In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Why Can't the Dems Win? | Main | DVD Journal: "School of the Holy Beast" »

July 26, 2006

To Live Near Your Work

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

People ought to live near to where they work.

So say planners, university professors and other folks who are far more intelligent and better-informed than I. (When I get around to it, I really must let such people dictate every detail of my life: it's the right thing to do.)

This notion was kicking around the Seattle area recently, as Sound Politics, an indispensable blog for Puget Sound region political junkies, relates here and here.

Blog honcho Stefan Sharkansky ("The Shark") slyly mentions that some of those urging us to live near work do not live very close to where they work.

In the abstract, it indeed would be a good thing (in most cases) if people lived not far from their jobs. I happen to live less than two air miles from work, but the drive is closer to three or four miles. Yet I must confess that when I selected my apartment I was more concerned about safety and the quality of fellow residents than I was with commute distance. (Apartment-hunting tip: try to avoid places that have ratty cars.)

In olden times as well as not-so-olden times in large cities such as New York, many shopkeepers lived behind or above their shops. Margaret Thatcher lived above her greengrocer father's store in Grantham; when I saw the place, the grocery had been replaced by a real estate office.

My main problem with the notion that people should live near their jobs is that it often simply isn't practical.

Buying a house and moving (or even renting a new apartment and moving) are not trivial tasks. Many folks, once settled into a house and neighborhood, are not very interested in moving again until life-cycle events demand it.

Also, nowadays people tend to change jobs several times over their working career, unlike in the days when one might spend his entire career with one firm. Even when working for one company, job locations can change. In the Puget Sound area, a Boeing employee might find himself being transferred from Everett to Kent to Renton to Boeing Field and then back to Everett over a few decades. And he or his wife or his kids might strongly resist moving each time his place of work changes.

What this boils down to is that planners, professors and editorial board writers seem to have a naive view of how we poor working slobs tend to deal with our lives in this era of fluid careers.

As is so often the case, the theory is wonderful and gets ruined by all that nasty reality.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't be totally surprised if one day someone tries to legislate commuting distance.



posted by Donald at July 26, 2006


Well, speaking as someone who recently moved 1 hr-15 min (to 2+ hr, depending on traffic) from work, I'm all for living close to work. My situation resulted from a recent remarriage and a decision that I would be the one to be on the road, but loooooong commutes are unfortunately extremely common in the Bay Area -- I'd say that most of the people on my staff have commutes of 1/2 hr and up. My solution is to take a commuter room two nights a week, so I only have to make the drive 3 times, and to work from home on Fridays sometimes (which cuts the drive down to 2). I also got a Prius, which allowed me to get carpool lane stickers, and XM Radio, which I highly recommend. It makes the commute pleasant.

I don't think that, given the choice, most people would live so far from work -- it's nice, on the days I've stayed over, to have a

Why would you live far away from work, if you had the choice to live close?? A long commute severely limits your personal/family/recreational time. It doesn't make any sense, if you have the choice to live in a decent neighborhood close to where you work.

Posted by: missgrundy on July 27, 2006 11:44 AM

One reason why many people don't live closer to work is the fact that housing prices tend to be more reasonable in exurban areas distant from employment centers. It's simple supply and demand, nothing that government policies are ever likely to change.

Posted by: Peter on July 27, 2006 12:09 PM

Depends on ones priorities. There are people who don't mind "pioneering" questionable neighborhoods. I'm not one of them. If the trade off for safety is an hour commute to work each day -- so be it. On the other hand at the hour and a half mark some serious rethinking of ones whole life plan is in order.

Posted by: ricpic on July 27, 2006 12:20 PM

To correct the glitch in my post above, it's nice to have a less-than-10-minute commute on the days I've stayed over.

Posted by: missgrundy on July 27, 2006 12:31 PM

Zoning makes the housing situation worse in many areas. Example: In the Washington, DC area the I-270 corridor has been zoned heavily for light industry instead of mixed use or residences. The commercial zoning boosts property-tax receipts, but the artificial supply-restriction on housing helps to inflate home prices and some workers have to live far away and endure long commutes. There is no reason, other than the tax greed of local public officials, why this situation has to exist. The SF Bay area is even worse, with its extensive restrictions on land use that are explicitly intended to limit the supply of housing.

Posted by: Jonathan on July 27, 2006 12:32 PM

I have a very personal interest in this top because I have spent all of my life (except for excursions and vacations) in two cities, New York City and Atlanta. During the adult part of my life in NYC, I lived and worked in Manhattan. Now I live in Atlanta, "the anti-Manhattan." It is amazing how much more I accomplished with my life in Manhattan, when the travelling time between work and home was, at most, a half hour. Of course, Manhattan lends itself well to getting a lot of things done because of the ease of transportation. During lunch hour I could go to the post office or run other errands that would free up blocs of time in the evenings and the weekends. After work I could hang out with friends for a while, work out in a gym, go take an evening Learning Annex class, get home at a reasonable hour, work on my novel, and still get to bed at an early enough hour to get a good night's sleep. Here, in the Urban Sprawl capital of Dixie (where, I think, people spend more time commuting than anywhere else in the country except maybe Los Angeles), I live in-town but--because the jobs go to where the bosses live, and the bosses live in the 'burbs--I work out in Mall Country, where going everywhere is a time-consuming expedition. By the time I get home, feed the cats, do some bare-minimum maintenance workout, fix supper and eat, the day is pretty much shot. I might not go to sleep for another couple of hours, but by then my primary resources of mental and physical energy have been spent. If I start writing and get caught up in it, I'll go to bed way too late. I would love to work close to where I live.

Posted by: Bilwick on July 27, 2006 1:06 PM

"Nevertheless, I wouldn't be totally surprised if one day someone tries to legislate commuting distance."

If this means I would have legal grounds to work from home or that the state of CT will provide some funds to make up for the cost of living difference between New Haven and Fairfield Counties, let them legislate!

Posted by: Steve on July 27, 2006 2:21 PM

Unless I were living in a very large city, I much prefer not living cloes to where I work. I commute about 30 miles from the city to the country, the city in question being

I enjoy the folks at work. I put in a lot of hours (and a lot of years). The physical seperation of the two main aspects of my life is fine with me. The distance is needed.

Posted by: DarkoV on July 27, 2006 2:26 PM

There are two forces that work towards legislating where commuters live.

One is the political idea that people on the city or county payroll should live within that jurisdiction, pay their taxes back into that system, and be a force for good in that particular place.

The other is communities that grow up on both sides of a river or lake -- like Portland and Seattle -- where one thing and another leads to people working on one side of a bridge and living on the other side so there's a massive squeeze through that bottleneck every morning and evening. We used to joke about starting a home-owners' organization that would allow people to swap relatively equal homes to keep themselves living and working on the same side of the bridge.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on July 27, 2006 2:57 PM

No need to legislate - gas prices will soon take care of it.

Posted by: gab on July 27, 2006 4:24 PM

I read somewhere (Sailer?) that New Orleans had a rule that all police officers must live within the city of New Orleans in order to increase the percentage of black officers. This policy of course led to disastrous performance during Katrina with large numbers of police deserting and becoming part of the looting mob.

Posted by: JM on July 27, 2006 7:05 PM

From my point of view, the "real" issue isn't whether people "should" live close to where they work, but whether various governments (local, state and federal) have public policies that allow for developments (i.e., city and suburban neighborhoods) where people can live close to where they work if they want to -- or whether they have policies that essentially forbid or discourage these kind of developments instead. (Even in a place like New York City, which is noted for having many people who live close to where they work, various public policies, past and present, actually work against this happening more often.)

It should also be pointed out that one of the advantages of living in a big city is that one can change jobs left and right (and even change careers) and still live close to home -- with a wide variety of homes (e.g., different types of apartments, lofts, row houses, etc.) and neighborhoods to choose from too.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on July 27, 2006 7:50 PM

I have many misgivings about living in the big city -- crowds, dirty, expense, etc. But stuff's nearby, and walking is easy. When I leave the city and visit the real world, I'm amazed by how much time most people spend in their cars, driving through traffic from parking lot to parking lot.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 27, 2006 9:21 PM

But stuff's nearby, and walking is easy.

Interesting. I have the opposite reaction. I see people who live in big cities and don't have cars and wonder how I could ever again lead such a constrained existence. Without a car, every trip to buy a week's supply of groceries or visit a new place that's out of walking distance or off the beaten track becomes a project. I value greatly being able to just get in the car and go, without concern about time of day or weather or transit schedules.

To each his own. I wish everyone thought so (not that you don't, MB).

Posted by: Jonathan on July 27, 2006 10:43 PM

I'm with Michael on this one. I live two miles from work in a big city. I have a car that's paid off, but I don't really need it. I get to work by taking the bus (most days, 30 minutes--that's the big city I live in), and then usually walking home. Every time I get in my car, and go out to the suburbs, I just am on edge and swearing by the time I get home.

In addition, I only work 30 hours per week. I try to do it in 3 days per week. I can get away with it because I am good at what I do. My bosses always want me to do more, so if I didn't ask for this arrangement, I'd be there 60 hours a week. I don't have a family yet, so the money's actually good. Much more expensive living in the city, but there's also a lot more stuff here too.

I don't think I would ever move out to the suburbs. I would, however, like to move to someplace rural. Maybe our west where there is really nice scenery. Or maybe the Great Lakes. The weather seems to scare a lot of people away, which is good, as far as I'm concerned. I have the same love/hate relationship with the big cities most have.

I'd say if you have good reason (family, kids) to move to the long-commute suburbs, that's the place to go, but I wouldn't live anywhere that I had a two hour commute. Even one hour is too long. I think most people need to work less. And commute less too.

Posted by: btm on July 28, 2006 1:02 AM

I'm with Michael as well, albeit the unpleasant conditions he's listed are a consideration. I lived in Montreal for 6 years and life could not have been finer. No hassles, a lot of walking, no need for weight-loss diets, color and excitement on almost every block. A friend moved to Philly recently, South Philly to be exact. Great and interesting neighborhood, etc. WIthin 4 months, in seperate incidents, both of his kids were mugged. How quickly the chnage of perspective. I'm not advocating suburbia here; it's interesting how fragile that city cat/'burb mouse outlook is when personal safety comes into question.

Posted by: DarkoV on July 28, 2006 7:28 AM

"every trip to buy a week's supply of groceries..."

Name one city south of the Arctic Circle where you have to drive to get a week's supply of food.

Posted by: Chris on July 28, 2006 11:10 AM

Re the question posed by Chris: Depending on how strong you are and how much and what you eat, you do, as far as I can see, need a car to buy a week's supply of groceries. Especially if you have pets to feed as well. (Those large bags of Friskies are cumbersome.) The Atlanta neighborhood I live in is one of the few pedestrian-friendly enclaves in the city, and you can walk to a supermarket, but I notice quite a few oldsters who seem to spend half their lives walking to and from the supermarket because they can only carry a small amount of groceries at a time. I'm somewhat younger and fairly strong, and hoofing it even I can carry only a half a week's supply, at most, in one excursion. And of course if you try to include a lot of fresh fruits and veggies in one's diet, you're going to have to make several trips to the supermarket per week anyway.
In Manhattan it was never that much of a big deal. There was such an abundance of food stores, especially when the Korean green-grocers "invaded" in the late Seventies, that unless you ran out of something for which there was an urgent need, you almost never had to "make a trip" to the store. It was so easy just to stop off on a store on the way home--fast in and fast out--that obtaining groceries, which is so much more time consuming here in the Car Culture, was just so much more easily and routinely taken care of in Manhattan.
Jonathan's comment on how he sees the in-towners walking around the city as leading a "constrained" existence was interesting to me because I felt much less constrained when I was living and working in the heart of Manhattan than now, living and working in "McCity." I remember a friend of mine who used to live here in Atlanta, and was raised in the Car Culture, and spent most of his adult life either in the rural South or Southern Suburbia, told me he wanted to move to a more urban environment because he was, as he said, "sick and tired of having to get in a car and drive to a mall or convenience store every time I need a pack of cigarettes or a quart of milk."

Posted by: Bilwick on July 28, 2006 11:46 AM

Let alone go to a yoga class. In Manhattan, I've got about 7 yoga studios within quick walking distance. When I'm visiting out in the Real World I often find I've got to drive 20 or 30 minutes to get to one.

Cars, space, nature, safety, and lower costs of living have a lot (a lot!) going for them, god knows. But walkable city life (at least in an interesting city) does too. Nice we can choose!

Actually, as I type that, I semi-register that many people can't choose. They have to go where the job sends them, and many American cities don't really offer many options, or so it seems to me when I visit. Life downtown usually stinks, so it's out to the 'burbs, where you'll spend half your life in your car. I've often wondered what I'd do if I had to live in such a place. Maybe go even further out and get a country place? (I like small towns, but 'burb living generally leaves me feeling blue.) And resign myself to tons of driving?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 28, 2006 11:54 AM

That nearly turned my hair white. While scrolling past, I misread the head as "To Live Near New York."

Posted by: Rick Darby on July 28, 2006 1:40 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?