Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our home and neighborhood. As I was writing about our front porch makeover, I realized I have a lot more to say about it than just the aesthetics. I thought I’d share a little bit about why we decided to buy where we did.
When we started looking for homes in 2009, we really thought about the type of neighborhood we desired. At the time we lived in East Sacramento, which is just a few miles from the central city. Before suburbs really existed, East Sac WAS the suburbs. The homes are mostly two or three bedroom bungalows and craftsmans, each unique and charming but also small(er) and more expensive when compared to homes in the suburbs. The mature trees, historical buildings, beautiful parks and access to mom-and-pop restaurants and shops is what make so many families like ours put up with less square footage and a single bathroom.
For a short bit, we thought about moving to a newer neighborhood on the outskirts of Sacramento. I grew up in a gorgeous (and safe) planned community, and my childhood was ideal in every sense of the word. Sacramento’s suburbs are similar to where I grew up, and families can often times get more bang for their buck– in home size and community amenities. It’s not difficult to see why so many people choose to live there. But, after careful consideration we decided to stay closer to the city for now.
After looking at many houses in East Sacramento, we realized that most were out of our budget. I wanted the flexibility to work as a writer and a mom, which meant looking for a home near the city that wasn’t super expensive. We ended up buying in am area still coming into it’s own again.
Our 1948 house was built in a neighborhood financed the by the G.I. bill. Men coming home from WWII purchased new homes, married their beautiful girlfriends, and raised baby boomer children in the streets we now call home. At the time, our neighborhood was the new and fancy place to live. In the 70s and 80s, as families started moving to the suburbs, the neighborhood went through a steep decline. All of a sudden, homes became run down and streets became dangerous. In the last 5-10 years, the neighborhood has started to turn once again. It’s not yet the perfectly safe neighborhood it once was, but it’s not a scary place to live either. I like to tell people that we live “right on the edge of the ghetto.”
Since moving in last year, one thing I’ve grown to appreciate is the diversity of people in our neighborhood. Just on our street alone there is an Hispanic family, a single older woman, several gay and lesbian couples, and families that look similar to our own. When I go to the park with Anna, I might find myself talking to another affluent white mom, or a single African American teen who is struggling to get by with her two kids. This is city living. It stretches me in a way I did not anticipate. Somedays, I’ll admit, the diversity is uncomfortable. It’s easier when people look and act like me. And yet, I know that God’s people are not carbon copies of myself. In fact, He’s created us very different for a reason…and if I want to love His people, I have to understand them. And that’s where the front porch comes in.
In Sacramento’s central city most of the homes have a front porch. I love thinking about how it was years and years ago–when more people traveled by bike or foot, and the mailman came door-to-door to deliver the mail. In those days the action took place in the front yard. Moms sat on the porch and flipped through Life magazine, while kids fried an egg on the sidewalk or played hopskotch. Dads mowed the lawn rather than hiring a gardening service, and neighbors chatted with more ease than we have today. I realize I’m painting a somewhat romantic picture here, but I’m not the only one who thinks that front porches stand for something much bigger than an obvious architectural element. (Check out this NPR segment on front porches as part of early American history.)
When we moved in, there was a metal security door on our house and a front porch that wasn’t really a front porch but rather a concrete slab that fell off into a large planter. The thing I was most excited to change was our front door. I hated the security door for what I believed it stood for: danger. Our neighbors told us that most families installed the security door several years ago after a man across the street was robbed in the middle of the night. In fear, everyone decided to purchase a door. Since that random act of violence there have been no other problems on our street. What a shame that one random act would cause so many families to put bars on their door. It felt like everyone was saying, “You win, robbers! You’ve scared us! We’re staying inside!”
I believe that our neighborhood is trying to change back to the place it once was, but in order for that to happen, we literally have to take down the bars. Instead of being reactive, we have to be proactive. (Read this interesting NY Times article about more city dwellers taking down the bars on their apartments.) If we want our diverse neighborhood to be a safe place for families, then we need to put time and effort into making our homes beautiful and we need sit out on our front porches and make small talk with people who might be very different from us.
Our front porch is now the cozy place I have yearned for it to be since we moved in. The process of making these changes has me thankful all over again for our home. I love that our mailman still comes to the front door and we can open the door and say hi. I love that I can walk to the park and find people who look at lot like me, and many who don’t. I love that our neighbors give us lemons, and let us borrow tools, and give us gardening advice. I love that I live in a home where families have gathered for 50 years of Christmases and Easters and birthdays. There is history and love in this house and now we get to create our own.
Do you live in a city? Suburbs? Why? What do you like about where you live?
(Side note: Anyone living in a city will agree that there are still safety precautions that have to be taken. Even though we took down our security door, we do other things to make sure our home is still safe such as we always use our alarm system, we have a bright porch light that automatically turns on at dusk and stays on till dawn, and we have a lock to our side gate. These three things help keep our home safe without having to hide behind bars.)