanted to live in (and used to live in a few years ago). 2 bedrooms sounds just dandy to me right about now.

    My ideal living situation is what you describe your town back home to be -- an old/historic town, with sidewalks, everything within a few blocks, a community feel, etc.

    I lived in the city before, it was great when it was just Jason and I, but now, with kids, we love the towns.

    ENJOY it Rixa! I will live vicariously through you. For now. ;)

  7. My family became officially homeless on Saturday. We're just praying for a roof over our heads. Be thankful for what you have because you don't want to have to lose it to learn to appreciate it.

  8. I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, and knew that I did not want that at all. I'm in pretty much my ideal situation, I just wish that my husband didn't have to drive so much for work & that there were better schools (but he's a territory sales rep, so that's not realistic, and we homeschool, so that takes care of the school situation for us at least).

    We live in a small town - 6,000 pop year round, more like 12,000 in the summer. We have lake access thru a right-of-way, a small 1200 sq foot house with a 2/3 acre yard, trees in back (including a big climbing tree for the kids), a fire pit, a rolling/sledding hill, and lots of gardens. I can get to PO/church/pharmacy/grocery store & hardware/farm store/farmstand etc. within five minutes (driving). We know our neighbors, and it's a friendly safe small town community, with lots of fishing/hiking within a short drive.

    We have bigger stores within 15 minutes at the state capital, but I don't go out there even once a week. Within an hour we can get to mountains for hiking and skiing, or to lovely ocean beaches.

  9. Great post and great question! My husband and I used to live in urban DC, and we loved it and missed it as we were forced to live in different places. Now we live in a small town on the outskirts of the suburbia of Charlotte, NC. At first we hated it, but now we love it. We try to live in the place where we are - for us, that means no commuting and patronizing as much local business as possible. That has led to getting to know many people in our community and enjoying running into people we know all the time. I think our ideal would still be to live urban, but for now we enjoy our garden, compost pile, big yard, birds, trees, farm animals, and everything that goes into living in a semi-rural small town.

  10. I loved hearing about where you are now!

    I live in a small town (about 10,000 in town and about 20,000 including surrounding areas) in DEEP South Texas. I'm about 5 miles from crossing to Mexico. It's a boarder town, 98% Hispanic. It's very different from any place I have ever lived, and I actually prefer a smaller town. When I was in HS, my family lived in a town of 4,000. I loved it. I walked everywhere. I didn't even have a drivers license (or a car) until I moved away. I would live in a place like that again in a heartbeat!

    The town I live in is very spread out (and scorchingly hot!) so unless you live in a couple certain parts of town, walking anywhere (school, store, library, post office) is nearly impossible. Also, no public transportation. :( Since we have lived here, there has been a park built with in walking distance, so we do make use of that opportunity.

    We're moving in a few weeks to the other side of town, and we will have a small store with in walking distance (kind of) probably about a 15 minute, hilly walk.

  11. I grew up in an old Victorian at what would have been the fringe of downtown. The town was about 30 000 when we moved there when I was 3, to about 75 000 when I left at 26. I could walk to school, library, some grocery stores, bakery, banks, etc. I loved it. But house prices are terrible for homes like this--even 'new' homes in the old parts of town are too expensive for a one income family.
    We are lucky in that we can walk to school for now, but it is closing June 2010 due to declining enrollment and old age. The kids will get bussed :(
    It was a tough decision with our recent move--new, small house on tiny lot and maybe close to a school, or older (25 years), larger, with a larger lot. I would love to be back 'downtown' but it's just not feasable :(

  12. To me you and your family are just living a dream. So blessed. My husband wanted land, I wanted to be in town. So we have 11 acres 1 mile out of town. Compromise. It seems to work well for us. I love neighbors, and we are blessed with wonderful ones. I appreciate the city, the small town and the country. I don't believe in suburbia. I think it's really been a down-fall for America in many ways. Great topic!

  13. Economics makes such a difference--or rather, severely limits how many people can live. We're lucky to live in a really, really inexpensive part of the country. Our street is one of the nicest in town--beautiful old Victorians, really well kept-up...and still, the homes are in the low to mid-$100,000s. Maybe a few here and there in the upper 100s, but with the drop in home prices, I don't think anything has sold at that price for several years now. Most of our town is really run-down, not very well kept-up, and house prices go as low as $15-20K, for a really sketchy place that needs lots of work.

    I don't want to overly glamorize life in our small town, either. Our town has a lot of socio-economic problems, low levels of education in general, not taking care of properties, not a whole lot of cultural stuff going on in town (besides whatever the university brings in)...and the economic downturn has only made things worse.

  14. I currently live in the middle of Orem, UT in an apartment with my husband. It's not bad--we live close to a great many things. I have managed to get a potted vegetable garden going outside our window.

    While I live in Utah now, I grew up in Houston, TX. Part of that time was spent in suburbia--it was both good and bad. We knew our neighbors and there were always kids outside playing. But there wasn't much diversity. I like diversity. We moved into town when I was twelve--the first two years weren't so great, but it got better after we moved into a nice neighborhood where the people were actually nice!

    My ideal living situation would be close to the city for convenience and culture's sake, and would be a house on a decent amount of land so I can grow as much of our food as possible.

  15. Oh Rixa what a timely post for me!

    After life in suburbia and now living in a modest home on the outskirts of a bust suburb about 1500 sq feet, 3 bed/1 bath 3/4 acre, we are strongly considering moving ourselves and our 5 children to downtown Detroit's Eastern Market area.

    Thriving with 6 days a week fresh goods, similar to boluangeries and patisseries and daily baguettes and busy friendly faces, we enviion walking walking walking everywhere and taking in the river view of Canada as well as the sights and sounds and smells of true urban living.

    Our families will think we are off our rockers, (Detroit! So dangerous!) but this is truly a walkable wonderful neighborhood and besides, the crime reports in our suburb are rather shocking! SO many B+E, Id rather be on the 4th floor of a guarded building than alone on a patch of grass.

    Its crazy, I alwasy thought I wanted the "country life", but really, I just wanted community. I dont like gardening much and the nature centers and parks we frequent, we drive to anyhow.

    We are going to seriously look into this dream for 2011--and in the meantime thanks for continuing to share your gorgeous adventures in France, the country of my dreams!
    love you guys


  16. Wow, can't BELIEVE the low prices in your area, Rixa. Amazing! Smart move to buy some rental property in addition to your house.

    I've lived all over. I don't enjoy really urban living (too crowded, too little privacy, too much noise and pollution), although the walkability and convenience factors are nice. It's also nice to be close to the arts and other cultural activities, but not enough so that it makes up for too many people in a small space. I can't stand crowds.

    I never minded suburbia, as long there were good sidewalks and safe streets for walking and biking. I don't like really extended swathes of suburbia, where it takes forever to drive anywhere and there's no real cultural activities, nor do I like the really crowded cheek-to-jowl surburbs that are becoming more common now. I need to have a decent yard and some space for the kids to run around in....but I'm happy enough in a nice suburb with good sidewalks, a little elbow room, and easy access to cultural activities.

    My ideal is semi-rural, though. I wouldn't like being waaay out in the boonies, but I do like enough space to grow much of our food and to have more breathing room for the kids to run around in. That's affordable in some parts of the country, but out of reach in other yeah, a lot does depend on where you live and the economics in your area.

    Those of us who have the opportunity to actually choose between these scenarios are very fortunate. A lot of the world does not.

  17. I don't think I would handle living in such a small space nearly as gracefully as it sounds like you are. Hats off to you! My "dream house" is on 3-8 acres, maybe partially wooded, outside a decent size town maybe 15 minutes' drive. Then I could grow a big ole' garden, and maybe cut down my main shopping expeditions to once a month, though with church & things I'm sure we'd be around more often than that. Maybe get some chickens. Possibly a cow, though that'd be further in the future, after we learned some more about keeping animals!

  18. My husband & I live in a small mobile home in a mobile home park on the edge of a university town. The park is quite large with lots of green space, and we are close enough to hear the train as it goes by. We're only a couple miles from the university, which provides lots of cultural opportunities that small towns don't usually have. We're at the extreme edge of being able to walk to grocery stores/library, but the buses are free. What I would like: a basement, & to be able to keep chickens. We can have a raised bed garden in the park, I just haven't gotten around to putting one in, yet.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...