Tsukiji desk

Photo: A fellow list maker at the Tsukiji fish market.

We’re moving to Washington, D.C. in August. It’s official. Carlos has orders. I made all the necessary appointments on base with the Housing Office and Personal Property. Let the paperwork pile! I reserved a room at the Navy Lodge for my last few days in Japan. I will go to Kyoto in June with a friend. Farewell Kyoto! I’m making lists, lots of them, and anyone who knows me well knows when I’m making lists I’m frenetic and happy at the same time. I’m frappy. [Side note: I’m listening to Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” and I suggest you join me. It’s frappy good.]

He-of-the-Moustache and I plan to buy a house for the first time. We have lived a delightful, relatively obligation-free life together for almost fifteen years. No kids, no pets. I work in book publishing when/where I can, and when I can’t I find another way to make a little dosh. Over all these years, when the Navy said “move,” we picked up our well-under-the Navy-weight-allowance household goods and rented in fab neighborhoods like Coronado, California (twice); Old Town Alexandria, Virginia; Posillipo, Naples; Marylebone, London; and Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Sure, that last one doesn’t fit and it was the only time we lived on a base. Let me tell you, the Air Force knows how to put together a comfy military base. They handed us the keys to a huge house with a laundry room and a third bedroom that sat empty. The only problem we had was Mr. Housing Inspector would issue a ticket if one let the grass get too tall. So, we hired a teenager to mow the lawn. Actually, he hired himself by showing up one day with a lawnmower. When our regular kid moved away, we tried to hire a friend’s twelve-year-old, but our friend was so nervous about his child operating the mower that he and Carlos sat on the front porch and drank beer while the poor kid endured constant critiques of his technique. Being twelve sucks. But I digress…

Moving to Washington and buying a house means I have to learn about: mortgages, loan officers, hiring a buyer broker and not a seller rep, crime maps, looking at comps on Zillow.com, trying not to look (on beltwaymls) at $900,000 townhouses in Capitol Hill (ok, so I peeked, ouch), and deciding where to live.

I’m soliciting advice from all my friends and family. I ordered books on buying a house. I attended a house buying seminar on base. I’m making those lists. But I already know one thing: I want to live somewhere where I can walk to stores and restaurants and parks and farmer’s markets and Metro stops and maybe even museums. All our past great neighborhoods allowed us to walk to restaurants and shops or to hop a bus (or tube or funicular) to whatever city pleasure we desired. That is how I want to live in Washington. My question for real estate agents will be: “What can I walk to?”

Imagine my delight when I found Walk Score, a Web site devoted to scoring neighborhoods on the basis of “walkability.”

We help home buyers, renters, and real estate agents find houses and apartments in great neighborhoods. Walk Score shows you a map of what’s nearby and calculates a Walk Score for any property. Buying a house in a walkable neighborhood is good for your health and good for the environment.

Of course, the Walk Score people admit that the program can’t take into account things like crime and steep hills. Nevertheless, the existence of this Web site makes me think perhaps Americans aren’t all car mad.

A recent NPR report (“Home Prices Drop Most in Areas with Long Commute“) pointed out that the housing crisis has not affected more densely populated mixed-use neighborhoods near downtown areas as much as those drive-only commuter suburbs.

But even in regions that have taken a beating, some neighborhoods remain practically unscathed. And a pattern is emerging as to which neighborhoods those are.

The ones with short commutes are faring better than places with long drives into the city. Some analysts see a pause in what has long been inexorable — urban sprawl.

So, Carlos and I shall be forced to pay a premium to live in Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill or Alexandria or perhaps in one of the “revitalizing” downtown neighborhoods. The housing prices have not decreased very much in walkable neighborhoods inside the Beltway.

I recently wrote a friend about how I wanted to live in the most “European” Washington neighborhood. I was thinking about walkability and about—frankly—cheese shops. Are there any cheesemongers in Washington? I suspect there may be some at the Eastern Market (when they rebuild it). I like mongers. In London, our butcher was a tall, handsome Belgian guy who would smile and wave at me when I passed the shop. Will there be hunky Belgians waving at me in Washington? Probably not. But if you know a place…

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