This is 85% of what’s on offer across North America. For many people – perhaps for most people – this works just fine. A comfortable four bedroom home in a safe clean subdivision in a good school district is the America Dream. But what if this isn’t what you want? What if you want something different? What are your options?
This is NuLu, an area immediately adjacent to downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville’s historic neighborhoods are part of what I’ve come to think of as an archipelago of West Berlins that stretches from the Great Lakes, down into the southern Midwest, and flirts with Appalachia. Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville… These are some of the islands in the chain. They float in a sea of banal suburbs and rural hinterlands.
As market demand for vibrant, convivial, walkable places overwhelms the limited supply people are having to make tough choices. A generation ago people who preferred a neighborhood with a functional public realm moved to Boston, Portland, Toronto, D.C., Vancouver, or Brooklyn. There were always trade offs to these locations, but on the whole folks were able to find some version of what they wanted at a manageable price. Today? Not so much. Real estate costs in top tier cities have become prohibitive.
All across the interior of the continent there are depopulated half forgotten remnants of once great cities and towns that have all the same qualities as premium cities, but at rock bottom prices. Saint James Court near the university and Olmsted designed parks is magnificent and spectacularly affordable when compared to a one bedroom apartment in a trendy coastal city.
What if you want a fully detached single family home like the ones out in the corn fields, but you want your kids to be able to walk a few block to school instead of being chauffeured to a consolidated regional facility on the far edge of town? What if you want to be able to spend ten minutes commuting to work instead of an hour? What if you want to walk around the corner to get groceries and a good cup of coffee? Try the Highlands.
There are modest shotgun homes for sale in transitional neighborhoods in Louisville for under $60,000. That would make your mortgage payment $500 a month. These places need love, but with time and effort they can be beautiful again. Compare that to rent on a studio apartment in San Diego.
This is Lydia House in the Schnitzelburg neighborhood. (Evidently Germantown fractured into microburgs.) Lydia is part cafe, part bar, and part neighborhood hang out for locals to schmooze and kibitz. The proprietors are a young married couple who relocated to Louisville from New York. Why Louisville? If you’re a twenty nine year old in Brooklyn you can afford to buy coffee and beer in such an establishment. In Louisville you can own the place. Not just the business. The actual real estate. Try that in Williamsburg, Red Hook, or Boerum Hill and see how far you get on a Millennial’s budget.
Louisville isn’t New York or San Francisco, but it’s infinitely preferable to the sea of cul-de-sacs, office parks, and strip malls on offer elsewhere. And your neighbors are very likely to be a pleasant mix of old time locals and refugees from the coasts.