Friday, April 13, 2007


Some take on long commutes by choice, and some out of necessity, although the difference between one and the other can be hard to discern. A commute is a distillation of a life’s main ingredients, a product of fundamental values and choices. And time is the vital currency: how much of it you spend—and how you spend it—reveals a great deal about how much you think it is worth. NEW YORKER
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The quote above is from a very good article in this week's New Yorker on commuting.

When I was a kid around Chicago, we lived for about three years in a "far flung" suburb. This was just before they started the huge developments, known as "ticky tacky". When they started we moved back to town. I went to a private school in Winnetka, which was about a half hour from where we had always lived and commuted back and forth from the Styx every day with my stepfather who worked farther up the shore in Great Lakes. He and I put in something like three hours a day in the car... in the dark of Middle Western winters. I was so glad to get back to town, to have three movie theaters and a big public library within a ten minute walk! I love the city.

It seems much easier to live in a city here in Europe than in the USA. Right now I live in a 'nice' neighborhood (no crime) on the edge of the financial district. I've got my movie theaters (four with several screens apiece, two theater are "original version", W/subtitles). Four supermarkets within five blocks and a neighborhood, market-type, market, with individual stalls, butchers, green grocers, fish, cheese etc. And I'm a quarter of an hour walk from the legendary, El Corte Inglés mega-store and a half hour by bus from the Prado museum. Oh, and the public transport system is good and very cheap. I'm paying old rent tied to the official cost of living index, about €600 for about 200 square meters.
I count myself blessed. Blind luck, believe me.

I'd love to hear other people's stories from the states and around the world on this subject.


Anonymous said...

My wife and I moved out of the San Francisco Bay area four years ago. No need to describe the congestion that exists there.

We now live in Portland, OR. It has its share of new strains from the pressures of growth.

My wife used to commute for her job when we lived in the Bay Area. It was not fun. I never had to get on the freeway for my work. I consciously avoided having to work outside of a certain radius from our house. [I was once offered "whatever you want" to work for a client in S.F. I declined, because life is too short. The commute would have required at least three hours a day in my truck].

I have luckily been able to reincarnate my general contracting business in Portland without having to commute more that 15 minutes. My wife is a real estate agent who can put in many miles a day showing clients the offerings of a buyers market.

We like living "close in". There are many neighborhoods in Portland, each with their own flavor. Ours is very similar to the one you describe. We have a farmers market, grocery store, movie theater, and many other amenities nearby.

We traveled in Europe a decade ago. I would move to Spain in a heart beat, but that would put us very far from the grand kids.

So it goes.

anansi said...

I live in Victoria BC, Canada, and also love the pleasures of city life in a city with little crime and small neighbourhoods. The library is a ten minute walk away, downtown is about a half an hour's walk or a short bus ride away and all my basic needs can be met without a car.

There is a custom here in te city that I have not seen in the US; getting on the bus, we always greet the driver and getting off we always say "thank you" even if exiting from the back. It is rather nice and keeps us civil.

To me, spending more than thirty minutes getting to work is a waste of valuable time. Luckily, I have a choice; many don't.

Marcia said...

In 35 years of marriage we have moved around (Ohio, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York) but always managed to avoid any lengthy daily commutes.

At present we live in central New York and my husband consults primarily on air quality issues from a home office. He does travel considerable distances, about 800 miles a month, for his business but rarely more than once a week. For the most part I'm pretty much 'stay-at-home' these days and my Odyssey often doesn't move for a week.

When we moved here in 1988 we were hoping to stay put for awhile and we found an older house with a large lot, on a bus line, within walking/biking distance from two villages for most of the year. I miss certain amenities, like sidewalks, but I have come to appreciate the fact that the area is a mix of rural, suburban and village within an easy drive/ride from a small city.

kelly said...

My husband and I are fortunate in that we live in a calm suburb next to the woods, but with a bus stop literally at our doorstep taking us downtown within 15 minutes.

My husband bikes to work everyday downtown (he doesn't like the "stink" in the bus) and can do so without ever having to ride on the main streets - even downtown there are lanes for bicycles (typical for most German cities). Arriving home at night he always has a clear head and doesn't need that 30 minutes alone to come down from work and a stressful commute.

I'm at home with our 2 year old and work only one day a week - bakery, grocery store, drug store, doctor, pharmacy, post office and bank are all within walking distance; otherwise the bus takes us everywhere we need to go - even for a quick lunch together with Papa.

I choose to drive to work (15 minutes by Autobahn) because bus/train connections take one and a half hours one way.

Neither of us tolerated city life well and we feel extremely fortunate to have such easy access to the city, without having to live there.

My son will be able to ride his bike to kindergarten and the first few years of school, but will have to take the bus into the city to attend school after the 4th grade.