I was talking with a friend of mine the other day who is considering moving downtown. Like a lot of my neighbors and neighbors-to-be, his life has changed. Priorities, like a house large enough to accommodate the family, evolve over time. And the more time he spends downtown these days, the more he thinks it might be a fit for him.
He's weighing other options as well. But I think he's pretty much made the decision to eventually move closer in from his now-too-roomy outpost in the country. There are plenty of smaller homes in the neighborhoods around the center city to consider. But there's something appealing to him about moving downtown proper.
In talking about the other locations he was considering, he mentioned that he would be able to get more for his money outside of downtown. "More what?" I asked.
I knew, of course. Space is a finite resource, and even more of a constraint within the confines of downtown. There aren't a lot of large residences. There are some spectacularly spacious homes here that few Knoxvillians are aware of. They just don't present themselves the same way suburban homes do. But they are the exception rather than the rule.
Most of us who live here do have a smaller footprint when it comes to our homes. But there is more to life than space. And that's the "more" I was thinking of when my friend said he could get more for his money elsewhere.
When I lived in the suburbs, my dining room was off the kitchen, separate from the rest of the house. And it was always a very clean room. It's easy to keep a room clean if you never use it. The same could be said for the spare bedroom. I never needed to worry about getting it ready for guests because it never got any use unless there were guests. And that was only an occasional concern.
I had a basement that served as a laundry, though the vast majority of it was dedicated as a purgatory for things that been cast out of the living space awaiting final judgement, and as a sanctuary for procrastination. It was not clean, ever. But since nobody went down there, that was fine.
All of that space had to be paid for, though. And heated. And cooled. And that expanse of yard around me had to be maintained, whether I used it or not. In some ways I had more then than I have now. It just wasn't the more that I wanted. And what good is more if you don't use it?
I knew a few of the folks in my neighborhood, but not many. I didn't have a lot in common with the majority of them. I didn't know most of their names, and they didn't know mine. But I did find a community full of people with whom I had more in common and with whom I enjoyed spending my spare time—somewhere else.
Something was going on downtown that wasn't going on where I lived. Even before moving here, I was saying hello to more people I knew walking down Gay Street than I ever did sitting on my deck in the suburbs. And everyone seemed happy to be out and about. It was a place that was full of life—and it was a kind of life that I enjoyed.
I'm not out to challenge anyone about their values. I know I'm not in the majority when I say I'm as happy as can be without a lawn. And I don't miss having a garage behind my refrigerator. But when I walk in and close my front door, I'm just as much at home as anyone anywhere.
A lot of people can't imagine living downtown. I couldn't. To some, it just doesn't look like a place you live. And frankly, I've been a little surprised at how much being at home here is not that different from being at home anywhere else. Cooking eggs downtown is remarkably similar to cooking eggs in the suburbs. The sofa is just as comfortable as before. You can still get a pizza delivered. And the TV channels are the same. A quiet night at home, in short, is still a quiet night at home.
It's true I don't have a dining room to look at, or a spare bedroom that I don't use anymore. And things that might have languished in my basement before now receive more prompt consideration. But when I enjoy a lively conversation and a refreshing beverage with friends at a sidewalk table, or when I see smiling faces happy to be out for an evening in the city, there is something here for me—and it's something more than I have found in any other place.