Monday, April 16, 2012

Main Street

I try to keep our blog very upbeat and fun. I have some thoughts that I want to share that deviate from my normal pattern. This is the first of the blogs where I will address social issues rather than fun things to do in our area. It also answer the "elephant in the room" question of "you haven't been updating your blog, so what have you been doing lately?"

Earlier in the year I interviewed for the position of Executive Director of the Lawrenceville Main Street. Sadly, I did not get the position. Perhaps even worse, the position went to a friend, hence the reason for bottling up my feelings and only sharing them with people who nearby when it happened. A couple of months later, it still hurts.

When I learned the former director was retiring, I wasn't even looking for a job. I was writing a couple of articles a week for the Lawrenceville Patch, volunteering a bit and keeping everything running smoothly at home. The more I interviewed for the position the more I fell in love with it. Unfortunately it took until after the final interview before I could articulate to myself what I loved about the position. Yeah, bad timing as I did not sell myself well enough to get the position. Also bad because I've idealized that position and it makes it harder to find a new one that is nearly as good.

The experience made me think a lot about what I want in a Main Street. Specifically what would need to be walking distance from my house in order for me to be able to leave my car at home. For my purposes, walking distance is within a mile, ideally with sidewalks or wide shoulders.

The topic became a little more timely today as I read the following NPR article:

Americans do not walk and that's a GROWING problem -- get the pun? 

I have a pedometer. I often walk 10,000 steps a day, including runs. Yesterday I walked and ran 17,185 steps. The day before it was only 4,024 (we took a road trip to Delaware). To walk in suburbia often means exercising. How much better would life be if we could walk to more errands? If our walks had a purpose? If we could leave our cars at home and get out and walk?

When most people don't get a dream job they continue their job search to find an even better one. We used the rejection to look into moving someplace cheaper -- just about any place is cheaper than NJ. Don is fortunate in that he can transfer to a different office within Comcast, so as long as our search was within a commutable distance to Mount Laurel, NJ or West Chester, PA we were fine. The dream began with "if we could sell our house in Lawrenceville and buy a new home without a mortgage, what would that be like?"

The search took us to two states: Delaware and Pennsylvania. The search ended with us deciding to stay in Lawrenceville at least a little longer.

Wilmington, DE -- we focused on the Brandywine section of town, not downtown
PROS: cheap property taxes ($2,000 a year), nice communities, no sales tax, highly rated school district, an active Roots and Shoots program for Ashley, one hour from our parents, a wonderful church (we attended a service in Wilmington), excellent library system

CONS: no Main Street area near the schools, no chance of Don biking to work -- even though the distance is shorter, no Wegmans, most of my life would still be in the car to run errands

Media, PA -- my favorite town
PROS: fabulous downtown area complete with a trolley to Philadelphia, excellent schools, possibly bike-able for Don, still within that hour to where our parents live, vibrant downtown

CONS: no houses for sale, taxes not as low as Wilmington, could not live in one house and be able to walk to both the middle and the high schools

West Chester, PA 
PROS: excellent schools, bustling downtown, college town, friends live nearby, Don's office is in the town

CONS: farther from parents, not much parking, not pedestrian or car-friendly, grocery store separated from town by giant signs saying "do not cross street," higher taxes

Wayne, PA
PROS: excellent schools, friends live in town and rave about it

CONS: Main Street has a four-lane highway going through it, I felt like I was in a mall with a bunch of cars (about half the places seemed to be corporate America stores and restaurants and half were individually owned), the houses we saw were pricier than other towns, higher taxes.

Phoenixville, PA:
PROS: new middle school being built next to a new high school (one house = walking distance to both for Ashley), terrific free charter school in town

CONS: 90 minutes from parents, only way to get to Phoenixville from Mercer County is via the PA Turnpike, could not tell if town was on the way up or the way down

Kennett Square, PA
PROS: mushroom capital of the world (just kidding!), vibrant downtown with lots of activities, near Delaware (no shopping tax)

CONS: mixed reviews on the school system, still not bike-able for Don's commute, we had troubles finding a reasonably priced lunch, it is 75-minutes from family

If you really did read all of my ramblings, a lot of it came down to how un-bike friendly Pennsylvania is in general. New Jersey and Delaware toggle between being 10th and 11th in the country for bike friendliness. Pennsylvania ranks in the middle. The roads are too narrow. There are No Crossing, and other pedestrian un-friendly signs. As much as I loved some of the downtowns (especially Media) we still would not be able to live without a car.

We want to live someplace where we could live car-light, yet still have a garage and a driveway (i.e., not ready to move to a city). A smaller yard and a smaller home would be great.

Who knows what the future will bring. For now we are proudly living in Lawrenceville. 

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