Saturday, January 5, 2008

Almost Settled

Moving across country is never easy. Moving a family and a business complicates things further. We decided to make it even harder by vacillating on our destination mid-move. My wife moved ahead of me in order to try to find a spot for the business and was absolutely horrified by Wilmington. The area where her family lives is an absolute nightmare for anyone who prefers to walk or bike as transportation. Miles and miles of five lane (center turn lane) roads with no shoulders, 45-55mph traffic, and commercial buildings separated from the road by massive parking lots--the too-typical development layout of post-war America. We considered/decided on Asheville for a while, and I even rented a place there on a month-to-month basis. We came to Wilmington for Christmas where the pull of family convinced us to should find a way to make it work here so that my wife would have family support raising our son and any future children.

After about a week of searching and some despair at ever finding anywhere pedestrian and bike friendly in Wilmington, I found the NorthSide downtown. The development pattern downtown is also one that has been played out in many American cities in the last half century--middle and upper class flight from urban areas because of crime fears and public schooling woes, re-filling of the urban areas by the "creative-class" taking advantage of the low prices white-flight caused in the urban centers, gentrification leading to the repopulation and rising dense urban areas by professionals, dink-ers, and some families as the hollowness of suburban life became more pronounced, rising prices as urban centers once again became desirable. Much of downtown Wilmington is already too far on the end of that scale to be affordable for most--including us. The neighborhood north of Market downtown, called NorthSide, was considered a bad neighborhood just a few years ago. Some ambitious development along the Fourth Street corridor and--crucially--the destruction of some particularly nasty public housing projects has re-invigorated the area. The central business district zoning of the area allows for a maximum of flexibility and a dense mixture of residential and commercial spaces.

We found a house built in 1902 that has undergone an excellent restoration. We've waded through several layers of bureaucracy to make sure that we can live and work on the same property, put up signs for the business, etc. It is ridiculous that this is only allowed in exceptional circumstances most places. It took four trips to the city planning department and I'm now being told I have to go through the same process plus have the property inspected by the equivalent county department. Land of the Free, right? Hopefully we'll be moving in Thursday. I've long wanted to live and work on the same property. Living and working in close proximity was the human standard from the time of the agricultural revolution until the mid-19th century. Now this arrangement is so atypical that it is almost considered perverse, and there are many obstacles in the path of those who'd like to combine work and home.

The business and home will be well-situated, I believe. We couldn't really hope for better in Wilmington. Luckily, downtown is a place apart from the rest of the city and county. There are many services withing walking distance. Being downtown means that traffic is slower and bike-friendly. The only gap is a good grocery store, which I haven't yet found nearby. We'll be on Brunswick at Fourth, and there's a faux-trolley (no tracks, just a bus made to look like a trolley) that goes through downtown and runs down Fourth every ten to fifteen minutes. That's nice--even better is that the trolley is free to ride. The area is covered by free wi-fi because of a joint public/private venture to aid the neighborhood's renaissance. We're only a few blocks from the Cape Fear riverfront and boardwalk.

As long as the county doesn't throw us a major curveball, this will be our new location and we'll be pretty much back to normal operation in about two weeks.


Christopher Johnson said...

How excellent to have residence and work place at the same location. I applaud your efforts. Best wishes for successful implementation and best wishes for your family.

Scott H said...

Good job and good luck. My family also lives in Wilmington, so I look forward to stopping in on my next visit home. I think you'll find Wiilmington a great bike city. I was last in town last May for a wedding (my sisters) where the wedding party and many guests rode in a bike parade to the reception hall.