Would You Live Here? Trying to Find Diversity in a Perfect Neighborhood

Could this be my slice of Americana?Could this be my slice of Americana?I have something to say about a slice of Americana: I want a piece. Before I get into that, let me assure you that I'm not unhappy with my home. In fact, it's the nicest, most well laid-out home I have ever lived in and I chose it specifically for that purpose. On my laundry list of things I wanted in a house I included things that drove me crazy in previous homes and things that I liked about places I've lived. The former was a much longer list. Here are a few of the things that I wanted:

1. A 2-story home with the washer and dryer on the second level (because who wants to drag all those dirty-then-clean clothes up flights of stairs when it could be close to where you actually get dressed)

2. A large kitchen where an open floor plan would accommodate the living space as well

3. A master bedroom with an en suite bathroom

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As luck would have it, I found that perfect house and I enjoy it thoroughly. There were even things that weren't an absolute necessity (like a Jacuzzi tub in the master bath!) that made this choice that much better, but generally speaking I needed a bedroom that I would like spending time in and a living space that made family time comfortable. My neighborhood gets high marks for getting voted Best Neighborhood in our local independent newspaper, and we are close to all the things we want. Even our neighbors are lovely people. However, if I could file just one complaint, it would be that I'd prefer a close-knit community where it is possible to walk to restaurants, stopping in local shops along the way, on those lazy summer evenings when no one feels like cooking. Basically, if I were to change anything about my current living situation, I would want a walking community.

Yesterday, I actually stumbled upon one such community while I was out on a drive with my boyfriend. We determined that, with an empty house for once, we wanted to get out and go exploring. "Take me on an adventure!" I declared after our coffee together. So he did. We ended up in Missouri, which is only about 90 miles away from home, and happened upon New Town, a community about 7 years old.

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Talk about your slice of Americana! New Town, very near to St. Louis, is a planned community that is part of something called "new urbanism," which is a revival of the lost art of walkable communities designed to include a variety of houses as well as businesses. And, yes, it's just like the movie The Truman Show depicts. The new urbanism community in Seaside, Florida was the setting for that movie and New Town is based on that.

I'll be honest: it was a hot, muggy day and I didn't feel like walking around in a place that oddly seemed like a ghost town since very few residents were out and about. In fact, I remarked several times that it was a little "creepy" even though the few people we met were amiable. Naturally, we couldn't help making jokes about similarities to The Truman Show, but in the end we visited the office and met with a sales agent who even showed us one of the open houses. And yes, we daydreamed about moving there and living in a close-knit, walkable community.

The business district was closed by the time we got around to it and there was a restaurant that had been repossessed by the bank. We dreamed aloud about buying it and opening up, well, something. Could it be a breakfast place? Maybe we could serve tapas? Or perhaps a sandwich shop for local businesspeople in need of a quick lunch? There were endless possibilities and we tried to come up with all of them on our walk through the town.

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The biggest difference, it seemed, between Seaside and New Town is diversity.
When I searched the Seaside website it was all white and this is a deal breaker for us. We asked the agent for the demographics of New Town even though we had already seen some diversity for ourselves. She said about 10% Asian and 10% were Black and we actually saw that in the few people who were roaming about yesterday.

The perfect blend is going to be hard to define, but I know that I want a community full of people representing various ethnicities, religions and age groups. I suppose my perfect community wouldn't have a majority anything. We didn't see any Buddhist or Jewish temples or even a B'hai faith presence and those are things that I grew up with that I still want as part of my community. In fact, we only saw 2 churches and having no other kinds of faith buildings concerns me as much as other kinds of diversity.

New Town may not have been perfect, but it did give me a glimpse at a kind of neighborhood I would love to be a part of some day. I am seeking some combination of the sense of community that existed in the suburbs of the past and the diversity that exists in many places today and when I find it, well, that may just be my slice of Americana. Until then, like I said, I'm content where I am, but there's nothing wrong with a little exploration now and then.

- By Kelly Wickham

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Kelly WickhamKelly WickhamKelly Wickham grew up in Chicago and is the author of Mocha Momma, mother to 4 children ages 17-26. She earned an M.S. in Educational Administration and has worked in education as a teacher, literacy coach, private homeschool tutor, guidance dean, and assistant principal. She writes voraciously, reads spastically, and shoots off at the mouth on a very regular basis.

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