I Am Living A Smart Growth Nightmare.
Warning: This post has nothing to do with our prefab house kit on the land, but our mid-century modern home on the edge of Richmond, Virginia.
(I am also keenly aware many of our friends do not have the luxury to even consider these options. So please be gentle and remember this is me rambling on my blog about me, and how boring is that.)
I grew up with a family farm, Rotherwood. In my late twenties, I came home from New York for the holiday to discover it was no longer a family farm, but now owned by my uncles.
You move on.
Handsome Husband and I fell in love, married, and had children. The moment we could, we both, yearning for land to pass on, put everything we had into buying land. We want to pass this on to our children, to their children, to give them the experience and identity with which we both grew up with (thinking both our family farms would remain family farms to be passed on) and counted upon.
[Note: There will be a post soon on passing on family farms, preserving them.]
Our strategy was simple:
Buy the land.
Pay it off.
Save up money for a house to live in forever (Taaaaa daaaaa! There is the off grid prefab house kit you all know!) while building slowly, over the years, a great, sustainable farm.
Once the children were older (they are in a special international program here until 5th grade) and the farm in working order, we'd sell the Richmond house (hoping everything by then was paid off) which would then pay off anything we had left, then save the rest as our retirement income (if and when we ever retired - I enjoy working too much and can telecommute anywhere!).
Over six years ago, with a toddler and baby on the way, we found the perfect mid-century house in the perfect "good school" area, convenient (supposedly) to everything.
This is where the smart growth nightmare begins.
We are huge walkers.
In our old urban neighborhoods, all we did was walk.
The architectural diversity and vibrant community was a wonder - in North Side and The Fan, there was always a neat house to discover, a new store to stop into.
What is it that makes these seemingly disparate environments so similar?
Strong communities. In the urban environment, yes, there's crime. In the rural environment, yes, you need help with pulling out the tractor from the ditch or retrieving the escaped hog. You have to rely on each other, and if yer gonna need each other, you'd might as well make it fun!
In the suburbs, each nicely sized lot allows the neighborhood to be filled with each person's perfect oasis. But that means, for us, isolation. No sidewalks, no stores or coffee shops to visit (unless you want to cross suburban four-lane streets that are more comparable to highways), and no, no neighbors, at least during the day.
There are overwhelmingly different choices in lifestyle, and that is a separate issue to explore, later... I don't think the green movement is forcing women to stay at home, like this French feminist asserts; however I will say that in urban and rural areas you find more entrepreneurs, whether they be male or female, where they can work more flexibly to raise their children with and also while nurturing their business.
I adore working, pushing myself intellectually and professionally each day in my office. But as I challenge myself, I can also look out the window, and see a beautiful garden, and watch happy children chasing caterpillars with their happy romping dogs. I realize many people can not do that in their own professions, but I also see that there are more people that do live that way in urban or rural environments.
Here, like clockwork, the neighborhood minivans leave at 7:45 out their drives, to return at 5:45 just in time for the pizza delivery truck to arrive. During the day as we quietly type on our keyboards in the office, the only sound we hear in the entire neighborhood is that of my own children playing.
One night, in the last light of dusk, as I went out to close the coop, I saw one child, freshly suited up, running for the snow in their back yard to touch it, to embrace the cold, to feel the snow for the first time that day. My own children had been playing outside ALL DAY, and were wet, tired, and warming up with dinner inside. So: There are children in this neighborhood, all over the place; yet my children rarely see them because they are not physically here until after 5ish, when my children, after a day of play, are inside readying for bed.
There is a shopping center two blocks away we can't walk to. Sure there's cross lights, but YOU TRY crossing the roaring four lane-in-each-direction Patterson / Three Chopt Avenues, with traffic blindly screeching around the corner hurtling away, much less thinking of letting your children do that one day unaccompanied.
Don't get me wrong, I take full blame for not being more integrated into this neighborhood. Face it, we're The Freak Family. We have different schedules than our neighbors- coming inside as they're just getting home, and leaving each weekend for the land. We have weird-looking dogs. We live differently. Heck, they even think we're gross because we have a few chickens. (One parent, upon learning about our eating an unexpected rooster by throwing a Coq Au Vin dinner party, where he fed seven people after living a grass-fed, free range existance, assured her horrified daughter, "No, honey, they did not eat their rooster." Lied to her daughter, in front of me. Where do they think meat comes from, Costco?)
But if you look at the study and practice of smart growth and intentional communities, this could be a case study:
- no sidewalks
- no shared spaces
- differing lifestyles / values / even eating habits
- commuter culture vs. a work and living habitat
As I pondered this tonight, discussing it aloud, my 7 year old put his arms around me and said, "Momma, we don't have to move. It's ok just playing with my sister, it's ok...we have fun!" And they do.
We just really miss our friends. We have our strong community on the land, and we have *tons* of urban friends we never see because we're stuck in this No Man's West End land of: "Oh, if we move here we'll use the club every day (hate it) and see my parents every week (more like every 4 months)."
Time to start living, regardless.
Here's the farm house we found in the center of the city.
It would be a heck of a lot of work.
But even if we make our current mid-century fully our dream-home-for-now...
it's still lonely.
What to do, what to do.