A friend of mine told me the other day he is considering moving downtown and wanted my thoughts. We talked a little about what he was looking for, and I offered a few cautions and suggestions about different locations. Then I started down my standard list of things I thought he ought to bear in mind. Living downtown is different than just about any other neighborhood in Knoxville, and over time I’ve developed a little bit of advice for anyone thinking of making it their home.
First, recognize that the spaces you’ll be looking at are almost certainly going to be smaller than what you’d expect for the same money elsewhere. There are some massive living spaces down here. But for the most part, downtown condos and lofts are more compact than their suburban counterparts. For my part, that’s one of the things I found attractive. I lived alone in a modest house in the ’burbs before moving here and I remember looking at the dining room once and trying to remember the last time I had actually been in there. Same went for the guest room. I owned this space, I just didn’t use it. I had a lawn, too. But the only time I found myself spending any time there was with a mower or a rake and wishing I was doing something else.
Second, check out the parking situation. There are exceptions, but for the most part you won’t be parking in a garage attached to your home. In fact, you may not even be parking on the same block as your home. Over the time I’ve lived downtown, I’ve relied on everything from catch-as-catch-can street parking, to a rented space in a public garage three blocks from home, to secured garage parking steps from my door. There are varying levels of convenience and expense. But having a place to live and having a place for your car to live are generally two different things here.
Finally, it’s likely to be noisier than what you’re used to. Keep in mind when you’re checking out one of our beautiful old buildings that’s been converted to residential space that most weren’t originally built with noise abatement in mind. No one really cared if you could hear a cart roll across the floor above in a wholesale warehouse. But a hundred years down the line, you might find that the dog playing with his bone on that same hardwood floor upstairs might take some getting used to. Same goes for the traffic, sirens, trains, and frequent revelry outside your window that accompanies parades, festivals, concerts, and the like. Believe it or not, you’ll come to filter all of this out over time and you may have to actually concentrate to hear any of those things.
Most people aren’t so naive that they haven’t taken some of the above into consideration by the time they’ve made a decision to move downtown. And much of it has an upside anyway. A small loft is more efficient, easier to keep up, and can often make for a cozier living space than a house. And the shared environ of downtown will become a virtual element of your living space anyway. You’ll have open-air street-side tables at which to relax and enjoy conversations with friends. And you’ll have the World’s Fair Park, a river to stroll along, and benches along the way to relax or read a book. Odds are that you won’t need constant access to your car, since you won’t be driving as much. Shopping, dining, and entertainment are all within walking distance.
There’s miscellaneous other things to keep in mind. For example, running into friends and neighbors is one of the great pleasures of urban living and something you’ll want to build in a few extra minutes of travel time for when walking or biking somewhere. If you’ve got a pet, you’re going to be expected to pick up after it, and you’re going to resent those who don’t. You’re going to find that a lot more people like to visit your new neighborhood than your old one. They’re going to think you can give directions. And that revelry that’s going on outside your window? Join it. It’s part of where you live, and you don’t have to stand in line for the porta-potties. Or don’t. Because when you close your door, you’ll be as much at home as ever.
I don’t know if my friend will make that move or not. And I won’t try to convince him one way or another. But something that I’ve tried to explain to him and others is that moving downtown isn’t just moving somewhere else. It’s becoming a part of something else. And that may be the biggest difference of all.