New House

It’s funny how some things that ought to be celebrations can feel so distressing.

A week ago we bought a house in Ithaca, NY. We are extremely fortunate to be able to afford a home in this city. This is a place where lots of people want to live – and housing prices reflect this demand.

Yet, the events that unfolded between our purchase offer and closing caused some deep turmoil in me. This unrest blocked me from being grateful and joyful at this important event.

Only thanks to my supportive wife have I been able to step back from these feelings and begin to understand their origins. I realized that a profound sense of entitlement was at the root of my feelings. My habits over the past months also contributed to these emotions. These default routines have nurtured resentment and anxiety instead of gratitude and joy.

About the new house:

Our new house is less than a mile from downtown Ithaca and was built in the 1870s. It is very close to a recreation trail and an elementary school. It has a small yard and an enclosed front porch. The house has two floors, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms.

There will be a lot of opportunity for us to upgrade the home’s energy efficiency. The home has a gas furnace and water heater. There is a nominal amount of insulation in the attic. There may be some potential for solar, but its not clear at this point.

Previous owners added on the kitchen and laundry room. Many of the windows in the house are original. The bathrooms and bedrooms have been updated recently. The house has a mix of hardwood and bamboo flooring – there is no carpet.

If highways are a drug, trails are treatment.

Something interesting happened during the nine years I lived outside of Ithaca – it grew a network of trails into its surrounding towns. A glance at the county’s bicycle map shows how these pedestrian friendly tendrils connecting downtown and campuses to rural hamlets. Dig deeper into the Priority Trails Plan and you will find a vision for an even more robust network of non-motorized trails.

Trails can be an important part of a treatment to our national addiction to highways. Yonah Freemark made this striking analogy on his blog, The Transport Politic:

“For American cities, highways are a drug. They’re expensive to acquire. They devastate healthy tissue and arteries, replacing previous modes of nourishment with destructive ones. They force the rest of the body to adapt to their needs, and they inflict pain on those nearby.”

Trails connect communities and open up recreational opportunities. Compared to highways, trails are a bargain (often an order of magnitude less expensive).  Trails enable physical health as people use them to walk, run, or bike.

Trails can help rekindle human connections. On a trail a group can hold a conversation without distraction. (Interestingly, social connection is seen as a treatment to drug addiction.)

While it’s common to hear objections to trail projects on the basis of increased crime or lower property values, new trails have been shown time and time again to be reliably safe and a benefit to neighborsContinue reading

A House, Divided

Hank Dittmar (who sadly passed away earlier this month) delivered an inspiring presentation for the Savannah Urbanism Series last fall. His visit to Coastal Georgia coincided with a Lean Urbanism exercise organized by the Savannah Development & Renewal Authority that explored ways to generate development in urban neighborhoods where investment has stalled.

Over the past three months, I’ve been thinking a lot about housing – mostly because I have been searching for it myself. After looking at dozens of homes in Ithaca I have witnessed how strong demand for rental housing has transformed the physical fabric of the city.

One thing that stuck with me nearly half a year after Hank’s presentation is a fact he shared about Washington, D.C. during World War II. According to his presentation, the city’s population soared after the war started. The city’s public broadcasting affiliate, WETA, confirms this:

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A Tale of Two Buses

Since relocating to Ithaca, I’ve been riding the TCAT bus to work. While my total commute is just under two miles, nearly 300 feet of elevation change make walking less attractive – thus my decision to ride the bus.

Before leaving Savannah, I had also started riding the bus more often. The re-configured dot shuttle to be specific. In September of last year, Chatham Area Transit (CAT) made a major service change on its fare-free downtown routes. For my two mile commute into downtown, this meant public transit was suddenly much more appealing even though I had to walk several blocks to get to the closest stop. (Full disclosure – I worked for CAT while this route change was being considered.)

While these two bus trips might seem similar – they could hardly be more different.

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