I grew up in complete suburbia, knowing nothing other than meticulously cared-for lawns and cul-de-sacs. Naturally, as an adult, I migrated into the known. I opted for the steroid-infused version of Stepford suburbia to which I had been accustomed. We prided ourselves on our neighborhoods—all copy-cat versions of the same elevation, groomed lawns, and HOA-enforced bylaws. Every time I contemplated moving with my ex-husband, we wistfully returned to our dream of retreating back into Nashville. We fantasized about living a more vibrant urban life. But ultimately defaulted to what was safe – what we had grown to become.
We become where we live. We take on the identities of our surroundings—including our neighborhoods. Take the classic 80’s film, The Burbs, for example. While Tom Hanks, our protagonist, rallied against the neighborhood culture, he ultimately succumbed to the voyeuristic mentality of his suburbia. The famous series, Desperate Housewives, capitalized on just this idea.
When my marriage ended, I found myself sticking out like a sore thumb in the community that had brought me such security. It was fashioned for a “normal” family. But for single moms? I didn’t fit in at the sports events or PTO meetings. And a single life of my own? Forget it.
So, I took a chance and moved back into urban Nashville, though the city hardly resembled the humble town I remembered from my youth. Twenty miles seemed like twenty thousand. Neighborhoods I wouldn’t have dared to drive though were now thriving, eclectic communities bustling with families and local businesses. Why the heck not?
I’m going on a year and a half now just about eight minutes west of downtown in an area growing faster than the parking can accommodate. And I love it.
For starters, every home has its own unique identity that seems to represent the family who resides within it. The New American style of home building has no place here; it’s all Arts and Crafts variances with personality and character. The house in which I live is almost one hundred years old (for all its virtues and shortcomings). My favorite part, though, is the return to front-porch living. In the days of my childhood, I reveled in sitting on my grandparents’ front porch conversing with neighbors in the evenings. Newer homes focus more on creating a gathering space in the backyard rather than the front. I love that having so many front porches encourages a neighborly sense of identity—even on just on our street. We know our comings and goings, and we look out for one another.
I also love that I didn’t give up a sense of privacy moving into town. Rather, I gained even more. Because land is so scarce here, great pains have been taken to preserve trees and plants. In my old neighborhood, tiny maple seedlings were about the only trees we saw on our walks. My home, set in the middle of everything, remains covered in a canopy of trees that range from oak, pine, and bamboo. I’m more in tune with nature here than I ever have been.
The local businesses are key. I rarely drive anywhere, and I feel a sense of pride walking down the street to support my local restaurants and shops. It hearkens days long past to walk into the local grocer or restaurant and have the cashier or owner greet you by name. I feel good about spending my money knowing it ends up back in the pockets of my own community. It doesn’t hurt that it’s only a five-dollar Uber ride to the city’s best cultural venues.
Most importantly for my kids, we love living among a diverse community. While my neighborhood might be one of the most family-oriented in the city, I love seeing the wide range of residents here. It’s full of young and old, natives and immigrants, entrepreneurs and artists, singles and families. Sure, drawbacks exist. Crime is a bit more prevalent, but thanks to the NextDoor app, we all communicate anytime we see anything suspicious.
I know I won’t always live here; my soul yearns for wide open spaces with land to breathe and grow. But for now — this is the perfect balance for me.