Raising Richmond: Neighborhood wishlist

Our house feels smaller every day. While we try to make the space work for us, it’s hard not to think about our next home and a non-existent perfect neighborhood.

We’ve lived comfortably in a small house on the Southside for awhile, and if we have to live here for a few years more, we can make it work. It fits our family of three, but it’s hard to accommodate visitors and the occasional houseguest. Larger families live in smaller spaces, but I could imagine it being awkward living in such close quarters with older children who want more privacy.

I want a third bedroom, a bigger bathroom (or two bathrooms–what a dream!), and a kitchen big enough to fit a table.1 We need to spruce up our house if we want someone else to want it, and my husband and I are not great at home improvement. I’ve marked next summer on my calendar as the time to decide if we should move, which gives us some time to work on small projects.  

I don’t know how realistic our moving plan is, but I’ve been daydreaming about our next house. More important than the house itself, I think about which neighborhood I’d like to be in.

I like our current neighborhood. It’s close to parks and playgrounds, and most of the places I need to drive to are reachable within 10 to 15 minutes. I’m close to my sister and her family, and very close to work. 

Still, my neighborhood isn’t on my dream neighborhood list, and as that list grows, I’m not sure that any spot in Richmond is. I want to stay in Richmond. I’d stay in Southside, too, but I’ve always liked Northside, which everyone knows is the Southside of the North. We’ve even talked about moving out of the Richmond area, but I’m not comfortable with that idea just yet. I want to stay at our next house for awhile. 

Here’s what I want–and I am possibly working on a rhyming version of this list to make a house hunt more whimsical:

  • Affordability. I don’t know what that will mean 18 months from now, but less than $200,000 is a good start.
  • Walkable access to places like playgrounds and at least one decent restaurant.
  • Proximity to an affordable grocery store.
  • Good middle and high school options.
  • Streets good for running and dog-walking. While I can get good stretches of runs where I live now, crossing Forest Hill Avenue–specifically the designated crosswalks in front of Forest Hill Park–is challenging, especially when you’re with a dog and baby stroller. I know those crosswalks are there, and I’m also guilty of occasionally not noticing the person who is waiting to cross the street. Also, using the sidewalks in my neighborhood with a stroller is more difficult than walking in the middle of the street.
  • Space for age-appropriate kids to run around unsupervised–meaning there are interesting places to go that I would deem “safe” or “safe enough.”
  • Streets not covered in trash. My street (and front yard) is heavily littered. I’m raising my daughter to think that people who litter are the worst, lowest form of people and are capable of doing any horrible deed that isn’t more complicated than hanging onto an empty chip bag for two minutes. That’s a reasonable assessment of humankind, right?
  • An area where I would not be woken up because of gunshots.
  • In fact, a place with no monthly/weekly wreckless gun use at all.
  • Close to an Indian restaurant, which is apparently as rare in Richmond as a good middle school.

As more of our friends move to the counties, it’s easier to see why people leave the city. My sister’s biggest complaint about her neighborhood is the lack of holiday spirit and lack of kids playing outside during the recent snow days. On New Year’s Day, when gathering with friends on Northside, I complained about being woken up by gunshots nearby. My Northsider friend complained about people two houses down shooting guns in the front yard. And our newly transplanted Chesterfieldian friend said she heard fireworks.

I recently took my daughter to a birthday party in a planned community in Hanover county with huge houses. It was nice, clean, and quiet. All the trouble there would likely come from the bored teenagers down the street who you would recognize when you caught them rifling through your garage. It also looked boring and isolated, as if the children there are being raised in bubbles.2 Sure, I prefer bubbles to stray bullets, but there has to be a middle ground somewhere in the city, doesn’t there? Or a middle ground that doesn’t involve guns, anyway. As a side note, we can only afford to live in a middle or lower middle-class area, so I don’t know why I worry about ending up living in a $300,000 priced gated community.

Plus, I think diversity is important, which I know all parents say, but it’s true. Just our block is equally black and white, mixed age groups, renters and owners, families and single people, people whom I ignore when I see them, and people I go out of my way to say hello to. 

When it comes down to it, three bedrooms, no trigger-happy neighbors, good schools, and cleanish streets (in this order) will be the deal-breakers. Now, just to figure out where that neighborhood is.

  1. Three bedrooms was also a must-have on our first house hunt, but I fell in love with our move-in ready, two-bedroom house and its cute little green kitchen. It turns out we couldn’t afford to spend a dollar more than what we bought, but I don’t think I’ll cave so easy on requirements with our second house. 
  2. I am a city-snob. I know it, and I know it’s annoying. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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